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August 2003

A New Consideration enroute to the Chilean Canals

The commandant of the Chilean Armada, Punta Arenas office now requires owners of any vessel, commercial or pleasure, of any nationality, show proofof full cover insurance from a recognized underwriter (such as Lloyds or Zurich) before receiving zarpe (port clearance) to enter or transit the canalsof Southern Chile. Previously yachtsmen wishing to sail from Puerto Montt, through the canals to the Straits of Magellan, Beagle Canal or Cape Horn enroute to the Atlantic, or in the opposite direction from Punta Arenas or Puerto Williams north into the Pacific, had only to fill out simple forms attesting to their boats' seaworthiness and specify the length of time provisions and water carried on board could sustain the crew. A minimum of thirty days self-sufficiency was and still is required.

This recent change, introduced to coincide with the 2002-2003 summer (November-February), has caused several voyagers to re-align their plans and face several thousand miles of unexpected passage making to reach the Panama Canal, or to consider requesting clearance to a country north of Chile, then keeping offshore to sail directly south and around Cape Horn. East or west bound, this is 2200 miles of extreme condition sailing and eliminates any chance to sample the maze of wild life laden canals that draw almost 20 yachts a year to these windswept waters.
Unfortunately, due to a sharp tightening of insurance underwriters willingness to take on risk post 9/11 and because of the relatively high risks that southern Chilean cruising presents, three cruising sailors we met as we prepared to sail north bound into the Pacific from Puerto Montt, had their insurance applications declined by major companies. Those who have been able to obtain insurance are being offered policies with $5,000 deductible (excess) at 2-1/2 to 3 times the premium rate normally quoted for cruising through Polynesian waters.

Rodrigo Rojas, manager of Marina del Sur, in conjunction with other Chilean yachtsmen in Puerto Montt, is working to try to get this new regulation modified. In discussion with him and with officials of the Armada in Puerto Montt who are under the jurisdiction of the Punta Arenas office, I learned the officials feel insurance companies will not cover a vessel unless it has been fully surveyed and its crew scrutinized as to seaworthiness and ability of crew and boat to face the rigors of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Some reasons cited for this new regulation were the unfortunate loss of three lives in two separate incidents in the past two years, plus several calls to the Armada for assistance in less severe incidents such as when medical assistance was need after a 45 foot yacht headed south through the canals, suffered a knockdown during which a stove broke off its mounts to land on the cook. Insurance policies generally cover the cost of removing any wrecked yacht that could be considered a hazard to navigation or the environment, according to the officials I spoke with, along with guaranteeing salvage costs.

Several yachtsmen brought up the New Zealand attempt to require foreign voyagers to submit to inspections and prove they carried government specified safety equipment before being given clearance to depart (known as section 21). This act was tested in court by a group of yachtsmen and found to be in contravention of the international maritime treaties, which require signatories to guarantee free passage to all vessels. Section 21 was repealed. Unfortunately, these same laws do not apply in this situation as the canals are inland waters and fully under the jurisdiction of the Chilean Armada, and are not covered by international conventions.

Though we doubt the new requirement will improve the safety record of yachtsmen transiting the area, the alternative, considered by the Armada, closing the canals to foreign yachtsmen, is definitely worse.

Ever since we began voyaging, almost 3 ½ decades ago, we've heard tales of the paternalistic attitude of the Armada toward not only visiting yachtsmen but their own fishermen and sailors, with requirements of exact details of each vessels itinerary, plus twice daily radio contact while in transit, and frequent port closures when winds were forecast to exceed 35 knots. The reality of abiding with these requirements turned out to be far from onerous during our voyage in these waters. One reason is that radio contact is often difficult due to the terrain, lack of radio posts and lack of other passing vessels so even once weekly reports to passing ships sufficed to satisfy the Armada. Furthermore, ever voyager we meet here had reports of the generous treatment offered by the naval ships they encountered including invitations to secure alongside for the night in isolated anchorages and come aboard for hot showers and generous dinners. An extreme example was one incident reported by Charles Williams on 35 foot Nomad who, after almost 3 weeks without sighting another vessel, made radio contact with a passing Naval ship. About an hour after his long enjoyable radio chat with her captain, he was buzzed by the ships helicopter which, on its second pass dropped an inflated package in the water just off his bow. "Fresh baked bread, fresh fruit and a note wishing me well. What a special treat," Charles enthused. One more reason he holds these canals as the highlight of his cruise so far.

For more information from the Chilean Armada look at www.directemar.cl

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