We left the port of Ushuaia at 9:30 to make our way through the mysterious waters of the Beagle Channel. As we approached to Birds Island, the constructions became small but the mountains continued to be imposing.
A sea of legends
We sailed to Sea Lions Island and continue to Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, an emblem of the “End of the world”, that indicates the entrance to Ushuaia Bay , where one of the many shipwrecks that became legend took place: that of Monte Cervantes.
Launched in 1924, the ship belonged to the Hamburg Sudamericana company. With 150 meters of length, 19 of beam and 10.7 of strut, it displaced 13,750 tons and reached a speed of 16 knots thanks to the impulse of four diesel engines. The ship had two axles, two chimneys, two masts and twenty lifeboats. It was a tourist steam that was six stories high, without mention the wineries, with a capacity of 1,082 passengers but on its last trip it carried 1,200. To that figure should be added about 300 officers and crew.
Monte Cervantes had left the port of Buenos Aires on January 15, 1930. Its captain was Teodoro Dreyer. The boat passed in front of Mar del Plata and made short stops in Puerto Madryn and Punta Arenas. On January 21 it made a 15 hour stopover in the town of Ushuaia, which at that time had 800 inhabitants, and the next day it left for Yendegaia Bay, in Chile. It isn’t known if by decision of the Captain or the pilot Rodolfo Hepe, instead of reaching the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, the passage of the same name was used and the ship crashed into a low background. The scratching on the keel was frightening.
There had been an opening that quickly flooded the cellars and the lower cabins. The bow rose and, abruptly, the ship tilted to port and began to sink. Dreyer reacted immediately and, before running out of engines, took the ship to the islets Les Eclaireurs, where it ran aground. In this way, the crew was able to lower the lifeboats and all the passengers were rescued. A single man disappeared in the waters of the Beagle Channel: the Captain of Monte Cervantes.
The castaways had to wait a week for the ship Monte Sarmiento to pick them up to return to Buenos Aires. In Ushuaia there was only one boarding house with four beds, so passengers and crew had to be divided into different family homes, the prison yard and other places in the city.
Years later, the Argentine company Salvamar set out to refloat Monte Cervantes. For this work, the Chiriguano and Guaraní boats of the Navy, and the Saint Christopher tugboat of Salvamar were necessary. Finally, on October 3, 1954 the ship was refloated but its hull broke again and Mount Cervantes sank in a deeper place, losing itself forever in the depths of the Beagle Channel.
The first stay of the End of the world
From the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which many confuse with the San Juan de Salvamento Lighthouse located on the Island of the States and on which Jules Verne was inspired to write his novel “The Lighthouse of the End of the World”, we sailed to hammer Island to see a colony of Magellanic penguins. Then, we went to Harberton, the first stay in Tierra del Fuego, founded by the Anglican Reverend Thomas Bridges at the end of the 19th century.
After being found on a bridge in England, Bridges had been adopted by the Anglican missionary George Despard. In 1856 the reverend moved to the Malvinas Islands with his family to set up a mission. At the age of 13, Bridges learned Yahgan, the language of the Yámana, and during his first trip to Tierra del Fuego, in 1863, he was able to speak with the Fuegians and explain the purpose of the mission. In 1870 Bridges founded the Anglican Mission in Ushuaia, establishing himself permanently with his wife, Mary Ann Varder, and his little daughter, Mary, in 1871.
The lands that comprise the stay, baptized with the name of the English town where the reverend’s wife was born, were ceded by the then President of the Nation, Julio Argentino Roca, and the National Congress, in recognition of thirty years of work that Bridges had dedicated to the Yámana. It was an extensive land that included mountains, rivers, peat bogs, marine coast and even a series of islets located in the Beagle Channel.
I disembarked in the stay with a part of the passengers. After lunch, we visited the Acatushún Museum of Birds and Austral Mammals created by Natalie Goodall for the study of the biology of marine mammals and birds of the southern tip of South America. The collection contains skeletons of more than 2,700 marine mammals and 2,300 birds.
Then, we toured the Nature Reserve of the stay, fenced in 1890, to discover the five species of native trees and local flora, a replica of native huts and the history of the family. The visit continued through the old buildings of the hull, such as the shearing shed, the carpentry and the boat house, and ended in the garden of the main house.
On the way back to Ushuaia, we stopped in the middle of Route J to appreciate the flag trees, which owe their name to the particular shape of their branches, condemned to be oriented towards the same side, product of the strong winds that lash the lands of the “End of the world”.
Text and photos of Gabriela Naso.