Posted by: Rob Viens | August 21, 2012

Scraping Bottom in the Plata

Shortly after getting underway on August 21st off the coat of Argentina, the Beagle scraped the bottom of the river.  Darwin notes:

“In middle of day anchored near Point Piedras, & sent our boats to sound.— Shortly after getting under way, the water suddenly shoaled & we grazed the bottom rather too sensibly.— In calm weather this is of little consequence, but when there is any sea, it does not take long to knock a hole in the bottom.” (Aug 21)

Yikes – a hole in the hull with no good place to make repairs would be disastrous.   I’m sure that experience must have been a little hairy for the whole crew.  (Recall from the image below that much of the estuary is less than 10 m deep.  So it does not take much of a change in water depth for a large ship to run aground.)

Rio de la Plata depth

Darwin goes on to describe the views (and the weather):

“The coast was very low, & covered with thickets.— the extreme similarity of different parts of the banks is the chief cause of the difficulty of navigating this river.— The weather has been beautifully clear during these last two days.— I do not believe there has been one single cloud in the heavens.— Several land-birds took refuge in the rigging, such as larks, fly-catchers, doves & butcher-birds & all appeared quite exhausted.” (Aug 21)

I love that last image – the Beagle carefully sailing under perfectly clear skies – rigging full of birds. It makes a nice contrast to the rigging of the Warspite full of “bird-like” sailors back in Brazil – see Flocks of Fowl on the HMS Warspite.

Fork-tailed flycatcher – a variety of flycatcher that can be found in the region … imagine the rigging full of these little guys (from Wikipedia Commons):

Fork-tailed flycatcher

The entry ends today with a note on the location of the Beagle:

“To night we have anchored North of Cape St Antonio.— as soon as we double this we shall be in the open ocean.— Already the water has lost its ugly muddy colour.” (Aug 21)

Cape St. Antonio seems to be an old name (not on current maps), but I believe it is the hook-shaped point at the bottom of the Google map below – marking the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean. Point Piedras (mentioned earlier) is the point of land sticking out near the town named “Verónica”.

So it would appear that this is the Beagle‘s last day in the “river” (for now), and tomorrow it begins its journey southward along the South American Coast. (RJV)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: