Scylla, Charybdis, and the "Eye of the Cyclone": the Odyssey of the RGS’s Circumnavigation Continues

Магелланов пролив. Фото участников экспедиции

A piercing wind blows along the narrow fjords deeply embedded in the coast of South America at the foot of the Andes, tall waves roll. Nature has created ideal conditions in these places for testing the strength of ships and the strength of the human spirit. The trimaran of the circumnavigation expedition of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society is steadily moving forward along a giant wind tunnel between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. The nearest destination is the tiny Chilean village of Puerto Eden, which can only be reached by sea.

The next stage of the voyage started on January 15 – on this day the expedition left the Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Having conquered Cape Horn, Evgeny Kovalevsky, Stanislav Berezkin, Egor Muzileyev, and the dog Pasoka set off through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean.

“The Strait of Magellan is impressive. I look at it and wonder what it was like here for Magellan and his sailors and captains. They were walking into the unknown. I'm looking at the shores of Tierra del Fuego. When the flotilla was passing through the strait, the sailors saw a lot of bonfires. That is why Magellan called this territory Tierra del Fuego. He didn't even know that Indians, who kept the fire burning around the clock, lived there. Even now, the strait itself and its shores look mysterious and alarming. One can only imagine what was it like for the pioneers!” Evgeny Kovalevsky shared his impressions.


Ясно, но холодно. Фото участников экспедиции

The feelings were not unfounded; the strait was alarming for a reason. It was as if it refused to let the travelers pass without a fight. They could only go against a strong wind in short stages – from one secluded bay to the next. The crew stormed the extreme southern continental point of America – Cape Froward – five times, tacking from coast to coast, hiding behind rocks. Sometimes the had to wait almost all day for good weather on the coastal pebbles.

“We have covered 100 miles in five days. Yeah. And yet we are moving faster than Magellan, whom we remember every day," Kovalevsky noted in his diary on January 19.


Тримаран укрылся от ветра. Фото участников экспедиции

The next day, the expedition set a kind of record – for the first time in history, an inflatable vessel passed through the natural Martinez Channel. At its narrowest point, they managed to break through literally like Odysseus or the Argonauts between Scylla and Charybdis.

“We moved to the right, into the skerries, from the Strait of Magellan. In the strait, the wind is stopping the trimaran. The speed is only two knots. We hope that there will be less wind in the narrow channel. The speed increases to five knots. There is no rain, the sun looks out timidly. Everything is fine, but in the center of the channel there is a bottleneck no more than 30m wide. We don't know if there is a passage there," Kovalevsky explained.


Анды совсем рядом. Фото участников экспедиции

Oncoming fishermen also do not know anything about the existence of the passage. The crew approached the bottleneck with great caution.

“We see that it is not 30, but a maximum of 14-15m. There is some kind of strip between the banks. We slow down, release the steering wheel. We are slowly approaching the narrowing. On the right and left it is shallow, no more than half a meter, in the center everything is covered with algae, but there is a passage. The propeller is cutting through the algae. We are almost through. I see a stone in the riverbed in the center at a depth of no more than half a meter. The blow falls on the rudder blade – the rudder chain breaks, the steering wheel flies out, but we pass the narrowing. We are Russian pioneers – no one went to the Strait of Magellan and Martinez Channel on inflatable boats. Yachts have never passed this narrowing. We took a chance and got through!” Kovalevsky emphasized.

The repairs were completed fairly quickly. Here, in the narrow channels, fishermen are often found. They listen with interest to the story of the RGS's round-the-world expedition, admire the courage of the Russian navigators, and treat them with gifts of the sea.


Встреча с чилийскими моряками. Фото участников экспедиции

The weather remains calm for some time, but the circumpolar cold continues to torment. Pasoka has to be warmed by the whole team in turns. On the morning of January 22, the navigators notice a giant halo around the solar disk. This is a sure sign of a cyclone.

“We are in the center of it. At the moment there is almost no wind in this place. The cyclone is rotating and moving. The size of the center – the ‘eye of the cyclone’, which was indicated for us by the halo around the sun – can reach tens or even hundreds of miles. Let's hope that our ‘eye’ is at least 25 miles away. That's how much separates us from Puerto Eden," Kovalevsky said.


Гало вокруг солнца. Фото участников экспедиции

Puerto Eden is a small village on the island of Wellington. It is considered one of the most inaccessible and isolated inhabited places in Chile, along with Easter Island. Powerful glaciers prevent you from getting here by land, only the way by sea is open.

The village is inhabited by the remnants of the indigenous population – the Kaweskar tribe. The number of local residents does not exceed 200 people; but the amount of precipitation is breaking records. It is believed that Puerto Eden is the place with the highest precipitation frequency. Due to the extremely humid climate, there are no roads in the village – only pedestrian sidewalks connect the houses.

By the evening of January 22, the headwind increases. There are short squalls with a speed of up to 40 knots. They last no more than five minutes, but they stop the trimaran and drive it back.


Любимица экипажа — Пасока. Фото участников экспедиции

“We are going along the skerries. It's very difficult, the wind is always foul. We hope to get to Puerto Eden by 20:00, before dark. The Internet is urgently needed, food and water are running out. Running out of gas. We ask the heavens to give us two more hours in the center of the cyclone without a terrible headwind. Here, as if in a giant pipe, we were sometimes lifted by gusts and thrown back. The cold, frost, and wind continue. The ferocious south does not ease up,” Evgeny Kovalevsky writes in his diary.

We wish good luck to our circumnavigators! And we will wait for only good news from them.


Экипаж тримарана: Егор Музилеев, Станислав Берёзкин и Евгений Ковалевский. Фото участников экспедиции

On July 1, 2021, Siberian travelers Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin set off along the route of the first Russian round-the-world expeditions of the 19th century: Ivan Kruzenshtern’s (1803-1806), Yuri Lisyansky’s (1803-1806), Otto Kotzebue’s (1815-1818, 1823-1826), Vasily Golovnin’s (1817-1819), Fedor Litke’s (1826-1829), Faddey Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev’s (1819-1921). The international project of the Tomsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society "Following the paths of Russian explorers" is dedicated to the 250th birthday anniversary of Krusenstern and the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian sailors. These events for a long time determined Russia's leadership in the development of the oceans and the discovery of new lands. You can learn more about the project and provide all possible assistance in its implementation on the website of the expedition.

Alexander Zhirnov