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Royal Princess
Thanks to Princess Cruises

Photos by Susan Milne:

Casa Rosado, Buenos Aires

Rio de la Plata

Graf Spee Memorial

Christ Church Cathedral & Whale bone Mariners' Memorial,
Falkland Islands


Gale Force 11

Fin del mundo

Cape Horn

North Beagle Channel

Sailing near Chacabuco, Chile

Royal at Sea

Strait of Magellan sunset


Cruise Watch Home Page
©Susan Milne, 2000
January 21, 1998 - 14 days

By Susan Milne

Royal Princess & Cape Horn
Legendary Cape Horn, with its storms and strong currents, has been both feared and respected by mariners since 1577. That was the year Sir Francis Drake, upon entering the Pacific from the Strait of Magellan, was blown south by one of the region's notorious storms. South of Tierra del Fuego he discovered a sea of "Free and open scope", now called the Drake Passage. The expedition of Willem Schouten and Jacob le Maire was the First to round Cape Horn in January, 1616, when the Strait of Magellan was open only to ships of the Dutch East India Company. They named the Cape "Hoorn" after the town in Holland. Cape Horn in English, Cabo de Hornos in Spanish, it is the southern tip of Hornos island and is owned today by Chile.

The relentless westerly winds together with strong currents create the most difficult conditions for mariners. In January 1768 onboard the Endeavour, then First Lieutenant, Captain James Cook accurately fixed the position of Cape Horn at Latitude 55º59' South and Longitude 68º13' West. This remarkable achievement was accomplished while charting the coast in conditions of "hazey, rainy cold weather ... fresh gales with heavy squalls." Cook had studied the reports of earlier storm battered expeditions, notably that of George Anson, in preparation for his voyage. Shipwrecks of the many less fortunate remain in the region today - a testament to the inhospitable climate and conditions.

Since the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, travel around Cape Horn has of course decreased dramatically, but the allure of the Cape has drawn many adventurers to the region with interest steadily growing over the last decade. Cruise ships transiting the Horn have increased in number and mariners wishing to make the voyage in luxury now have many options open to them.

Choice of vessel for the South Atlantic and Pacific in the "furious 50's" latitudes is extremely important, especially for those of us who are not the best sailors. For our Cape Horn and Strait of Magellan cruise, we chose the Royal Princess and it surpassed all expectations, proving to be ideal for this challenging region.

At 45,000 tons, Royal Princess is a perfect size giving passengers a good selection of public rooms and entertainment options without too much walking. The two full acres of open and protected teak deck space are ideal for any scenic destination. There is always space at the rail and numerous places from which to view the passing scenery, each giving a unique perspective: An observation platform, spacious sun deck, 360 observation lounge with floor to ceiling windows, plenty of fore & aft deck space, a full promenade, lots of windows in public rooms and enclosed promenade space, not to mention that all cabins are outside with only 97 of 600 having completely obstructed views.

Of the 14 cruising days between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, only 3 were in rough seas. Royal Princess was surprisingly stable in the relentless gale force 8 to 11 winds. I have sailed in calmer seas on other ships and felt much more movement. (Royal Princess is one of the few cruise ships to hold a good-excellent stability rating from Fielding).

Credit must be given to the British Officers under the command of Captain David Christie for it is not only the ship, but decisions made in its operation that can create a more comfortable and enjoyable cruise experience. Throughout the voyage, passengers' needs, expectations and welfare were given top priority. Unable to reach Cape Horn on schedule due to the punishing winds and sea conditions, changes in itinerary were made with the focus being that "we will do all that we set out to do", just in a different order, treating the ship with care and making sure the passengers journey was safe and as comfortable as possible. This was an extremely difficult voyage for those operating the ship and they are to be commended for a remarkable job.

Royal Princess has been designed with great care combining sensible features of the old liners with the openness of contemporary vessels. A definite advantage in cruising unprotected waters is the traditional location of the dining room: deck 2 midship where there is little motion. The main entertainment deck is just one above on Riviera deck 3. Another traditional feature appreciated by most passengers is the full teak promenade deck, under the lifeboats.

At the same time, Royal, built in 1984 introduced the latest design features which have since been elaborated upon in the newer, larger ships: A 2 deck foyer, the Princess Court acts as the Focal point of activity. A beautiful 360 degree observation lounge, called the Horizon Lounge and bar is one of the finest at sea, more spacious than observation lounges on some more modern vessels. The pool/spa areas are located on the upper decks. There is a lap pool, a rarity at sea, on Sun deck as well as the swimming and whirlpools on Lido deck midship.
Princess has introduced 24 hour dining on board its ships with either the Lido Cafe, Pizzeria or Bistro open in addition to the meals available in the dining room. This certainly gives more freedom and flexibility to your daily plans. It is also a pleasure to be able to relax in one of the comfortable lounges without being pestered to buy a drink.

More good features of Royal Princess are the self service Laundromats and well appointed staterooms with refrigerator, safe, hair dryer, terry cloth robes and bathtub in every category.

All these Features combine to make Royal Princess an ideal ship for any cruise but especially the difficult seas around legendary Cape Horn - that most exciting and infamous destination, which is a must for mariners.


The 14 day cruise started in Buenos Aires, where 2 pre-cruise days were spent exploring and recovering from the 21 hour journey from Vancouver. Buenos Aires certainly is the Paris of South America with architectural reminders of the European capital found throughout the metropolitan area. Although one has to be vigilant as in any city today, there is not the severe crime problems found in Rio and we were able to wander freely without incident.

From our hotel room at the Sheraton we could see the Rio de la Plata, (the River Plate) the world's widest river, ranging From 4Okm upstream to 22Okm at the mouth. Its width and the silty waters make it look like a red sea.

There was much activity on the river. Container ships and freighters were active and many high speed catamarans and hydrofoils were arriving and departing for Montivideo and Colonia across the river in Uruguay. The familiar profile. of the Cunard Countess was a surprise to see. Now sailing as the Rhapsody for Mediterranean Shipping, it looked in good shape as it sailed out of the harbour channel and into the River Plate escorted by a tug. The cruise ship Silver Cloud could be seen docked at the container port as there is no cruise ship terminal.

It was a short taxi ride from the hotel to the container port to board Royal Princess. The Nieuw Amsterdam was also in, calling at Buenos Aires en route From Rio to Santiago on a 16 day itinerary.

Like the Rhapsody, we too were escorted by tugs along the narrow channel to the River Plate on a beautiful, sunny evening with a clear view of the skyline.

There is such a build up of silt in the River Plate that channels have to be dredged for ships to sail safely across to Montivideo and time in some of the channels has to be booked. The next morning we were alongside in Montivideo and spent a very interesting day touring this beautiful city, also with a European style and edged by miles of sand beaches along the river's shore. It was at Montivideo that the Famous Graf Spee sought refuge in 1939 before being scuttled in the River Plate. The anchor of the Graf Spee is part of a monument to the ship erected on the 25th anniversary of the incident. It is located at the port and was just beside where we docked.

Our sailing was delayed as we waited for the arrival of passengers who, due to airline problems, had ended up in Santiago, Chile instead of Buenos Aires to catch the ship. They were flown to Montivideo and caught the ship one day late. Their arrival was greeted by the applause of fellow passengers on promenade deck, a sign of the camaraderie of the extremely well travelled group assembled for this "expedition" to the Cape.

As we sailed out, we passed the cruise ship Calypso of Trans Ocean Cruises, a ship we hadn't seen since calling at Ko Samui, Thailand 2 years earlier.

It was still looking a little worse for wear but manages to cruise to exotic locales. The container port was in the distance and numerous squid fishing boats with their enormous halogen lights in rows along the side, were waiting to put to sea.

In the middle of the harbour there was a long line of sunken boats including an old cutter and small freighters. This sort of graveyard for ships was something we saw in Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn and Punta Arenas; a collection of abandoned, derelict craft.

Once out of the harbour, the Captain spoke over the tanoy giving us the history of the Graf Spee and pointing out the area where it was scuttled. This is one of the many rewards of travel; having history put into perspective and the places we have read about brought to life.

A beautiful sunny day at sea followed. The sea was a lovely shade of blue/green with light white caps. The ship was steady and there was no sign of other vessels.

Next day in the Golfo Nuevo at Puerto Madryn, settled by the Welsh in the 1860's, we saw our first windswept shores. It was very dry looking and sparse in vegetation. It turned out that the squalls that kept coming over all day had brought more rain than in the previous 2 years. Again our departure was delayed, this time due to high winds and the late return of several busses from the largest penguin rookery in the world at Punta Tambo. The rains had caused muddy conditions and graders were brought in to pull the busses back onto the road. It was worth the drama however, to see the thousands of Magellanic Penguins at the world's largest colony and everyone remained in high spirits.

Our first sightings of sea lions and giant southern petrels tool place today. Other ships in port were the bulker Aegean Wind unloading bauxite For Argentina Aluminum, squid fishing boats, and Royal Olympic's cruise ship, Odysseus. Underway again, we encountered our First day of rough seas while heading for the Falkland Islands. A force 8 gale an our starboard side made the going tough and curtailed many activities.

There were 400 British passengers and for many of them, the Falkland Islands was the focal point of the voyage. Living up to its reputation for being eternally windy, the tender ride into Port Stanley was slow as we fought the wind and waves which broke over the bow. It was hard walking against the winds in town but the mine disposal office, Falkland Island's War Memorial, and Christ Church Cathedral with its whale bone memorial were worth visiting. The walk around the bay to the museum was particularly difficult and only the hardiest made it. The homes and gardens of Fort Stanley are typically English and we felt transported back to Kent as we enjoyed afternoon tea in the lounge of the hotel. While lining up for the tender ride back to the ship, we were blown against the rail and the hat of one of our party had to be rescued from a kelp bed by the tender attendant.

The force 11 gales continued all night and the next day necessitating closure of the outer decks. Royal Princess had to slow to 10 knots to avoid being damaged. In the morning spoke over the fancy to give us the news that we could not reach Cape Horn that day due to the conditions. He would contact Los Angeles and London and rearrange our itinerary so we would not miss Cape Horn.

Meals and indoor entertainment carried on as usual as we awaited the new itinerary. In the late afternoon we heard from the Captain again. We would visit Ushuaia the next day as planned and then return to Cape Horn the following day. This meant we would see both Cape Horn and the glaciers of the North Beagle Channel the same day - truly an outstanding day at sea.

In the evening as we came in sight of Tierra del Fuego, the weather was much calmer. Ushuaia turned out to be much busier than expected. This city of 35,000 on the Beagle Channel is backed by magnificent mountains. It is a duty Free port now and the main street is a busy shopping centre. Being the Mecca For adventurers in Patagonia, tourism has become important and as a base from which to visit Antarctica, it is a supply centre for expeditions. Several red expedition vessels were sitting in the port along with the container ship, Centurion, navy vessels, small pleasure craft and the cruise ship, Seabourn Pride.

A sign reading "Fin del Mundo", end of the world, reminds you that this is the southernmost city on earth. Beside it sits a small memorial to the ship Belgrano and those from Ushuaia lost in the 1982 Falklands war. Argentina has always claimed the Isles Malvinas (Falkland Islands). Ushuaia is in the province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the Islands of the South Atlantic, which includes the Isles Malvinas. Post cards showing the islands with their Spanish names were for sale.

Sailing back along the Beagle Channel heading for Cape Horn, the weather had improved dramatically. After stopping at Puerto Williams to shuffle papers for our entry into Chilean waters, various courses were set to take us to our most exciting destination. At 7:00am next morning, we were there.

Cape Horn
Cruising .8 mile south off Cape Horn, into the Pacific, then turning back to the Atlantic, the subdued light, held back by an overcast sky increased the dramatic effect of transiting the infamous Cape. The tip of Hornos Island, a steep cliff sweeping to a peak out of the sea, is the southernmost point of the Americas.

The seas were relatively calm and we were able to enjoy
an hour and a half on deck in Fresh winds. A moment of silence was conducted to honour the many seamen lost off Cape Horn over the centuries.

Brent Nixon, the onboard naturalist, spoke over the tanoy telling us the history of the Cape. A lighthouse, tiny church and seamen's memorial were all that could be seen. The lighthouse station is manned by 3 Chilean navy servicemen with a personnel change every 2 months.

Only when the Cape was in the far distance, was it time for breakfast. The delectable menu did indeed seem cut of place here. Those onboard Endeavour and Beagle were not so pampered.

The afternoon brought us to the spectacular hanging glaciers of the North Beagle Channel and again Brent Nixon was on hand filling in the details. It was remarkably peaceful with no other ships encountered the entire afternoon and evening. The calm, glacial blue water reflecting the surrounding mountains was a sharp contrast to the heavy seas we had encountered previously.

During the night we entered the Strait of Magellan and in the morning we were berthed in Punta Arenas. The Strait was wide but we could see the other side. The land was surprisingly low after mountainous Tierra del Fuego. After a tour of this prosperous port of 120,000, we drove to Otway Bay to visit the Magellanic Penguin colony, passing farmsteads with large numbers of sheep and seeing many wild Rheas, South American ostriches, along the way. We walked a mile along Otway Bay to see the Penguins in their burrows and on the beaches. Silver Foxes were present wandering through the brush. It was quite hot and many of the Penguins were in the water to escape the heat. Although there are not as any penguins here as at Punta Tombo, it was good to see them close up in their natural state and a beautiful setting..

Sailing along the Strait of Magellan this evening, the sunset was sensational with a vivid red sky lasting for an hour.

The beautiful calm, reflective waters continued as we sailed north through the Inside Passage of Chile. Again we were amongst mountains with the South Patagonian icefield and its many glaciers accompanying us, starboard. Occasionally we would pass a fishing boat and we did see 2 small containerships heading for Punta Arenas but that was all. The loneliness of the place was part of its attraction.

At noon we sailed between Point Porpoise and the Isle of Guard, at .25 nautical miles (550 meters) wide, it was our narrowest point .

Our revised itinerary reduced our time in the inside passage to one day instead of two. We arrived at Puerto Chacabuco the next day. There is not much in this small fishing village, but the fjord setting is magnificent.

A small naval craft sat at the tiny dock where we tendered. The small tanker Ancud was in. Two warehouses and a number of reefer containers for CSVIA shipping were sitting on the dock, ready to transport fish overseas.

Busses shuttled those wishing to go ashore to the nearby town of Aisen. The drive was scenic and we were thrilled to see a flock of black necked swans for this is the only place in the world they can be found.

The next day we anchored off Puerto Montt, a major port in the Chilean Lake District. The CSVA Rio de Janeiro registered in Hamburg was loading refrigerated containers.

The extensive market is walking distance from the port. After purchasing local handicrafts and Llama wool cardigans, we drove out to the charming town of Fruitillar, settled in the 1860's by German colonists. It sits on the edge of Chile's largest lake, Llanquihue, with a magnificent view of Osorno volcano at the other side.

Being a volcanic area, the beaches have dark sand. Fruitillar is a tourist centre so there was good shopping and a beautifully kept open air museum.

By now the weather had improved and our last day sailing north to Valparaiso was warm, sunny and the seas, calm.

The port of Valparaiso, beautifully situated on several hills, seemed enormous being the first major centre we had encountered since leaving Montivideo. The Chilean navy is headquartered here so there were a number of naval vessels. The Naval headquarters is a magnificent piece of architecture and is close to the busy port .

Ships actively loading and unloading included the Crown Sapphire, a Panamanian container ship, the Belgian Reefer For UB Shipping, the MSC Lima, a panamax container ship, and the Armava For U.S. Shipping. The SOCIBER floating drydock was sitting in the middle of the harbour.

After disembarking the Royal Princess we had a 3 hour drive to Santiago during which we passed a copper mine in the mountains and seemingly endless acres of vineyards belonging to the Concho y Toro winery.
Throughout the cruise, the organization was excellent. Princess has cruised these waters for a number of years previously employing the Pacific Princess for this itinerary. Royal is the superior ship for this voyage and the experience of Princess in the region can be seen in the flawless arrangements between ship and shore. These continued in Santiago where there were many choices for the day's activities before flying out at night. Those not wanting to take an organized city tour could shuttle downtown or to a shopping mall from the convention centre where we spent the day. Meals were provided, there was plenty of seating space and a baggage check for hand luggage. (Our luggage was taken from the ship directly to the airport so we didn't need to handle it all day.) Busses left on schedule taking passengers to the airport in time for their flights.

During our drive to the airport, the sunset reflected on the Andes Mountains creating a spectacular scene with which to conclude our journey to the end of the world.

Back to the Beginning

Copyright Susan Milne, 2000