Day 11 |
Jan 17, 2010

Drake Passage – Cape Horn – Beagle Channel – Ushuaia

By Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates at 7 am: 56°09’S, 67°10’W

Weather: overcast and light foggy at 5.4°C (41.7°F) at 7 am, later partially sunny, calm

After quite some rough and bumpy conditions during the night, the wind decreased (44 km/h), and the sea became calm. When we approached Cape Horn at c. 7:30 am the weather was mostly sunny with a beautiful view of Cape Horn. After having heard so much about Cape Horn, I appreciated very much seeing it in reality and in good light.

Cape Horn is the southernmost point of land associated with South America; it is located on Isla Hornes in the Hermite Islands group, at the southern end of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. It marks the north edge of the Drake Passage, the strait between South America and Antarctica. The dividing line between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans runs along the meridian of Cape Horn, from Tierra del Fuego to the Southern Ocean. It is located in Cabo de Hornos National Park.

Cape Horn was originally given the Dutch name "Kaap Hoorn", in honour of the Dutch city of Hoorn; in a typical example of false friends, the Hoorn became known in English as "Cape Horn", and in Spanish as "Cabo de Hornos" (which literally means "Cape of Ovens"). The cape lies within Chilean territorial waters, and the Chilean Navy maintains a station on Hoorn Island, consisting of a residence, utility building, chapel, and lighthouse. Near Cape Horn, the Prince Albert II changed sailing direction and headed northeast, with some tailwind, but the sailing conditions were excellent at calm sea.

After being on deck for bird watching, with Wandering albatrosses, Cape Petrels, Southern Giant Petrel, White-chinned petrel following the ship, I attended the lecture of Claudia Holgate on “Climate Change: The Global Carbon Experiment”. Claudia explained the phenomenon, the role of the different “greenhouse gases”, the long-term history of the series of warm and cold phases, as well as future scenarios and consequences, with particular emphasis on the consequences for Antarctica and its close-linked food chain properties. She also addressed how each of us could contribute to mitigate the current change.

After lunch with guests from Australia, I spent quite some time on the outer decks to observe birds together with some guests. In the meantime, the Prince Albert II sailed into the Beagle Channel and the sea became very calm.

At 14:30 I gave my lecture on “Fascinating Wanderers: Principles of Bird Migrations”. I gave an overview of how we can explore the migration routes of birds, about the innate migratory mechanisms, and how we may even benefit as man from the knowledge of the physiological adaptations of migratory bird species.

My lecture was followed by a brief presentation by our geologist David Elliot, who explained the circumstances of the recent earthquake on Haiti.

After the lectures I was again on the outer decks. Flocks of South American terns, at least 200 Blue-eyed shags, some 40 Magellanic Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Dolphin Gulls and Brown Skuas were around the ship. The terns were flying with food upstream and a little bit later I discovered that they were flying to a breeding colony on an island located in the middle of the channel, where shags were also breeding.

After being with guests for the Afternoon Tea in the Panorama Lounge, I attended the “Liars Club” with the Expedition Team and then the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party in The Theatre. All departments were called on stage, and Captain Peter Stahlberg thanked all very warmly and with his smiling humor for all the duties on the ship.

Thereafter I attended the Captain’s Farwell Dinner at 19:00, being seated with three Brazilian ladies.

At c. 21:30 the Prince Albert II docked at the pier of Ushuaia. An outstanding voyage came to end, and I am so glad and grateful that I had the opportunity to join the voyage as a lecturer and member of the Expedition Team. I appreciated very much working with the Expedition Team, led by Rich Kirchner. The coming night will be my last on the Prince Albert II because I will fly home tomorrow, impressed by the unique landscape and by the wildlife of Antarctica: a voyage, I will never forget.

For the today’s recap, I prepared some facts about the two penguin species that we observed today, but my presentation was skipped and postponed for tomorrow, because the Bridge discovered a lonely Emperor penguin standing on floating ice and reported it to The Theatre. We all went outside, and thanks to Captain Peter who turned the vessel, we got a very nice view of this lonely Emperor – another unexpected highlight of the day because Emperor penguins appear only very rarely in waters this far from the breeding colonies further south on the Antarctic continent.