Is this the world's most dangerous sea route?
When I was a child, my grandfather Alfred Downes often spoke about the 128-day journey that he took in 1949 aboard the Pamir. The famous four-masted barque, a German Flying P-Liner ship, was sailing from Port Elizabeth in Adelaide, Australia, to the town of Falmouth in Cornwall, England, filled with 60,000 sacks of Australian grain. It was the barque’s final journey through the stormy seas of the Drake Passage, and it would be the last time a commercial sailing ship ever rounded Cape Horn in southern Chile.
小时候，我的祖父唐斯（Alfred Downes）经常说起他1949年在帕米尔号（Pamir）上度过的128天的航程。这艘著名的四桅帆船是一艘德国Flying-P-Line货运船，满载着6万袋产自澳大利亚的谷物，从澳大利亚阿德莱德的伊丽莎白港（Port Elizabeth）驶往英格兰康沃尔郡的法尔茅斯（Falmouth）。这是这艘船最后一次穿越波涛汹涌的德雷克海峡（Drake Passage），也是商用帆船最后一次驶过智利南端的合恩角（Cape Horn）。
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of my grandfather’s voyage and the upcoming 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Strait of Magellan sea route that separates South America’s southernmost tip with Chile’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, I boarded the Ventus Australis expedition cruise liner in Punta Arenas, Chile. I had always wanted to see some of the landscapes my grandfather spoke about, and while it was impossible to replicate his four-month odyssey, my four-night jaunt let me follow in the spirit of his adventure, taking me through the Strait’s narrow fjords that he sailed around and then south to the climax of his voyage: the perilous Cape Horn headland that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
为了纪念祖父航海70周年，以及即将到来的麦哲伦海峡（Strait of Magellan）航路发现500周年，我在智利的港口城市蓬塔阿里纳斯（Punta Arenas）登上了澳大利亚“南方探险号”（Ventus Australis）探测船。麦哲伦海峡是南美洲最南端与智利火地岛群岛（Tierra del Fuego）之间的海道。我一直都很想亲眼看看祖父经常谈到的风景，虽然不可能复制他长达四个月的艰苦历程，但四天的短途旅行也足以让我追随他的冒险精神，穿过狭窄的峡湾，然后一直南下直至旅程中最重要的一站，即波涛翻滚危机四伏的合恩角。对这个南美最南端海角的回忆一直伴随着祖父的余生。
My grandfather left Australia as a 20-year-old deckhand on the Pamir and never returned home. He had long dreamed of leaving Australia, as his relationship with his father was not a happy one. His father wanted him to marry a girl from his hometown in the Adelaide suburbs and work on the family farm. Instead, he wanted to start a new life in England. It was a country that he knew little about, but he had always been fascinated by its history as a schoolboy.
When an opportunity to join the Pamir arose courtesy of a family friend, my grandfather quickly accepted and boarded the ship three days later alongside 33 other crewmembers. He worked 18-hour shifts and spent his days cleaning and mopping the deck, helping in the kitchen and emptying toilets. He hated the work so much that while other crewmembers were signing up for the 128-day return voyage back to Australia, he disembarked and headed straight to the town of Wymondham in Norfolk. He’d heard rumours there were opportunities for farmers in the market town’s rolling countryside, and he lived there for 54 years until he died in 2003.
The only things my grandfather loved about the journey were seeing the remote Tierra del Fuego archipelago that shelters the Strait of Magellan from the ocean, breathing the Antarctic air deep into his lungs and feeling the icy-cold breeze blowing in his face. “It was like nowhere else on Earth and a far cry from my life working on my father’s dry and arid farm,” he told me when I was a 10-year-old boy, with a look of wonder in his eyes. “Not one single thing reminded me of home. I felt lost and frightened, yet free.”
Seventy years later, I arrived in Punta Arenas and wandered through the city’s main square, Plaza de Armas. A bronze statue of Ferdinand Magellan, the first European to navigate the eponymous strait in 1520 during his global, circumnavigational voyage, towers over a cannon. The Portuguese explorer sailed near the present-day city C located near the southernmost stretch of Chile’s Patagonia region C and, as evidenced by the discolouration of his bronze boots, it is now considered good luck for those boarding cruises to touch Magellan’s toes before following in his footsteps and journeying through his strait.
70年后，我来到了蓬塔阿里纳斯，漫步在这座城市的中央广场阿玛斯广场（Plaza de Armas）。麦哲伦（Ferdinand Magellan）的铜像耸立在一门大炮上。1520年，麦哲伦是第一个在环球航行中穿越这片海峡的欧洲人，这片海峡也因此以他命名。这位葡萄牙航海家当时航行经过了智利巴塔哥尼亚（Patagonia）地区最南端的这座城市。他的青铜靴子已经被人摸得掉色，因为人们认为，在追随麦哲伦的脚步穿越海峡之前，摸他的脚趾头能带来好运。
For nearly 400 years, the Strait of Magellan was the main route for ships travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Despite its narrow 600km-long passage through a clustered network of islands and fjords, it was thought to be a quicker and safer route than rounding Cape Horn to the south and entering the infamously turbulent Drake Passage that separates Cape Horn and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands.
近400年期间，麦哲伦海峡一直是往来大西洋和太平洋船只的主要航线。尽管这条长达600公里狭窄海道穿过了一片密集的群岛和峡湾，但人们仍然认为这条线路比向南绕过合恩角进入波涛汹涌的德雷克海峡（Drake passage）更快和更安全。合恩角隔着德雷克海峡和南极洲南设得兰群岛（South Shetland Islands）相望。
The completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 caused sea traffic through the Strait to decline significantly, but unlike steamships, sailing ships coming from Australia had difficulty accessing the Canal’s western entrance because of its location in the middle of a notorious belt of doldrums. But because of the Pamir’s 114m length and 14m beam, the mammoth, steel-hulled barque was too large to sail through the winding Strait. Thus, my grandfather had no choice but to skirt the edges of the strait and Tierra del Fuego islands and round Cape Horn. He was quite proud that he and his crewmates were the last commercial sailors to ever do so, saying, “Last is good, as first you go down in history.”
I sipped on a pisco sour as the crew of the Ventus Australis pulled up anchor in Punta Arenas. The difference between my grandfather’s experience and mine wasn’t lost on me: if navigating 26,000km through some of the world’s stormiest seas was like climbing Mount Everest for a sailor, my cruise was kind of like climbing on a Sherpa’s shoulders to carry me to the top.
The lights of Punta Arenas faded as we entered the maze-like channels of the Strait. The sky soon turned black and all I could sense was the ship’s movement over the waves. My grandfather had spoken about long nights of darkness and loneliness on the open seas. It had been difficult for him to leave his mother and sisters behind, but he never questioned his decision to start a new life in a new land on his own terms.
Early the next morning, I boarded a small, inflatable Zodiac and motored to the rocky shores of Ainsworth Bay. The long fjord is surrounded by a sub-polar forest and set beneath the towering white peaks of Marinelli Glacier. As we headed closer to the icecaps, I was stunned by the beauty of the place. The sun reflected off of the glacier and the sea was so clear that it could have been mistaken for fresh drinking water.
第二天一早，我乘着一艘小型充气橡皮艇，驶向安斯沃思湾（Ainsworth Bay）的岩石海岸。这条长长的峡湾环绕着亚极地区的森林，森林之上是马里内利冰川（Marinelli Glacier）高耸的白色山峰。当橡皮艇向冰盖靠近时，景色美得令我目瞪口呆。此时，阳光在冰川上闪闪发光，海水清澈透明，一时之间竟误以为这是可以饮用的清冽淡水。
I spent two hours hiking the crest of a glacial lake, passing turquoise streams and waterfalls. The sheer silence of the place was magical. My grandfather often recalled the silence of the region C a phenomenon he described as ‘The Patagonia Moment’. As a child, this notion had been difficult for me to grasp, but as an adult, I loved it. Whenever I would talk over him and my grandfather wanted me to be quiet, he would look at me sternly and say, “It’s about time you experienced The Patagonia Moment. Just be quiet.” Ainsworth Bay was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced complete silence, and I couldn’t help but think of him.
Later that afternoon, we jumped back onto the Zodiac and travelled through much rougher seas to observe Magellanic penguins on Tuckers Islets. My grandfather liked to recall a rocky Patagonian island covered in penguins that he viewed from the Pamir’s deck. He described the birds as ‘smelly, funny-looking things’ and often made jokes about eating them. The 4,000 penguins that inhabit Tuckers today appeared quite content as the sky tuned dark grey and it began to pour. I smiled to myself as I watched the penguins at play, wondering if they were the distant relatives of those my grandfather had seen 70 years ago.
As we approached Pia Glacier the next morning and a spectacular landscape known as Glacier Alley, I remembered my grandfather excitedly talking about a dramatic stretch of water amid the Tierra del Fuego islands filled with icefields and “huge chunks of ice between mountains”. It was only much later in life that he learned these formations had a name: glaciers. Whenever the Pamir would pass one of these ‘chunks of ice’, he recalled that the crew would stop what they were doing to take in the spectacular scene. It must have felt otherworldly to them.
第二天早上，我们在去皮亚冰川（Pia Glacier）的航程看到了一处称之为“冰川通道”（Glacier Alley），壮观无比的景貌。我想起祖父曾兴奋说起火地岛群岛有一片十分壮观的水域，布满了冰原，山与山之间全是大冰块。直到晚年，他才知道这些构造有一个学名叫冰川。每当帕米尔号经过这些“冰块”时，他回忆说，船员们会停下手中的工作，被眼前的壮观景象所深深吸引。对他们来说，这一定是超脱尘世的感觉。
“It was the most astonishing site!” he told me one Christmas morning when I was eight years old as he stared out of my bedroom window at a dangling icicle. “I’d never seen a glacier before. We didn’t have them in Adelaide.”
Frozen in the north-west corner of the Beagle Channel, Pia Glacier was once a 14-sq-km hunk of ice and has now shrunk to around 7 sq km. As I wandered close to the glacier and climbed high into the Darwin Mountain Range, the sounds of ice tearing off the glacier and plummeting into the sea below shattered the silence.
位于比格尔海峡（Beagle Channel）西北角的皮亚冰川曾经是一块面积达14平方公里的大冰块，现在面积已经缩小到只有7平方公里左右。当我信步朝着冰川走去，攀登达尔文山脉（Darwin Mountain Range）时，冰川崩裂坠海的声音打破了寂静。
I felt like a bit of a cheat as I remained on board that afternoon in the warmth and watched one giant glacier after another. My grandfather often talked about sitting on deck with a drink in one hand to keep warm and a cigarette in the other while inhaling freezing-cold air. As our ship navigated around floating chunks of ice, I watched as a small pod of dolphins swam alongside us. Later, I spotted a whale, just 20m from the ship, spray water 1m into the air like an exploding geyser.
At the end of Glacier Alley, we veered south-east and headed towards the highlight of my grandfather’s and my journeys: Cape Horn. The Pamir had to approach this rocky headland by braving the Drake Passage, whose frequent gale-force winds and 10-storey swells have caused hundreds of ships to sink, and inspired Charles Darwin, Herman Melville and Jules Verne to write of its fury.
我们在冰川通道的尽头转向东南方向，朝着祖父和我的旅途中最精彩的地方合恩角驶去。帕米尔号必须勇敢地穿过德雷克海峡，才能靠近这片岩石遍布的岬角。德雷克海峡此起彼伏的大风和10层楼高的巨浪曾摧毁了数百艘船只。达尔文（Charles Darwin）、梅尔维尔（Herman Melville）和凡尔纳（Jules Verne）都曾描写过这片狂暴的海域。
I knew we were getting close when I awoke sharply at 04:30 as the ship began to roll on large waves. Even aboard a cruise, the waters around the Drake Passage are still known as one of the most dangerous maritime routes in the world. I struggled to make my way into the shower as the ship listed, and a sharp knock to the ribs in the strong current helped wake me up.
Due to the area’s erratic weather conditions, many cruises aren’t able to land in Cape Horn. In fact, as the Pamir approached the Cape in 1949, my grandfather and other crewmembers spent the morning shovelling snow off the ship’s deck. But as the wind calmed enough for us to eventually reach the Cape safely on the Zodiac, I could feel my grandfather smiling down on me.
Rain, hail and wind pelted my face as we landed on Cape Horn. I climbed up the rocks towards a lighthouse, a small chapel and a giant sculpture commemorating the thousands of sailors who had died attempting to ‘round the Cape’.
The Pamir didn’t land at Cape Horn, but my grandfather never forgot what he described as an ‘evil-looking’ rock on the island staring back at him from the ship. “Too many had died there before me, doing exactly what I was doing,” he once told me. “I was keen to get away from Cape Horn as quickly as possible, and had no intention of ever returning.”
Yet, here I was staring squarely at the jagged landscape that had inspired my grandfather to keep sailing, keep living and never look back. I wondered what he would have thought about me trying to follow in his wake, and I hopped back in the Zodiac, letting the wind push me onwards.