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Passage of the Antelope — Patagonia Weather — A Hurricane — Wooding — Chili -- Valparaiso, &c. &c.

[Despite the article's title, this piece describes a passage through the Strait of Magellan. The writer is poorly informed about the hunting practices of the local inhabitants. He also contends that the Chilean colony at Port Famine is illegal, alleging that it was established without the approval of the Patagonians - apparently unaware that no such nation exists. The comparative advantage of steam-power over sail for the west-bound traverse is readily apparent in this account. Ed.]

Correspondence of The Tribune.

Valparaiso, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 1850.

The steamship Antelope, Capt. Enoch H. Ackley, arrived at this port on the 29th ult. in 51 days from Rio Janeiro. She sailed from New York for San Francisco on the 18th of May last. You already know that I sailed from New York in the steamer Confidence; but it being highly probable that she would be detained several weeks in the Straits of Magellan for the purpose of cutting wood for fuel, I left her at Rio Janeiro and took passage from that port in the steamer Antelope. I did not choose to subject myself to the chance of a detention of several weeks in the climate of Patagonia.

The Antelope sailed from Rio Janeiro on the 9th of July. She made the run to the Straits of Magellan in fifteen days. She encountered a severe gale from the northwest before she made Cape Virgin at the mouth of the Strait; during this gale she was "laid to" for eighteen hours. I cannot but feel that the escape from destruction was mainly owing to the able and judicious management of Capt. Ackiey — one of the most successful seamen that ever trod a quarter deck or harpooned a whale. Of the sensations of a novice like myself in a storm at sea I will not speak; but the spectacle is sublime and terrible. The Antelope came out of it without having sustained the slightest damage. Her qualities as a sea boat were subjected to the severest test; but she was triumphant, and I felt like a man whose lease of life has been suddenly renewed. It is enough to say of our gallant steamer that she far exceeded the expectations of Capt. Ackley and that she proved herself a staunch and safe ship. I should be unjust if i did not pay a passing tribute to the chief engineer of the Antelope, and recently engineer of the steamship Falcon. In Ocean steam navigation the hopes of the mariner are centered in the engine — that triumph of American genius. Upon the steadiness and regularity of its revolutions the safety of the ship almost entirely depends. Its fitness for ocean navigation having been so fully demonstrated, I am inclined to believe that it is destined to supersede the system of navigation by sails. The engine of the Antelope, from the manufactory of Secor in New-York, works as steadily in a gale of wind as if it was planted upon the firm earth. It amply rewarded the attention which the chief engineer bestowed upon it — an attention which strongly reminded me of the solicitude which a maternal parent evinces for her offspring upon various trying occasions. Upon such occasions, be they long or short, the chief never quits his station in front. So long as there is danger so long he is there. His gallant conduct is, to my judgment, as worthy of praise as that displayed by men in less useful but more bloody employment.

We made the entrance of the Straits of Magellan at 10 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of July, A. M. and before night we were safely anchored in Possession Bay. We found it a good anchorage. On the following morning at daylight we were again under way. That portion of Patagonia immediately adjacent to the Straits of Magellan may be well called "the region of snows," the cloud-capped mountains on either hand are always covered with snow and ice to the depth of several feet. They loom up in silent grandeur until their shining summits are lost in the misty clouds. Many of the features of the country are not dissimilar to those which have made Mount St. Bernard and the Alps so famous. Among other things which reminded me of the chamois among his native glaciers of old Switzerland, were the thousands of deer (otherwise called guanacos) browsing among the stunted grass which grows upon the Patagonia shore. Whole herds lined the shores, and, at the sound of the steam whistle they scampered away pell-mell, making the earth ring under their pattering hoofs. The flesh of these animals is exceedingly tender and palatable, very like that of our own native venison.

It is therefore well worth the while of ship's companies who have been wrecked or months at sea without a mouthful of fresh meat, to let go their anchor and capture a guanaco. The Patagonians, mounted upon their fleet and hardy steeds, dash down into the midst of a herd and take them with a spear and lasso. The American rifle would be, perhaps, a much easier mode of capturing them.

For steam vessels, the navigation of the Strait of Magellan is easier than that of the Hudson River. There is a good depth of water in the strait and its harbors — sufficient, indeed, for vessels of the largest class. The shoals are indicated by natural buoys; wherever the water is shoal, a kind of sea-weed or "kelp" will be discovered upon the water. The greatest reliance may be placed in these natural signs. At 7 o'clock in the evening of the day on which we sailed from Possession Bay, the ship came to anchor in Port Famine. We had hardly let go our anchor before a shore boat was alongside. To the usual inquiry of "where are you from?" Capt. Ackley answered, "Rio Janeiro." He was thereupon informed by the people in the boat that he would not be allowed to communicate with the shore, under any circumstances. The cause of this hasty interdiction by these people was their exceeding fear of contagion from Yellow Fever — a disease which they knew was raging at Rio Janeiro at the period of our departure from that port — but which could not possibly exist for an hour among the snows of Magellan. We were visited during the evening by the officers of an American schooner then lying at Port Famine. We learned from them that a little colony had been established here and garrisoned by the Chilian Government — the colony being exclusively engaged in the occupation of catching seals. The planting of this colony was an act, as I am informed, entirely unauthorized by the Patagonians ; and what, in my judgment, renders it more heinous, is the exceeding arrogance with which American citizens are treated by the Colonial Governor; as for instance: if our ship's company had been dying for a little fresh water they would not have been allowed to go on shore and get it, because forsooth, they came from Rio Janeiro. This is an assumption of power which, if made upon the part of the Patagonians, would not be a violation of the law of nations; but when it is made by a colony of foreigners, it becomes insufferable — and the more so because it is illegal. When on the following morning we were at leisure to inspect this Chilian Colony we found it to consist merely of fifty or sixty huts or shanties, with a population of some 400 half of whom are soldiers. It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world, and I quite repented of the wish which I had expressed on the previous evening, that I might be allowed to visit the shore. The anchorage there is excellent, and the harbor is very well protected. But there is nothing to induce a longer stay than one night. We accordingly weighed anchor on the morning following our arrival, Capt. Ackley intending to anchor in Port Gallant the same night. We had, however, hardly doubled Cape Froward when we encountered a hurricane from the south west. The strait at this point is several miles in width. The wind blew with a keen fierceness unparalleled in all that I have ever known of winds; the water was lifted up and carried in sheets far away to leeward, hissing in its passage like serpents. A pilot boat from New York rounded to and put back to Port Famine.

The Antelope held on her way until it appeared that she could no longer make head against the gale when the order was given to wear ship, this order was successfully executed, and after running before the wind several miles we came to anchor in Wood's bay where we remained for the night. The anchorage is tolerable and vessels of the largest class may be laid to within a cable's length of the shore. We made Port Gallant on the following day with little difficulty, and came to anchor in one of the finest and best protected harbors in the Strait of Magellan, The brig "Lyon" of St. Johns, N. B. was lying in Port Gallant on our arrival. After a careful survey of the coal remaining on board it was deemed expedient to take in a quantity of wood for fuel. A dozen of the crew were detailed for this duty, and so great are the facilities for wooding here, that in twelve hours they had chopped from 20 to 30 cords of excellent wood. This was speedily shipped on board, and without much delay we weighed anchor. We did not again come to anchor in the Strait of Magellan; at midnight we were off Cape Pillar at the Pacific entrance to the Strait. The weather was favorable and we ventured out into the broad Pacific with a ten knot breeze, filling our sails and carrying us down the coast at a rapid rate. [I should have mentioned before that we found lying in Borgia Bay in the Strait of Magellan the schooners Loo Choo of Boston, and Baltimore, of Baltimore, the officers and crews all well. These vessels had been forty days in the strait and their prospect of getting out seemed to be as small as ever. Their officers and crews were however not at all discouraged, but were prepared unitedly to take advantage of the small chances as well as the good ones.]

[end of extract]

Source: "New York Daily Tribune" (New York, NY), 9 October 1850
Clipped: 19-VII-2013
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