Although treacherous, the Strait of Magellan is usually a safer route around the southern tip of the Americas than rounding the almost-always ferociously stormy (make that tempestuous!) and exceedingly rough Cape Horn, slightly further south.
Famous naturalist and voyager Charles Darwin wrote of Cape Horn: “One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death.”
But for supercarrier USS George Washington’stransit, the weather turned out to be just another blustery, cloudy day. Not much drama….this time.
Tabula Magellanica: Quâ Tierrae del Fuego, cum celeberrimis fretis a F. Magellano et I. Le Maire detectis novissima et accuratissima descriptio exhibetur, 1635
Seventeenth century map of the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego by Dutch cartographer Willem Janszoon Blaeu. Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães) and his crew became the first Europeans to reach the area in the year 1520.
is a species of wading bird found only in the Strait of Magellan of South America. Although it is called a plover it is more closely related to sheathbills and is in its own family. the Magellanic plover is an unusual bird as it look and acts like a turnstone but makes a dove like call, they are also the only wading bird to regurgitate food stored in their crop. Like alot of shorebirds this plover eats small invertebrates that are either picked on the ground or found under turned stones (they also have been observed collecting worms in their bill like a puffin)
Ferdinand Magellan, with his three remaining ships, reached the Pacific Ocean on this day in history, 28 November 1520. The expedition had finished exploring the strait at South America’s southern tip and when the ships exited the Strait of Magellan into the South Pacific, they became the first European ships to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness. It was also at this time that Magellan and his crew became the first Europeans to reach Tierra del Fuego just east of the Pacific side of the strait.
The map above is a 1635 Dutch map by Hondius depicting both the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego.
From the charming town of Punta Arenas, Chile, an 18 mile boat ride heading east in the straight of Magellan delivers you to isle Magdallenes. The ride outbound goes by quickly as we pass cormorants, diving terns, prodigious Albatrosses, and the occasional spotting of black and white dolphins swimming the strong currents that pass under the ship. The barren, treeless piece of earth that is Isle Magdallenes becomes less barren as we approach. From a distance it is crawling with creatures, and upon reaching the island we see that those creatures are actually penguins. Waddling as far as the eye can see.
The tour of the island passes directly through penguin rush hour waddling, allowing us to get within a few feet of animals whose cuteness is only surpassed by the strength of wafting fish breath. They sun bathe, squawk, dig, mate, preen and poop. Observing these oddities of planet earth I cannot help but wonder how they exist at all, such easy prey and helpless, drunken waddlers. This thought is swiftly attacked and vanquished once I watch a group of them return from their hunting in the rough waters of the straight. They swim like torpedos, frequently breaching the surface water with mouths agape, as if they are yelling “ Woo hoo”! I now understand how they survive, thrive in such a challenging environ. That initial stench of fish breath, all that pink stained pooping, thousands of young & fat penguin chicks; all were telltale signs of a dominant sea hunter, one who should never be questioned as to how they exist on planet earth.
p.s. The straight of Magellan is a mad house of raging waves and relentless ocean currents. I, and I’m certain the 40 sea sick people on the boat, are still wondering how big Magellan’s balls actually were.
The fleet of Portuguese navigator Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) neared the Atlantic opening of what later became known as the Strait of Magellan on October 21, 1520, arriving at what he named Cape Virgenes after the Christian feast day of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. The cape, located on the southeastern tip of present-day Argentina, was inhabited by indigenous Tehuelche communities and is home to a species of penguin, shown above, that has since been named after Ferdinand Magellan.