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Published: February 7th 2014
The Albatross Monument…
A terrible curse
A thirst had begun.
Sir Francis Drake discovered the place where the Atlantic and Pacific meet
in the most savage and fierce scope…
The Drake can be a tranquil and silent place, a shimmering sheet of glass with reflections of clouds. Cold blues with ripples of turquoise disappear to the ancient horizon, windless and fresh, sunny and warm. The tranquility is broken only by chirping birds as they forage on the plentiful food. The soaring albatross, the great wanderer, is always close by… It’s a magnificent passage – rivalled by nowhere…
“Day after day, day after day we stuck, nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink…”
Verse from Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
We left the Port of Ushuaia for Puerto Williams, this came as a surprise to all of us as we were not expecting to enter Chile. Puerto Williams is not
visually inspiring and nor is it a hot-spot for tourism, but it is however,
the main administrative entry point for any vessel wishing to make a landing at Cape Horn… The infamous cape which is notorious for bad weather and shipwrecks especially in the early days of exploration is now managed as Cape Horn National Park. We were lucky enough to be able to visit and hike to the Albatross Monument which overlooks Cape Horn and the dreaded Drake Passage.
I stood on the summit and looked across the mighty ocean and felt so small as I was pelted by hail and thrashed by the gales that ravaged the rugged landscape. I thought of all the early explorers that tried to sail around the Horn to discover new places – I silently thanked them for finding these places. If it wasn’t for these adventurers we would know nothing of these wild corners of our world. Cape Horn is an amazing place that gets 250 days of storms in a year and when it’s not stormy it’s generally unpleasant. We were there for only part of a morning and we experienced rain, snow and high winds. Huge rolling waves and
sea-spray made the landing a very wet one but it was definitely worth it. The starkness of this place gives it anastonishing bleakness.Cape Horn really is one of the wildest stretches of water on Earth and it’s not to be taken lightly... As I stood by the Monument I was looking at the towering five metre swells of the Drake and I knew that we were going to be heading directly into the mighty force of the Southern Ocean. I felt so tiny and insignificant against this furious beast!The sea is huge and mean – and it doesn’t care…The following poem is in memory of the men of the sea from every nation that lost their lives fighting against the merciless forces of Mother Nature in the Southern Ocean that prevail in the vicinity of the legendary Cape Horn…
"I am the albatross that awaits
you at the end of the world.
I am the forgotten soul of the lost sailors who crossed Cape Horn
From all the seas of the world.
But they did not die in the fierce waves,
Today they soar towards eternity
On my wings in the last trough
Of the Antarctic winds…"
Memorial Poem by Sara Vial at the Albatross Monument.
Albatrosses were believed to be the reincarnated souls of drowned sailors – it was considered extremely bad luck to kill one. Early mariners respected the albatross and its in-flight majesty…
And the curse lives on and on…Enjoy Cape Horn…Meanwhile, in the Antarctic… I had a conversation with a penguin…I was all alone in the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat, aka Zodiac or Zode) watching a logging (sleeping) humpback, when a lone chinstrap penguin jumped out of the water and onto the pontoon of the boat. He stood there for a few seconds so I decided
to have a chat with him… The dialogue was as follows:
Me: Hello Mr. Penguin.
Mr. P: Squawk.
Me: Are you having a nice day?
Mr. P: Squawk.
Me: Would you like to go for a boat ride?
Mr. P: Squawk.
Me: You do realize that you have to pay for a boat ride?
Mr. P: Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk…
Mr. P shook his head and flapped his wings in a tantrum then dove back into the sea… I guess he wanted a free ride? Moments like this are truly amazing – I mean really, it was a full tantrum with rapid flapping and serious head shaking interspersed with deafening squawks… Afterwards he just swam off and I continued to watch the wonderful sleeping whale…
In the afternoon, however, we were treated to an absolutely incredible display of humpbacks in Wilhelmena Bay. There were dozens of them. They were bubble-net feeding, fluking, flanking, spyhopping, breaching and being very curious. The whales were all around the ship so we decided to launch some Zodiacs and go cruising in amongst them. We really were spoiled! We had non stop
action for about four hours. We had two humpies breach real close to the Zodiac, I had three whales swim underneath my boat and another two came up to breath as I was driving, almost colliding with my Zodiac – Incredible!
Imagine a bus-sized animal throwing itself in front of you when driving… It was exhilarating! These humpbacks can weigh in at over 35 tons and they were playing within an arm’s length of us. They are peaceful and gentle giants of the sea. It was a true honour to be in the presence of these majestic marine mammals.I took only a few pictures with my point and shoot as my nice, brand new camera went for a swim and did not survive… Yes indeed! A little earlier in the day I had to make a choice in an instant about either saving my Zodiac or saving my camera – I’m clearly not a true photographer otherwise I would still have a camera!? In hindsight I could have saved both, but I had split second to make a decision… Long story, but in brief - boat was saved - camera
was killed – Dave was wet and cold…”It’s better to have a drink on the rocks in a boat, than to have a boat on the rocks in the drink…”
Stay tuned for more adventures in the South, It'll be the two of us (Theresa and I) sharing the next adventure together…
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