Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shipwrecks Along the Shore

Hundreds of Patagonia cruises pass through the ports of Punta Arenas and Ushuaia every year. Not so long ago, though, only merchant shipping and local vessels sailed the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel where, today, picturesque hulks still lie along the shoreline. For the most part, they’re not along the Cape Horn cruise route between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, but they’re easy to see on overland excursions.
The most striking site is Estancia San Gregorio, on the Strait of Magellan about 125 km north of Punta Arenas, where the faded but imposing buildings of a sheep station line both sides of a smoothly paved highway (it’s a worthwhile detour for travelers, especially photographers, bound for Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine). Along the beach, a short walk from the road, the Ambassador (pictured below) is a British clipper (launched in 1869) whose weathering wooden hull and rusting iron skeleton once hauled tea from China to England. It’s withstood more than a century of Patagonian winters and, in 1973, Chile declared it a national historical monument.

Almost alongside the Ambassador, another national historical monument also built in Britain, the Amadeo (pictured below) was a local steamer that operated from the 1890s until 1932 before being grounded here. Visitors can explore the wreckage of both vessels, but be careful when doing so – they’re not likely to collapse, but slipping and falling could have serious consequences.

At the Argentine end of the itinerary, it’s even easier to see a historic shipwreck - but not so easy to reach it. In downtown Ushuaia, offshore near the Club Naútico but not accessible on foot, the Maine-built rescue tug St. Christopher (pictured below) was originally a US Navy vessel that became the Royal Navy’s HMS Justice and may have served during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. Purchased by an Argentine company after the war, she served in salvage operations along the Beagle Channel before being scuttled in the mid-1950s.

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