ROUNDING CAPE HORN
and
CRUISING THE BEAGLE CHANNEL



CAPE HORN

After the Falkland Islands, we spent the day at sea cruising down the coast to the southern tip of South America, to round Cape Horn before entering the Strait of Magellan. Cape Horn is located on Isla Hornos in the Hermite Islands group. The islands lie at the southern end of the continent in Chilean territorial waters, marking the north edge of the Drake Passage, which lie between South America and Antarctica
and where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. The waters around the Cape are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds (known as a williwaw, a sudden blast of wind descending from a mountainous coast to the sea), large waves, strong currents and icebergs; hence the notoriety as a sailors' graveyard. "Rounding the Horn" is traditionally understood to involve sailing from 50 degrees South on one coast to 50 degrees South on the other coast, the two benchmark latitudes of a Horn run, a considerably more difficult and time consuming endeavor having a minimum length of 930 nautical miles. Regardless, it is the chosen route of cruise ships, as the passage is wider than other routes and the ship is less likely to crash on the rocks if caught by a cross wind.

The weather that day was forecasted to be a chance of rain with a temperature of 9C/48F. It turned out to be a lot of rain, high winds, a temperature of around 2C/36F with 20 to 30 foot waves. We rounded the Horn during dinner, at which time the ship got caught by a wave and proceeded to list somewhat to one side. One of the waitresses threw her arms around a decorative pillar to keep her balance (more for comic effect than anything methinks), and we could hear dishes smashing in the kitchen. But we were fine. We just grabbed our glasses of wine and laughed.


By afternoon, as we got closer to the Cape, the the weather got worse. This was taken from our balcony around mid afternoon. The rain had already started and the waves were about 20' at this point
. It wasn't long after this was taken that crew members came and secured the furniture on the balcony to keep it from getting caught in the winds.


The pool deck was pretty wet and bleak at that time. I think the only ones there were the smokers, who were sheltered by an overhead walkway.


We wo
rked our way to the upper deck at the back of the ship, which oversees a much larger lower deck, so no way of being washed over by a rogue wave. The upper walkways along the sides of the ship were blocked off but I did manage to grab a shot of the ocean near the barriers. In the distance is the southernmost tip of the continent.

 

We got closer to the Hermite Islands as evening was starting to set in and everything started to take on a menacing blue tinge.


This should give you a better idea of the roughness of the seas.

 
Some of the Hermite Islands. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of the Cape itself - I was too busy keeping my wine from spilling.
 

BEAGLE CHANNEL

 

After it rounded the Cape, the ship headed east and entered the Strait of Magellan at nightfall. The Strait is a navigable sea route separating South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego (a chain of islands) to the south, and is considered to be the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is considered a difficult route to navigate because of the unpredictable winds and currents and the narrowness of the passage, but it is shorter and more sheltered than the Drake Passage, which was the only other sea route between the oceans until the construction of the Panama Canal. The Strait was used for trade well before Cape Horn was discovered.

The next morning we anchored of Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world (the motto on it's coat of arms reads: "Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything"
). It was founded October 12 of 1884 by Augusto Lasserre and is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel, surrounded by the the Martial Mountains, in the Bay of Ushuaia. Besides being an administrative center, it is a light industrial port and tourist hub. 

After we docked, we didn't take a tour of the city, rather we boarded a tour boat which took us on a wildlife cruise along Beagle Channel (named for the ship of Charles Darwin's expedition), between Tierra del Fuego and Isla Nervation including a stop at
Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was another cloudy day, with a temperature of about 9C/48F.


A first look at Ushuaia, with the 
Martial Mountains peaking through the clouds in the background.


When the tender docked in the harbour, we were led to where the tour boats where moored. The Rumbo Sur was one of many..



And we're off. The building in the background is the
building of the Government of the province/department of Ushuaia, with typical local architecture.

 
Last look at the city before heading out into Beagle Channel.


Beagle Channel is a strait on the extreme southern tip of South America partly in Chile and partly in Argentina. The channel's eastern area forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina and the western area is entirely within Chile.  It Is also home to an abundance of wildlife including seals, sea lions, numerous species of birds, rare endemic dolphins, and pygmy right whales. This particular island is called, appropriately enough, Los Pajaros or Bird Island. The island is a gathering place for many different birds, with the largest group being a colony of type of cormorant known as the Imperial Shag. They were seen on many of the islands but this was by far the largest community.


The Imperial Shag stands about 70 to 79 cm (28 to 31 in) and weighs 1.8 to 3.5 kg (4.0 to 7.7 lb), males being larger than females. It is endowed with glossy black feathers covering most of its body, with a white belly and neck. It possesses a distinctive ring of blue skin around its eyes, an orange yellow nasal knob, pinkish legs and feet, a black crest, and a serrated bill used for catching fish. During the non breeding season, adults lack the crest, have a duller facial area, and less or no white on the back and the wings. The shag is not considered to be a threatened species and is consequently listed as "Least Concern
", as about 10,000 breeding pairs exist in South America in general.
 


Unfortunately, the tour boat didn't get close enough to get a really good shot, probably because he didn't want them taking off and 'bombing' the decks, if you know what I mean.



Our next jaunt took us around
los Lobos or Sea Wolves Island, a rocky outcrop that is home to seals and sea lions (and more cormorants). The tour boat managed to get closer this time, so I got some pretty good pics.


The island is currently home to a species of sea lion called the, what else, the South American See Lion.
Both males and females are orange or brown coloured with upturned snouts. Pups are born grayish orange ventrally and black dorsally and  molt into a more chocolate colour. The South American sea lion's size and weight can vary considerably. Adult males can grow over 2.73 m (9 ft) and weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb). Adult females grow up to 1.8 to 2 m (6 to 7 ft) and weigh about half the weight of the males, around 150 kg (330 lb).


Sea Lions are a harem territorial species, usually
around three females, with some having as many as eighteen. This particular harem belongs to the bad boy in back, the big guy with his nose in the air.  As you can see, males have a very large head with a well developed mane, making them the most lion-like of the eared seals. Let it suffice to say the South American sea lion is perhaps the archetypal sea lion in appearance.


A much smaller harem.
The little one in front had just finished going for a swim.


The cormorant tends to claim the high ground, as the sea lions monopolize the water's edge, making it easier for them to feed.


A young female climbing out of the water after working on her swimming skills.



South American sea lions tend to make various vocalizations and calls which differ between sexes and ages. Adult males make high pitched calls during aggressive interactions, barks when establishing territories, growls when interacting with females (now isn't that just like a man), and exhalations after antagonistic encounters. Females with pups make a motherly call when interacting with their pups, and grunts during aggressive encounters with other females. Pups of course make little pup calls.



As with all mammals with fur, sea lions molt, just as the female in this picture is doing.



As we moved along the island coast, we could see more harems scattered about.



As the tour boat made a turn to circle to the other side of the island, we could see
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse on a smaller island. But I'll talk about that later. That's Argentina and the Andes Mountains in the background.


As we rounded the island, we were joined by another tour boat.



I'm not sure what kind of sea lion these are, but they have a distinctively different look from the South American sea lion, as the females have less fur giving them a sleeker appearance. What this looks like, at least to my untrained eye, is two males in dispute, possibly over the surrounding females.



.Two females having a discussion.



Another harem of South American sea lions.



Now this is one big harem. With this species, the females are the dark, sleeker looking ones, the pups are covered in thick light brown fur, and in the back, the one with his nose in the air and massive head is the bull, displaying the mastery of his domain.



A female with her pups.



Moving on..



Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse
The Lighthouse
is known to the Argentines as "the Lighthouse at the End of the World", although that name is misleading. The lighthouse is often confused with the San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse on the east coast of the remote Isla de los Estados, which is actually much further east.  Les Eclaireurs was put into service on December 23, 1920 and is still in operation. It is remote controlled, automated, uninhabited and is not open to the public, guarding the sea entrance to Ushuaia. Electricity is supplied by solar panels.


On the way to our next stop, we took a few shots of the channel. That's the Argentina coast, with the Andes mountains in the distance.
      
The Andes or Andean Mountains are the longest continental mountain range in the world, running along the western edge of South America. This range is about 7,000 km (4,300 mi) long, about 200 to 700 km (120 to 430 mi) wide, with an average height of about 4,000 m (13,000 ft).


 The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries. Actually, the mountain range doesn't start here, but rather under the ocean south of the continent.

 
A local fishing trawler. We didn't see any large vessels on the way, as the channel is generally too narrow to maneuver.



The view from the back of the tour boat, otherwise known as the 'smoking' lounge', as we cruised along.



A Black Browed
Albatross in flight. There were a lot of them following the boat through the channel. It is a medium sized albatross, at 80 to 95 cm (31 to 37 in) long with a 200 to 240 cm (79 to 94 in) wingspan with an average weight of 2.9 to 4.7 kg (6.4 to 10.4 lb). It can have a natural life span of over 70 years.


Not too many houses to be seen along the channel.


As we arrived at our destination, Tierra del Fuego National Park, we could see that we weren't the only ones. Popular place this channel.



Tierra del Fuego National Park
is a national park on the Argentine part of the island and is the first shoreline national park to be established in Argentina. Its 630 sq km (240 sq mi) in size and features waterfalls, ancient forests, mountains and glaciers. We remained on the tour boat, viewing the coastal area.


As the tour boat approached, we could see penguins everywhere along the shore.



Lucky for us the boat was a catamaran, and able to beach the front end, giving us a chance to get some really good shots.



These are Magellanic penguins and are named after the explorer Magellan, who saw them in 1520 when circumnavigating the world. They are black and white with black feet, pink rings around their eyes, weigh about 10 lbs, are 24 inches tall and have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. They also bray like donkeys, so in the Falkland Islands, their local name is Jackass.



Like the Gentoo in the Falklands, the Magellans were waiting to finish molting their 'fluff' before returning to sea.



You can walk through the park as s
ome of the tour boats actually dock and allow passengers to do just that, in fact some people wandered down the stairs in the upper left corner while we were there. However we couldn't, and stayed on board admiring from afar.


Primping and pruning seemed to be a popular pastime.



I couldn't resist this one, they looked so adorable. As you can see they still have a lot of fluff to shed before they head out to sea.



The penguins were everywhere. Not just near the shore but on the high ground as well.



Should I or shouldn't I? This little guy seems to be debating about taking a swim.



"I'm ready for my closeup now, Mr. De Mille".



While we were beached, a pair of Gentoo penguins made their way on shore. I can just imagine their conversation: " Ethel! Wait for me Ethel" . . .



. . . "What do you want to do now, Ethel?". "I don't know, what do you want to do Fred?".



In the meantime, another pair were swimming off shore.



Heading back to Ushuaia, we could see the ice shields of of the many glaciers spotted through out the mountains.



This was taken inside the tour boat and as you can see, it was a comfortable way to travel. Poor Dina though, she always takes the outside seat, so whenever Izak and I got up to go outside to take pictures, she ended up standing in the aisle.



Our home away from home waiting for us.



We left Ushuaia just after 4:00 pm and headed west to cruise through the remainder of the Beagle Channel to the Straight of Magellan.



Another isolated little homestead with one big communication aerial. Whoever lives here must either be a real hermit or very lonely.



The further west we went, the more snow and ice there was dominating the mountain tops. Actually some of them aren't mountains, but rather the cones of dormant volcanoes.



The mountains rising over the pool deck.



Not long after we left Ushuaia, the skies cleared and we entered an area of the Strait commonly known as "Glacier Alley". It is a passage lined with great hanging glaciers on either side, ergo aptly named. The first one we came to was the Holanda Glacier, located in Alberto de Agostini National Park, Chile.


Another view of Holanda. You'll probably notice as you view these pictures that all of the glaciers in the Alley are named after other countries. I tried to find out why, but my efforts were to no avail.



It was at this point that my camera started to go on the fritz. Whenever I took a picture with the sun just over my shoulder or closer to straight on, all I got was a blank image. The only time I could get a shot was with the sun directly at my back. Izak took this one of the sunset to check his and obviously it was fine. He then handed me his camera for the remainder of the day.


All along the channel, you could see spouts of water shooting up from the Humpback whales that frequent the area. Unfortunately I was never fast enough to get a shot of one. The whales never breached or otherwise came above the surface of the water. The Cruise Director's commentary, playing over the loudspeakers explained that the vibration of the ship's engines would keep them below, surfacing only as necessary to breath.


The Italia Glacier is what is known as a tidewater glacier. A tidewater is named as such as it goes through recurring periods of advance alternating with rapid retreat and punctuated by periods of stability. During portions of its cycle, a tidewater glacier is relatively insensitive to climate change. As an aside, the ice of glaciers actually is blue in colour as compared to seasonal ice. This is due to the compactness of the ice over centuries of existence.  


The scenery really was spectacular, made more interesting by the somewhat low hanging clouds.


This is part of the Francia Glacier. It sits high in the mountains and never reaches the Beagle Channel, however the fresh water melt does.


As the sun moved lower in the sky, numerous shadows appeared on the glaciers and the mountain sides.


I think this is the area where a small pod of humpbacks were spotted swimming. Sorry but you'll just have to take my word for it and use your imagination.





The Alemania Glacier is named for Germany. The glacier itself is quite large and meanders for miles, causing the advance of one of its lobes to block the drainage of some streams, forming Martinic Lake. 


Romanche Glacier
is one of the main glaciers in the Beagle Channel. The waterfall is run-off from the glacier, escaping through a tunnel at the base.


The brownish tinged water at the base of the mountains is glacial runoff. The colouring is due to the release of sediment picked up by the glaciers on their centuries long journeys across the landscape.


This is the Glacier Espana, named for Spain. Not surprising since the Spanish were the first Europeans in Chile. It was the most spectacular of all because you could see not only the glacier but also the snow covered Andes Mountains behind it.



As we passed, we noticed that several of the mountains had groves or 'U' shapes carved in them . . .


. . . This was caused by the glaciers that passed through centuries ago.


Picture postcard views of the higher Andes mountains behind the "foothills" along the beagle channel.








The wayfarer.


Uh oh - looks like I was caught in the act of taking his picture.


I found even the clouds along the straight interesting, especially the lower the sun was in the sky.


And as the sun goes down . . .


. . . the moon rises.


And with a spectacular sunset, we say goodnight.


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