Land Ho.

To understand the excitement a crew member feels when that guttural yell of “LAND HO” rings out across a small sailing vessel you need to have been at sea, preferably a rough sea, for at least 30 days without sighting terra firm-a. There are not to many ocean passages globally where one is deprived of some sight of land mass for that long, the great southern ocean definitely fits the bill.

We left Chatham island just after noon on day 20 of the expedition, 20 challenging days after slipping the mooring lines at the Southport Yacht Club on the sunny Gold Coast. The sea was lumpy and challenging but settled as we made it to deeper water past the iconic Pyramid Rock, looking like a grotesque ogre's mouth rising out of a dark black malevolent sea. Over the next 31 days as a crew we worked tirelessly to keep the Nanook in one piece and moving eastwards towards Chile. Dropping to latitude 52 degrees south, facing wind chill, sleet and snow across the decks and three significant southern ocean gales.

Even the most sea salt marinated mariner would seek the shelter of land after passing the the cauldron of character development as we had aboard the Nanook. So when Jordy sang out “Land Ho” at the top of his lungs, we all rushed on deck to spy the slip of an island washed in the dawn’s golden light. My soul literally backflipped at the sight, a sensation akin to the joy of seeing a child born rushed through me and over me. A realisation of just what we had achieved as a small crew of 4 in a robust 23 year old
sailboat sank in as I grinned madly, peering into the sea mists behind the island in the hope of spying more landmass.

Chile gave up her jewels slowly, first a blue haze, then a shoulder of land covered in bush and some hours later as we entered shallower waters with rising sea swells the first snow capped volcano peeked over the lower level cloud base. Eyes that had hungered for form, colour and light after grey sea upon endless grey sea feasted on the pink morning hues bouncing of the perfect cinder cone’s snow clad slopes.

A day of relatively easy inland sailing followed as we made our way northwards to our customs and immigration checkin point, Puerto Montt. Navigating submerged rocks, kelp beds and an abundance of shipping overnight added some stress but not on the scale of a southern ocean tempest. Midday saw us slipping between two channel markers to enter Puerto Montt harbour. Smiling faces welcomed us as Luis and Carmello caught our mooring lines and welcomed us to Chile. Pouring of the deck we must have been a bit overwhelming as we pumped their hands with vigorous handshakes and hugs as we explained they were the first humans we had seen since the wild Chatham Islands over 9000 kilometres away! A weight came off me like I have never experienced before when I looked at all four of us healthy and well, in one piece on the dock. We had risked, been exposed, prevailed and made good decisions ensuring all arrived safe and well. I breathed out audibly and let it all go, fully recognising how different it could have been and appreciating this moment fully.

Chilean entry formalities began straight away as we were greeted by the local police commissioner with his cute toddler daughter out for a ridealong with Dad on a Sunday. He looked at us with mild disinterest as he stamped our passports and was soon away. Our next inspection was onboard with the Agriculture department, looking for onboard pests, stowaways and perishable foods that contravened customs laws.

Our next hurdle was the Chilean Armada or Navy signing off on our arrival, boat papers and plans going forward. However they were not operational on Sunday so our crew of 4 slunk off boat to a local bar nearby, ate and drank quickly, then unsure if we had “checked in” or not made our way hastily back to the boat.

The next day we were boarded by three navy personnel who looked for all the world like SWAT team operatives. Sighting all our safety and comms gear they were soon happy and signed us off with our third piece of valuable paper. Customs proper soon arrived and after a cursory glance onboard also signed us off, so we could legally head into town and marvel at the colours, sights and sounds of a busy South American city.

I stood at the edge of a busy pedestrian four way crossing and simply goggled at the busy people making their way about the town. The buses, taxis and vehicles all whirled about, reds, yellows and greens mixing into a technicolor dance within my mind. After so long deprived of colour, vibrancy, scents or sounds, it was if I was in some kind of drug haze. Grinning and staring I must have seemed slightly touched, but I was just simply loving seeing life and abundant varied light and form. Puerto Montt is a port town, it is not a tourist Mecca or even pretty in reality, but for me it will always be special. It was where I reentered orbit, where I appreciated human life, human noise and colour with an intensity only previously matched by a 58 day solo in a polar environment. We live on an amazing planet, a planet where both the wild spaces and its colourful people need to appreciated and protected. Maybe that’s what Project Zero Expedition One was all about, stripping all the noise away, all the distractions so I could grasp clearly what legacy I would like to leave with my last few explorations.

Image by Dom Gould.