Since writing ‘A Voyage to Punta Arenas’ featured in last December’s issue of Sea Breezes, the opportunity arose while visiting our son in Chile, to make a similar voyage. The big difference this time I was going as a passenger accompanied by my wife, and not as a crew member. We booked aboard the Expedition Cruise Ship Silver Explorer, bound for Ushuaia Argentina from Valparaiso via Chilean fjords, Magellan Straits and Punta Arenas.
It was a pleasant sunny 20°C November day for our arrival at the Valparaiso cruise terminal. Like many cohorts from my seafaring years with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, Valparaiso was dear to our hearts for many reasons. Visiting this part of the world again for the first time since 1964 brought back mixed emotions and memories of an age long past. I felt as if I had stepped out of a time machine seeing some familiar landmarks with different surroundings.
Transferring from our coach to the cruise terminal involved a short walk to the arrival / departure hall. This building had the appearance of a converted dock side shed however it was clean, bright and airy. There were some gift stalls to entice last minute shoppers with Chilean mementoes. The walls were adorned with photographs of the early steam ships associated with the coastal trade dating back over the years. The majority if not all of these ships being Chilean, had played part in Valparaiso’s development as a port city and gateway to the capital Santiago.
The process and security checks were soon dispensed with and for safety reasons we boarded a transit coach for the short distance to our ship Silver Explorer, berthed on the east side of a finger berth. This wharf, as I recall, had been mainly used by ships involved in the Chilean coastal trade. The overseas trade ships having made use of the land backed berths on the western side of the harbour. The berth is now an open wharf devoid of any structures. Gone are the dock sheds and electric cranes constructed by Stothert & Pit of Bath England dating from the early nineteen hundreds. These types of cranes were to be found operating in a number of Chilean ports and most likely would have been shipped out in the holds of Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s ships.
The Mole Prat breakwater was as I remembered, with a number of Chilean Naval ships albeit more modern ones moored to it. The Chilean Naval training ship Esmeralda was also moored there in a similar fashion to when I first sighted her during my first trip to sea in 1958. Dock side, Valparaiso has changed in similar ways to all other major ports of the world, in order to accommodate the modern way of handling cargo. Container stacking areas established where once stood storage sheds. The quay side container cranes purring away, lifting boxes on and off, sporting their yellow flashing lights and audible alarms. To the casual observer few people seemed to be involved in the entire operation. Not like the hustle and bustle I remembered made by hundreds of dock workers and their associated equipment.
Likewise the individually designed shapes and sizes of cargo ships that had once graced these wharfs. Their names, some of which once proudly painted on the seaward face of the quays by errant sailors of yesteryear, no longer visible and relegated to history. The old quaysides have been resurfaced and refaced allowing fender systems to be installed to serve the larger modern ships.
No longer required are the berthing manoeuvres of the past, which entailed letting go the off shore anchor and running a stern line to one of the mooring buoys located in the middle of the harbour adjacent to each berth. This arrangement limited the ship’s surging movement onto the old solid wharf fenders being kept to a minimum. When departing from the wharf, heaving on the buoy line in conjunction with heaving up the anchor, enabled the ship to clear the berth. This afforded little use of the one old steam tug Poderoso, which always stood by to assist.
The port now boasts a number of modern powerful tugs to assist in handling some of the world’s largest container ships. The old mooring buoys have been removed to make way for the larger ships. Their removal in my opinion is a good outcome, as they had been defecated on by generations of Pelicans – the stench from them when berthed downwind was dire.
After attending the mandatory emergency drill, departure time soon arrived. The customary farewell exchange given on the ship’s whistles with our attending tug, followed by a wave to the harbour pilot who disembarked skilfully down the ladder to the awaiting launch, Silver Explorer cleared the harbour. Our track took us south into a south westerly swell with freshening wind. The combined effect increasing the ship’s pitching together with a drop in temperature and from this aspect I felt nothing had changed – it was as I recalled from past experiences. Silver Explorer being stabilised, managed the ever increasing swell with ease. The swell was coming from approximately thirty degrees on the starboard bow and for its size we found the ship very comfortable in all respects.
There being only 88 passengers on this cruise we were greatly outnumbered by crew members, whose service left nothing to be desired. The master Captain Adam Boczek, a very experienced mariner allowed an open bridge policy for the passengers unless circumstances dictated otherwise. To me this was a bonus and all I could have wished for.
After 38 hours at sea we made the approach to the anchorage off Corral. This port I had visited a few times before during the period of 1960- 1962. From what I could see I felt nothing had changed very much, the weather, the light, even the temperature now a cool 5°C and warming up. The moderate swell had prevailed until we got inside the bay was also familiar. The only major change obvious to me was the area where an industrial plant wrecked by a tsunami during the 1960 earthquake had been replaced by a wood chip stock pile. A Jetty close by to facilitate the loading of wood chip carriers had also been established where we once moored with two anchors and stern lines to a buoy.
Apart from some extra buildings and sprouting of Telco masts, little has changed at Corral. It felt really good to be back amongst these familiar surroundings. The sea birds were just as plentiful as I remembered, also the sea lions and dolphins. The early morning fishing boats heading out into the bay, others returning and heading up the river to Valdivia to land their catch. This daily routine has no doubt been followed by generations of local fishermen.