|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 6
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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
We were honoured to be invited to dine during on the first evening the new Verandah Restaurant menu was launched. We took pictures of the majority of the courses we had as well as some of the main characters involved in the new menu and the excellent evening itself. We could only try a small subset of the dishes but subsequently sampled many of the other choices during Wine Pairing Dinners and in othe dinners such as the one to celebrate Pete's Birthday.
What is above is just a taster of what is to come as we have decided to move the majority of the pictures to a separate page which will bring together our dining experiences with a history of the Verandah Restaurants on Cunard Liners. It will and include details of some of the Wine Pairings and will at the very end of the description of the ports in the page titled.
Puerto Madryn is a small industrial town with modest sandy beaches that is 865 miles south of Buenos Aires and 1120 miles north of Ushuaia. The area was first populated by the indigenous Tehuelche people. Then in 1865, 153 Welsh settlers arrived from Liverpool and named the port after Baron Madryn of Wales. The nearby towns of Trelew and Gaiman in the Chubut valley are tourist destinations which rely on their Welsh shops and museums. It is a good intermediate port for cruises although the main interest is water sports and marine wildlife. Whales can be seen, but not in February. It is the gateway to the Peninsula Valdes where there are birds, penguins, elephant seals and sea lions. The approach is through a narrow entry into the large Golfo Nuevo followed by 3 hours cruising to reach the sheltered town docks. It is a nice walk from the ship to the town along the long pier and a shuttle bus was provided. The wind had come up and sometimes it was difficult to walk straight and the few people on the beach were in anoraks
The advice had been that there was little of tourist interest in the town and that it was best to travel beyond. However there are three museums. The Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales y Oceangrafico is located in the elegant Pujol Villa, built in 1917 at the corner of Domecq Garcia and Mene’ndez. This small museum has displays depicting the local flora, geology, history and wildlife but it is closed on Saturday. The EcoCentre is open on Saturday morning but is over 2 miles from the centre. The Museu Gemas in San Luis, about 15 minutes walk from the centre, is open on Saturday morning and free. It contained a collection of semi-precious stones and rocks from the area and the owner was proud of the special objects which he and his family had collected from Patagonia. There is a workshop for cutting and polishing stones and there are student training programmes for metal working. The jewelry in the shop was silver. It is well worth a visit and the owner allowed us to take a couple of general pictures. The surrounding area has a local supermarket which is better than the Carrefour near the port and the area is a mixture of local houses and useful shops. Returning to town, the Main Square commemorated General don Jose de San Martin and there was also a statue to the voluntary firefighters who had died in 1994. The small church was open but the larger basilica next door was closed. Saturday morning was quiet. There is also the the Museo de Arte Moderno on the seafront. Other seafront buildings are the restored James Beer pub and the hotel Bahia Nueva next door. A short shower reminded us that it was lunchtime and there was a shuttle bus waiting at the end of the pier.
The route to Ushuaia is directly south, passing between Argentina and the Falkland Islands in the early morning of the second day at sea. In 2017 the Queen Victoria then turned into the Magellan Straits to Punte Arenas. This voyage was to be further south turning through the Estrecho de le Maire and along the Beagle Channel which was entered in the evening, passing the Isla Navarino to port and then the Estancia Harberton to starboard. During the journey there were reports from the bridge of sightings of sealions, penguins, petrels and black browed albatrosses and Pete also had a distant sighting of two whales blowing.
Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of lsla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It is the most southern town in the world and is the capital of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), founded October 12 1884 as a penal colony by Augusto Lasserre. Besides being an administrative centre, it is a light industrial port and tourist hub. The Queen Victoria docked in the centre of town, a short walk along the pier to the Coastal Avenue (Maipu) and just a block from the main shopping street, San Martin. Tours specialise in visiting the Tierra del Fuego National Park or boat trips along the Beagle Channel in search of penguins, sea lions, fur seals, and sea birds. The Tierra del Fuego National Park is 10 miles west of the city and is one of the largest natural preserves and maintained national parks in the world. Glaciers, pristine lakes, incredible views, streams, rivers and mountains can be found here. There is an occasional chairlift up to the Glacier Martial but in the summer it is a full day to hike from the town. Once at the top there are views over Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.
Ushuaia began as a penal colony and the old prison is now the Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia. It is an easy walk along the coast and is attached to the Naval Base. Entrance is 400 pesos. The prison is an enormous building with 5 two-storey pavilions each with hammerheads which radiate out from a Central Hall in the shape of half a wheel. Each pavilion had 79 exterior facing single cells but some cells had bunks so that 600 convicts could be housed. The uniform was bright yellow and blue striped. The Maritime Museum is in the first hammerhead and there were lots of models of ships which were significant, including the Beagle, and a reconstructin of a bark canoe. Hundreds of sailing ships have been wrecked around Cape Horn. Then the Prison Museum uses the cells in adjacent and restored Pavilion 4. One interesting display was about the famous tango artist Carlos Gardel whose name had been mentioned in Uruguay and in Buenos Aires. While it seems he was born in 1890, probably in France, and died in the 1930s, there is less evidence that he was a second-offendor and had been sent to Ushaia in 1904-7. Each cell has an enormous lot of interesting information and our ticket was valid for 48hours to allow for a second visit. The Central Hall gives access to the Pavilion 3 with a good gift shop and Penguin exhibition, to Pavilion 2 which is a commercial art gallery, and to Pavilion 1 which is in its original state and has toilets and washing facilities in the hammerhead. In the grounds there is the last remaining historic train which took prisoners into the forest for hard labour. A tourist train copy runs on the line of the old convict train. The prison was closed in 1947 and then a Naval Base was installed in 1950. After purchasing cheap postcards there were just enough pesos left for two enormous 45 peso icecreams in town.
There are two other museums. The history of the indigenous people is in the Museo Yamana but the priority was the historical and zoological displays in the Museo del Fin del Mundo which had been closed when we passed in the morning. Now the garden was open and the building was free to visit. Originally the National Bank building and built by convicts of the prison, since 1979 it has housed the Museo Territorial. Its most prized possession is the figurehead of the British vessel the Duchess of Albany which was shipwrecked off the coast in 1883. There is also a large traditional display of local birds and penguins. The town has some historic houses including the Old Government House which dates back to 1891 when it was the governor's official residence. Subsequently used as the legislative building, the legislative chamber is exactly as when it was last used between 1983 and 1990. Since 2008 it is part of the Museo del Fin del Mundo and overshadowed by the modern Government Building. A bright blue Routemaster bus offers tours between the museums and a tram does a similar tourist journey. Further along the the Iglesia de la Merced was built with convict labour.
All the tourist shops were offering the local pink stone, including spectacular carvings of tango dancing, as well as modest pieces of jewelry.
Once we had left Ushuaia we went back on ourselves and out into the Southern Ocean to Cape Horn. Cape Horn is located on Isla Hornos in the Hermite Islands group, at the southern end of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. It marks the north edge of the Drake Passage, the strait between South America and Antarctica. It is located in Cabo de Hornos National Park. The cape lies within Chilean territorial waters, and the Chilean Navy maintains a station on Hoorn Island, consisting of a residence, utility building, chapel, and lighthouse. A short distance from the main station is a memorial, including a large sculpture made by Chilean sculptor José Balcells featuring the silhouette of an albatross, in remembrance of the sailors who died while attempting to "round the Horn". It was erected in 1992 through the initiative of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood.
The passage around Cape Horn one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world brought about by a combination of the fierce sailing conditions prevalent in the Southern Ocean generally with the geography of the passage south of the Horn. major factor is the extreme southern latitude of the Horn, at 56° south - Stewart Island at the south end of New Zealand is only 47° south. The prevailing winds in latitudes below 40° south can blow from west to east around the world almost uninterrupted by land, giving rise to the "roaring forties" and the even more wild "furious fifties" and "screaming sixties". Rounding Cape Horn requires ships to press south to 56° south latitude, well into the zone of fiercest winds. These winds are exacerbated at the Horn by the funnelling effect of the Andes and the Antarctic peninsula, which channel the winds into the relatively narrow Drake Passage. The strong winds of the Southern Ocean give rise to correspondingly large waves; these waves can attain great height as they roll around the Southern Ocean, free of any interruption from land.
At the Horn, however, these waves encounter an area of shallow water to the south of the Horn, which has the effect of making the waves shorter and steeper, greatly increasing the hazard to ships. If the strong eastward current through the Drake Passage encounters an opposing east wind, this can have the effect of further building up the waves. Ice is a hazard to sailors venturing far below 40° south. Although the ice limit dips south around the horn, icebergs are a significant hazard for vessels in the area. In the South Pacific in February, icebergs are generally confined to below 50° south; but in August the iceberg hazard can extend north of 40° south. Even in February, the Horn is well below the latitude of the iceberg limit. These hazards have made the Horn notorious as perhaps the most dangerous ship passage in the world; many ships were wrecked, and many sailors died attempting to round the Cape as we saw on the maps in the maritime museum in the prison at Ushuaia."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 minimum length of 930 miles (1,500 km).
The Cape Horn Memorial features an albatross in flight and was clearly visible from the ship. Albatross are commonly seen in the Southern Ocean and are a symbol of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood. The memorial was designed by a Chilean artist, is constructed of steel plates, and is about 22 feet high. To build the monument, members of the Chilean Marine Corps used an amphibious exercise to transport over 120 tons of materials ashore. These materials had been transported to Cape Horn by two barges. Because of the strong winds and stormy weather that frequents Cape Horn, the memorial was designed to withstand winds of almost 200 mph. There is a tiny one-room Chapel of Stella-Maris. It is only about a dozen feet long but is just visible in front of the lighthouse and Chilean Naval station in our photographs.
There is a small landing stage in relatively sheltered bay below the monument and there is a short funicular railway to take stores up to the the lighthouse and naval station. We sent one of our Fast Rescue Boats (FRBs) with a photographer to the landing stage to climb up to the monument and take pictures of the ship as well as exchanging greetings with the lighthouse keeper. The Queen Victoria was initially holding about 7 cables from the shore in the lee of Horn Island. Even before the journey started the winds had risen and the seas were building as can be seen in our pictures below but they continued and successfully landed and obtained pictures and the lighthouse keeper came down. Unfortunately the bay in front of the landing stage turned out to be filled with kelp, a long thick and strong form of sea weed and that fouled the jet drive on the FRB and got into the cooling inlets to the engine leaving them stranded. The second FRB was dispatched to pull them out but promptly got entangled in the Kelp leaving two of them helpless on the beach. Meanwhile the winds had increased to we understand, 45-50 knots but reaching 70 - 80 knots when the now frequent squalls passed through - see pictures.
This was now becoming an interesting situation with potential to become a nasty problem. One of our tenders/lifeboats was now lowered and sent to the rescue and eventually managed to pick up a line to the two FRBs without getting entangled, we could not see details but one person was certainly in the water to get the line across which could not have been pleasant even in full survival gear. The Tender then backed out pulling the two FRBs clear and reversed slowly towards the ship whilst getting blown downwind and out of the sheltered lee of the Island. The pictures show the distances involved, the boats looking tiny under the island. Eventually and after some well executed manoeuvring in very heavy seas the two FRBs were collect and breasted up either side of the tender and brought home and eventually attached and brought on board. The whole exercise took close to three hours. By that time any thoughts of an actual circumnavigation seemed to have been shelved and we returned to calmer waters and the Beagle Channel from whence we had come and travelled back past Ushuaia.
I would not want to give the impression that sending a photographer ashore was an ill judged exercise. It is known for cruise ships to take passengers ashore in RIBs using the same landing stage and our Fast Rescue Boats should be even better at they are fitted with Alamarine Jet 230 propulsion units where there is no propeller in the water to get damaged on beaches. They are based on the Hamilton Jets we have seen and been on in New Zealand on high speed runs in inches of water and through rapids and should be difficult to completely foul up and have hatches for clearance in the same way we have a weed hatch on our narrowboat. The conditions were not quite so challenging at the start but forecasts are not always perfect in the Southern Ocean and conditions can change fast as they did that day. Things ended well thanks to some excellent boat handling in extremely challenging conditions by the skipper of the Tender who we understand was the Second Bosun.
The excitement of the FRB rescue just ended in time for us to get to the Verandah restaurant for the Lunch we had booked as part of the benefits of being Cunard Wold Club Diamaond. We sat down as the tender was winched up past our window. The lunch menu has not changed for many years. We have a few favourites but this time we consiously tried to have different options.
The Beagle Channel separates the larger main island of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego from various smaller islands including the islands of Picton, Lennox and Nueva; Navarino; Hoste; Londonderry; and Stewart. It is one of three navigable routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the southern tip of the South American continent. The Strait of Magellan is further north lying between Tierra del Fuego and mainland South America - we used the Strait of Magellan last year. Drake’s Passage is the southerly open-sea passage now favoured by the majority of commercial shipping. Sovereignty of many of the islands in this region has been the subject of long-standing disputes between the Chilean and Argentinian Governments but the boundaries have now been amicably agreed. The channel's eastern area forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina and the western area is entirely within Chile. The Beagle Channel is around 240 kilometres in length and 5 kilometres wide at its narrowest point.
The channel is named after the Royal Navy survey ship of the same name which first visited the area when carrying out hydrographic surveys of this section of coastline on its maiden voyage between 1826 and 1830. Although no claim of discovery could really be justified, as this area had been inhabited for at least 10,000 years, this was certainly the first time that accurate maps and charts had been produced. The Beagle returned to this region on its second voyage this time carrying the then young naturalist Charles Darwin. It was in the Beagle Channel that Darwin recorded seeing his first glacier on 29th January 1833. Darwin played an active part in the survey work with much of the detailed work in the channel involved travelling in small boats with overnight camping stops. It was during such a stop that the story goes that a sudden fall of glacial ice caused a huge wave threatening to wash away the boat and it was only retrieved due the quick action of Darwin and a few colleagues. The ship’s captain rewarded his courage by naming one of the overlooking mountains after him along with the expanse of water at the western end of the channel now known as Darwin Sound.
We passed through part of the Beagle channel between 1700 and nightfall having passed by Usuuaia and the scenary had the same effect as I remember when I first went through the Alps with a series of Glaciers comming down to the water and magnificent waterfalls. The pictures which follow can not realy do justice to the scale, it was like magnified version of the Norwegian Sounds and Fiordland combined.
The journey will continue with Punta Arenas, Chile in Part 7
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018