Given the cyclical nature of Discoveries voyage, it was only fitting then that with the dawn of first light on November 12th we were greeted with an equally tranquil seascape to complement our first glimpse of South America. We even had another dolphin convoy, just this time instead of being flanked by seagulls a group of Magellanic penguins were officiating proceedings!
Having covered the 8456 nautical miles that mark the journey from Avonmouth to Chile, the final leg of our voyage has taken us into the Straits of Magellan. This is a waterway that offers the most important natural passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean for seafarers, avoiding the often treacherous conditions associated with a rounding of Cape Horn. Until 1914, with the opening of the Panama Canal, this was also seen as the only safe passage between the Atlantic and Pacific for ships delivering cargo, as Drakes passage is often frequented by icebergs, sea ice and turbulent sea states.
The straits are themselves steeped in history, they were found by the Portuguese in 1520 (who seemed to get everywhere in the 16th century!) and named after the commanding officer of this expedition, Ferdinand Magellan. This narrow flow of water has since been subject to early exploratory navigation by Sir Francis Drake, Sir Thomas Cavendish and the esteemed Charles Darwin. HMS Beagle passed through the straits between April and June 1834, and the unique flora and fauna nestled between mainland Chile and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego command an entire chapter in The Voyage of the Beagle!
Entry into the straits might offer refuge from rounding the horn, but this channel itself offers numerous dangers to an unsuspecting captain looking for a safe passage. With variable winds, racing currents and a shifting sub-surface topography local knowledge is key to aid navigation. Therefore at 7am this morning we welcomed our first visitor on board for over 6 weeks. The Chilean pilot is here to guide us safely into port in Punta Arenas, a journey that will take approximately 8 hours. Once there we can truly consider AMT21 successfully complete!
But for now we are free to enjoy the wildlife, the change in scenery offered by a backdrop of a bleak and windswept Chilean coastline and the numerous gas rigs dotted around the embayments of the straits and we are able to enjoy the signs of human life offered by the many passing ships.