Beagle Channel & Cape Horn (2019)
During the night we exited the Magellan Strait and by morning we were sailing down the Beagle Channel. While there were a lot of clouds, most did not appreciably obscure the dramatic scenery as they had done last time we were here:
During the morning we sailed along Glacier Alley, a series of glaciers falling from the Darwin ice sheet on Tierra del Fuego island. Some reach the water and some don’t and most of the large ones are named for European countries (Romanche, Alemania, Francia, Italia, Holanda, Espana), We can’t really identify which is which in the photos, but all are quite beautiful.
The Beagle Channel stretches 150 miles between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is 3 to 8 miles wide and separates the main island of Tierra del Fuego from the more southerly islands in the archipelago. It is named after the ship on which Darwin travelled around the world, which discovered the channel for Europeans on its previous voyage.
When he visited here during the Beagle’s next voyage in 1833 he wrote "It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow." From our vantage point most of the glaciers looked more white than blue (of course they may well have changed some in the intervening 185 years), but they were beautiful nonetheless.
Some 50 years later Darwin wrote this apt description of this scenery:
As we proceeded along the Beagle Channel, the scenery assumed a peculiar and very magnificent character … The mountains were here about three thousand feet high, and terminated in sharp and jagged points. They rose in one unbroken sweep from the water’s edge, and were covered to the height of fourteen or fifteen hundred feet by the dusky-coloured forest.
The western part of the Beagle Channel is in Chile, but the eastern part forms the border between Chile on the south and Argentina on the north. We passed a Chilean border station that appears to be a lonely spot to be stationed at.
We passed by Ushuaia, Argentina, our port for tomorrow, but this time only saw it from a distance. Closer to the ship was the airport, which is apparently on a peninsula extending a bit into the channel. Ushuaia is surrounded by stately mountains, but they were obscured by clouds as we sailed by.
On a small island near Ushuaia was the distinctive Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. Some have identified it as the “Lighthouse At The End Of The World” that gave this title to a book by Jules Verne. But we have read that this is erroneous & that Verne’s lighthouse was probably one attached to the prison in Ushuaia. We believe the birds crowding the island are cormorants.
We saw another clearly visible shipwreck today after we passed Ushuaia. The MV Logos ran aground near Snipe Island on January 5, 1988. It was a missionary ship, carrying about 120 people and a lot of bibles and other religious literature. It had visited more than 250 ports in more than 100 countries over a number of years. Apparently the ship sailed without a local pilot because they could not determine whether the pilot should be Chilean or Argentinian, which proved to be a big mistake when a storm came up. All the passengers were rescued but the ship & its cargo are still there sticking out of the water.
In 2012 we sailed to Ushuaia but were not permitted to land because of water conditions. So we left early for Antarctica and passed Cape Horn at night when we couldn’t see it. This time the Captain decided to take us to Cape Horn before Ushuaia, so we continued sailing south toward that island, with the scenery continuing to be pretty spectacular.
The Beagle Channel is reputedly full of interesting wildlife, from whales to dolphins to to sea lions to penguins, but we didn’t see any of that. We did see a number of interesting birds, but other than the cormorants near the lighthouse, they were all too far from the ship to get a sharp picture. Nonetheless, here are a few of the better ones, including what we think are South American Terns, some Black Browed Albatross, Southern Skuas and a Giant Petrel.
Tonight was Dutch Night in the main dining room, during which everybody was encouraged to wear something orange in honor of former Dutch Queen Beatrix’s birthday. Among others, the ship’s penguins were suitably attired.
During our dinner, around 8:30 PM, the Captain announced we were approaching Cape Horn. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch captain who named it after the Dutch city of Hoorn, this island marks the beginning of the Drake Passage across the Southern Ocean to Antarctica. At Cape Horn the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans all converge, and the convergence of strong ocean currents and high winds make it one of the most dangerous sailing routes in the world. It has been estimated that since its discovery more than 800 ships have been wrecked here, costing the lives of more than 10,000 seamen. We passed some rocky islands before reaching Cape Horn, as did Charles Darwin:
Running past Cape Deceit with its stony peaks, about three o’clock [we] doubled the weather-beaten Cape Horn. The evening was calm and bright, and we enjoyed a fine view of the surrounding isles. Cape Horn, however, demanded his tribute, and before night sent us a gale of wind directly in our teeth. We stood out to sea, and on the second day again made the land, when we saw on our weather-bow this notorious promontory in its proper form—veiled in a mist, and its dim outline surrounded by a storm of wind and water.
Once we got there, Rick went out on deck to take these photos as we approached. There is a small lighthouse with a caretaker’s cottage, a small chapel and what appears to be a radio antenna atop a promontory about 130 feet above the sea. Luckily for us, the weather was much better than it was for Darwin, with the Cape standing out clearly for the most part.
The object you can see in the first two pictures far out to the left is the Cape Horn Monument. Built in 1992 to commemorate the many sailors who died here, it is a steel diamond with the outline of an albatross in flight cut out of the center. It is 22 feet tall and designed to withstand winds of 200 mph.
One of Prinsendam’s boats went ashore, which meant landing on a rocky beach then climbing to the top of the promontory. We didn’t know why at the time, but it turned out that, in addition to perhaps delivering supplies, they took our passports ashore to be stamped, a nice touch. We thought maybe some misbehaving passenger was being put off at this next stop!
As the sun was now falling rapidly we finished our dinner, said goodnight to the orange haired penguins and retired for the night since we had an early call for an excursion in the morning when we reached Ushuaia again. If the weather is decent the sail down the Beagle Channel is really spectacular, one of the best we have seen anywhere. And if we hadn’t been going to Antarctica it might have been the highlight of the entire cruise. But, of course, we were going to Antarctica!