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Full Circle

Day 157: The Beagle Channel

Cape Horn, Chile 
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Cape Horn. The last half mile of the American Continent.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe Isaza is a working naval vessel, not equipped with any luxuries. Accommodation is cramped, even without the seven of us and our fifty pieces of gear. My bunk, one of six on either side of a small cabin, has no more than twelve inches of clearance from the one above. With some difficulty I have developed a technique for getting in and out of it while remaining flat. I feel I must look rather grotesque, like a great tongue emerging from between clenched teeth. Charles Darwin would, I'm sure, have been fascinated by this example of adaptation to conditions. He might even have had the same problem himself when he came through here in the 1830s.

His journey is not forgotten. The waterway we are following today is called the Beagle Channel after the ship on which he sailed. The hydrographic information provided by her captain, Fitzroy, in 1831, is still used on the bridge of the Isaza today.

The Beagle Channel provides a valuable, sheltered alternative to the hazardous passage round Cape Horn. So vulnerable that in 1979 Chile and Argentina almost went to war over it. Tierra del Fuego is split between the two countries and the mountainous shore of the Argentinian side is a mile to starboard as we run west out of Puerto Williams. A jet airliner appears from nowhere and glides down into the town of Ushuaia, once a place of exile, an Argentinian equivalent of Siberia's Magadan, now a tourist boom town with three flights a day bringing skiers from Buenos Aires.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 157
  • Country/sea: Pacific Ocean
  • Place: Beagle Channel
  • Book page no: 215

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