Drake Passage and Beagle Channel

Dec 18, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

Our last morning on National Geographic Explorer found us just off Cape Horn in the northern section of the Drake, enjoying a calm passage with a balmy temperature of 46°F. Elegant black-browed albatross flitted around the ship, along with sooty shearwaters that had made the extraordinary journey from the Arctic to their southern breeding grounds. Low gray clouds mirrored a quiet, gray sea.

Expedition leader Lucho’s voice woke us gently at 6:30 a.m. as the Wollaston Islands, which include Cape Horn, emerged ahead of us from the mist. On a low green undulating headland stood a lighthouse close to a small outpost, occupied annually by a Chilean officer and his family. Nearby was a diamond-shaped monument, fashioned from steel salvaged from wrecked sunken vessels. On it was the outline of an albatross cut out against the sky, commemorating all the sailors who lost their lives in the waters around Cape Horn. At the base of the monument is inscribed a beautiful Spanish poem: “I Am the Albatross that Awaits You at the End of the World,” written in 1992 by Sara Vial. We passed by, a little over three miles from shore, feeling privileged that we had glimpsed this fabled spot.

Soon we entered the Beagle Channel, sailing north and then west towards Ushuaia, with the Argentinian coast on our starboard side and Chilean islands to our port, and glimpses of the first South American fur seals and sea lions. Just after lunch, the pilot boat approached, and we turned slightly to provide a moment’s shelter as the Argentinian pilot stepped aboard for the final stretch towards port. Mountains brushed with snow began to rise, and flotillas of Magellanic penguins were dotted about in the water, reminding us that we have returned once more to a familiar Patagonian landscape.

Eventually the busy port of Ushuaia came into view. Antarctica seems far behind us now, but we take with us indelible memories and impressions of that great white continent.

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About the Author

Carol Knott

Expedition Leader

Carol studied archaeology, history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, her native city. She spent many years as an archaeologist in the southeast of England, specializing in medieval ceramics and the conservation of historic houses and gardens. Since 1988 she has worked as an archaeologist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, living in a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, and was formerly archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland for their World Heritage site of St Kilda. Her great pleasure is to explore the cultures of Scotland, Europe and the North Atlantic, and to bring them to life for a modern audience. 

About the Photographer

Josh McInnes


Josh is a Canadian ecologist who grew up on Vancouver Island British Columbia, Canada. He studied marine biology and ecology with a focus in marine mammals, food web, and community dynamics at the University of Victoria.

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