At Sea, East of Uruguay

Oct 25, 2017 - National Geographic Orion


Continuing on a south-westerly course, we have arrived off the coast of Uruguay, an interesting nation state created as a buffer state between Portuguese-speaking Brazil to the north and Spanish-speaking Argentina to the south of the strategically important River Plate. Ferdinand Magellan explored this huge river estuary in 1520, hoping in vain for a sea passage around South America, but he had to sail considerably further south before navigating the channel that now bears his name.

The Spanish explorer Juan Días de Solís is credited with founding the city of Montevideo in 1516 on the north bank of the River Plate; he died in the same year and the city has a historic theatre named after him. The area has been strategically important into modern times, a vital route way to and from the Potosi mines along which gold and silver flowed, the latter providing the Spanish name Rio Plata, and providing access by sea for land-locked Paraguay. Captain FitzRoy in command of HMSS Beagle surveyed the estuary extensively, providing ample opportunity for the young Charles Darwin to investigate the rich fossil record of the Argentine hinterland. In 1939, the British audaciously sank the German Panzerschiffe Admiral Graf Spee in the opening months of the Second World War.

Like Columbus before him, Magellan was sailing these waters in the hope of finding a sea route to Asia. This evening our Asian Buffet Dinner appeared to reference this maritime history; more prosaically, it seems that we now have a surplus of rice and a shortage of potatoes in the ship’s stores after eighteen days at sea. 

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About the Author

David Barnes

Expedition Leader

David studied history at the University of York in England and theology at the University of Wales.  Research in the field of religious history (at Cardiff) followed on naturally.  He has spent most of his professional life teaching history, most recently in adult education departments within the University of Wales where he has taught a wide variety of courses pertinent to the wider Atlantic world.  In 1988, he made his first lecture-tour of the U.S. for the English Speaking Union. He has published extensively on Welsh history and topography–his most recent book being the Companion Guide to Wales (2005)–and is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews to Welsh cultural and literary journals.  In the1990s, David was active in the field of international education, traveling worldwide and spending a year in the U.S. (in Atlanta and New York City).  He speaks English and French in addition to his native Welsh.

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