British Admiralty sailing directions describe the Patagonian channels as gloomy grandeur. They are certainly that and much more, but in occasional snatches of sunshine the freezing rain ceases pounding the hood of your foul weather jacket and the wind might ease from storm force to a mere gale. A saving grace is the plenitude of beautiful coves offering shelter. In company with Regina Maris we hopped from one anchorage to the next and avoided sailing in the short nights.
The chief mate suffered some of the symptoms described in a book on pregnancy that we found in a book store in Punta Arenas. With the aid of our Spanish/English dictionary we came to expect stomach cramps, listlessness, hot and cold flushes. We did not have the sort of food she should be eating, such as fresh meat and vegetables, but we caught an occasional fish and did the best we could with eggs, yoghurt and canned fruit. She was allergic to milk, which became a deficiency in her diet.
The fishing village of Queilan, a lonely outpost in the wilderness of channels, gave a chance to get supplies. It was like some grim fairy tale. Paintless houses of splitting wood shingles had chimneys made of old tin cans emitting blue smoke into the dank air. Everything seemed to be rotting and going mouldy. People wearing ponchos and rubber boots shuffled along the muddy main street with expressionless faces. The only business that appeared to be doing any trade was a bar.
There was obviously no hospital here but enquiries for a doctor (medico) led us to a house distinguished by a red cross on the front door. The old woman who opened up showed no surprise when I mentioned the word ‘embarazada’ (pregnant) and explained we wanted an examination. She waved us inside and motioned Helen to lie down on a stretcher. The consultation took about 15 minutes. She asked a few questions, took a blood pressure and peered into Helen’s eyes.
“No problema,” she announced and then explained the proper diet for a pregnant woman, which included milk and no alcohol.
We nodded our heads, thanked her and paid her modest fee.
After that, I needed a drink.
“Me too,” the chief mate said.
The bar went by the name Puerto Grille Restaurant. The only item on the menu was a knuckle of boiled smoked pork and cold potato salad. We washed it down with a glass of good Chilean red wine.