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Saturday, 24 May 2014


Oryx anchored off Quequen.

We left Arroyo Ballena straight after breakfast, barely pausing to wish the crew of Mollymawk goodbye. We had over indulged with food and wine at Guillermo’s the previous evening, but the wind was favourable and we were keen to make the most of the receding tide. As usual I left Buenos Aires with a heavy heart. By this time you will have come to realise that, much as I love to travel, I am a lingerer, too. Buenos Aires has surpassed more interesting and more beautiful cities and is currently the city I love the most in all the world, as Saint Expery might have said. Along with the suadade, I had the faintest tingling of a sore throat. The sail was pleasant and it is pleasing to leave by sea, as the withdrawal is so gradual, that the pain of leaving is always replaced by the curiosity about the next place and the next and so on.

This container ships motored past our bow, rocking our boat.

Evening fell and on my watch I spent much of the time in the cockpit. The modified wind vane self-steering was working perfectly, but I had to dodge between the anchored ships awaiting entry into B.A. The sailing on the Saturday was similarly pleasant, but as the day progressed the wind picked up and my sore throat worsened. By nightfall I was feeling ill, but we still had some distance to go. On my watch I examined the charts and saw that there were breaking waves at the entrance leading to our next anchorage, where we would await daylight and a rising tide. We arrived just before midnight and once again I had to put full trust in Pete. The visibility was poor, my night vision leaves a lot to be desired, it was raining and all around waves were breaking. I followed Pete’s directions as best I could, but veered either side of the course due to the swell and the conditions. We anchored at the chosen spot and the darkness was only broken by the lighthouse of Cabo San Antonio and the cresting waves.

The Cabo Antonio lighthouse by day.

We had a nightcap followed by hot chocolate and gratefully crawled into bed. In the morning light everything looked benign, although we had dragged a little and were now on the edge of a sandbank. We waited for the tide to turn and edged our way between the shoals and marshes to anchor in the river off General Lavalle. The area is completely flat, but has a beauty of its own as pampas meets marsh meets the sea. Migratory birds abound and enthralled us by their numbers in the days to come.

Marshes near General Lavalle.

General Lavelle.

Fishing boats named after us? Pete is 'Sin Limite'!
Pink Spoonbill.

When we initially arrived in General Lavalle, Pete thought it might have been where Donald Crowhurst had laid low in Argentina, but we later learned that he had been several kilometres to the north at a place called Rio Salado.

The town is named after Juan Gallo Lavalle who was born in Buenos Aires in 1799. Amongst his claim to fame is the fact that he fought against Artigas, the Uruguayan national hero in 1815. He had a colourful military career and fought alongside the liberator Jose’ San Martin. He was accidentally shot by fellow Unionists. He is buried in Recoleta. The town was founded on the Rio del Ajo in 1861. The port was initially dredged to ship grain. A railway link was built to connect General Lavalle to Dolores, once again to facilitate shipping the grain grown in the area.

"Oryx" in General Lavalle.

Today the river has silted up and it is only possible to gain access on the tides. Once a year there is a regatta from San Isidro in B.A. to General Lavalle. The town has an end of the line feel and is beautifully kept and quiet. There is an interesting museum and a few simple shops. It was a good place to lay up for a few days. My cold had worsened into typical complications of a common cold and for more than a week Pete had to put up with my raucous sounds. Unlike a friend I am not ‘ladylike’ with the coughing and spluttering, but as always Pete was kind and caring, although he escaped into the town on occasion.

Argentinean towns orientate you to time and place!

All decked out.

The authorities were very friendly and helpful on clearing in; the formalities rounded off with a cup of coffee with ‘El Jeffe’. A front was forecast with strong westerly winds and we wanted to be safely tucked away near San Clemente del Tuyu, but we had to suffer a safety inspection. Once again our Spanish let us down, but the young Prefectura officer was very patient and amused when we hauled out a tea towel to show him the semaphore flags and their codes. Thanks to Graham and Monica’s kind gift and a booklet donated by Navenka and Deon, we passed, if not with flying colours. The delay had cost us an hour or so, so we left sharply, motoring until we cleared the channel so as not to miss the tide.

Young prefectura officer who did our safety inspection.

Pete as the ferryman.

Leaving Lavalle.

Argentina's coastal fishing boats are all orange and the deep sea ones are bright red.

We then sailed towards Cabo San Antonio expecting to have to wait for the high tide before entering. We kept a close eye on the echo sounder and managed to sneak over the sand spit and anchored off the yacht club at Tapera de Lopez.

Yacht club Tapera del Lopez.

San Clemente del Tuyu.

These fishermen came by to ask if we were well and then led the way across the sandbank.

Tapera de Lopez is on the outskirts of a small tourist town called San Clemente Del Tuyu. The point on the southern side of the huge Samborombom Bay is known as Punta Rasa and the whole area of wetlands is a designated nature reserve. It serves as a flyway for migratory birds from as far afield as Alaska and Canada.

Flamingoes photographs from both sides.

Magellan’s expedition was the first of the Europeans to land here in 1520. In 1580 Hernando Arias de Saavedra evangelised the Guaranies in the area. Tuyu is a Guarani word for mud or clay. A significant battle was fought against the Brazilians in 1820 – the Battle del Tuyu. Early Spanish settlers abandoned their estancias leaving behind cattle and horses, which soon became feral. The cattle and horses thrived on the pampas grass and gave rise to the gaucho legacy when these neo hunter-gatherers competed with the indigenous Indians for a foothold. After independence meat salting plants sprang up all over the region and the area was initially developed to export meat and hides. In the 1900’s grain took precedence and the area today has many co-operatives farming grain amongst the huge estancias or cattle ranches.

Gray skies loom as front arrives.

On the Saturday we arose early, hoping to beat the front by going into San Clemente in the morning. There was a fishing competition on the go at Tapera de Lopez and despite the inclement weather, there were many hardy fisher folk competing. We breakfasted and while I was washing the dishes, Pete happened to look up. We had dragged and were almost aground beside the concrete steps where the people were fishing. We quickly averted disaster by using the engine to motor away from the shore. Pete hauled up the anchor, whilst I headed into the wind.  The anchor broke out, but it was obviously fouled on something, and when it eventually broke the surface Pete saw that it was entangled in a mass of broken fishing lines! He then spent several agonising minutes hacking them off with a large knife, before we could re anchor safely. The wind continued to pick up and we deferred our plans to go ashore. 

We rode out the gale without dragging again and so felt safe to leave Oryx to go ashore on the Monday.

We walked the several kilometres into San Clemente del Tuyu to find the beach town windswept, sand strewn and devoid of tourists.

We did find a beautiful beach and then wandered around the town, lunching at a Spanish restaurant decorated with posters giving evidence of the owner’s annual holiday to Spain. Dining out in Argentina is always a treat; not only is the food excellent and the wine divine, but also very affordable.

Christmas at Easter!
Beach at San Clemente del Tuyu.

Sand swept after strong westerlies of the weekend.

We hotfooted back to ‘Oryx’ and set sail just before high water only to run aground on the same spit we had previously crossed successfully. It wasn’t a hardship though; we simply waited for the tide and sailed on, admiring the beautiful flamingos while we waited.

Aground surrounded by birds!

We were initially heading for Viedma, where Pete hoped to dry out so that we could clean the bottom and antifoul, but the weather was conspiring to keep ‘Oryx’ covered in barnacles and so we sailed overnight to Quequen.


Seals and birds off dolosse on Necochea side of entrance.

We arrived at the entrance to Quequen around noon and as we sailed into the harbour we were met by the sight on sea lions and seals frolicking in the waves. Next we found lines and lines of fishermen fishing amongst what we initially took for rocks – more sea lions!

Fishing amongst the sea lions.

As we motored slowly up the Rio Quequen we had a good view of the twin towns. Necochea, the second biggest beach resort after Mar del Plata lies on the south bank and Quequen on the north bank. The port of Quequen is very like East London and the Prefectura building looks similar to the harbour master’s house in East London. Juan de Garay landed in the area in 1582 and in 1748 Thomas Faulkner set up a Jesuit mission in the area.

Club Nautico Necochea.

We came to a bridge that was destroyed several years ago when a boat broke free and collided with one of the pillars, taking the bridge down with it. The wreck and the remains of the bridge are still clearly evident.

All that remains of the bridge and the boat.

 Later we met the friendly Guillermo ,Commodore of the Vito Dumas Yacht Club and he told us that when there is flooding upstream the current is sometimes as much as 15 knots and the river recently swept the clubs jetty and all the yachts on moorings out to sea. We anchored just beyond the moorings of the club. The marinero came over in a small launch to welcome us. He remembered Pete and ‘China Moon’ from the visit twelve years before.

Yacht Club Agrupacion Vito Dumas.

We couldn’t wait to get ashore and avail ourselves of the hot showers, which the marinero obligingly fired up for us. We have a solar shower on board, but it is always a pleasure to have a hot shower ashore. The club is small, but has a lovely atmosphere and has several flags on display, including Pete’s worn Union Jack donated on his previous visit.

Yachts on moorings at Y.C. Agrupacion Vito Dumas.

Vito Dumas.
Single handed?

After the shower we headed into Quequen (which Pete pronounces like the Afrikaans for chicken – kuiken.) to visit the Prefectura. En route we found several grand houses indicating the towns previous prosperity, unfortunately those days are long gone and many of the houses are derelict.


Another Argentinean 'castle' for sale!

Former glory of Quequen.

Prefectura building reminded me of my home far away.

Near the Prefectura is a grand monument commemorating those who lost their lives in the Malvinas (Falkland Islands)conflict. The monument was completed in October 1999. The sculptor is one Andres Oscar Mirwald and the monument depicts a huge Argentinean flag, with the figure of a woman depicting the motherland. At her feet lie the two main islands that make up the Malvinas. An inscription from a poem called ‘Hijos de la Gloria’ (Sons of Glory) by Daniela Laura Gonzalez completes the picture. It is both awesome and terribly tragic.

Malvinas monument.


Welcome to Necochea!

As I said before, Necochea lies on the opposite bank of the Rio Quequen. On Good Friday we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the beaches of Necochea. The wind was blowing fiercely from the south and although it was the start of the Easter weekend many of the beachfront restaurants were closed for the winter and there were few people about. We were warmly dressed and Pete recalled a wooded area, which provided some shelter from the biting wind, so we enjoyed our picnic and then strolled through the town. We spent the weekend there, exploring both towns and enjoyed the hospitality of the club.

Renovations of historic hotel in Necochea.

Awaiting the restoration.

View from the picnic spot.

Chilling out?

Bridge to Quequen.

Time had caught up with us and we found that we had to head north to Mar del Plata to clear out of the country, rather than heading south as planned to the Rio Negro.

Oryx approaches fallen bridge on departure.

 The sail to Mar del Plata was an overnight sail. By nightfall the wind had dropped right down. A blanket of cloud blotted out the stars and all that remained was the sounds of the sea slapping the hull as ‘Oryx’ chuckled along, slowly but gracefully. The lights of Miramar glowed like Queen Victoria’s necklace does in Mumbai. Fortunately near sunrise the wind picked up to a southerly force three and we sailed swiftly on.

As we neared Mar del Plata a fishing boat diverted to come and have a closer look. We spent several moments taken mutual photographs as they welcomed us to Mar del Plata.

Belvedere welcomes us to Mar del Plata.

Mar del Plata.

Entering Mar del Plata.

We picked up a mooring just outside the entrance of the Yacht Club Argentina. Pete had previously been alongside in ‘China Moon’ and of course with ‘Pelican’, but this time we opted for the mooring. Mar del Plata is the top beach destination in Argentina and between December and March the inhabitants of the city more than doubles in size with the visitors outnumbering the locals. Prices go up and accommodation becomes scarce.

Weekend activities of Yacht Club Argentina in Mar del Plata.

Yacht Club Argentina MDP.

Oryx by night.

Mar del Plata is the first place I did a trans Atlantic crossing from. When I met Pete in 2007, I was a seasoned sailor: - I had floated about on a small boat called ‘Dee’ on Hartebeespoort Dam one Sunday. There were so many people on board, that we never even hoisted the sails, I then sailed from East London harbour to Nahoon Reef and back on board ‘Misky’ and my training seemed complete with a sunset champagne cruise on board the ‘Spirit of Victoria’ a Hout Bay 50 and sister ship to ‘Mollymawk’! I knew that if my relationship with Pete was going to float I should sail back to South Africa rather than fly, so in March 2008, while Pete prepared ‘Pelican’ for the crossing, I sat tying 107 cones onto something called a ‘series drogue’ thinking this is a serious drag, but when we had to deploy the drogue as a sea anchor I quickly reviewed my thinking. The drogue we have was developed and tested by a Mr. Jordan who then provided the information free on the Internet. If it weren’t for Mr. Jordan, I probably would’ve kissed the shore at Granger Bay and never set foot on another boat again! (And Pete’s calm confidence and competence, of course!)

Sealion, anyone?

View of Mar Del Plata from the water tower.

Ornate water reservoir.

Basically, for my non-sailing friends, when the wind and waves get too much and you have to drop the sails, you deploy this drogue from the stern. It is attached to the back of the boat and has a small anchor to weigh it down. The cones then open and slow you down, keeping the stern into the wind, until the weather moderates. It stops you from broaching side ways to the waves or pitch poling.

Fishing fleet.

As far as the history of Mar del Plata goes it was a late developer. Jesuits settled in the area in 1747 and then the Portuguese investors developed the port known then as el Puerto de Laguna de los Padres. They built a pier and a saldado (meat salting works) in 1860, but sold out to Patricio Peralta Ramos who founded Mar del Plata in 1874. He combined industry with a beach resort. Many upper class Porteno (B.A.) families owned summerhouses in Barrio los Trencos. Mar del Plata is known as the Pearl of the Atlantic.

Mar del Plata's beach front.

Architectural diversity.

Cesar Pelli's design will only enhance Mar del Plata's front.

Lace edged beach.

We love the city and this time we were out of season so we walked the city flat. Unfortunately the autumn in Argentina was quite severe this year, so at night we fired up our ‘Pipsqueak’ stove and perhaps even remembered last Christmas in Paysandu fondly! We stocked up and scrutinised the various weather reports setting out on a Tuesday afternoon for southern Brazil.

Market square.

Copter cat?

Passage to Rio Grande de Sul.

The favourable southerly wind forecast was more easterly and rather light and the passage was to be Pete’s slowest passage ever. The days at sea flow seamlessly into one another. They are quiet and mostly peaceful renditions of blue and white on green or grey on grey. There is the occasional ship or fishing boats and there are usually birds about.

Somehow the differences get lost between the pages of la Plante or Kingsolver, but each night is unique. We do three-hour watches at night and so we live parallel lives, intersecting at meal times. Our routine is different too. Pete does the last night watch, so he follows the dawn with breakfast. We have a second cup of coffee after his rest, just before noon. We have some fruit and water at about two and then have an early supper at four or five. We snack on our watches at night.

Sunrise- on- sea.

I usually do the first night watch, which starts  around sunset. We do a full lookout every ten to fifteen minutes, keeping an eye on the course in between. The night we left Mar del Plata was a little eerie. The cloud had formed a low bowl and the loom of Mar del Plata seemed to mushroom around the cloud. It was very still. We were close hauled, but laying the course. Coastal towns beckoned ahead, lightening the mood somewhat. I caught up on listening to music and musing.

The following day the wind headed us and we were forced to put in some long tacks. There were some fishing boats about. Mayday started with us being becalmed, but during the early hours of the morning the wind filled in and by dawn it was SSE and we had our best days run. There were many small albatross enjoying the thermals and we identified them as Black Browed Mollymawks, which brought back fond memories of our friends. There were also several Shoemakers about which re enforced my annual thoughts about the loss of Ayrton Senna. My thoughts are often tangential and perhaps more so on passage.

Ralph or Michael?

At night the stars were out in full force and the space station rose spectacularly. I stood in the dome sipping some hot chocolate and recalled nights of my early childhood when my Dad had made me a cup of Milo and we then went into our back garden to stare at the sky and look for ‘Sputniks’. South Africa only acquired television in 1974 and at the time I felt it was a disadvantage, but now I’m not so sure.

The Friday we were alternatively becalmed or headed by the wind, but we had a small brown hitchhiker who stay with us throughout the day and overnight. We named him Lyndon B. Johnson and took care to move slowly when adjusting the sails of the wind vane self-steering. Overnight we drifted with the current, mostly in the wrong direction. L.B.J. deserted us once he realised he was near land and could fly faster than we were sailing.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Saturday was much of the same, but as we were nearing Cabo Polonio on the Uruguay coast and we decided to head there. One entire watch I drifted back and forth over what is marked as a dangerous wreck. The night was stunning. There was virtually no moon and the Milky Way looked like a swath of mist. I spent a lot of time in the cockpit. The night was balmy enough to sit outside and enjoy the experience. I heard the loud exhalation that chilled my blood the very first time I’d heard it, but now enthrals me. Mammals. In this case it was a school of inquisitive seals! They moved about the stern like wraiths, illuminated by the phosphorescence.

Cabo Polonio.

We eventually put the engine on after breakfast and made for an anchorage off the lighthouse. En route we saw the massive form of a Fin whale. We caught up on sleep and watched a movie, setting off once more on the Monday after breakfast. Tuesday we were becalmed again! It would’ve been quicker to walk, if one could walk for twenty-four hours a day. However, the sun was out and we had a glorious day, watching seals frolic in the sunshine. They sometimes seemed to exhale just below the squatting Shoemakers, sending them into the air with what seemed more like delight, than fear. Another game was to come up through the ring of bright water with their eyes tightly closed, moving their whiskers through the water as they basked in the warmth. Never did they attempt to harm the myriad of birds.

Our pets.

Aeolus continued to tease us, but finally we sailed into Rio Grande de Sul and headed for the Oceanographic institute, where we hoped to tie up. As we neared a traditional Brazilian boat approached and it was the director of the institute, welcoming Pete once more. Soon we were tied alongside their motor schooner ‘Bucaneiro’ with its festive flags flying alongside the Jolly Roger. It felt good to be back in Brazil.

Brazil, at last!

Ship turns as we sail/scrape by.

Oryx alongside Bucaneiro at Oceanographic Institute, Rio Grande de Sul.

The next blog will have a question and answer section. J.H. has already submitted several questions. Any others welcome.
Pete and Carly.

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