Vintage Cape Horn 2013
An epic 6,000 kilometre adventure drive from Buenos Aires to Cape Horn through Argentina and Chile.
Day 18 - Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas.
What a difference a day makes.
Well rested, well fed and well up for the challenge of the day there was only one cloud on the horizon this morning as we pulled out of the Explora hotel for our trip down to Punta Arenas.
Unfortunately that cloud was the width of Chile, very dark grey in colour, centred right on top us and it contained a mixture of rain, sleet, snow and hail. Added to this was the wind which was as ferocious as any we've seen so far which meant that the windchill factor was quite considerable, especially if you were sitting in an open car.
Stopping by the side of the road to watch the cars on their way out of the Torres del Paine National Park it was difficult to even stand, the sleet was blinding, the hail stinging and the rain soaking. Never mind four seasons in one day this was more like an Antarctic winter compressed into half an hour.
Just outside the park boundary we saw a rare sight indeed. Hugo Upton and Nigel Gambier broken down by the side of the road. Given its rarity we weren't at all surprised to see a bus load of tourists gathered around photographing the stricken Lagonda as the crew were busy changing the fuel pump. They'd suddenly lost power and were trying all of the usual things to get things going before the sweeps arrived. When the red Toyota Hilux support truck did arrive the fault was found to be a loose battery master switch that was fairly simple to remedy meaning that they were back on the road in good time.
The tourists? Well they boarded the bus and went off in search of relatively more mundane subjects such as puma, guanaco and condor.
We had fuel shipped up to the hotel yesterday for those in desperate need - max 20L per car - but the first fuel station for quite some time was found in Puerto Natales and though it was a sleety and windy forecourt it was much welcomed by the Rally just before the lunch halt in the Cafe Patagon which was doing a brisk trade in soup and hot chocolate. Almost everyone stopped to take the opportunity of a warming drink and the open car crews to compare frostbite with the sound of Christmas music seeping from hi-fi on the counter.
Our last stop today was the race track at Cabo Negro, a chance to clear away the dust and shake off the gravel of the last couple of days. Track day ace Martin Hunt with the hood of the Bentley in its 'up' position gave a us a lesson in apex to apex cornering whilst Clinton Smith and Trevor Finn and David and Sadie Williams in Chevy's took the road less travelled riding high onto the kerb before dropping one wheel off onto the dirt through a series of turns. It’s an old rally trick to save on the rolling resistance from the inside wheel. For a few seconds of every lap we had Monte Carlo and LeMans rolled into one.
Bill Shields unfortunately didn’t get to try out that particular trick though, his steering broke midway through his session and he and Alex Schoenauer spent the rest of the session getting it back together so they could drive the car to town and have it welded.
All of the drivers were pushing hard to gain a few seconds and to shake up the leaderboard and who knows what goes on outside of parc ferme, but a stewards enquiry must surely be called for tonight as Olaf Pothoven had clearly modified his car when he was seen to employ an air brake on his last lap.
Tonight we're in Punta Arenas which was first settled in 1848. It rapidly became an important trading post and a busy port as a junction between the old and the new worlds. Ships about to round the horn had to stop here to resupply and refuel before pressing on. The city was officially renamed Magallanes in 1927, but in 1938 reverted to its original name. Originally a penal colony, a gold rush and sheep farming brought in many settlers in the late 1800's and thereby assured the towns survival.
The Panama Canal, the short cut between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, reduced the importance of Punta Arenas somewhat but it's still a well used stopover for cruise liners and scientific ships.
With nothing to report from the pits other than routine maintenance we left Arthur Manners in the garage wondering where he could buy a pair of Long Johns.