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Best Experience in Southern Sea Navigation

Cabo de Hornos y los glaciares del Canal Beagle a Vela

Cruise ship to Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel

Cape Horn by sailing yacht


Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia,
Cape Horn, Falklands & Tierra Del Fuego

On this virtual tour you may see: Majestic mountains dipped in snow...
Crystalline waterways... Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels...


Click for Hostal Bella Vista in Puerto Williams, 25 miles from Ushuaia

The following is an account by Richard Stanaway of a cruise which
Victory Adventure Travel booked for him aboard the yacht SARAH :


Sunday 24th December 2000 BEAGLE CHANNEL

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, the "Sarah Vorwerk" a Hamburg built vessel designed specially for Antarctic sailing and with an itinerary somewhat less ambitious. I bumped into Henk, Sarah's 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. The hostesses were exceedingly liberal with the gin in the tonic and I have this dim recollection of being the last of Sarah's company to return!

Monday 25th December 2000 PUERTO WILLIAMS

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 their three kids were very charming and welcoming. Their alternate home was the Victory, berthed near the Sarah, 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 Argentina!

Tuesday 26th December 2000 NASSAU BAY

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 CAPE HORN

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.

Sarah 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 islands !

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 BEAGLE CHANNEL

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 and nationalism. The pisco sours were very potent, expensive and inducive to in depth discussion. I staggered back to the Sarah in the early morning light.

Friday 29th December BEAGLE CHANNEL

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 CALETTA LETIER (Milkman's Cove)

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 -
Ventisquero Romanche
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 SENO PIA

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. Sarah 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" of 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. (Sir Peter Blake was killed while defending his yacht from bandits in the Amazon river after leaving Puerto Williams)

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 (these were also from Victory Adventure Travel), 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 TRES BRAZOS

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 BEAGLE CHANNEL

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 urgent resupply.

Thursday 4th January PUERTO WILLIAMS

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...

(to be continued)


Another client writes:

 Impressions from my Antarctica
Expedition on EUROPA, January 2001

Rob Burdock
Sydney, Australia

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 quite.

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 gorgeous.

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 winter.

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 are humbled.

Click for Hostal Bella Vista in Puerto Williams, 25 miles from Ushuaia

Monica with a Tierra Del Fuego King Crab for dinner


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