Latest News
Voyage of Tarka the Otter
About Bosun Bird
Winter in Fireland
Image Galleries
Notes for Cruisers
Bosun Bird
At sea
Winter in Fireland
To view the colour version of the black and white illustrations from Winter in Fireland, plus lots more that didn't make the cut, please visit the Fireland Gallery.


Island Cruising Association, New Zealand (John Martin) - May 2012

Looking for a good cruising adventure to read during the winter months? Try Nicholas Coghlan’s Winter In Fireland on for size. Nicholas & his wife Jenny revisit Chile & Patagonia aboard Bosun Bird, their 27 foot yacht. Their adventure takes us through their purchase & fit out in Cape Town, down the coast of Argentina, through the stormy waters of Tierra del Fuego & up the coast of Chile. It is a tale of their journey, filled with trials & tribulations, as well as reflections on the journeys of past explorers & adventures, told with humour & insight. Interspersed with photos this book is perfect for the armchair sailor and would be explorers.

Ocean Navigator Magazine - May/June 2012

Winter in Fireland chronicles Nicholas and Jenny Coghlan’s journey from Cape Town, South Africa, to Tierra del Fuego or “Fireland.”

The Coghlans first traveled to Patagonia in 1978 while teaching in Buenos Aires. From 1985 to 1989 they circumnavigated on their boat, Tarka the Otter, after which Nicholas joined the Canadian Foreign Service, and served at various postings around the world.

In Winter in Fireland Nicholas and Jenny revisit Patagonia, this time aboard their cutter-rigged Vancouver 27, Bosun Bird.
Coghlan weaves their personal journey with the history of the region. A talented writer, Coghlan’s book follows in the wake of Bruce Chatwin, James Cook, Charles Darwin, Joshua Slocum and others who were captivated by Fireland’s allure and primal beauty.

This article appears in the May/June 2012 issue of Ocean Navigator

Currents – magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association: review by Garth Miles, self-affirmed landlubber

A weighty tome, not just in its subject matter - toting it through airport after airport I began to resent its surprising weight. I’d recommend a boat to ship this book around, instead of shouldering it in a laptop bag. In this adventure,our captain takes his boat and then his reader, from acquisition through renaming and refitting to the completion of a dream. And then, quite literally, sails off into the sunset!

Right up front, a brief personal history is shared with the reader in way of explaining motivations for the voyage. A journey from Cape Town at the south of South Africa, across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a brief stop at the mid-ocean St. Helena Island. Then down the east coast of South America’s ice cream cone to the southernmost tip that is Cape Horn. And finally a complex struggle up the west coast, through Chile’s equivalent of BC’s inside passage. But this is considerably more than an annotated logbook, which this sort of book could quite easily become. In addition to relating stories about many of the people met along the way, the author includes or references considerable material, explaining the reasons for most of the names and places also encountered.

I sometimes found the author’s attention to detail frustrating, and paradoxically his sometime lack of detail equally frustrating. In anchorage after anchorage, the reader is informed of the number of ropes used to make fast to the shore; however, missing for many of the lower profile days were the small details which make each day of cruising worthwhile and notable. There’s many a map but I would have liked more, or more detail, especially for the coast of Chile. As the author supplied so much information about so many named places, I felt cheated on occasion when I searched in vain for places mentioned which were not to be found on the map.

As with Patagonia, there’s a dark and stormy side to this book. “Antoine Duguet, a dashing yet modest young Frenchman from Brittany’ is lost to the wind and the waves. Yves Robert, sailing along with him in another boat, ended with his boat at least momentarily upside down and his mast snapped. Mention is also made of Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, who drifted for 117 days in a life raft after their boat is rammed and ultimately sunk by a sperm whale. I definitely finished this book with the understanding that cruising is considerably more of a tension-filled adrenaline sport than common usage of the term would otherwise suggest. And that’s surprising, as everything untoward which happens in this journey is quite ably handled by the author and his wife.

I’ve read this book cover to cover, including the appetizing selected bibliography and some of the quite serviceable index. I’d read it again, and I’d urge you to read it too. When you do give it a read, I’d recommend starting with the selected bibliography. The author’s concise reviews of most of his references illuminate the sort of book he’s looking for, and so will help set your expectations for what’s to come. There’s also a good accompanying website, www.bosunbird.com where you can get a taste for the author’s style and find plenty of both supplementary and subsequent material. The only thing missing from the overall package was a glossary of sailing terms and boat bits for those of us without that ocean of knowledge.

You may not have asked, but that’s my opinion. Please read this book.

Pacific Rim Review of Books (September 2012)

Seven Seas Cruising Association

Winter in Fireland: A Patagonian Sailing Adventure
by Nick Coghlan

Whether you dream of someday cruising to Tierra del Fuego or you enjoy reading about the adventures of those who choose to cruise off the beaten path, you’ll find Winter in Fireland to be both an informational and inspirational book.

Nick Coghlan and his wife, Jenny, first had the chance to explore Patagonia when Nick landed a teaching job at a private school in Buenos Aires. His holidays gave them the chance to find adventure in the “south.” As a young couple, they traveled by train and by foot, climbing the peaks and trekking to remote areas in the far southern regions of Argentina and
Chile over the course of three successive summers.

Nick left teaching and after a four-year circumnavigation aboard Tarka the Otter between 1985 and 1989 he joined the Canadian Foreign Service. Despite diplomatic postings in various countries, he and Jenny continued to yearn for adventure and sought to fulfill their wanderlust. While on a diplomatic assignment in South Africa they made their plans to return to their beloved Patagonia, this time by sailboat. They bought a Vancouver 27 and named her Bosun Bird, and in 2005 took off from Cape Town, sailing west to Argentina and then south to the Beagle Channel.

The Coghlans spent a winter traversing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, sailing through the winding channels of Argentina and Chile. Woven into the story is the rich history of the voyages of explorers such as Magellan, Cook, Darwin and Slocum who explored this region.

This is a tale of adventure set in a beautiful, yet harsh and lonely cruising ground. I highly recommended Winter in Fireland for both the armchair sailor and those who plan on cruising the high latitudes.

Nick Coghlan has written books about two of his postings: The Saddest Country: On Assignment in Colombia and Far in the Waste Sudan: On Assignment in Africa. Following the adventure described in Winter in Fireland, Coghlan accepted a two-year posting as Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan.

Now, he and Jenny are once again living aboard Bosun Bird and cruising the Pacific.

Winter in Fireland
Published by The University of Alberta Press
ISBN# 978-0-88864-547-0

Just Ottawa and bout de papier, the magazine of the Canadian Foreign Service 

Winter in Fireland  By Nick Coghlan 

Reviewed by Paul Durand, Recovering Diplomat

I first became a fan of Nick Coghlan’s writing when reading his dispatches from our embassy in Colombia in the late nineties. In these reports, he combined the two qualities that make “Winter in Fireland” a gripping read – an irrepressible spirit of adventure which took him into the most daunting situations, and an ability to describe his experiences in lucid prose. This book, following on his previous publications about Colombia and Sudan, places him solidly in the company of the best travel writers - those hardy souls who have explored the world’s nether regions and lived to tell the tale.

The voyage starts in Capetown, South Africa, where, in 2003, Nick and his wife Jenny had begun a two-year posting. There, they conceived of the ultimate sailing adventure; around the tip of South America, through the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan, then into the Pacific. This region, notorious as a sailors’ graveyard, is beset by ferocious storms, numbing cold and unpredictable currents: the most difficult sailing area in the world. In addition to the challenge, they were motivated by a certain amount of nostalgia, having worked in Argentina immediately after graduating from university in the UK. While there, they travelled extensively in the region and were particularly attracted to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Nick and Jenny complement each other very well for this type of venture; both have extensive sailing experience - among other exploits, they had completed a four-year circumnavigation of the world before joining DFAIT. Nick is the captain while ‘the crew’ - Jenny - adds invaluable expertise in all things electronic including computers, satellite phones, GPS, radar, etc. (these latter were especially useful in the sometimes uncharted waters of the Cape Horn region). In addition to complementarity, there obviously exists a good deal of compatibility, allowing them to withstand living at extremely close quarters for extended periods.

In South Africa they purchased and fitted-out the ‘Bosun Bird’, a Canadian-designed Vancouver 27 with a good reputation for rugged seaworthiness. At 27 feet, she was small - the minimum for this type of voyage, but similar in size to their previous boat, ‘Tarka the Otter’. After extensive fitting up, they weighed anchor in Capetown in September, 2005 and began the first leg of the journey, across the Atlantic to Brazil.

As the real journey begins, Nick’s sailing expertise comes to the fore. He explains, with the easy ability of one who knows his stuff, sailing tactics, gear, and various levels of marine history and lore (fans of Patrick O’Brian will be relieved to know that they don’t have to acquire a whole new nautical vocabulary in order to enjoy this book).

After a brief landfall in Rio de Janeiro, they begin the deep plunge into the south, making various stops along the Argentine coast. Plagued by engine problems, they put up for repairs for several weeks in Puerto Deseado, giving us a glimpse of life in this remote and increasingly forgotten coastal town in southern Argentina.

South America is familiar territory, and Nick puts the trip into historical and personal context as they make stops along the way. This provides depth and colour, because they are following in the footsteps/wakes of fascinating characters, such as Drake, Magellan, Cook, Slocum, Chatwin and an assortment of pirates. The history here is remote but consequential; he describes British and German naval confrontations during the world wars; Chile/Argentina border jostling, and the Falklands war, along with other interesting personal and historical anecdotes.

With well-warranted apprehension, they keep pushing south; through the Roaring Forties into the Furious Fifties, and eventually entering the Beagle Channel, with the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego to the north and a succession of Chilean islands down to Cape Horn to the south. He talks of 8-metre waves and 50-knot winds, sudden squalls and always the freezing, wet cold. This is not hospitable territory; and now, five months out of Capetown, the fun has just begun.

In March, they arrive in Puerto Williams, Chile, the southernmost town in the world (to the chagrin of the Argentines, who long claimed that honour for Ushuaia, several miles to the north) and prepare to hunker down for the worst of the winter before proceeding across the bottom of the world and into the Pacific.

Puerto Williams is not everyone’s idea of a vacation spot; it’s isolated, cold and nearly deserted. But they make the best of it, getting to know the handful of eccentric locals, hiking and climbing when weather permits, reading, and preparing for the next big push in the spring. Nick is a keen observer of nature and provides interesting information on birds, plants and animals, including the Canadian beaver, which was introduced here in the 1940s with disastrous ecological results. The intended fur trade failed and the released animals, having no natural predators, multiplied exponentially, changing river courses, creating vast bogs and degrading large tracts of land.

There is a compelling account of the tragic demise of the Yahgan tribes who were hunted, then proselytized, to near extinction, and the missionaries whose futile attempts to ‘save’ them usually ended in disaster.

Finally, on August 20, as winter eases and conditions improve, they slip their moorings and begin the 1200-mile journey through the rest of the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan, up the Chilean coast to Puerto Montt. It’s an arduous journey, requiring all the sailing skills of the two, but eventually they arrive at their final Chilean destination, having traversed the world’s most treacherous waters.

On March 1, after re-supplying and re-fitting, they depart Puerto Montt and the Chilean mainland, heading out into the Pacific. In the words of the author, “On a brilliant afternoon, we set our course to the NNW and Robinson Crusoe Island, six hundred miles away. The sun sank slowly, the wind picked up, South America faded into the night”.

A perfect ending to a gripping adventure, written by a colleague who has mastered both sail and pen.


5.0 out of 5 stars Winter in Fireland, August 30, 2011

By Howard Steen (Frankfurt, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Winter in Fireland: A Patagonian Sailing Adventure (Wayfarer Series) (Paperback)

In this book the author describes a voyage he made, supported by his wife as crew in a small sailing yacht from Capetown to Puerto Montt in the south of Chile via the Patagonian and Chile channels. The trip included a planned break during the severe southern winter at Puerto Williams, Tierra del Fuego, hence the title.

For me this book was a very compelling and enjoyable read on several levels. The author has written a very informative account of a journey well off the beaten track and including several months spent sailing through one of the most challenging and inhospitable areas of navigable water on the planet, parts of it, even today, still uncharted. Few people chose to sail here and the book gives a fascinating insight into the motivation, preparation, challenges, hazards, setbacks and uncertainties that are involved for those who commit to a small boat voyage of this type.

It was easy to get a sense of and appreciate the adventure in this voyage. The author has used few sailing terms and gives ample explanation for non sailors. The narrative was made compelling and authentic for me by descriptions of the raw fear and doubts about the whole venture he feels when facing particularly challenging sections of the route.

I also liked this book because it offers much more than simply an account of a sailing adventure. The author has put his own journey which takes his boat and crew through modern day Brazil, Argentina and Chile into the context of his early experience working in Argentina in the late 70's as well as several centuries of history of the region. Informative and entertaining references and asides occur throughout the book to the history of the area including its exploration e.g. the Beagle and Darwin and naval encounters e.g. the Falklands War. The author shares many interesting personal insights and observations of people and places along the way.

So overall, a very enjoyable book, well researched, well presented with ample photographs and route charts. A good bibliography recommends further reading covering adventure and history of the region.

St. Albert Gazette

Sailing adventure takes readers away
Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011 06:00 am | By Scott Hayes |

My first thought when picking up this adventure title was, “I’ve heard of it before but I really have no idea where in the world ‘Patagonia’ is.” The cover page, with its stormy seas next to snow-capped mountains, didn’t even help me. “How can a cold-looking place be called Fireland?”

Of course, Tierra del Fuego has a much nicer ring to it. The southern tip of South America is well known as a place of troubled waters but beautiful scenery for those brave enough to venture there. Magellan made a point of going there as he circumnavigated the globe. Cook was there too, as was Darwin.

Add Nicholas Coghlan to that prestigious list. Along with his wife, Jenny, the nationalized Canadian teacher and sailing enthusiast first travelled to Patagonia — the southernmost region of the Andes mountains — 33 years ago when he took a posting in Buenos Aires. A few decades later, he was serving on diplomatic missions with the Canadian Foreign Service in Central and South America, as well as Africa. They decided to take their sailboat back to the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan to reflect on what being an explorer really means.

It’s an enticing prospect but one that is naturally fraught with all manner of unknown dangers and perils.

On their first trip there, he observed albatrosses and caught sight of the beautiful and frozen continent, Antarctica.

“But it was Patagonia,” he writes at the end of the introductory chapter, “that vast and underpopulated tract of land south of 40 degrees, uneasily shared by Chile and Argentina, that always drew us back.”

“You could spend decades exploring here; we decided we’d like to come back one day.”

If any paper lion out there ever dared to even consider what the boating life might be like, this tome should be essential reading. Of course, you could always set a sloop out on any still lake, but the open sea is a much different story. To maintain that kind of freedom, you must also accept the fact that, when trouble comes — and it will — you will be entirely on your own to handle it.

Along with his musings on the human condition and his remarks about the natural world, Coghlan also relates several stories about where he almost came to the end of his existence while on board the Bosun Bird, his 8.2-metre (27-foot) vessel.

One such anecdote involved the sail getting stuck, its luff blown in front of a mast step. This meant that it could neither be let up nor down. Worse, it was at risk of tearing itself to shreds.

Forced to climb the mast in 46 km/h winds, he was nearly unable to wrench it free, all the while hanging on for dear life as the keel rocked back and forth in the storm. To make it worse, he isn’t fond of heights and was suffering nausea at the same time.

“For a moment, I thought it wasn’t going to give,” he writes. “I leaned with all my weight and pulled so hard I thought the sail might rip. I gave a final desperate tug. I swung for a moment completely free.”

He banged back into the mast and slid down it, falling to a heap on the deck. Luckily, it worked and he lived to write about it and sail another day.

The Green Life (Sierra Club)

Winter in Fireland (by Nicholas Coghlan, $35, University of Alberta Press, June 2011):

Canadian diplomat Nicholas Coghlan and his wife Jenny spent their 1978 honeymoon at a private school in Argentina, teaching during the weeks and exploring Patagonia when they could. Winter in Fireland is the tale of the couple's return to Tierra Del Fuego, the land of fire, by sailboat 25 years later. Coghlan's occasional focus on the minutiae of operating a sailing vessel is trying for non-sailors, but his descriptions of serene inlets below icy peaks and the remarkable people he encounters will interest almost any reader. For those looking for something between an adventure novel and a travelogue, Winter in Fireland is a brisk read.

--Colin Griffin

Book News Inc.

Winter in Fireland; a Patagonian sailing adventure.
Coghlan, Nicholas.
The U. of Alberta Press, ©2011     385 p.      $34.95      F2986 978-0-88864-547-0

This engaging travel memoir describes Coghlan and his wife's first trip to Patagonia in 1978, as well as their second voyage 25 years later in which they sailed from Cape Town to the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan, skirting Tierra del Fuego to Puerto Montt. Along the way, he relates the experiences of past adventurers including Bruce Chatwin, James Cook, Charles Darwin, Ferdinand Magellan, Allen Gardiner, and Joshua Slocum. Distributed by Michigan U. Press. (Annotation ©2011 Book News Inc. Portland, OR)
Noonsite: The global site for cruising sailors

Book Review: Winter in Fireland - A Patagonian Sailing Adventure

Winter in Fireland - A Patagonian Sailing Adventure
By Nicholas Coghlan
Published by the University of Alberta Press, 2011
$34.95 in Canada

For anyone considering venturing to this part of the world, or simply those that love armchair adventuring, this is a “must-read”. Not only does Nick Coghlan paint a vivid picture of the tenacity and slight insanity required to attempt winter cruising in this part of the world, he also delves into the rich maritime history that the likes of Chatwin, Cook, Darwin and Magellan left behind.

Nick and his wife Jenny, experienced cruisers with a circumnavigation under their belts some 20 years previously, sail from Cape Town to the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan, skirting Tierra del Fuego (Fireland). Progress is slow in their 27 foot sailboat, and their days are dictated by constant weather concerns, tricky navigation and the harsh yet beautiful terrain surrounding them.

Both enjoy exploring and hiking ashore, giving the reader a full picture of just what it’s really like to adventure in Patagonia.

About the Author

Nick Coghlan and his wife Jenny, sailed around the world on their first boat, Tarka the Otter, between 1985 and 1989. Upon return, he joined the Canadian Foreign Service and has written books about two of his postings: "The Saddest Country: On Assignment in Colombia" and "Far in the Waste Sudan: On Assignment in Africa". Following the adventure described in "Winter in Fireland", Coghlan accepted a 2 year posting as Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan. Now, he and Jenny are living aboard Bosun Bird somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Good Old Boat

Winter in Fireland —A Patagonian Sailing Adventure

by Nicholas Coghlan (University of Alberta Press, 2011; 496 pages, 4 maps, 48 photographs; $34.95)

Review by Chas. Hague
Des Plaines, Illinois

In 1978, newly graduated Nicholas Coghlan and his girlfriend Jenny moved to Buenos Aires to take a job at a private English school. While there, they traveled extensively on the continent, including an extended trip south to Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego.

Fast-forward 25 years (that's the first sentence of Chapter 2). Now Canadian Consul General in Cape Town, Nicholas and wife Jenny decide to return to the South by sailing there in a 27-foot Vancouver named Bosun Bird.

In September 2005, Bosun Bird departed Port Owen, South Africa (shades of John Vigor), and sailed to Rio de Janeiro, via St. Helena and Trindade. Then they headed south to Puerto Deseado, around Cabo San Diego, and into the Beagle Channel. After wintering over at Puerto Williams on Navarino Island, Chile, Bosun Bird continued west through Cockburn Channel and into the Strait of Magellan, then north through the Patagonian Islands and the Corcovado Gulf to Puerto Montt, sailing through terrible weather in some of the most isolated waters on the planet.

Winds were strong and contrary; charts were poor — “sailing in the white” meant going into blank areas where the chart hadn't been filled in yet. Where protected harbors were found, standard mooring procedure called for two anchors, plus lines made fast to trees on shore—when there were trees. At one point Nicholas and Jenny were trapped in a rock-walled basin for nine days while gales blew down the channel just outside. Other days, progress was only a few miles.

Few people live in this cold, wildly beautiful part of the world. Not surprisingly, they are remarkable, like the fishermen from Chiloe Island, and the villagers eking out a thin existence along the shores. Coghlan writes about these hardy folk, and also of the previous explorers: Magellan, of course, and Slocum, but also Thomas Cavendish in 1586. One of his crew, a Welshman, named the thousands of swimming birds he saw “White Heads” or, in his native language, “pen gwin.” The Beagle spent two years in Patagonian waters, and Charles Darwin wrote extensively of the land, animals, and native people. More modern yachtsmen include Gerry Clarke, who circumnavigated Antarctica solo while in his 50s.

At one point, Nicholas and Jenny sail past four small islands in Beagle Channel, named Despard, Bertha, Lucas and Willie. They were named after the children of Thomas Bridges, a missionary who realized the futility of thrusting Christianity down the throats of the native people, and set to helping them instead. His wife, Mary, arrived at his outpost on the 42-ton Allen Gardiner, named after a man who led a group of missionaries to this area. After unloading their equipment, they discovered that they'd left all their ammunition on board the now departed ship.

Winter in Fireland is full of yarns like these. Coghlan will describe the day's sail, mentioning the landmarks, telling what happened to previous explorers, then talk about the interesting people who make their living on these forbidding waters at the bottom of the world.

Nicholas and Jenny are now living aboard Bosun Bird “somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.” I'm hoping for another book from them about this journey.

Cruising World

Winter in Fireland: A Patagonian Sailing Adventure by Nicholas Coghlan ($35; 2011).

This rugged region at South America’s southern tip has lured hardy adventurers and sailors for centuries. Don’t miss reading this tale of one couple’s voyage in Bosun Bird, their Vancouver 27. Packed with carefully documented history and as much about adventures by land as by sea, it’s a volume you’ll want to keep permanently on your bookshelf. The only drawback is that while we travel far with the author and his wife, Jenny, we never really get to know them. -Lynda Morris Childress

HomeLatest NewsLogVoyage of Tarka the OtterAbout Bosun BirdCrewWinter in FirelandImage GalleriesNotes for Cruisers