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Cape Horn Bound: Ice, ice, baby.

Ice, ice, baby.

May 24, 2010
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May 22, 2010
54°56.45S 69°40.6W

Yesterday morning, a few of us went ashore for a very vertical and beautiful hike, to get a closer look at the Hollanda Glacier and to see the view out across the Beagle Channel. Swiss took us ashore in the RIB and left us on the beach and as we made our way up the coast, I fell slightly behind, taking (as usual) a ridiculous number of photographs. Suddenly, there was some movement in the bush and there he was, no more than 20 feet away, a beautiful Fuegian fox. He didn’t seem the slightest bit afraid of me, just curious and a little cautious. He came as close as ten feet before my camera movements sent him scittering backwards. I was momentarily awed by how tame he seemed, before I realized that his lack of fear was really a measure of how incredibly wild he was. To him, I was another animal on the shore, not a human to be feared.

Our hike was invigorating (okay, I admit it, I was winded, overheated, and my heart was pounding, but I couldn’t have been happier when I paused to sit on a rock, 3/4 of the way up, and look down the Beagle Channel and across the lake at the blue-tinged Hollanda Glacier, or “ventisquero.”) We rendezvoused several hours later in the same spot where we’d been deposited and shortly afterwards were underway, headed for East Pia Seno. We motored up the Beagle Channel with winds of 27 knots on our nose and the tide against us. We had a bit of chop, but a smooth ride, and the winds soon died down to 16 knots, so we made good time. Along the way, we passed Ventisquero Francia, Italia, Romanche—a veritable United Nations of glaciers, each prettier than the next. A highlight was the Orca sighting. The dark waters turned red as they feasted on seal, (we guessed) and we abandoned our course for half an hour to zigzag across the channel and watch them.

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The entrance to our anchorage was mildly tricky, since there was a morraine and shoaling to starboard. We’d been warned that the GPS in this area will show some wacky things—not because the technology is less accurate here, but because the charts of this area sometimes date to the time of Fitzroy’s surveys and they don’t sych well together. Sure enough, after we’d already followed the course Rudi had planned out on paper, I watched the chartplotter show our electronic boat crossing directly over the rocky area, 100 yards behind us and well to starboard. Yikes! Good old-fashioned navigation skills that rely on multiple sources are absolutely essential in this part of the world.

We took two stern lines and a bow line ashore in our new anchorage, Caleta Beaulieu, behind East Pia Seno, as dusk fell. Ventisquero Romanche flowed right to the waterline with a ridge of snowy peaks behind it. A rising half moon cast a light across the landscape that made it look like a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Once the lines were secure, as the first fat, icy drops of rain started to beat down, we brought a couple of large pieces of glacial ice that had washed ashore back to the boat in the dinghy. They were hacked into smaller pieces and offered up in an aluminum bowl in the cozy saloon, where we soon enjoyed our drinks of choice with ice that was possibly millions of years old.

The ice had its revenge. This morning, we woke to find we were surrounded. The ice looked fairly thin, and after breakfast, Rudy and Nancy set out in the inflatable kayak—breaking it with their paddles as they went—and a bunch of the rest of us suited up and piled into the RIB to visit the Ventisquero Romanche. But part way across the cove, Swiss became worried. The ice was thick enough to be breaking in jagged shards that were a danger to the inflatable dinghy and kayak. Everyone returned to the boat to wait for it to melt, but the ice was stubborn. The sun never warmed the air enough to start to melt it, and we decided that after lunch, we’d head for the new anchorage in Pelagic Australis, whose aluminum hull is built to handle much worse than this, without a morning of exploring ashore. Still, our drinks had been awfully tasty and on the basis of this and our handy exit, I’d have to score this one “Ventisquero Romache, uno, Pelagic Australis, dos.”

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For a gallery of images from Mary South’s trip around Cape Horn click here.

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