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Chile Welcomes California Sailor Whitall Stokes

Although stopped and resting, Sparrow and Whitall Stokes’ adventure continues from shore rather than at sea.

Whitall was attempting a nonstop singlehanded circumnavigation from San Francisco when his Open 50 Sparrow started to have problems breaking stuff while rounding Cape Horn. The last time we checked in with them they were headed for Argentina. “I was thinking Ushuaia, Argentina, was the place that would have the best infrastructure in the area to support repairing Sparrow. Alas, this was not to be. As I made my way west down the Beagle Strait on December 28, Ushuaia refused not only entry, but also even anchorage. The authorities there refused to assist a mariner in distress.”

Sparrow at the dock
Whitall Stokes and Sparrow at Marina Bay in Richmond on November 7, the day before their departure out the Gate.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Argentina, like every other country, is dealing with COVID and is currently not accepting transients. “I was crushed and got emotional on the radio, not knowing what to do. This all happened on open VHF channels, with many folks in Puerto Williams, Chile, listening in.” Puerto Williams is just south of Argentina. “After a brief exchange on VHF with the Puerto Williams Harbormaster, he allowed Sparrow to anchor off the town temporarily while they determined what to do next.” Like Ushuaia, Puerto Williams is on lockdown and under a curfew due to COVID. Chile is not accepting foreigners, so if they did anything it would be through a waiver process.

Satellite view of Puerto Williams
Puerto Williams lies close to the Argentina border.
© 2021 Google Maps

“Puerto Williams happens to have a significant Chilean naval presence, and apparently the navy took an interest in my case. The local authorities moved extraordinarily quickly, and on the morning of the 29th two officers were onboard Sparrow taking pictures of my passport, vessel documentation, and some of the damage. Some hours later they allowed Sparrow to move into the inner harbor to a mooring. In the afternoon there were six authorities in uniform onboard Sparrow, where they asked me some questions, gave me a health inspection, and then stamped my passport with a 90-day tourist visa. Boom.”

Puerto Williams panorama
Summer in Puerto Williams, as seen from sea.
© 2021 Whitall Stokes

Whitall had been alone at sea since November 10. He had already been in quarantine, so no problem with mixing with the locals. And they turned out to be friendly. “The check-in is only the beginning of the reception I’ve received since anchoring in Puerto Williams. After [I got] the visa, the captain of the Isaza, one of the naval vessels here and the number two naval officer invited me for a hot shower, meal and some lubricating beverages. Three hours later I left with clean skin, a full stomach, two blankets and maybe a little woozy from the pesco. Commander Guerrero had just received a promotion that day so was in a certain mood!”

So all’s well with Sparrow for now while Whitall contemplates the next move. “And now my attention turns to repairs. I can see while waiting for parts to arrive Sparrow may take a little cruise westward to see glaciers and who knows what else.”

See for more.

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Hounsell 3 years ago

    Thank you to the Harbormaster of Puerto Williams and the Navy of Chili for making the extra effort to help a mariner in distress. In these waters, life threatening is an understatement. It is hard to imagine that Ushuaia would not make accommodation. Mr. Stokes had been at sea in excess of 40 days – there would be no Covid issues.

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