Admiral The Right Honourable Baron West of Spithead

Last night we were less than 100 miles from the Falkland Islands. It was appropriate that in the major lecture yesterday that the former First Sea Lord should deliver it.

When I took my seat in the theatre the lady alongside pointed at Lord West, waiting at the side of the stage, and said to me “Thats my husband”. Presumably she was ensuring that I didn’t make any derogatory remarks! What me?!
I quickly ascertained that she grew up in Portsmouth (and knew people there we know including Jeremy Lear!) and that her father was a Solicitor in Portsmouth.
Lord West’s presentation was his perspective on the Falklands War. It was beautifully crafted, packed with anecdotes and just the right balance between humour and sensitivity for those who were killed or injured in the conflict which he described as a “bloody war”. He commanded the frigate HMS Ardent which was sunk by the Argentinians with a number of his men being killed.
Lord West is not the only inspirational speaker aboard. Richard Cowley delvered a lecture a few days ago on the famous 1939 Battle of the River Plate and today, as we approach Cape Horn, he talked about the 3 ways of crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific – round the Horn or through the Beagle Channel or the Magellan Strait.
The Captain has announced that we will circle Cape Horn anti clockwise (many do not realise that Cape Horn is an island) so we will party on the balcony of our friends the Wilsons from north of Aberdeen who are on the port side of the ship. My report on Cape Horn to follow!!

Cabo de Hornos – Cape Horn

Last time we were at Cape Horn it was early evening – darkish, cold and windy. On that occasion we were sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic, west to east and it was only during a lecture the day before that I heard that cruise ships rarely travel round Cape Horn by the obvious route around the bottom of the continent. 

The winds and currents are considered to be too wild and changeable to risk the simple route. It was reported to me that for 200 days a year there are gale force winds and 50 foot waves in the region where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet and 130 days when fog and icebergs abound.

So I was resigned to the fact that on this occasion we would be using one of the other routes. Captain Inger Thorhauge managed to get the timing spot on despite the Argentinian authorities delaying our departure from Puerto Madryn by a couple of hours. She told us that we could expect to arrive at Cape Horn at about 1630 hours on Saturday and that she intended to travel round the island, on which Cape Horn sits, in an anti clockwise direction.
The bottom part of S America, Tierra del Fuego, is a vast island surrounded by hundreds of small islands. Cape Horn is on the southernmost of those small islands and there is a navigable channel round it.

The sea was calm and the sun was shining as we approached the Cape. We could see the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers home alongside. He lives there with his family on a six month contract. We could also see the Cape Horn Monument which sits 1400 feet above the sea. The monument’s two triangular bronze halves form the outine of an albatross. It stands there in memory of all those who have lost their lives in the waters off Cape Horn. More than 1000 ships and at least 15,000 lives have been lost there.

We could see two people by the lighthouse and they waved a flag and then climbed down a set of wooden stairs to a small beach. At the same time a high speed rib left the ship and sped across to the beach to record the QV’s visit there. We left them there and carried on round the island eventually facing the rockface of the Horn itself. After about 2 hours in the vicinity and after collecting the crew of the rib, we set sail for the Beagle Channel and our next port, Ushuiai. It was a great spectacle and we were very lucky to be there on such a beautiful day.

Ushuaia and Punta Arenas

After our trip around Cape Horn we tracked north to the Beagle Channel and into Ushuaia where we spent Tuesday. It is a busy little community and the centre for Antarctic expeditions and fjord cruises. I could remember that the main street was parallel to the port but up a hill. 

I managed to push Jane to the top only to find that a German lady who we know had collapsed in a shop we were about to enter. She was rushed off to hospital, but within hours she was back on the ship, apparently none the worse for the experience (except for the US$500 the hospital had extracted from her credit card). Imagine how much they would have taken had she been British!
We are not popular in Argentina. Large signs called Ushuaia the “Capital of the Malvinas” and other large official signs stated that the occupation of the Falklands by the British is illegal.

Our next call was to be Punta Arenas in Chile. Overnight we would cross the dividing line between the two countries (the middle of the Beagle Channel) which regularly causes delay. For those of you with maps we left Ushuaia in a westerly direction along the Beagle Channel as far as the Pacific and then nipped back into the fjords before turning directly north up the Magellan Strait. I will incorporate a copy of the map showing our route, which I have just been given.

We were at anchor off Punta Arenas which meant that Jane had to stay aboard. I went ashore in one of the tenders and Jane had her nails done. I wandered around the town, bumped into some of our chums from the ship, had an excellent coffee and free fast internet and returned to the ship to find that Jane was still having her nails done! I knew that we should have brought Hannah Maunsell with us!

For the next couple of days we are cruising in the fjords and will take in the Amalia Glacier and the Pio XI Glacier today and tomorrow.

Amalia and Pio XI Glaciers, Chile

Many of the world’s glaciers are retreating. Amalia is located in the Bernardo O’Higgins (Could this be one of Brian Kelly’s relatives?) National Park on Chile’s Southern Patagonian coastline, and it has retreated nearly 5 miles over the last 50 years. Frankly it looked much the same as it  was when we were here 7 years ago. 

As we edged ever closer to the glacier at perhaps 2 or 3 knots (to avoid creating waves and damaging the wall of the glacier) we sailed through growlers and mini icebergs that had broken away. A small, fast rib was launched to take photos of the ship and to collect a small iceberg which was then brought aboard the QV and carved into a sculpture of the Queen.

The following day, after tracking through the fjords overnight, we arrived at the Pio XI Glacier, the largest in the southern hemisphere (ignoring Antarctica). It is advancing rapidly, unlike the majority of glaciers and is said to grow by 50 metres in height and length every day.

My research tells me that O’Higgins was a General and the first head of state of the Republic of Chile.
The glaciers and the fjords were magnificent but I fear that my photos do not do them justice.

Puerto Montt

After fleeing North America in the early 20th century Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are said to have settled in Argentina and bought ranches with the proceeds of their US bank and train robberies. They are said to have crossed the Andes and travelled to Puerto Montt to sell their cattle and buy supplies. As we know they returned to the more exciting life as bank robbers and were eventually killed in a shoot out with the Bolivian army.

The main street of Puerto Montt did not appear to have changed very much in the years since they were here. It had the feel of a cowboy town, but those that travelled out of the town found breathtaking mountain scenery in Chile’s Lake District and at the resort area of Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake Llanquihue.

As QV was at anchor Jane was not able to get ashore but I had nearly 3 hours wandering around the town and taking in the Cathedral and museums.


Change of course

The Captain has just announced that we are having to divert as there is someone aboard who needs urgent hospitalisation. She is aiming for Concepcion and it appears that a boat will come out to us to collect the patient. We are due in Valparaiso early tomorrow so the individual concerned must be very ill if he or she needs to be taken off now. Whether or not this diversion will delay our arrival tomorrow is not clear. Valparaiso marks the end of this leg of the World voyage and a large number of people are leaving the ship (and a similar number joining).


Lord Thomas Cochrane – Vice Admiral Chilean Navy 1818 – 1822

No this was not another Admiral aboard QV as a guest lecturer. My brother in law David Holt lent me a book on Lord Cochrane some months ago. I brought it with me but only realised, when it was mentioned in a lecture last week, that some of Cochrane’s greatest exploits happened here in S America. So I dropped Alex Ferguson’s autobiography (a Christmas present you understand) and started to read “Cochrane the Dauntless” by David Cordingly from which I gleaned some of the history I will share with you here.

As many of you will know, Cochrane was a hero after his naval successes in Europe, but he fell out with the British Establishment and was imprisoned for a time. In 1817 Cochrane was persuaded to join General Jose San Martin and General Bernado O’Higgins (remember him?) who were attempting to establish an independant republic of Chile.

Over the previous 300 years Spain had effectively controlled central and southern S America (only Brazil lay outside their control – Portugal ruled them) and the people resented not being able to run their own affairs. O’Higgins realised that they needed control of the seas if they were to succeed and for that reason he signed Cochrane up to lead the naval skirmishes.

Cochrane and his family left England in August 1818 aboard a 300 ton merchant ship, the Rose, and the voyage across the Atlantic and round Cape Horn took them 3 months. Interestingly, on approaching Cape Horn they met a fierce westerly wind which they battled for 3 days and they only managed to round the Horn by travelling south before finding a favourable wind that took them past it.
They then sailed north to Valparaiso where they met up with O’Higgins. I can recommend David Cordingley’s book. It deals with Cochrane’s career in Europe but in addition the battles he fought in liberating not only Chile, but also Peru and Brazil.
That little history lesson was designed to give you a some background. Our next port was that very same place – Valparaiso.



We arrived on time at 0630 and sunrise revealed a clear blue cloudless sky. A perfect day appeared to lay ahead, but by the time we had had breakfast a thick sea fog had swept in, enveloping the city.

We knew that Santiago, the capital of Chile some 2 hours inland, had smog problems but we did not anticipate fog in Valparaiso. We decided to travel a short distance north to Vina Del Mar (in Lord Cochrane’s time it was known as Almendral) now a beach resort. It is apparently the main holiday resort in this part of Chile and we knew that some of the people who left the ship in Valparaiso were spending time in Vina Del Mar before flying home. When we arrived there the fog had gone and the sun was shining.
We found a very tidy and clean resort with vast expanses of sandy beaches, modern hotels and apartment blocks. We also found the President’s summer residence which appeared to be a copy of a small Windsor Castle! We walked for miles through leafy parks before deciding to return to the ship in the late afternoon.

Valparaiso marked the end of the 3rd segment of the world voyage and in the region of 800 people left the ship with a similar number joining for the segment to Australia. Those joining appear in the main to be Australians judging by the people having difficulty in working out whether the lifts (elevators) are going up or down (I mean judging by their accents!).

In the early evening we left Valparaiso and set sail for Tahiti and Polynesia – a longish passage at sea. Hundreds of local people watched our departure, some in a vast array of colourful pleasure boats and many more on shore.


Captain George E Smith

As many of you will know my father, George Smith, was a Cunard man. Born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire in 1914, he went to sea when he was 15. He studied at the Grimsby Nautical College and joined the New Zealand Shipping Company as a cadet. He had been round the world 7 times before he was 21.

After the cadetship he joined the United Baltic Shipping Company and eventually Cunard White Star Line as it was then called. During World War II he served on both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth and after the war he was assigned to the Queens, which resulted in my parents moving in 1946 to Southampton, where my sister Elizabeth and I grew up.
In those days wives of serving officers were not allowed to travel with their husbands which meant that my father was away from my mother and the family for long periods. While on the Queens it was not so bad for my parents as the transatlantic runs meant that my father would be home for 2 days every 2 weeks while the ship turned round in Southampton.

My father also served on the Sythia, Media, Parthia, Mauretania, Caronia, Saxonia (later renamed Carmania), Ivernia (later the Franconia), Carinthia and Sylvania. It was the Caronia that I remember really well because my father loved that ship, but it did take him away from us for long periods of time. I am talking about the Caronia that was affectionally known as the Green Goddess (in service between about 1949 and 1965) and not the Caronia of later years (which was the renamed Vistafjord). There is a model and display about the old Caronia in the Chart Room on QV.

What I remember well was his return after he had been away for 6 months on the Caronia, initially on cruises out of the US to the Caribbean followed by a World Cruise again out of the US. I guess that I was 8 or 9. Of course it was good to see my father again after all that time, but it was the large additional suitcase that he brought back that was more exciting. He had bought and been given momentos of the various magical places he had been to around the world and it took us 2 days to open all the gifts while listening to the stories about the places where he had acquired them.
The point I was intending to make was that one item he brought back for me was an envelope bearing a Pitcairn Island stamp, duly franked and signed by Fletcher Christian, a descendant of the original mutineer of that name, and at that time the Chief Magistrate on the island. 
We are due to sail by Pitcairn on Sunday 16 February. We understand that some, if not all, of the 50 residents of the island will come aboard QV that day and will set up stalls in the Queens Room. We will not be able to go ashore. The island could not cope with so many people.
What I have not told you is that a few years after being given the Pitcairn stamp I stupidly swapped it with another boy for what I mistakenly thought was something better. But I did keep Fletcher Christian’s signature.
I think my father was a Chief Officer at that stage. He went on to become the penultimate Captain of the old Queen Elizabeth and the second ever Captain of QE2. His last ship before retirement was the Franconia which ran between New York and Bermuda on a weeky basis. 36 hours at sea from NY to Bermuda and then 3 days tied up on Front Street, Hamilton and then 36 hours back to NY and a day to turn round.


Captain’s table

We received an invitation to sit at the Captain’s table last night. The Deputy Captain Simon Love was the host. Jane sat next to him and he was in excellent form. We knew that he had gone to sea as a young man, had gained his Masters ticket, but after marrying had left the sea. And after 17 years ashore he had returned, working initially for P&O and then for Cunard.

Over the years I have met many men who left the sea when they married but I had never heard of anyone returning after such a long gap. Apparently he had worked for the family business while ashore and some 8 years ago his elderly father (who had been a P&O Captain himself) decided to take all his family on a cruise. They were on the Aurora and by chance the Captain was a man who Simon had worked with in his early years at sea. He told Simon that Carnival were trying to encourage people like him to return to sea. As his children were growing up and as his wife and children could accompany him from time to time, he took the plunge, requalified, started with P&O and has now moved to Cunard.

I have no doubt that it will not be long before he has his own command.
Sitting to my right at dinner were a couple, Tim and Jean (who are to the right of me in the photo). It was quickly established that Jean grew up in Southampton, went to the Girls Grammar School in Hill Lane, played lacrosse with Jane in the Southampton Ladies Lacrosse Club that Jane ran for many years and, like Jane, had been a teacher. 
There were other coincidences. Tim had been at Southampton University a few years after me. He went into Tourism and was Head of Tourism at Poole and then Director of Tourism at Torbay. While working in Poole they lived in Merley, less than a mile from my school Canford!
It was an excellent evening.