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Full Circle

Day 158: Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas

St John's Bay, Chile 
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Pringle Stokes' grave. St John's Bay.
Michael Palin - Full CircleDuring the night we enter the Straits of Magellan. The weather appears to have changed, certainly the storm has abated, but I am not at all prepared for what I see as I push open the bulkhead door this May morning.

We are in a small curved bay, half-surrounded by low coastline. The wind has dropped and the land is completely covered with snow. The sky is silver, matching the surface of the sea and the military grey paint of the Isaza. Sea birds - black cormorants and white gulls - are motionless on the water. Flakes of snow drift vaguely down. Looking out on this eerily silent, monochrome landscape, I feel like the Ancient Mariner, wondering for a moment if last night's storm was even worse than it appeared and we are now in frozen limbo.

The charts assure me that this place is not a figment of a storm-stressed imagination. It's called St John's Bay and the first captain of HMS Beagle is buried here. Fifty yards from the shore is a low hill into which is dug a small cemetery. In it is a gravestone with a cross on it and the words 'In memory of Captain Pringle Stokes RN, HMS Beagle, who died from the effects of the anxieties and hardships incurred while surveying the western shores of Tierra del Fuego. 12.8.1828.' The truth is he committed suicide here, in this lonely place, in the middle of winter.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 158
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Punta Arenas
  • Book page no: 217

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