On this virtual tour you may see: Majestic mountains dipped
Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels...
By Richard Stanaway
CAPE HORN and
the BEAGLE CHANNEL
Sunday 24th December 2000
Another client writes:
Heather and I drove out into the interior of
Tierra Del Fuego, stopping frequently to
engorge on the amazing Fuegian Alpine
scenery. Vast glacial U-shaped valleys,
flooded with dense mats of colorful, peaty
mosses were fringed by dense beech forests
which stopped abruptly, like a template at
the very low winter snow lines.
This grandiose scenery eventually gave way to
the rolling grass hills scattered with sheep
of Estancia Harberton and the shore of the
Beagle Channel. The small Chilean naval town
of Puerto Williams could be seen across the
channel. The Estancia was founded early in
the 19th century by an Englishman, Thomas
Bridges who named the station after the
village where is his wife was born in Devon.
A friendly young lass on her vacation from
Santiago guided us around the grounds of the
station, the botanical garden, cemetery,
shearing and boat sheds. The tiny arboretum
contained all the varieties of the local
beech trees and the ubiquitous 'pan de los indios' or
Indian bread, a small spherical orange fungus which
the Patagonian indigenous tribes ate as a sustenance.
Surprisingly, there seemed to be absolutely no taste
to them. Unlike the previous couple of days, the
weather was calm, warm and sunny.
Heather and I parted ways at the main dock
of Ushuaia. She boarded a well fitted Russian
research ice-breaker, the Professor Multanovsky
for a 2 week cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula.
I couldn't resist the urge to have a look around the boat.
My own vessel was to be considerably smaller,
a 53 ft iron yacht, a Hamburg built vessel designed
specially for Antarctic sailing and with an itinerary
somewhat less ambitious. I bumped into Henk,
the skipper at the Marina. Henk, from
Friesland was a very congenial fellow and got
the feeling we would get on. In fact his
appearance and manner was almost the
splitting image of Christian Hamburg.
Already aboard were a Dutch couple, Dyck and
Elizabeth sipping Budweiser. I went out with
Jacqueline, the efficious Swiss "first-mate"
to pick up some last minute items for the
boat from Henk's cosy chalet amongst the
beech trees. Everything in Ushuaia had shut
early for the Christmas carnival and the
drizzle set in. The main street was packed
with people, traffic and colorful troupes.
Finally, Friedthof, from Germany somewhat
dazed after a mammoth flight from Frankfurt
and we set sail into the calm Beagle Channel.
The layout and comfortable appointment of the
yacht was superb. In the saloon there was an
excellent selection of books and music. John
Stamps, (another of Victory Adventure
Travel's clients,) a cheerful American
accountant appeared out of his bunk and both
of us splashed out our Christmas goodies
(mostly alcoholic or chocoholic). A dormant
cruiser, the Viking Bordeaux, registered
unusually in Luxembourg sent out an
invitation to their Christmas party.
A Luxembourg cruise ship seemed almost as
ludicrous as a Tibetan scuba-diving club!
There was a marvellous, warm atmosphere on
board, with most of the crew coming from
Romania. Other crew were from Togo (the Chief
Engineer) and a Faeroese captain. There was
one eccentric English passenger, a "hangover"
from an earlier cruise. The ship was still
waiting for a profitable intake of passengers
and the holds were full of delights.
Monday 25th December 2000
Christmas dawned without too much distress,
awaking to be greeted by a charming little hound
of Jacquelines called Kidu and a delightfully
secluded cove in Puerto Williams. Kidu had
this alarming tendency as pups have, of play
biting. Christmas day in Puerto Williams was
very unexciting and drizzly. There was nobody
about, apart from the odd naval sentry post.
Peaty smoke was coming out of nearly all
the chimneys indicating that life was indoors
today. Henk's ultra vague directions for finding
Captain Ben's house were sufficiently useful to
get near. John jumped out behind me from this
muddy staircase which apparently were the steps
to Ben's house. Ben was glued to the CNN
cable station with his young kids in present
opening craze, wrappings and food everywhere.
We had a good chat about many things.
Ben originally from California, a keen sailor
and diver had suffered an unfortunate setback
some years previously with a diving accident
on Easter Island which made walking very
difficult. From the sounds of it, the stresses of
retrieving his yacht from the Chilean Navy,
who had rescued and salvaged it from pirates
seemed more telling. Monica, his wife and
heir three kids were very charming and
welcoming. Their alternate home was the
Victory, berthed near our yacht, almost a
replica of Darwin's Beagle.
The shower in the naval vessel-cum-jetty-cum-yacht
club was wickedly efficient and hot compared to
the normally dribbly Chilean affairs. We set sail
along the placid Beagle Channel with numerous
albatross, petrels and skuas
cruising and diving nearby, a superb display
of aerobatics, poise and quick action.
In the afternoon we moored at arguably the
most southerly permanent habitation on the
globe, the depot of Puerto Toro. we had a
good yarn with the harbor master and a local
fisherman, who was very drunk and cheerful.
Much back-splapping, slurping and yakking. I
walked around the beech covered headland
peppered with bunkers from the 1979 emergency
when Argentina threatened to claim back
"it's" territory. Argentina and Chile almost
went to war over the issue but for the
intervention of the Pope. Argentina's
invasion of the Falkland Islands three years
later was seen by many pundits as a dress
rehearsal for an invasion here.
The tiny chapel near the jetty was delightful and
peaceful. The small settlement was
congregated together above the small
headlands. There was a non-functioning phone,
a Carabineros depot next to a helipad and a
rude local guy who I could not understand at
all. Somehow he and his three bemused young
kids in tow ended up at his house after which
he promptly broached a bottle of this light
brown liquid (which I later found out to be
the Chilean Christmas drink, called "cola de
mono", a concoction of pisco, milk, coffee
and cinnamon). Down at the deck, I swapped a
bottle of this toxic beverage for some beer
and wine, both of which he drank
spontaneously, dribbling most of them through
the boards of the jetty !
My attempt at fishing the next day's
breakfast was marginally successful, just
getting several tiny Antarctic cod. We all
feasted below on one of Jacqueline's
delicious meals before heading off to a
secluded moorage off Isla Lennox, one of the
islands whose sovereignty is in dispute with
Tuesday 26th December 2000
Today, we bashed our way across the Bahia Nassau
exposed to a stiff SE gale forcing us to tack tenaciously.
The endless bashing of the vessel combined with the
alarming deviation off the vertical was making many
of the passengers feel very poorly. Icy blue waves crashed
over the bow deck portholes, giving me this queer submarine
feeling. There wasn't a great deal to do except lie down and
read, but even that became difficult after a while. Later that
evening Henk offered me some of his prized Brazilian rum,
a delicious drop. Later, John, an experienced sailor himself,
who had been as far afield as Tristan da Cunha navigated to
a moorage off Isla Herschel in the Wollaston Group
(near Cape Horn) at 2 a.m.. "One hull of a day" as they say.
Wednesday 27th December 2000
A drizzly cool day. We took the small tender
to the slippery, rocky beach nearby. A fringe
of stunted beech formed the only woodland on
the island forming perhaps part of the
southern most arboreal flora left on the
planet. We discovered yet another 1979
bunker. The ground was a dense, mossy sponge
of peat covered with an amazing variety of
microplants and mosses, many in flower. Dyck,
Elizabeth and I climbed up to a windswept
bleak headland covered in shattered granite
blocks. The view was not brilliant, smothered
by an invading haze.
We headed westward into Franklins Channel,
the weather became unusually sunny, save for
a horrific black squall which drenched the
boat. In the near distance could be seen the
snow capped peaks of Isla Wollaston. We
struck south to Isla Hornos, greeted almost
immediately by a gusty 4-5 m swell, which
apparently means a calm day in these parts!
It is not unknown here for 100 knot gusts
called "williwaws" to blast out of nowhere,
surprising sails and sailors alike.
Before long the distinctive peak of the Cape
headland could be made out, appearing as a
flared exclamation mark for an incredible
continent (the inhabited world even) with the
full stop being a pile of rocks caught in a
fury of wild surf. It seems almost
inconceivable to think that until the last
end of the last glacial maximum (ice-age) one
could walk without interruption of water all
the way to the Cape of Good Hope in Southern
Africa. The inspiration behind this whole
trip ! Even, considering that the vastness of
the Antarctic lies several hundred km further
south, there is no point further south which
can be considered habitable even if one
includes the bleak selection of sub-antarctic
We passed a few dangerous rocks, no doubt the
cause of many historical shipwrecks, almost
camouflaged by the chaotic pattern of the
wild surf. Being on watch, steered clear of
one of these piles. Then we passed the
furthest south I had yet been at near
Latitude 56 degrees South.
The author going around Cape Horn
Ceremoniously, I fed a bottle of champers off
into the Drake Passage with a length of rope
and we all toasted the occasion. Henks' and
Jacqueline's stories of the Drake Crossing
seemed almost unbelievable, with horizons of
furious surf swamping the boat on bad
occasions. Broken masts on inferior vessels
almost sounded like queer periscope stories.
A small lighthouse could be seen lower down
on the impressive slope of horn, now disused.
A superbly dramatic outlook. To the south lay
600 miles of the most continuously violent
seas on the planet, the Drake Passage, next
landfall the icy shores of the Graham Land on
the Antarctic Peninsula. We moved into the
lee of the horn to a small sheltered cove. A
wooden staircase and funicular rail for
freight lead up to the small naval station,
manned by a young Chilean couple (the NCO was
only 19 or so !) who had been posted there
only two weeks ago. Their cosy little house
was very warm, almost excessively so.
Apparently a re-supply vessel passed by every
eight weeks. We signed the logbook, had our
passports stamped and the small group of us
visited a few local attractions. The
small log chapel,
the southernmost place of worship outside Antarctica
was very peaceful, ended abruptly as a violent squall
passed by. The lighthouse was very dilapidated with
the hinges of the door completely rusted off and
wedged in place by the remnants of a bolt. A boardwalk
led across the tussock clumps to the rusting monument.
Areas nearby were sealed off by barbed wire fences,
apparently enclosing land-mines to inhibit an
Argentine invasion !
The island's black collie dog and I took off and dived
through the 4 foot tussock scrub down to a shingle
isthmus as the southern extent of the island.
The isthmus which
separates the Pacific and Atlantic
Oceans, Latitude S 55°58'02"
According to the charts this was the boundary
between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, barely
10 feet "separating" them. I wish I were not so
much in a hurry as I'm sure the rest of the
group were waiting for me ! I walked along
the shingle bridge, huge waves from both
oceans were crashing to the left and right,
an amazingly ethereal experience, to be located
at such a singular location on the earth. To the
west lay New Zealand some 8000 km and to the
East (North-East), the Cape of Good Hope 6800 km distant.
Homo-Sapiens our species had to walk 34,000 km
or more across four continents from the Kenyan Rift
Valley to settle here, almost a migration speed of 20 km
every generation. Yet even these vast distances and
times in the human scale are subsumed in tectonics.
150 million years ago Patagonia, Africa, Antarctica,
Australia and New Zealand joined as one super-continent
Gondwanaland started their inexorable drift apart to
where they lie now moving at 5 meters every century.
One species, ubiquitous in Patagonia, the
Antarctic Beech "Nothofagus", still
exists in cool-temperate
Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Almost
indistinguishable from each other after
150,000,000 years this hardy tree even
survived the increasingly extreme Antarctic
conditions until as little as several hundred
thousand years ago, with petrified stumps
still to be seen near the South Pole.
Even more intriguing, the conifer of the Araucaria
and Agathis families are still found in
increasingly small pockets in all these
places. In 1994 an explorer found a stand of
trees in a remote canyon in the Wollemi
sandstone wilderness, 200km west of Sydney,
hitherto considered extinct, which once
covered most of Gondwanaland. Only 40 adult
trees left in their original state, all
genetically identical to each other.
From this location I started walking North, a
journey which will eventually conclude at the
Cape of Good Hope, going overland or by sea
all the way, a journey of almost 40,000 km,
retracing man's migration. The 'shortcut' up
through the tussock turned out to be a
typical example of Sod's law. The channels
between the tough and wiry scrub deepened
into muddy trenches with only 3 feet to
spare. Of course the collie slid up these
with ease. The scrub gave way after much
doubling back to thick tussock. I was later
learn of the hazards of doing this, as sea
lions often find shelter there and aren't
very friendly when some 90 kg human starts
walking on top of them ! We finally departed
the Cape and surprisingly had a very pleasant
and calm crossing through the evening back to
Isla Lennox ! Estupendo
Thursday 28th December
A lazy day, read "Cape Horn" by Felix Risenberg, a
very good account of the exploration of
Patagonia. Tales of phantom islands and
unimaginable endurance. A pleasant day's
sailing back to Puerto Williams, even if on
an alarming tack. Jacqueline managed to cook
up some delicious bread in the gimbal oven at
a 15 degree list.
Felt in a really good mood, had roast lamb,
cut from the carcass which had been hanging
of the stern. Henk alarmed many passengers on
an adjoining yacht by attacking the carcass
with a saw and snapping its spine with a loud
crack. Many people were also annoyingly
remarking about my shorts. A good shower and
a wonderful evening in the Yacht
Club, chatting to
Moritz (met in Ushuaia), the crew, and a Chilean
naval officer about the rights and wrongs of imperialism
Friday 29th December
After an acetonic breakfast, we departed
Puerto Williams along the Beagle Channel,
heading West. I slept and luckily the weather
was exceptionally dreary today. The channel
was like a sheet of glass, absolutely no ripples,
passing Ushuaia without a breath of wind.
Suddenly we entered into a fierce gale, late in the
afternoon as the sun started to regain dominance and we
pulled into a lovely cove called Caletta
Letier on Isla Hoste, an intoxicatingly
lovely picturesque wooded cove under the gaze
of an unnamed peak. I called this Gable
mountain due it's resemblance to a transept
of a church. We took the dinghy to the shore
and I climbed up through a pleasant beech
forest with Friedthof to a granite outcrop to
marvel at the superb view of our anchorage,
the Beagle Channel full of white horses, the
sun illuminating one of the duck looking
islands far to the east. In the distance
Ushuaia and the Fuegian Andes. A bit further
on, passing some brilliant flowering shrubs
(copihue) similar to a Waratah to get a
better view of Gable Mountain. A wonderful
afternoon. Cattle tracks around, hence the
locations name !
Saturday 30th December
Today was a spectacular warm
day (16 degs.) sunny and we decided to remain
in the cove. I returned to the lookout, went
with Jacqueline in the dinghy further into
the cove gathering firewood (driftwood) for
the BBQ. We built a fire on the other side of
the cove on the shore of a small sheltered
peninsula in the crack of a large rock. Put
some Budweiser (erhh..) into the sea to keep
it cool. I walked around the small hill on
the peninsula with Kidu, Jacqueline's little
pup, training it as I went. Kidu seemed to
constantly bite my hands and heels ! A lovely
view over the channel, the mooring and
various vantage points, all warm and sunny.
The western outlook was very breezy. Returned
to the BBQ, lamb carcass, hunks of Argentine
beef, superb salad, wine, wine, wine. Tried
kebabing the Pan de los Indios and melting
bottles in the fire even hammersmithing. Did
another wicked climb at sunset. In fact it
was a terrific evening.
Sunday 31st December 2000
to SENO PIA
Last day of the millennium in a sense. Weather,
pretty cool today and overcast. We followed
the channel, passing several suspended
turquoise glaciers rolling off the Cordillera
Darwin ice-sheet, all with attractive falls
of meltwater emanating from them. The
glaciers had some resounding names;
Ventisquero Holanda and Romanche.
Beagle Channel -
To pass the time in between glaciers, Henk,
John and I passed the time sending email
messages by short-wave using PACTOR,
great fun ! We pulled into the East Branch
of Seno Pia passing a submerged moraine
with only meters to spare ! A magnificent
glacier rolling into the head of the sound,
as we moored in a recurve cove in absolutely
still and quiet water. We went in the dinghy
with the others, hearing the growling and cracking
of the glacier. Picked ice for new year whisky and
to keep the champagne cool. I rowed out a couple
of hours before midnight in the dim dusk light to
savour the immensity and stillness of the location,
almost like the lake of Arthurian legends or fairy tales.
A silence only broken by the creakings of the glacier,
echoing around the sound. Motored back just in time
for the fireworks (a flare past it's use by date).
Drinks a plenty. The new millennium firmly in
place now !!
Monday 1st January 2001
We departed passing many swimming dolphins
and steamer ducks to enter the NW passage of
Seno Pia. This was a truly majestic fjord,
torrid white streams plunging through granite
canyons lined by beech forests from the white
ice sheet above. Shortly, the water became
turbid blue, with numerous fragments of ice
and growlers indicating the presence of
glaciers ahead. We navigated through a maze
of chunky icebergs and growlers, the summit
of Cerro Darwin ahead. One could hear the
distinct growling and creaking of the
glaciers before they came into sight and
after rounding a bend in the fjord a must
stupendous sight beheld us, an amphitheater
of 2500m peaks, nunataks punctuating the ice
sheet between three imposing glaciers ending
in cliffs at the head of the fjord.
The stillness of the air and water was
astounding. We stopped a 100 meters from
one of the glaciers peppermint colored cliffs
of ice, watching in awe as huge chunks of
blue ice calved off into the sound, sending
ripples across. One chunk was particularly
large and sent a tsunami towards us.
Jacqueline was in a kayak and rode over it
with ease. Kidu went for an unplanned swim in
the 3 degree water (stupid pup). We anchored
a safer distance away, all the time watching
in awe the scene before us. We were joined by
a submarine looking yacht the"Seamaster"
Blake Expeditions, skippered by Peter Blake,
the captain of Black magic, the New Zealand
victor of the last America's Cup. My instincts,
and previous experiences with wealthy yachties
with big egos I kept my distance from them,
even if they were fellow countrymen.
Seno Pia and the Cordillera Darwin
I walked up beside the lateral moraine along an
incredibly smooth granite shoulder, polished by
thousands of years of thousands of tons of ice and grit.
The tree line was still some distance up,
indicating the recently earlier level of the glacier,
a rapid indication of global warming !!
The greyish moraine created a curious stream
of oily looking liquid (minute crystals in suspension).
I climbed up with Kidu through the boulders of a
recent landslide to gain a wonderful perspective
of the scene.
Our company was joined later, by a local Argentine yachtsman,
Alexandro, aboard MAGO II and two Italian fashion designers
(From Victory Adventures), producers of the famous "Cape Horn"
brand. We moored at a beautiful cove, further down the fjord,
a massive torrent emptying into it through a primeval moss-forest.
Kidu was highly frightened by its deafening row.
We had a delightful meal with the Italians, a convivial discussion,
fueled by some good wines.
Tuesday 2nd January 2001
We farewelled the Italians, who decided to cruise
up Seno Garibaldi for sentimental reasons !
We crossed the Noroeste to Tres Brazos,
to yet another magnificent natural cove, which
was in fact a submerged series of interconnected
cirques. The weather was drizzling now, but
Jacqueline and Kidu, along with Dyck and
Elizabeth clambered up through the incredibly
moist and spongy peat slopes and rocks, orange
flowering holly, berries, "waratahs" up to a viewpoint
overlooking the cove and the Beagle Channel across
to the Cordillera. This magnificent stroll continued
up to an elevated glacial lake, very reminiscent of
those of the Western Arthurs in South-west Tasmania.
Deep, dark and mysterious. Icy streams lovingly plunging
into it from all directions through vertical beech forests.
I bridged the major outflow and in so doing separated from
the group, scrambling around the rocky lip on the other
side to a few slightly smaller cirque lakes. Scrambled
down through the canyon passing several green grassy
ledges into a very dense and gloomy moss forest. In fact
the similarities to PNG above 3000 m were remarkable,
a hark back to Gondwanaland !! feeling very tired, retired
early (for once !!)
Wednesday 3rd January
A somewhat dreary final day. Dick, Friedthoff and
myself went ashore for some final photos before we
chugged off taking the whole day to get to Puerto Williams.
A dense haze smothered all the surrounding hills and
there was hardly any wind. Arrived at 11.30, enough
time to get a shower and have a few drinks at the Micalvi
Yacht Club. I inadvertently caused some consternation,
stalking the deck of the jetty wearing only a bath-towel
(not the preferred dress here) looking for a gas refill for
the water heater. A Naval Officer promptly arranged an
Thursday 4th January
Farewelled everybody as they returned to Ushuaia.
I paid a visit to Ben Garrett aboard the VICTORY,
It was nice and cosy inside. Monica offered to do
my extensive laundry. Up at the Centro de LLamados
(Center of llamas (calls))and wade through 15 emails
on their ultra slow and expensive connection.
The tiny Plaza de Armas was but
a collection scruffy
looking civic buildings, saloon bars and rattling cars.
I found the Refugio Coiron...
Impressions from my Antarctica
Expedition on EUROPA, January 2001
These impressions were written in my diary whilst crossing the Drakes
Passage on return from Antarctica.
* * *
I close my eyes and think of all the images
made on my memory over the last few weeks.
Etched in my mind are peaks and land shapes
which exist in places such as the Himalayas,
but here we are at sea level. Jagged black
sharp rock thrusting upward from the sea
contrast with white ice and snow. There is
nothing to give proportion, no relativity
until one of our zodiacs leaves the ship to
become a speck beneath a glacier which itself
is dwarfed by the mountains behind.
The power of this place is occasionally
revealed when a slice of glacier drops from
its ice cliff. A loud "crack", as sharp as an
assault rifle shot at close range, causes
heads to turn to see a chunk the size of a
building already falling to the sea. The
impact creates a ripple afar which eventually
reaches the shore. Blocks of ice, the size of
small cars, are washed against the rocky
shore. Penguins scurrying, then again, all is
Antarctica's most visible wildlife success is
the penguin. I watched these little creatures
for hours. On land they are earnest, caring,
careful, curious and industrious. They walk
awkwardly with their arm-like wings out
behind for balance. If you sit perfectly
still, they pause to examine, tilt their
heads and peck at clothing. They are gentle
and violent. They are noisy. In the water
they are small torpedoes. I think they are
In summer it has been light all the time. On
deck, while on anchor watch at 4 am, snow 3
cm thick lay on the deck and decorated ropes,
latches and door handles. Not a ripple raised
itself from the sea's surface. So still, so
quiet, so peaceful.
Antarctica is a hard and unforgiving place.
It is desolate. It is stark. There appears to
be little variety. It is beautiful. It is
powerful. It is so cold. I cannot imagine
I have been privileged to see Antarctica,
walk on it, hear it and feel its cold breath.
I stand on a freezing deck until land
disappears from sight. I leave in awe and
with a sense of respect. The planet deserves
a place like Antarctica where humans