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Casa Rosado, Buenos Aires
Rio de la Plata
Graf Spee Memorial
Fin del mundo
North Beagle Channel
Strait of Magellan sunset
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©Susan Milne, 2000
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, 360º 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The seas were relatively calm and we were able to enjoy
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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