Shipwrecks around States Island South Atlantic, Argentina
November 26, 2004
There are many mysteries regarding the navigation and lighthouse of the State's Island. The very own Jules Verne was inspired by the majesty of the Island’s location and the potential extraordinary adventures that could happen in those faraway lands. His wonderful words took us to a world of fantasy, as he related the many shipwrecks that occurred due to reckless and mean pirates turning on and off the lighthouse's light, confusing captains and sailors navigating through those unknown waters. The large number of shipwrecks within the area during the late 1800s also led into some other hypothesis about the nature of those tragedies.
There are several folkstories about the matter and they all point to the theory of purposely sinking the ships. The key to these stories were the big and fat insurance money cashed once the craft went down into the deepness of the Antarctic waters. The actual history is not so unique. Each and every wreck had it's own circumstances and problems. However the importance of the factual history are very important, folklore and fantasy stories shouldn't be set aside as mere tales, for their importance back then -and even today- as background upon which the history itself develops cannot be overseen. We've researched on the matter and turned into a valuable source for precious data on the States Island shipwreck. The Argentinean specialist Carlos Pedro Vairo, from the Ushuaia Maritime Museum wrote a thorough book on shipwrecks around Cape Horn, States Island, Magellan, Mitre Peninsula, Falklands and Southern Georgia.
This fantastic paperback 224 black and white book written in Spanish -with no official translation available- presents a detailed list on over 30 shipwrecks within the area during the late 1800s. According to the information provided by the book -result of a research line cross with newspaper clippings from those days -Argentinean and foreign- and information provided by the survivors, we can presume that according to the data exposed, most of the shipwrecks occurred because there was a lack of knowledge of the area which led entire crews and ships into unknown and complicated waters. Here are some transcripts that would illustrate what we've been saying so far:
"Vayari: British embarkation. 1872. Shipwrecked in Fallows Point -States Island-. The sinister occurred during a trip through Le Maire Straight. The crew was rescued by an other craft and went back to Europe."
"River Ragan: also River Tugon and River Lagan. In all cases the wreck was dated and located in the same coordinates (not available in the original). The mist, wind and calm waters favored the ship's detour towards one of the New Year's Islands within the States Island. The shipwreck occurred on March 4th 1885"
"Esmeralda: Ship with German flag. Three masts and, with 1,400 tons of charge, it headed from Ambers to Talcahuano. The shipwreck occurred die to a miscalculation, closure, calm and flow on April 11th 1897 in between Port Hoppner and San Antonio Cape." This is one of the most detailed shipwreck among all for there were found several registers about it.
Further on in the book the author transcripts one of the crew's feelings at the wreck's very moment. "The Esmeralda began crackling, the deck cracked at the mayor hatchway very close to the mast, while the stern was lifted by the wave's strength"
The descriptions go on and on for each shipwreck. The quotes above sustain what we said at the beginning about the knowledge of ties and flows. But History is not just a mere chain of consecutive factual events, dates, times, names, etc, it's also the contemporary perceptions of the events that has remained to our days as historical records, newspapers clippings, nautical journals, personal diaries, and many other of which we don't know yet. Stories about mean pirates in the Caribbean, Count Dracula and Vampires in Transilvania, Ghosts in the Argentinean coastline among many other traditional folk stories and part of history too. The key is not to set them apart as superstition, but to locate them within history in their place. This is, the impact of factual events in the collective memory of each people.