Way, way down south….

The United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) transits the notorious, and historic, Strait of Magellan….at the southern tip of South America recently.

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’s transit, the weather turned out to be just another blustery, cloudy day. Not much drama….this time.

                     USS George Washington (CVN 73) and escorts


>>Top photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Mai, USN

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.


Magellanic Plover (Pluvianellus socialis)

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)



Image Sources: 1,2

The Worst Pirate in History — The Forgotten Legend of Bartholomew Sharp

Perhaps one of the worst pirates to sail the high seas, Bartholomew Sharp certainly is not a legendary figure like Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, or Captain Kidd.  The fictional pirate Jack Sparrow, when accused of being the worst pirate ever heard of remarked, “But you have heard of me.”  Unfortunately Bartholomew Sharp was so bad that his name is almost forgotten to history.  In 1639 Sharp set off with a crew of pirates to Panama in search of Spanish treasure.  Unlike most pirates who stalked the Caribbean, Sharp had the idea to raid the Pacific side of the Spanish Main.  It is a wonder why he had this idea, most treasure fleets bound for Europe crossed through the Caribbean, only a few ships, mostly supply ships bound for the Philippines with some treasure ships bound for the Straits of Magellan could be found on the Pacific side.  Regardless, Sharp and his men sailed to Panama, abandoned ship at the coast, then seized Spanish ships on the Pacific side of Panama.  

Bartholomew Sharp and his crew raided several Spanish ships, but none had anything of value.  After two years of slim pickings, his crew mutinied and replaced him as captain.  Fortunately for him, his replacement only lasted three weeks before unexpectedly dying.  Amazingly, the crew voted to restore Sharp as captain once again.  However Sharps luck failed to pick up, that was until him and his crew came across a Spanish treasure galleon, which they captured after a short fight.  However, rather than finding a rich haul of treasure, the ship was loaded with 700 bars of a dull grey metal which they thought was tin.  Dejected and depressed, Sharp and his pirates decided to cut their losses and head home.  They threw the bars overboard, saving a small portion to be cast into musket balls.

Sharp and his men rounded South America and returned to the Caribbean.  When they arrived they learned of two pieces of very bad news.  First, Sharp had assumed that because England was enemies with Spain, he would be recognized as a privateer by English authorities.  However the English were not at war with Spain at the time, and arrest warrants had been issued in Sharp’s name for piracy.  Secondly, the men had run out of lead to cast musket balls, and had dug into the stock of “tin bars” captured from the Spanish galleon earlier.  It was then discovered that the tin bars were not tin at all, but in fact were silver.  The unfortunate pirates had dumped a fortune worth 150,000 English Pounds (millions today) into the deep blue sea.  Bummer.

When Sharp tried to make harbor at Barbados, he found a Royal Navy frigate waiting for him.  He then made for Antigua, but authorities there barred him from entry.  Eventually Sharp and his men were captured and arrested, then hauled into court in chains.  In a rare stroke of luck for Sharp, him and his men were acquitted due to lack of evidence, either that or the jury felt bad for him.  After avoid the hangman’s noose and gibbet, Sharp settled down on the Danish Island of St. Thomas.  A man who could not lead a successful life as a pirate, Sharp was also a man who could not lead a successful life as a regular citizen.  He died in a debtors prison in 1702.

Today In Latin American History

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.

Satellite map of Patagonia during Winter

Snow runs down the spine of the Andes Mountains along the southern tip of South America. Chile is on the left, and Argentina is on the right. The water cutting across the continent in the bottom center of the image is the Strait of Magellan, once the only safe route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Along the coast of Argentina, waters of the Atlantic Ocean are tinted green with sediment. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite captured this true-color image on August 24, 2003.

This map shows the Strait of Magellan, the passage immediately south of mainland South America, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This position made it vital to trade. However, it wasn’t navigated fully until 1520 when Ferdinand Magellan (where the name of the strait originates) navigated it as part of his global circumnavigation voyage.