JC31: 'Ingredients' of the Southern Ocean


Cruise diary

Sunday 1 February 2009
Location: Punta Arenas, Chile (53.16ºS / 70.90ºW)

Arrival in Punta Arenas

With 3 flights safely completed, a full set of luggage and a sigh of relief, the JC31 crew and scientists have arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile. RRS James Cook came into port on Friday, and preparations are currently being made for our departure on Tuesday.

Punta Arenas is amongst the most southerly cities in the world, lying near the southern tip of mainland Chile and the north shore of the Magellan Straits. The surrounding area boasts both some spectacular scenery and wildlife, and several of our group have taken the opportunity to visit the nearby penguin colonies and historic Fuerte Bulnes settlement.

On Tuesday we will set off for the first leg of our journey across Drake Passage...

Ppppp..pick up a penguin!

Scenary at Punta Arenas

Reflections on Punta Arenas (by Harry Bryden)

Much has changed in Punta Arenas since I was last here 33 years ago in 1976.  I remember the city as a quiet primitive place with friendly people and a huge military presence.  1976 was shortly after the end of Allende’s rule in Chile and near the beginning of Pinochet’s regime.  We stayed then in the Hotel Cabo de Hornos, a very homey place, ate regularly in a conservatory restaurant on the main square amongst a jungle of vines, and walked leisurely each day to work on the R/V Thomas Thompson (the old Thompson was replaced by a more modern ship about 1990).  I remember carefully rubbing the toe of the statue in the main square to ensure that I would return from the upcoming crossing of Drake Passage.

On this visit, we are staying in the modern hotel Diego de Almagro that seemed much more expensive than I remembered the Hotel Cabo de Hornos; so I had a thought I might save some money by transferring to Hotel Cabo de Hornos and went to visit the hotel.  It is now a very fancy hotel, completely different from the cosy version of 1976, and very expensive.  And I went to the conservatory restaurant on the square which is still there, very elegant, the vines have been seriously trimmed back since 1976, the food was as good as I remembered and not really expensive.  It is very nice that the principal places I remember from 33 years ago are still here, they have modernised to an elegant status worthy of a growing city of international importance, still here to be appreciated by all.

Walking down the hill from the sign that indicates how far we are away from Santiago, London, Bejing, etc., we pass the British School where a sign recalls how Ernest Shackleton gave a lecture here in 1916 as he was organising the mission aboard the Chilean vessel Yelcho to rescue his shipmates remaining on Elephant Island after the Weddell Sea ice had crushed their ship Endurance.  There are a notable number of British buried in the cemetery in Punta Arenas from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s suggesting a sizeable community of pioneers working in the region who sent their children to the British School.  The cemetery resembles an apartment complex where the departed live in continuum: each apartment has a room with a window, flowers and photos of the departed, and the block expands upward to higher levels as more apartments are needed.  We are nearly locked into the cemetery as we walked in through an open gate about 8pm only to find no way out.  Finally a friendly attendant pointed to the salida and we emerged back onto a busy city street.

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