A Sail of Two Cities

Storm clouds welcome Maggie Hall to Cape Horn.

My memorable winter trip—a two-week Round the Horn cruise aboard The Star on the Norwegian Cruise Line—began with “Hello, Santiago,” where I spent four nights; it ended with “Ahoy, Buenos Aires,” where I stayed for a week. The ship started the round-the-edge-of-the-world voyage in San Antonio, Chile, 73 miles from Santiago. Every day of the sail, set against a backdrop of the Andes and glaciers along with the magical navigation of fjords and passageways, as in the Strait of Magellan, Drake Passage and the Beagle Channel – conjured up the marvels seen, and dangers encountered by 18th century seamen and latter-day Antarctic explorers. Here are some vignettes from a splendid experience.

Sergio, the sea-lion king of Puerto Montt.

Puerto Montt
The first port of call, is famous for its salmon industry and a 130-year-old cathedral built of larch wood. But my first thought will always be of Sergio, the giant sea-lion. On the edge of downtown is Angelmo Cove, with its chaotic but lively fish market, and a cabaret staged by dumpster-diving sea-lions, eager to eat their fill on fish scraps. And that is topped off by the daddy of them all – Sergio, waddling along what passes for a high street. What a whopper!

Puerto Chacabuco
My favorite stop. Although this is a gateway to the ice-fields of Patagonia, I stayed put and explored the village. With little development it was a delight to experience a tiny Chilean port virtually untouched by tourism. My lasting memory is the small convenience store that sold everything but sandwiches. Not a problem. Lunch was taken care of by the owner. She grabbed a fresh-baked roll, took four slices off a giant salami, cut up a small tomato, tore leaves off a lettuce, jammed them all together and charged me $4.

Punta Arenas
A name etched in my mind from school —Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic adventurer. In 1916, he found a haven here for his 22-man crew when they were finally rescued after being trapped for nearly five months on Elephant Island after their ship was crushed by the ice. Excitement ran high when I discovered there was a bar named after him. Is this where he and his exhausted men came round after their historic and unbelievable adventure? It isn’t but the bar, housed in the Jose Nogueira Hotel, is jammed with Shackleton memorabilia. Amazingly it was not packed with passengers. In fact there were only four of us…a couple from Northern Ireland (Shackleton was Irish) and a fellow Yorkshire man who, like me, could not be in Punta Arenas without paying homage to the great man.

One of the many Beagle Channel End-of-the-World glaciers.

The Argentina port bills itself as “the end of the world.” A few decades ago, it might have looked and felt like it. But now – with buildings being thrown up without any regard for the unique place it once was – it’s like being (excuse a bit of literary license) in the middle of Manhattan. Sadly the ship visited on a Sunday when Ushuaia was basically closed. Happily the Maritime Museum was open. It has a wing reenacting the misery of the prisoners deported in the early 1900s from Buenos Aires to populate the world’s most southernmost outpost. My disappointment in Ushuaia was compounded by the two-story high, red neon sign for The Hard Rock Café. But it must be noted that the city is best suited not for the one-day cruise visitor, but as a base for striking out into the magnificence of Patagonia or leaving on an Antarctic adventure.

Cape Horn
At last, after years of wondering exactly what it looks like in real time, there it is, emerging out of the dawn mist….evoking images, as the sadly lamented Gordon Lightfoot sang in his epic song, of: “…the ghosts of Cape Horn….” All is calm as we cruise around the hunk of rock that marks where the Atlantic and the Pacific collide. But not for long. We’ve barely had time for reflection of the thousands of lives lost, never mind the obligatory selfie, before a massive tornado-like cloud suddenly blackens the horizon. Within a minute the Captain is telling us that the plan to circumnavigate Cape Horn for the next couple of hours is dashed. If we hang around, we will discover that where we are is as “treacherous” as the ancient mariners warned us. Our giant cruise ship makes a dramatic right hand turn and speeds its way out of trouble.

Puerto Chacabuco, the tip of South America, untouched by tourism.

Port Stanley
Another out-of-reach place that’s been on my radar for decades. Tourism is rapidly becoming the Falkland’s number one industry, after fishing and the diminishing sheep farming. I joined the tour of the battle-fields. Not only did it provide a good look round the barren landscape that makes up the vast part of this remote island, it rammed home that when Britain took on the invading Argentine military in 1982, it was a proper war. After hearing the sobering stories of too many deaths, I hurried off to the comforts of The Globe – a right British “boozer.”

Not posh row houses in Britain, just the charm of Port Stanley.

Puerto Madryn
From here the penguins, and the Welsh-speaking community of Gaiman, beckon. But the storm that chased us away from Cape Horn put paid to those plans. So att Buenos Aires we came off the ship early into the quiet, relaxed atmosphere of a Sunday morning, so different from the usual, immense hustle, bustle and noise of the vibrant Argentine capital. 

Maggie sailed Round-the-Horn with Norwegian Cruise Line, aboard The Star. Its sister ship The Sun does the same 14 day voyage. Next year there are four sailings, between  San Antonio and Buenos Aries and vice-versa, between January and March. Other cruise lines – including Holland America, Princess, Samara and Regent – do similar trips. Some incorporate cruising round the Antarctic Peninsula.