A Postcard from Puerto Deseado

One of the few safe havens on the Atlantic coast of Argentina is Puerto Deseado – a bleak, wind-swept rivermouth.  Founded as a wool port for the estancias of the hinterland, its nearest neighbour lies 200km (125 miles) away. In our view, the place should be renamed Puerto Desolado, for it is certainly a desolate spot. It was christened by one Thomas Cavendish, an English explorer following in the wake of Sir Francis Drake and Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan undertook repairs here and named the place the Bay of Works. Drake called it Seal Harbour. Cavendish named the place after his ship, the Desire, and this is the name which has stuck.

The Rio Deseado on a calm day
The Rio Deseado on a calm day. Mollymawk is at anchor with a stern line to the pier.

Cavendish was hell-bent on developing trade in the Pacific. Another sailor with a similar ambition was a Dutchman called Schouten. He and his financial backers came from the town of Hoorn, and since his ships were the first to intentionally round the tip of South America, they won the right to name that place. They may also have found the cove now known as Caleta Horno and left their name there. One of Schouten’s two ships was also named for his home town – he seems to have been a very proud citizen – but alas, this vessel didn’t make it around the world or even around that eponymous cape, for she was accidentally burnt. This disaster occurred while the men were careening and cleaning her in Puerto Deseado, and some of her remains were recently discovered on a beach near to the town.

The only prominent feature of the landsacpe is this natural sculpture standing on the opposite shore.
The only prominent feature of the landscape is this natural sculpture standing on the opposite shore.

Of course, when the Dutch were here there was no town, and nor had a settlement of any kind been established when the British Admiralty paid the place a visit in the late 1700s. Whereas in the Age of Discovery sailors had gone blundering blindly around the world, by now the art of exploration had progressed to a careful investigation of each inlet, and it was in this business that the HMS Swift was employed. Sadly (again) in the course of making his meticulous study of Puerto Deseado the Royal Naval captain anchored his command too close to a rock, and when the wind blew a gale – as it does rather often in these parts – the ship hit the rock and sank. All but three of the crew survived, and four of them subsequently rowed the ship’s boat away to get help. They had to go all the way to the Falkland Islands!

The tale of this shipwreck was evidently not familiar to the Spanish, for the local people knew nothing about it until the very-great-grandson of the mate of the Swift turned up, one day in 1965, and asked to see the remains. Seemingly, it took a while for anyone to be interested in the project, but in 1983 some teenage divers decided to instigate a search, and they soon found not just a few rusting cannons but the whole vessel. Or, to be more exact, they found two thirds of the vessel. Like the Mary Rose, she had become embedded in the mud and so was well preserved.

Notwithstanding the ill-omen inherent in these tales, we decided to take advantage of the big tidal range in this rivermouth and do some work on Mollymawk‘s nether regions.

Click on the pictures below to enlarge them.


  1. felicitaciones a esta familia con la que tuve el agrado de intercambiar algunas palabras que tengan buenos vientos y sera hasta la próxima en pto deseado –
    del club nautico capitan onetto

  2. Wolfgang Neuhuber

    Hi, I was there in Puerto Deseado around Christmas 1991 aboard SY”ELENA” (Swiss flag), later rounded Cape Horn .
    The local English teacher showed us the surroundings of this lonely town. He also told us the story of the sailing vessel “Hoorn”.
    On the way to Cape Horn we managed to sail thru the LeMaire channel.
    I published the whole story in the magazin “Flying Fish” of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) in 1992.

    1. Hullo Wolfgang.
      In ’91 we were in the Caribbean. Caesar was born in April of that year – so, that takes me back…!
      However, if you passed through the Beagle on your way to the Horn then you would probably know some of the yachts which are still hanging out here. Wolf Klaus and his wife, Janette, have been here since ’89, I believe!

      1. Hi,in early 2011 I was in these waters again – on SANTA MARIA owned by Wolf Kloos. In 2017, 25 years after first encounter, I visized Cape Horn again – this time aboard a Hurtigruten cruising ship heading south to Antartcitica and entering the Glacier Strait.
        Now I sail on the Lake of Constance – scaled down , I got older, believe it or not…
        Kindest greetings

  3. There’s a wreck lying 1,000′ from shore on its port side 9 nautical miles south of Puerto Deseado. It looks like a fishing vessel of some kind and measures (using google earth) about 203′ long.

    While I’ve tried to find information or a photo of it, it seems none is available online- I’ve only seen it on google earth.

    Have you by chance over sailed past it? Coordinates are: 47° 53′ 58.22″ S / 65° 49′ 27.77″ W .



    1. I’m sorry, Bill, we don’t know anything about that.

      1. Thanks for the reply.

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