Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Humpback Cruising in the Strait of Magellan


In January of 2006, I took a short weekend voyage to the southwestern sector of the Strait of Magellan, on a small motor yacht better suited to the waters of the Río de la Plata (its previous home). Fortunately, for myself and the handful of other passengers aboard, the often choppy Strait was calm that day, and the Punta Arenas company Whalesound got us safely to Isla Carlos III, their base camp for viewing the feeding grounds of the southern humpback (pictured below).
Whalesound stills visits the Parque Marino Francisco Coloane, the marine reserve that surrounds Carlos III, and Expedición Fitzroy has since begun sea-based tours on the M/N Forrest, a totally recycled vessel that once hauled wool around the Falkland Islands. In addition to the humpbacks, which migrate south from Colombia, the park's seas and shorelines are home to breeding populations of Magellanic penguins, cormorants, many other southern seabirds, fur seals, and sea lions. Orcas are also present.
This year, though, there’s a novelty. Cruceros Australis, the luxury “expedition cruise” company that shuttles between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia during the austral summer, is offering four special whale-watching departures this season: one in January, two in February, and one in March. These itineraries, a variant on the regular voyages, sail directly from Punta Arenas to Carlos III and then on to Ushuaia on the Stella Australis (pictured above) and the Via Australis, should offer the chance to see the behemoths of the southern seas up close and personal, in rigid inflatables.

While Whalesound’s domed-tent camp and Fitzroy’s accommodations are comfortable enough (I’ve visited the latter, though I’ve never spent a night aboard), the Stella and the Via are something else again – while relatively small for cruise ships, housing fewer than 150 passengers each, they offer expansive accommodations, gourmet food and fine wines, and plenty of room to roam about and stretch your legs (the Stella even has a gym). That said, the company issues a caveat that “We cannot guarantee the sighting of whales due to their natural habits and constant movement.”

Personally, that wouldn’t deter me from taking the trip. During my own short visit, we saw plenty of whales and, given Cruceros’ professionalism and resources, I would have reasonable confidence in seeing plenty of whales.

Tango by the River
As announced recently, there’s been a postponement of my digital slide lecture on Buenos Aires at Tango by the River in Sacramento, which will now take place Friday, October 26th, at 6 p.m. The date’s getting close, though – just a shade over two weeks.
Limited to a maximum of 50 people, the event will also include tango performances; admission costs $10 at the door, or $8 in advance. I have spoken here several times before, and we always sell out, so plan in advance. Signed copies of my Moon Handbooks on Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia will be available at discount prices.

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