December 28, 2009 – Mar del Plata, Argentina
By Herb McCormick
With its miles of endless beaches and its strategic placement near the northern entrance of the wide Rio de la Plata, the seaside town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, has long been a favorite holiday destination for well-heeled Uruguayans and their sun-worshipping neighbors from nearby Argentina. This year, the crew of Ocean Watch celebrated the Christmas season there as well. In our four-day visit to Punta, we had the unexpected opportunity to test our sometimes-dodgy diplomatic skills, not always to wild success.
For example, say you’re a boatload of North American sailors bound south for Cape Horn via the craggy set of isles positioned just beyond the fiftieth parallel. Most of the planet knows this archipelago as the Falkland Islands. However, if you find yourself at a festive gathering in Punta del Este where the vast majority of your fellow partygoers are Argentines – as, especially at this time of year, they most assuredly will be – and you happen to mention you’re looking forward to visiting the Falklands, the merry smiles will, at the very least, give way to extremely arched eyebrows.
However, even the crew of Ocean Watch rarely makes the same mistake twice (not true, but given the season, grant us the benefit of the doubt). So we immediately realized, in that particular situation, if wishing to maintain that mellow holiday vibe, when asked about your upcoming travels simply mention that you’re carrying forth to the Malvinas: The goodwill will be genuine, the laughter hearty, and all will remain right with the world.
|On Monday, Ocean Watch sailed into her first port-of-call in Argentina, the resort city of Mar del Plata.|
On Monday, Ocean Watch sailed into her first port-of-call in Argentina, the resort city of Mar del Plata. We’ll get back to the coastal metropolis and the quite eventful 225-nautical mile overnight trip to get here from Punta very shortly. But first, we need to address this Falkland Islands matter, and specifically, the 1982 war between Argentina and Britain over the sovereignty of the place. History tells us that Argentina ruled the Falklands, er, Malvinas, from the late 1700s to 1831. (So, too, did France and Spain for various periods before the U.K. established their authority once and for all…or so they thought.)
But you’ve got to hand it to the Argentines, who put the “s” in stubborn. The Brits repelled their ‘82 invasion quickly and with extreme prejudice; yet the South Americans still maintain that their claim on the islands is just and true; and, yes, they continue to refer to the place as the Malvinas. You think there are still Southern strongholds in the U.S. of A. where the outcome of the Civil War is debated? Mate, when it comes to the Falklands, er, Malvinas, those good ol’ great-grandsons of the confederacy have nothing on the dog-with-a-bone Argentines.
All kidding aside, for we history buffs on Ocean Watch, the contentious past of the Falklands/Malvinas is a fascinating story and one we’ll delve into deeper as our journeys progress.
For now, though, we’re more than content to bask in the glow of our days in Punta, where everyone we met, Uruguayans and Argentines alike, opened their homes and hearts to us with the utmost of generosity. Our friends at the Yacht Club Punta del Este, especially general manager Pablo Elola, and secretary Soledad Hernandez Montanes, welcomed us with arms wide, as usual.
Plus, we were surrounded by great sailors, including the club’s longstanding commodore, Horacio Garcia Pastori, who regaled us with Olympic-size tales about representing Uruguay in yachting at the 1960 Rome Olympics; and legendary U.S. yachtsman Jim Kilroy, whose series of maxi-yachts called Kialoa wandered the globe for decades, notching first-place finishes in every major offshore sailing event all along the way. Jim and his wife, Nellie, who spent summers in Punta as a child, made everyone on Ocean Watch feel like members of their wonderful family.
Christmas in Punta was something none of us will ever forget. Following Uruguayan custom – celebrating the
|Christmas in Punta was something none of us will ever forget. Strangers clinked glasses, everyone wished everyone else a joyous yuletide, and we all felt very much a part of something truly special.|
holiday on Christmas Eve – we dined late at a great restaurant, where just before midnight, waiters passed around flutes of champagne and everyone repaired outside to the tiled boardwalk ringing the harbor and watched dozens and dozens of impromptu fireworks displays all over the city (see main photo) and along the beaches. Strangers clinked glasses, everyone wished everyone else a joyous yuletide, and we all felt very much part of something truly special.
If it sounds like life is good in Uruguay, and particularly in Punta del Este, that’s because its populace certainly appear to be enjoying a very high and enjoyable standard of living. Locals say that thanks to several factors – abundant agriculture and livestock (enough to feed its roughly three million citizen exceedingly well on an annual basis and export vast quantities to less fortunate neighbors), and a brisk and liberal business in offshore banking – that the vast majority of Uruguayans were spared the deleterious effects of the global financial meltdown. The beachfront development in the bustling resort has gone through the roof since skipper Mark Schrader and I visited a decade ago, but you can reportedly still pick up a very nice place a couple of blocks from the shore for $150-200 grand, and there aren’t many places as desirous as Punta where you can say that anymore.
Even so, all the money and good karma in the world can’t change the weather, which during our stay was very average (cold and foggy). And all that brings us to our trip down the coast from Punta to Mar del Plata.
|The breeze picked up at night and kept moving aft, then went forward. The resulting seas were awful, with standing water in some spots that made the going rugged indeed.|
We’ll spare the blow-by-blow details, but here are the highlights, and lowlights. It started in brilliant sunshine. The wind went aft and we enjoyed some fine sailing through the afternoon. The breeze picked up at night and kept moving aft, then went forward. The resulting seas were awful, with standing water in some spots that made the going rugged indeed. Stars came out and went away. The whitecaps on the dark water appeared absolutely electric, almost as if a white light illuminated them from beneath the sea. Dawn was dark, the wind continued to rise. When it hit 35-knots we struck all sail and motored into Mar del Plata in the late afternoon under bare poles, licking our wounds all the way.
“That was like a la carte sailing,” said Roxanne Nanninga of the Pacific Science Center, our new onboard educator, making her first foray on Ocean Watch and doing a great job in marginal conditions. We suspect what Roxanne meant was that there was a little bit of everything. She was right.
For the next several days, Ocean Watch will remain in Mar del Plata, yet another resort city hard by the sea. Our
|Roxanne Nanninga of the Pacific Science Center is the newest onboard educator.|
other new crewmembers on the leg from Punta were Carol and Peter Gluck, from New York City, who certainly saw a side to the Around the Americas voyage that they might’ve preferred to read about. Before our arrival, Carol saw a picture of Mar del Plata with stacks and stacks of sunbathers all in a row that reminded her of old photos of Coney Island. But it’s been a coldish start to summer in Uruguay and Argentina, so we’ll see if the masses brave the elements over the New Year.
For the next few days the Ocean Watch team will take a breather and prepare the boat for the next leg of the voyage. We’d like to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year with thanks for your support and interest in the Around the Americas expedition.
Regular reports will resume on January 2nd, 2010. That’s the day we’ll set sail for – oh yes, we do get it – the wild Malvinas.
- Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson