Port Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands. The city was founded in 1843. Two thousand one hundred people live here, which is 75 percent of the population of the Falkland Islands. Today, Port Stanley is called Stanley. Though it used to be known as Port Stanley, and everyone on our cruise ship referred to it as Port Stanley. I’ll refer to it as Port Stanley. I guess the locals think Port is irrelevant.
The town captures the attention of tourists with its history. The Historic Dockyard Museum offers galleries devoted to maritime exploration, natural history, the 1982 Falklands War and Antarctic heritage. By the waterfront, a whalebone arch stands near the entrance of Christ Church Cathedral, which was built in the late 1800s. Magellanic penguins gather at nearby Gypsy Cove.
The Falkland Islands are a long way from Patagonia. At the closest point, the Falklands are still 185 nautical miles (or 213 statute miles) from Isla de los Estados. That means it’s a full day at sea to go back to Ushuaia from Port Stanley.
Unfortunately, we didn’t go to Port Stanley. The wind was gusting up to 60 knots. What’s that in miles per hour? It’s close to 70 miles per hour. The Zodiacs couldn’t land. More important, the Silver Cloud couldn’t even navigate the passage!
There was plenty to see at Port Stanley. I’ll talk about the things we heard about in lectures, even though we couldn’t see them. There were some archival pictures available that I can reference in this post, so you can at least see some things.
Wreck of the Lady Elizabeth
The Lady Elizabeth is grounded in the east end of Stanley Harbor. The ship launched in 1879. But in 1913, the Lady Elizabeth suffered damage coming around Cape Horn. The ship made it to Port Stanley for repairs, but the high cost of materials and labor prevented any fixes. A violent gale in 1936 moved her to her current spot in the harbor.
The Falklands War
Remnants and reminders of the Falklands War rest in Port Stanley. Many of us remember the war from TV coverage. Many Argentines traveled with us on the Silver Cloud. We had a lecture from a Russian expedition leader, and he invited Federico (our favorite seal guide) to comment on the war. It was interesting since the war started with the Argentinian military regime whipping up emotional messages to recapture lost glory.
President Leopoldo Galtieri, head of Argentina's ruling military junta, instigated the invasion of the British Falkland Islands. He was trying to draw attention away from human rights and economic issues at home by bolstering national pride. Argentina had a long-time claim to the islands and the invasion and recapturing would presumably be a huge diversion from the problems in the homeland.
Fought in 1982, the Falklands War resulted from the Argentine invasion of the British-owned Falkland Islands. Argentina long claimed these islands as part of its territory. Like so many territories and pieces of land, the ownership of the Falklands repeatedly changed hands. At various times, the French, British, Spanish, and Argentine governments controlled the islands. Britain reasserted its rule in 1833, but Argentina maintains its claim to the islands. Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister when the Falklands War started. You can see her bust in Stanley at the Liberation Monument.
Statue of Margaret Thatcher next to the Liberation Monument in Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands.
On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces landed in the Falkland Islands, gaining control two days later. In response, the British dispatched a naval and amphibious task force. The first engagements happened at sea between elements of the Royal Navy and the Argentine Air Force. On May 21, British troops landed. By June 14, the Argentine occupiers surrendered.
Both sides suffered significant casualties. Two hundred fifty-eight British soldiers died; 777 were wounded. The UK lost two destroyers, two frigates and two auxiliary vessels. For Argentina 649 people lost their lives; 1,068 were wounded. Britain captured 11,313 Argentines. The Argentine navy lost a submarine, a light cruiser, and seventy-five fixed-wing aircraft.
Other Places to See
Christ Church Cathedral has an unusual archway constructed from the giant jawbones of a deceased blue whale. What a way to enter a church!
The Historic Dockyard Museum stands as a popular site; it was on our itinerary. The museum displays social and maritime history and natural history. It also covers the 1982 Falklands War. Many of the museum buildings date from the founding of the capital in the 1840s. They include recreations of the old printing office, telephone exchange, smithy and a washhouse.
Though Cape Dolphin lies a fair distance away, we were going to ride a bus there because it’s known as one of the best places to see marine animals, such as whales and dolphins.
We also were going to walk Gypsy Cove to see Magellanic penguins, black-crowned night herons, rock cormorants and other sea birds.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to go to the town’s cemetery, which has several interesting tombstones with inscriptions providing a glimpse into the lives of the early pioneers. The Cross of Sacrifice, on the north side of the cemetery, memorializes the Falkland Islanders killed in WWI and WWII.
Victory Green honors WWII sacrifices and hosts an annual parade on the Queen's birthday. The mast of the S.S. Great Britain also stands on the Green.
The Whims of the Winds
Sadly, we couldn’t see any of these highlights. Silversea planned to give us nearly the whole day of exploration time. We were to go on a two-hour bus tour with many historic stops. They encouraged us to go to Gypsy Cove and to explore the museums, a cemetery and monuments. But our ship couldn’t enter the port, and the Zodiacs could not navigate a 60-knot wind.
This is one of the risks of travel adventure. Weather is the great equalizer in travel. Even though your captain and crew want to give you the best experience, sometimes they can’t deliver. During our first meeting with Schalk, our fearless expedition leader, he told us he and the expedition team made the decisions for all landings and logistics. The captain was in charge of our vessel with all of his crew.
Then Schalk told us that we were in charge of the weather. He was joking, of course. When you’re on a cruise ship and your Zodiac pilots must get you to landing spots, safety becomes the number one concern both for the guests and the pilots themselves. The ship puts a great deal of care and planning into guest safety. That’s good for us.
Throughout this trip, we’ve always felt we were in safe hands, stepping in or out of the Zodiacs. We saw people in their 80s getting in and out without any problems.
So, even though we could not go to Stanley, we received plenty of information and materials telling us all about it. Hopefully you’ll be able to visit on your next visit to The Falklands.
With Port Stanley off the itinerary, the Silver Cloud headed to Ushuaia. The captain told us that we’d now arrive early at the dock. His plan was now to arrive about 6 PM that day instead of 8 AM the following day as scheduled.
We sat back and enjoyed our return voyage back where we started. Five hundred and fifty nautical miles spans between Stanley and Ushuaia. We had 24 hours at sea. We took the opportunity to listen to lectures and start our packing.
That's it for Day 14 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!
Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.