Find a Cruise

Kenneth G. Ramey

Age: 72


Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Royal Princess

Sailing Date: December 5th, 2001

Itinerary: Valparaiso to Buenos Aires via Cape Horn



Darwin and the Beagle (1831-33) by Alan Moorehead
Two Years before the Mast (1833-34) by Richard Henry Dana
Voyage of the Sunbeam (1865) by Lady Brassey
Sailing Alone Around the World (1893-96) by Capt. Joshua Slocum
Along the Clipper Way (Includes excerpts from above sources, and many others too) by Sir Francis Chichester
(1)"Shackleton and the Antarctic" (2) ENDURANCE (his ship), and (3) "South." (About his 1914 Expedition), by Shackleton and others (Success snatched from the jaws of failure) Wonderfully exciting photographs in all three

Our cruise aboard the ROYAL PRINCESS (christened by Princess Di) retraced experiences about the Horn described in the reading material above. The story of Shackleton's expedition is the exception, but is included because it began at South Georgia Island, at the same latitude as the Falkland Islands, on December 5th, 1914, and ran into pack-ice on December 7th, 1914 at the latitude of Cape Horn. Eventually, his ship was trapped and crushed by ice, but all hands were rescued by daring seldom, if ever, experienced by man. Since our cruise (2001) lasted from December 5th to the 19th, I feel it appropriate to include his story because of the coincidence of dates, albeit eighty-seven years later. Moreover, the rescued members of the expedition were delivered to safety in Punta Arenas, Chile, a port visited by the ROYAL PRINCESS.

We arrived at San Francisco Airport three hours early, cleared security in half an hour. While we waited for our flight to DFW, Darlene took a picture of security personnel and promptly had an otherwise unexposed film-roll confiscated.

The plane to Dallas was an A-300 that flew at 37000 feet in fair weather, but with some turbulence. We had a four and one-half hour layover at DFW, and when it came time to board I learned my seat had been assigned to a young lady who was to work on the ROYAL PRINCESS. We had booked our seats on this flight four months in advance, and I had reconfirmed our reservations five times. We experienced a bit of a hassle that ended with everyone accommodated, but not until a few tears were shed on the part of the young lady who was given another seat. The error occurred when my ticket was exchanged for a boarding pass. American Airlines overbooked by 31 passengers, and the confusion caused by staff trying to buy their way out of a dilemma (eventually successful) caused the error. Curiously, my seat assignment was confirmed when an attendant checked to verify that I was to receive a diabetic meal, as indeed I was.

We saw Persis again at the airport in Santiago, again in tears, because she was traveling alone to her new job and "no one would help me." We were boarding the bus to transfer to the ship, and she did too. The next day we saw her aboard ship working in the boutique. Apparently the incident had a happy ending.

The ROYAL PRINCESS was to have sailed from Valparaiso at 6:00pm December 5th, but didn't get off till after midnight. We turned in early, having had no sleep in nearly forty hours. I took a sleeping pill and slept well. The forward cabin we'd been assigned was the cause of mal-de-mer we experienced, Darlene more than I. We both had taken meclazine, and ate little, but still were haunted by thoughts of home. A gale from the south produced large swells the ship met head on causing it to curtsey and roll for two nights and a day. The rise and fall of the bow, together with the roll, created G forces as the ship bottomed out, and less than G force as it rose, crested, and dipped again, rather like what one experiences on an elevator. I missed the first formal dinner due to mal-de-mer, but managed to acquire my sea legs thereafter.

By morning of the second night we approached Puerto Montt four hours late. When the ship turned east it entered sheltered water, and life assumed another proportion. We anchored, and preparations were made to tender passengers ashore by 10:00am. The visit to Puerto Montt was cut short an hour to save time, but we still had three hours to make up. They, however, were made up without difficulty in sheltered waters nearly as smooth as glass for the next six days or so. Temperature in Puerto Montt was in the fifties with few clouds, but still windy.

The ROYAL PRINCESS is a very nice ship of 45,000 tons of British registry. Because of its size, it sat placid enough at anchor, but the tender ride to and from the pier in Puerto Montt was about as rough as it could be. We went ashore in the afternoon and noticed subtle differences between the towns of the southern latitudes and those further to the north. Certainly there were similarities, but the structures here were more substantial, many with metal roofs. I found the people affable, the situation hilly, and the architecture interesting. We seldom take tours from the ship, but choose instead to wander the streets of the immediate vicinity. I am limited in how far I can walk, but I suspect I managed a couple of miles or so in Puerto Montt, with a rest now and then.

On this ship, and perhaps all others by now, SMART CASUAL seems to be "come as you are." The costume du jour has been reduced to jeans, much to my surprise. When combined with bellies that look as if they are eleven months pregnant, and T-shirts inadequate to cover it, the effect is awesome. The most severe example was a man who looked as if he had just finished slopping the hogs, and didn't bother to change. I don't recall seeing so much quivering flesh in all my life. I asked a woman, in the course of what I hoped would become conversation, if she felt she had gained any weight so far. She replied "I don't know and don't care." I gathered she pretty well summed up the attitude of many passengers (present company excepted, of course). Food to many seemed to exert the greatest pull. Even the Cruise director admitted some disappointed with some passengers who were rude as well as rustic. Perhaps cruising had become a way of life without enthusiasm. No problem. I existed in my own special world fulfilling my own desires. Fortunately, our table partners were a step above the average, and we got along. Even our random partners at breakfast and lunch were for the most part amiable.

We left Puerto Montt shortly after 8:00pm and sailed almost due south all night through channels protected from the sea by barrier islands. It was wonderful sailing in spite of a modest southerly breeze. Conifers grew to the water's edge, and to the east were snow-covered peaks on what I presumed to be the Andes cordillera. The higher ones seemed to be cloud-capped volcanoes draped with glaciers in an otherwise cloudless sky. The water had become sparkling smooth all about. With but an hour to go before entering the Darwin Channel, the coasts on either side began to close upon us in idyllic scenes of large and small islands green to the water's edge, not unlike that of the Alaskan Inside Passage. The only way out is the Darwin Channel into which the ship turned 90 degrees west on its passage to the Pacific Ocean. The "canal" is narrow, only about half a mile wide. The transit took a bit more than an hour.

Suddenly there is a gathering of clouds to the south pulling a curtain over what earlier had been so cheery a day. Wind increased some, enough to stir up white caps, and the Pacific swell increased as we headed in its direction at a steady 17 knots. 12:15pm we are at sea again until the next morning.

December 9--Sea was only moderately rough last night; not a problem, and we entered sheltered water again this morning on our way to Pio XI Glacier. Scenery is reminiscent of Alaska's Inside Passage. Noticeable drop in temperature to mid 40s. Overcast lifts as we go inland. Two hours to the Glacier, and what appear at first to be whitecaps are really bits of floating ice, thick but small in size. 11:45am we are surrounded by floating ice and snow-capped peaks. Although the channel remains smooth, the wind blows hard from the SW, and it is cold. We glide across the water going ENE, and by 2:00pm the weather turns clear and delightfully warm giving us a perfect view of Pio XI. At 3:45pm the ship does a pirouette to return from whence it came, but by a slightly different route, at about 10 knots until we reach the wider inside channel and continue our voyage south. The weather is superb, the best in thirteen years we are told.

December 10th we detour to another Glacier, the Amalia, and return to the main channel, and continue cruising south for another day before entering the Strait of Magellan. Amalia Glacier is more dramatic than Pio XI, but getting to and from Pio is by far more interesting and beautiful. Seas continue calm, sky partly cloudy but otherwise fair with no rain. I stayed up till midnight to see the Southern Cross for the first time, and managed a glimpse of the Magellanic clouds as well, two relatively large blurs of heavenly nebulae similar to our milky way that emit dim reflected light. I saw them just before they set in the south when I followed the line of the Southern Cross that points to the pole. My grandest hope was realized, and I was satisfied.

At dinner I sensed the ship entering rougher water and correctly assumed we had entered the Strait and were feeling the effect of the Pacific swell on our starboard side. After dinner I went on deck to see both Por Tamar and Cape Pilar, the latter being the southern point of entry to the Pacific Ocean, and Port Tamar the northern headland. We entered the Strait from the Smyth Channel, and rounded Port Tamar as the ship turned eastward at 7:45pm toward Punta Arenas. The Pacific entry to the Strait was clearly visible from the stern, just as Capt. Slocum described it in his book, SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD. I considered staying up till we passed Borja Bay where sailors of yore stopped to leave the name of their ship and its date of passage on a board they nailed to a tree. The spot became an unofficial post office where letters were retrieved by other ships that delivered them at ports along their route of travel. Nothing remains of the evidence, however, and as the night was overcast, I decide to go to bed. When I awoke, we had docked in Punta Arenas.

During the night we traversed sections of the Strait called "Reaches," Long Reach being the most westerly that leads to the Pacific Ocean. Then comes Crooked Reach through the narrows and the area of Borja Bay, then English Reach to Froward Reach and Cape Froward, the most southerly part of the continent of South America. Rounding that Cape the ship headed north into Famine Reach bounded by desolate lowlands east, and barrens to the west, then into Broad Reach where the coastline recedes and the water expands. Punta Arenas is situated in the north west corner where the Strait veers east to the second and first narrows eventually to meet the Atlantic at Cape Virgin. Visibility was great, and I could see Tierra del Fuego (Isla Grande) to the south and Cape Froward to the southwest. That evening we retraced our northward course southward past Cape Froward, across the Strait, into the Cockburn Channel to the Southern Sea, then east into the shelter of the Beagle Channel on our way to Ushuaia, Argentina.

I was surprised that the captain of the ROYAL PRINCESS was unfamiliar with the "Milky Way" of Capt. Slocum fame (the most harrowing experience of his seafaring life). The Milky Way, so named for the foam created by waves breaking on numerous submerged and other rocks, is located just west of the mouth of the Cockburn Channel into which Slocum sailed north when he escaped its dangers. He referred to Darwin's reaction to it who felt, "any landlubber who saw it would have nightmares for weeks to come," or words to that effect. Our captain had not read Slocum's book, but said he would check out the Milky Way for future reference. Although it was near, it was not a threat as we passed into the southern sea in the dark of an early morning

We sailed on glassy seas below an almost cloudless sky in the Beagle Channel where the scene in every direction was awesome. I was up at 5:00am before the sun sent its rays down from the peaks to illuminate the opposite side of the channel. This would prove to be the most spectacular part of the cruise; narrow waterway, immense snow covered mountains, magnificent Glaciers, one after another on the north shore, and each named for a country in honor of sailors aboard the Beagle in 1833; not all, of course. I'm afraid photographs will not do the scenery justice. I recommend a camcorder because as we glided silently past the coast it seemed it was a moving panorama, and that the ship was still. It was quite a sensation.

December 12 at noon we docked at Ushuaia the southernmost city of the world. The temperature rose to over 60 degrees, and was the warmest day of the cruise so far with no wind and only a few white clouds to mar a perfectly blue sky. Ushuaia is unlike other Latin American cities. Its location requires it to be more substantial, and it has more of an alpine appearance. Above the city is a greenbelt that separates the city from its mountainous backdrop. The city itself slopes up from the sea, gradually at first, then more precipitously as it approaches the greenbelt. I thought it quite attractive, and found the people friendly. There was a small demonstration against the government in the form of a parade to object to Argentina's economic situation that places restrictions on its people.

We left Ushuaia at 6:02pm and continued east in the Beagle Channel on smooth seas. East of Ushuaia the channel is downright plain compared to the grandeur to the west. Mountains recede to the level of rounded hills that fade to meet the water where we turned SSW about 2:00am on 12/13 to approach the Horn. Seas were relatively calm all the way with overcast sky, but good visibility, so that the Horn stood out in its entirety. We merely rounded it a bit before making a 180-degree turn to port after presumably dipping our bow into Pacific waters. Had swells been high, the turn might have been exciting, but we lucked out. Our heading was now ENE south of Staten Island to Port Stanley in the Falklands. The swells did increase, but as we were running with them rather than against them, (the wind was from behind), the ride was not uncomfortable. As we passed Staten Island the winds veered to NNE, the ship sailing into seas of perhaps 15-20 feet and we experienced what we did when we left Santiago, except that by now we were more accustomed to the motion and less bothered by it.

At the Falklands we anchored in the roads of Port Stanley and had to be tendered to the dock, a trip of about 15 minutes in moderate to calm seas. Islands are low lying and susceptible to winds that sometimes prevent cruise ships from visiting this port, but we were fortunate. The afternoon was glorious making our visit and walkabout memorable indeed. Port Stanley is a bit of old England transplanted to this remote part of the earth, ten thousand miles from the motherland. British values and norms prevail even in the pubs, one of which we visited briefly, and found to be a cozy rendezvous for the locals. The architecture and lifestyle was a welcome and interesting change, and I noticed many a British flag in windows to indicate, I suspect, the pride the people feel for Britain's participation in the war against terrorism. We sailed from Port Stanley at 6:15pm heading for Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

To Puerto Madryn our course was NNW, and we ran into our first real rain of the cruise. The sea rose some, but was nothing like what we had experienced. I dressed for this formal night, the second of three, and shook the hand of the captain who seemed out of place in his required setting, poor fellow. Arrived and docked in Puerto Madryn 12/16, Sunday. Most everything was closed in town, so we didn't go in. The skyline with its numerous high-rises set the city apart from others we'd seen. Apparently the area is being discovered, but persons who did go to town were not impressed. So, we took a walk along the pier after a thunderstorm passed leaving considerable wind in its wake. It was in the 60s at Madryn (generally pronounced MA-dryn) on a somewhat dreary and humid day. As we cruised north and reached lower latitudes, temperatures climbed.

December 17th we were all at sea again headed for Montevideo on a NNE course rocking and rolling over tumbling swells. I saw the Southern Cross again last night in a perfectly clear sky and was able to show it to Darlene too from the bow of the ship. We saw another nebulae similar to the Magellanic Clouds not far from the "Cross," and near if not actually part of, earth's heavenly Milky Way

Arrived at Montevideo 12/18 at about 8:45am on a beautiful sunny day with temperature in the 70s. The city appears modern and attractive. We took a free shuttle to a shopping area near old town from which we walked back to the ship. The defining "monte" (slightly more than 400 feet high) was mostly unadorned near the entrance to the harbor, but "el cerrito" (just over 200 feet high) disappeared under the cover of stone and concrete structures that constitute the city proper. Montevideo has a busy skyline and narrow streets many lined with shade trees. From a distance, because streets are not discernable, the whole has the appearance of a jumble, or clutter, of buildings only a few of which are distinguishable from the mass. Policia were everywhere, often groups of four or more. Except for several children, and at the entrance to churches, there was no serious begging. There were broken sidewalks here and there, but otherwise the city was neat and clean. I thought it one of the best Latin American cities I have visited. It reminded me of San Francisco a little, offering pedestrians pleasant surprises.

The walk back to the ship took us past several nice plazas, through an arcade, and sections of Old Town to the pier. The port was the busiest we had seen so far, and the ROYAL PRINCESS was re-supplied here with food and goods for its return trip to Valparaiso. Everything was well organized, and the courtesy of the people generally, as well as drivers, was both surprising and appreciated. I saw no projects under construction leaving the impression that this city was charming enough as is.

The night of December 18th we crossed from Montevideo to Buenos Aires over the shallow hundred-miles-wide Rio de la Plata through a narrow, well-marked, channel that had been dredged to accommodate large ships. We also saw the Southern Cross for the last time much lower on the horizon. We disembarked in Buenos Aires next morning so that part of the day in Montevideo was spent packing.

We arrived in Buenos Aires early on the morning of the 19th December and had breakfast on board. Following disembarkation, we boarded a bus for a "Highlight Tour" of the city before being taken to the Hilton Hotel to await transportation to the airport. The population of Buenos Aires is 12,000,000, or one third of the total for this enormous country. It would not be an exaggeration to say the heart of the city was opulent. Architectural detail was abundant, as were "balcones." I never saw so many balconies at once in all my life. Except for the widest boulevard in the world, streets were narrow, drivers gutsy, and traffic a nightmare. It was hard to believe that Argentina was on the verge of economic collapse, but the day after we left, the 20th of December, twenty-one protesters (?) were killed.

On a lighter and more interesting note dog walkers, with their bevy of canines numbering as many as eight or more, could be seen escorting their charges on leashes from the center of friendly packs. Dogs of every size and description might be included, and they all got along famously.

We were left to our own devices for lunch, and in the company of another couple chose a lunch counter and coffee shop not far from the Hilton. It was crowded and noisy which resulted in our limited Spanish being lost in the turmoil. Finally, however, my wife was able to order a quiche of which there were several varieties. After I explained that we wanted separate checks (una cuenta para ellos (pointing to the other couple), y la otra para nosotros), the waiter left both in fact, and us confused. My wife had given the only order. Having some experience in such matters, I prepared our friends for what to expect. Each was served a quiche of ham and cheese, or spinach, or squash. They were great, and they were not expensive. Bottled water cost nearly as much, and we did get separate checks. Everyone was satisfied with what we all considered a fitting end to our overall experience.

At 6:00pm we were transferred to the airport from the Hilton by bus, and at 9:00pm AA flight #956 sped us to JFK in New York. From there we transferred to a UA flight to San Francisco where we arrived six hours later, making a total of nearly seventeen hours in the air, and no sleep for about thirty-six hours. Then we had to drive home where we arrived completely exhausted. Forty hours without sleep does funny things to a person to which a five-hour jet lag contributed its part.

There are some things that one is glad to have done, but would never do again. South to the Horn is one of those. But, oh, the memories!


Was this review helpful?

Yes No Email this review to a friend

Ask questions and get advice from other cruisers on our popular discussion board,