Pre-natal sailingDespite bouts of morning sickness, a severe attack of chilblains on frozen feet and anxiety over the new life growing in her womb, my chief mate soldiered on as we tackled some of the worst weather I had ever encountered. It was a battle against strong tides, howling wind and freezing rain within the narrow confines of rock-strewn channels. Eventually, we escaped the clutches of the channels into the open sea where Wathara buried her nose in a big swell and green water swept down the deck. This is crazy, I thought. Still 100 miles to go to so-called civilisation and we were reefed down to triple-reefed main, staysail and storm jib.
The wind fell calm and the Sun peeped out as we motored the last 15 miles to Puerto Montt with afternoon light reflecting off the underside of low-lying clouds. We were passing through the drowned crater of a volcano with a feeling of dramatic suspense as if at any moment the world might be rent asunder by violent storms, which we had come to expect. We passed an island dotted with farm houses from which blue wood-smoke rose. We passed a native sailing craft ghosting along no doubt with produce for market. This was civilisation. The ethereal sensation persisted as we approached the town with yellow lights glimmering through smoky air on the northern rim of the crater.
We tied up alongside a crowded jetty and prepared to go ashore. The chief mate put on her best pair of jeans that she had not worn since Punta Arenas about six weeks before. She found them loose around her middle and let out a cry of dismay. By this stage of the pregnancy she should be showing it. We had come to Puerto Montt specifically to find a doctor and this was not a good omen. She blamed herself because she had been unable to follow the proper diet for a pregnant woman. She was allergic to milk products, a source of calcium, and missed her booze.
It was next day before we got ashore and found the local hospital. After a wait of about three hours we were shown into a consulting room and introduced to Doctor Manuel Vallejo, a middle aged man wearing thick horn-rim glasses. He listened to our story, took her blood pressure and then led us into another room for a scan. That was my first view of my son swimming in a sea of amniotic fluid looking like a radar picture of a storm at sea. The doctor gave the all clear but advised further consultations at least once a month.
Whew. What a relief.
To celebrate we had a drink in a bar where a TV blared out the latest football results interspersed with ads for chocolate, furniture, aspirin and cleansing powder while customers slouched in chairs at tables around a pot-belly stove. The chief mate ignored the doctor’s advice and said, “Just one glass of wine can’t hurt.”
We had battled so hard against foul weather and currents to get to this place only to find a collection of shabby houses, noisy, smoky buses and depressed-looking people on the same kind of pointless business that occupies human beings everywhere. To travel all this way and find everything the same!
I could not banish from my mind the images of snow-clad peaks of the Andes, waterfalls cascading down a rocky mountainside, tiny islands covered with a forest of miniature trees like Japanese Bon sai and asked myself ‘What business do we have that brings us to cities like this? The answer is obvious, of course.