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Around Cape Horn, Part 1

February 26, 2013

While there isn’t much to report with respect to energy issues, you might be interested in some of my impressions as I sailed from Lima, Peru, to Buenos Aires around Cape Horn, at the southernmost tip of South America.

The narrow strip of land, roughly 50 miles wide, on average, between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, is where nearly all the people live in Peru and Chile. Roughly half the people in Peru live in Lima. The situation in Chile is similar, with most people living in Valparaiso and Santiago.

The Atacama Desert covers the southern half of Peru and the northern one-third of Chile. It is, according to many, the driest desert in the world.

When I asked about solar energy, because I had seen none in Peru or Chile, I was told there is a small solar installation in the Peruvian desert.

There is very little wind energy in either Peru or Chile. I saw one wind farm of three turbines in Southern Chile. Hydro is an important source of electricity in Chile.

The ancient Nasca lines, that are best seen from the air, are near Pisco, Peru. The el Candelabro, of ancient unknown origin, is cut into the side of a hill, also near Pisco. El Candelabro could be seen from the ocean as we traveled by boat to the Ballestes Island bird sanctuary.

Picture by D. Dears of El Candelabro near Pisco, Peru

Picture by D. Dears of El Candelabro near Pisco, Peru

Mining is the major industry in Chile, with the Chuquicamata copper mine located 120 miles northeast of Antofagasta, one of the ports we visited. Remnants of a silver smelter are located in Antofagasta.

In Valparaiso, Chile, the capsule used, two years ago, to rescue 33 trapped miners, was on display in the naval museum. The picture shows how small the capsule is, and, as you can see, it would have been difficult for me to have fit in it.

Escape capsule with D. Dears next to capsule

Escape capsule with D. Dears next to capsule

While Valparaiso is a very busy seaport, its heyday was before 1914 and the opening of the Panama Canal.

Electric distribution poles, i.e., telephone poles, are nearly all made from concrete in Peru, Chili and Argentina, due to a shortage of trees of the appropriate size. Termites are not the reason for using concrete. While Florida Power and Light (FPL) uses concrete poles, it may be smart for other U. S. utilities to also adopt concrete in place of wooden poles.

Wood is burned for cooking and heating in parts of southern Chile, specifically the area around Coyhaique, as natural gas is very expensive and must be imported from Argentina. This creates obvious problems with air pollution and emphasizes, once again, how fortunate we are in the United States to have such a large source of inexpensive natural gas as the result of fracking.

The city of Punta Arenas, located on the Strait of Magellan, is the southernmost city in Chile. Here, there is natural gas, but the rugged terrain of mountains and fjords prevents building a pipeline from Punta Arenas to areas north of the city.

There are multiple volcanoes in Chile, and the coastal areas of Peru and Chile are prone to frequent earthquakes, with a 6.4 quake occurring off the coast of central Chile while we were in the area.

The southern third of Chile is very much like the coast of Alaska, near Skagway. There are multiple fjords with several glaciers that extend to the sea.

Picture by D. Dears of Raphael Glacier, Chile

Picture by D. Dears of Raphael Glacier, Chile

There are six glaciers, the Espania, Romanche, Alemania, Francia, Italia and Hollanda Glaciers, one right after the other, along the Beagle channel. The channel was named for the sailing ship Beagle on which Charles Darwin sailed, listed in the manifest as a supernumerary.

Ships have gone aground in these fjords.

Picture by D. Dears of ship wreck, Chilean fjord

Picture by D. Dears of ship wreck, Chilean fjord

See Part 2 for the trip around the Horn and then to Buenos Aires.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2013 10:14 am

    Donn, you would certainly have fit into the capsule! remember they were an extensive period of time trapped in the mine having little to eat and drink…you get to lose a few pounds until the rescue.

  2. February 26, 2013 10:27 am

    Thanks, but I’m not so sure. The space looked small to me, even if I lost a few pounds.
    The miners were faced with nearly certain death if the capsule hadn’t worked, so I can understand how and why they climbed into the tiny space provided by the capsule for the dark, and lonely trip to the surface.

  3. sandek1 permalink
    February 26, 2013 11:03 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pictures keith

  4. Neil Jones permalink
    February 26, 2013 11:39 am


    Thanks. Fascinating stuff. I’m looking forward to Part Two.


  5. Frank Kesman permalink
    February 26, 2013 1:30 pm


    First, I thoroughly enjoy reading your informative and insightful posts regarding “truth in energy”. Thank you.

    Second, a question. As a layman, I listen to frequent sound bites regarding the continual fluctuations of gasoline prices. Do you have any insight to offer?

    Also, regular grade to mid-grade to premium used to be in 10-cent jumps. Now the jumps are 20 cents! A friend once told me it actually cost no more to refine any of the grades of gas. Any truth to that?

    Any information or insight you might provide would be appreciated.

    Frank Kesman Sent from my iPad

  6. February 27, 2013 10:34 am

    These are tough questions that I can’t fully answer. Here are some thoughts that may prove helpful.
    First, there are too many variables to conjecture on why prices fluctuate. There are, for example, supply and demand, the cost of crude, the additive mix for different seasons, the number of refineries shut down for maintenance, the decline in the number of refineries, and the impact of new regulations, to name a few.
    With respect to spread between grades, I don’t know enough about refinery operations to answer the question, though I intend to find out.
    What also adds to the complexity of the issue is that refineries are closing: At least two or three in the East. Hess, for example, is exiting the refinery business because of losses, and to focus on exploration and production. Valero, the largest independent refiner, had return on sales of 1.5%, 1.7% and 1.1% in 2012, 11 and 10, and lost money in 2008 and 09. These are low ROS’s with correspondingly low return on investments.
    Major integrated oil companies are spinning off their refinery businesses. For example, Conoco Phillips spun off Phillips 66 last year. One result will be that refinery businesses will have to stand on their own, and we’ll see how that affects the refinery business.
    All else being equal, it could mean a renewed focus on financial returns and higher gasoline prices. There’s also no question that new regulations will require additional investments and penalties, such as for not being able to add Cellulosic Ethanol, which will also result in higher gasoline prices.

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