March 2014 • Canon 60D camera
Our Beagle channel cruise that was cancelled yesterday due to bad weather, was now available this morning. Lisa, Sarah and I left our B&B to meet up with the rest of the gang (we could not all fit into one B&B). We made our way down to Ushuaia harbor. This is the same harbour that you catch the boat if you were to sail out to Antarctica. The weather this morning was sunny with blue skies. At the same time there were also heavy thick clouds in the distance and the temperature was freezing. It was a 4 hour cruise along the Beagle channel. We would sail pass Isla de Los Lobos, Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, and Isla de Los Pájaros. The final stop would be a small hike on Bridges Island.
From the harbor we set sail southwest on a 15 meter long Grand Banks yacht with a top deck and around 15 passengers. The Beagle Channel is a passage of water that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It is one of only 3 navigable passages through South America. The boat was bouncing quite heavily on the sea. Most of the passengers stayed at the bottom seated inside the boat to keep warm. A few of us were brave enough to venture out to the top deck see beautiful views of Ushuaia and the massive surrounding snow–capped mountains.
Sea Lions' Island
This is a small island famous for a large number of sea lions. Here you can find South American Sea Lions (Otaria flavescens) and South American Fur Seals (Arctocephalus australis). Male adult Sea lions can weigh around 350kg and females around 150kg. They have an average life span in the wild of 16 to 20 years. Male adult fur seals weigh around 15kg and females around 60kg. They have an average life span in the wild of 12 to 30 years. They looked like they were happy sun bathing in the sun. The boat came as close as it could for us to view the Sea Lions.
Both Sea Lion and Fur Seals are not currently at risk of extinction. They are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Sea lions | Fur seals
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is also known as the “lighthouse at the end of the world”. That name is actually misleading. The lighthouse is often confused with the San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse on the remote Isla de los Estados. This lighthouse was made famous by Jules Verne in the novel “The lighthouse at the End of the world” which is much further east.
54° 52′ 17.5′ S, 68° 5′ 0′ W
Located just five miles from Ushuaia, the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is our next destination. Often referred to as the “Lighthouse at the end of the world” it is the last mainland reference people see on their way to Antarctica.
Painted in red and white, the lighthouse stands 10 metres (33 ft) high and 3 metres (10 ft) wide at the base. It was first used in December 23rd 1920. We circled around the rocky island base filled with resting birds snapping photos of this iconic building.
From the lighthouse we sailed to “Isla de Los Pájaros”. Here we saw a colony Imperial Shags (Phalacrocorax atriceps). Imperial Shags are a black and white cormorant species of aquatic birds and are currently not at risk of extinction.
They are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
54° 52′ 10.02′ S, 68° 15′ 1.63′ W
Our final destination on the cruise is Bridges Island. Here we have the opportunity to disembark and go for a short hike. The island is important for its unique wildlife and also for the history of the Yaghan tribe—indigenous peoples that lived in this area and were regarded as the southernmost peoples in the world. The nomadic tribe often moved between the islands by canoe and believe it or not wore no clothes! In the freezing weather they kept warm with animal grease on their skin and over time their body adapted to the harsh climate. Today only one pure female Yamana remains in the Ushuaia area.
Our guide pointed out the unique Cushion Plant. A large green roundish, soft looking cushion, with tiny star flowers. A lot of plants on this island look like low growing moss. The island offered some amazing panoramic views of the Beagle Channel with the town of Ushuaia in the distance. As the rain slowly started to come down we all made our way back to the boat. We were treated to some hot coffee, tea and biscuits as we made our way back to the harbour.
Despite the wind and freezing cold weather, the cruise was a good experience to witness the unique wildlife in the area. Because this region of the world is always windy year–round, expect the boat to rock a lot. If you get sea sick take a pill before you get on board as the trip is worth it. A nice touch on the boat is that they serve hot tea, coffee and biscuits to keep you warm.
For photographers, the boat get’s you quite close to the islands and lighthouse. You don’t have to use a telephoto lens if you are worried about the distance in taking photos from the boat (unless you really want to zoom in close to the animals). For more information about the boat and tour prices visit the company website for Patagonia Adventure Explorer
A unique experience sleeping on a lake in a floating raft house