Azteca 1

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In the Footsteps of Magellan.

Historical Note: Fernao de Magalhaes (1470 - 1521). A Portuguese navigator who sailed on a circumnavigation of the known world before Columbus was able to persuade Queen Isabella of Spain to fund his expedition to the New World. In 1518, Magalhaes (or as we now know him, Magellan) approached the southern shores of the great South Continent closing the coast of what we now know as Argentina today. He was like other great maritime explorers that were to follow him, looking for the route to the Indies and China. His lookouts reported a wide entrance in the land ahead and so he entered into the Strait that was to bear his name and was the first European to navigate the stretch of water that lies between the Tierra del Fuego and the South American mainland.
His was the first expedition to circumnavigate the world, but he did not live to see his homeland again. He died of a fever in the Philippines only 51 years of age. Only one of his ships completed the voyage.

Some 475 years later, another intrepid bunch of mariners were to follow in Magellan's wake. The officers and crew of the Panamanian flagged bulk carrier "Azteca I” This 39,000 tons deadweight bulker was powered by a Sulzer 6RTA58 at 9,700 B.H.P. The ship was owned by R.L.Streamer S.A. of Panama, chartered to T.M.M. of Mexico City and sub-chartered for the current voyage by Compania Sud Americana de Vapores (C.S.A.V.).) of Valparaiso, Chile. The ship was under my command with Gerry Hughes as Chief Engineer. If my memory is correct, Reg Smith was the R/O but he will correct me if I am wrong. The rest of the officers and crew were all Mexican..

The time charter to C.S.A.V. had begun some three months earlier at Vancouver B.C. where the "Azteca I" had loaded 28,000 tons of bulk wheat for discharge in Brazil by way of Long Beach for bunkers and transit through the Panama Canal.. The vessel cleared the Atlantic port of Cristobal after taking further bunkers on the night of the 20 July 1993, and set course across the Caribbean and South Atlantic towards Santos. Discharge at Santos was followed by completion at Paranagua. The time charter to C.S.A.V was generally very hit and miss throughout, as the C.S.A.V. were finding it very difficult to obtain cargoes suitable for “Azteca I”. After a long delay at anchor in Paranagua, C.S.A.V were finally able to fix the vessel to load about 14,000 tons of steel products at the Cosipa Steel Works in Santos. After loading at Santos, we were then to proceed to the River Plate and to pass into the River Parana to the small port of San Lorenzo 30 miles above Rosario, to load about 14,000 tons of soya bean
With many changes in cargo bookings we finally sailed from San Lorenzo in early September 1993. On the outward pilotage, the ship touched bottom abreast of a dredger at Km. We were ordered to return to return to Santos for more steel products. Our return to Cosipa in the upper reaches of the Santos River turned out to be a hell on earth for all of us,. Lying alongside the steel works we were treated to frequent blasts of hot air from the steel furnaces as they de-coked the fires. The mosquitoes were as large as bats and the outside temperatures were over 35 degs C. To make things worse, the ship’s ac was out of action, and awaiting spares to be sent out from the UK.

Finally on the 29th. September 1993, we sailed from Santos but with no orders from the time charterers. A few hour's later, orders were received from Valparaiso and they contained instructions for us to steam due south to Latitude 45S and then to lay to until the markets reopened on the following Monday. Bearing in mind that we were being ordered to lay drifting in the infamous "Roaring Forties" with a metacentric height of over 13 metres, I queried this instruction with Valparaiso and also requested Ocean Routes San Francisco to provide us with a surpic of the weather to be expected at the 45S position. Ocean Routes strongly advised that we should not venture south of Latitude 30S due ro a deep depression being forecast to move through the southern Ocean. I told CSAV that we would lay to some 40 miles south of Santos and await their further orders. CSAV agreed that their previous orders were in error claiming that they had been sent by a junior official. My decision to question C.S.A.V’s instructions on the grounds of safety was not wholly supported by headquarters.

CSAV finally came up with the goods and we received orders to proceed via the Magellan Strait to Valpariaso for bunkers and then on to Antofagasta to load copper products for discharge in Kashima, Japan, Shanghai and Quingdao in China. After which the vessel would be re-delivered to T.M.M.

We shaped our course south westward towards Point Dungeness at the eastern entrance to the Magellan Strait. The weather worsened the further south we went and by the time we passed abeam of Dungeness it was blowing a severe gale from the West. I was so glad that I had resisted those orders to lay to in the "Roaring Forties"

We received VHF radio advice from the Chilean pilot office that due to stress of weather the Magellan Strait pilot boat could not wait for us at the Bahia Possession, the usual boarding position and we were asked to come further in to the Primera Angostura (First Narrows) some 20 miles further into the Strait. We embarked two pilots shortly after midnight on the 8th. October and continued on into the First Narrows.

The weather moderated as we passed the port of Punta Arenas, the most southerly port on the South America mainland, however as we rounded Cape Froward, the most southerly point on the mainland of South America, the wind freshened quickly and within the hour was blowing from the northwest at 90 knots.

The landscape around us was a true wilderness with high mountains, extensive glaciers and steep shoreline. No sign of human habitation was apparent. The weather was violent but because we were sheltered from the full force of the wind we made good progress. Due to the strength of the wind, all crew were confined inside the accommodation.

In similar conditions we passed through the narrows off Cape Crosstide where theoretically, the tides from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans merged. There was certainly a fierce tidal race running in the pass and because of our poor engine power we found ourselves actually going backwards at one stage . The pilots aware of the ship's low engine power took us close aboard the north shore of Carlos Island and we slowly gained headway. We crawled out of the Paso Tortuoso. Strong Fohn winds flowing down the sides of the mountains around us caused whirlwinds to circulate on the sea surface. They made quite spectacular whirlpools.
Our passage took us through narrow passes, between steep mountain sides with numerous waterfalls. On the afternoon of the 8th.October we entered the wider Paso Largo . On our starboard side the snow clad peak of the 5200 foot high Mount Wyndham loomed high above us.
By the early evening we had moved out into the Paso del Mar some 45 miles southeast of Cape Pilar, where we would enter the Pacific Ocean.. We were now feeling hurricane force winds with gusts to 100 knots from the West. Although the sea was short, we could feel the heavy swell moving down the Pass. By 1900, I decided that we could not venture any further westward and instructed the pilots that we were going to reverse our course and return to the comparative shelter of the Paso Largo.

In the early hours of the next morning, we again returned to our base course towards Cape Pilar, but again found that the weather conditions were very bad.
It was then that the Chilean pilots advised me that they were licensed to take ships through the Chilean Fjords northwards for another 350 miles in sheltered waters to exit into the Pacific Ocean at Golfo de Penas. At least that way we would be progressing our voyage. I agreed and we altered course at the end of the Paso del Mar to enter the inland waterway system at the Canal Smyth.
During the next 39 hours the pilots guided us skillfully through the inland water ways . The system was reasonably well buoyed with range marks . We passed real close to many small islets, reefs and sand bars. Here and there we passed the rusting hulks of ships that had met their end on the ragged teeth of the rocks and reefs. "They tried to do it without a pilot." The pilots grinned, gesturing towards the wrecks

As we moved northwards the pilots advised that we would have to get the permission of the Chilean Coast Guard,before we could transit a very narrow stretch aptly named the Angostura Ingles or the English Narrows. This narrow pass was only navigable at the high water slack water period and we would need to anchor off a small fishing port named Port Eden to await the correct tidal window. We duly anchored in the small hours of the morning of the 10th. October. The pilots received confirmation from their office that the Coast Guard had agreed that we could proceed. After weighing anchor at 1030 hours on the 10th. morning, we safely passed thorough the English Narrows at 1130 hors. I noticed that on one small islet named Islet Clio, there was a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The rest of the passage northward passed without any trouble and at 1800 hours on the 10th. October 1993, we left the Inland waterways and entered the Pacific Ocean through the Golfo de Penas. The wind had decreased to a 30 knots North westerly and continued to abate as we shaped our course for Valparaiso.

All on board agreed that we had been very fortunate to have been able to view the beauties of the Magellan Strait and the Chilean Fjords. It is amusing to note that travel agents now advertise cruising liner trips through the same waterways . Only difference to our trip is that they charge over £2,000 for the privilege. Bryan Boyer. Posted on Forum 16 August 2010.

Disclaimer: The statements on this page are the views of the person who posted them on the forum. The events took place many years ago and in most cases rely on those people's memories, and so we cannot guarantee the accuracy although every effort is made to check it.

Azteca 1. Page [1] [2]
Memories from RSL staff. Page No. [1] [2]