Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Logbook: Cape Horn

Capehorn2As usual, I was up very early on Monday morning for our port call at Punta Arenas. Rather than have you thinking this early morning routine is natural, I will tell you the truth: My cabin is the most forward on deck four starboard, right under the open deck where all the mooring gear is located. This means that as soon as the deck crew begins its preparation for docking -- including the use of heavy machines such as windlasses, etc. -- I hear it all at rather thunderous levels. Since they usually start their work at least an hour before the ship actually arrives at a port, I have plenty of time to get up, get coffee and observe the process. This is not as bad as it may sound, because I’m generally happy to make the most of my port time and, on the whole, my cabin’s remote location means that it is quiet and away from passageway noise on all other days -- especially the all important, relaxing days at sea. Anyway, as soon as the ship was cleared by immigration, I hit the streets.

Not having the charm of Puerto Montt or the size and vitality of Valparaiso, Punta Arenas is sort of the poor, blue collar sibling of Chilean Ports. The home of a large -- by Chilean standards -- naval presence and the base of operations for a fair amount of Antarctic support, the town is busy and functional. I found a cafe in which I got a decent cup of coffee and wandered around for an hour, watching the town wake up. I also found the local “Seaman’s Center” where I was able to get online to update this site and Skype. A couple of hours later I was back on the prowl and was able to get some supplies, take a few photos and follow my nose to a tiny little restaurant where I had a delicious lunch of roast lamb. Back on board, we departed and continued our way down the Straits of Magellan toward the Beagle Channel which we cruised through all night. By late afternoon yesterday, we were clear of the Channel, in sight of Cape Horn and ready to begin our crossing of the Drake Passage.

Capehorn1In brisk winds and lively seas, our Chilean pilot left the bridge, boarded a sturdy little Chilean Navy boat and left us to our own devices. For days now, there has been growing apprehension about what our crossing of this famous waterway would be like, along with much strategizing of timing and dosages for all manner of seasickness medication. As evening fell -- very late at this latitude -- the seas were lively and windswept, but not at all rough. There were a few bumps in the night -- nothing even remotely uncomfortable -- and by this morning we were in calm seas with very little swell. All in all a remarkably smooth crossing and a bit of a let down to those of us who hoped for something really exciting. We will continue to steam due south for the rest of the day, looking forward to seeing our first icebergs. In the morning we should arrive at King George Island and begin our Antarctic exploration!

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