Rounding Cape Horn in style

The idea was doubly exciting ? to cruise around South America from east to west, and to do so in the world's newest and largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2.

Our great ship pulled out of New York on a freezing January night and slid past brightly lighted skyscrapers into the dark Atlantic. In the month ahead, my wife Tita and I would see and do much, transitioning from winter to summer and back. We would also participate in an extraordinary near-mutiny by the passengers.

Two days later, while leaving the harbor in Fort Lauderdale, a mishap occurred that would preoccupy passengers, the captain and the Cunard line for the next several days.

Some passengers felt a bump and others saw a bubble of brown water. There was no announcement from the bridge and the ship continued on course, but four hours later we stopped dead in the water, the motors silent. It was another three hours before the captain announced that we had struck an underwater object and would return to Fort Lauderdale.

Divers working around the clock for two days found that one of the four propulsion pods ? which hold the propellers ? had been damaged, and they had to disable it. Once at sea again, we were told that because of reduced power and the loss of two days, we would miss the three port stops and arrive in Rio de Janeiro a day late.

This caused an uproar among the 2,600 passengers, and some threatened to hold a sit-in. After meetings with the captain in the 1,000-seat Royal Court Theater, however, Cunard offered generous compensation and the "mutiny" subsided.

It must be said that the entertainment value of the meetings fully matched that of the professional shows.

With the drama behind us, there was much to enjoy. The ship's size made for comfort. Though it was fully booked, there was no crowding. The Queen Mary 2 has every facility and much glamour, including endless on-board activities and the traditional equator-crossing ceremony in honor of Neptune.

After ten days at sea, we docked in Rio, which we surveyed from atop Sugar Loaf Mt. In Montevideo, the Uruguayan navy blasted a raucous welcome, and that evening a troupe of local dancers tangoed in the ship's theater.

The high point arrived on the afternoon of Feb. 1. Albatrosses skimming the gray waves and a map on cabin TVs showed we were nearing Cape Horn. The temperature dropped, the waves picked up, and we found that standing on deck in the icy wind and spray required concentration ? and this was summer.

The fabled cape, the southernmost of a cluster of menacing, rocky islands, passed three miles to our starboard. Our vessel moved smoothly and safely through this historic graveyard of wooden ships that were smaller than our ballroom.

Ushuaia, Argentina, is the closest city to the cape and the world's southernmost city. The water here was so choppy that tender operations had to be suspended for an hour while the ship turned to provide lee shelter for its tender stations. Once ashore, we rode a steam train on a narrow-gauge track built by convicts in the years when this inhospitable place was a penal colony.

In Punta Arenas, Chile, set among tranquil fjords, we watched penguins training their young to swim. Our final port excursion was to the volcanic lake district of Puerto Montt, Chile. From Valparaiso, Chile, we flew home as planned after 28 days and 10,230 nautical miles, and with a lifetime of memories.

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