Points East and South

After two South American ports serve up their best holiday champagne and fireworks, higher latitudes beckon the sailors on Ocean Watch. "Herb's Watch" for our January20, 2010 CW Reckonings.

Punta del Este 368

A dense bank of fog hovers over the upscale Uruguayan port of Punta del Este.Herb Mccormick

At just before midnight on Christmas Eve, in a busy waterfront restaurant in Punta del Este, Uruguay, where we were enjoying a lovely holiday repast, the waiters began to circulate through the dining room toting big trays loaded with flutes of champagne. Once everyone had a fresh glass-including our table, full of sailors off Ocean Watch, our 64-foot cutter-the entire crowd spilled out to the tiled, seaside boardwalk and craned their necks skyward.

There was a spirited sense of anticipation in the air.

At the precise stroke of 12, all along the beaches and high-rises of the rather upscale Uruguayan resort city, fireworks displays filled the sky as far as the eye could see. For half an hour, all the diners, including us, clinked glasses and shared some moments of happy holiday cheer. We hadn't known about this annual Christmas ritual until we were right in the middle of it, but now it's one we'll never forget.

When we set forth from South Florida almost two months earlier on our ongoing voyage Around the Americas (www.aroundtheamericas.org), the plan had always been to be safely tied up in Punta del Este ("East Point") by Christmastime. We almost didn't make it. The trip southward had been a bear, and it had wreaked havoc with our schedule, but somehow we sailed out from the Atlantic and into a slip off the Yacht Club Punta del Este late on December 23. It was unseasonably chilly, the beaches were empty, and the scores of Argentine tourists off the two big cruise ships in the harbor wore grumpy expressions on their kissers, but we were absolutely giddy. We'd eaten Thanksgiving dinner at sea, roasting a turkey in the 90 F temperature of our main cabin, and no one was anxious for another celebration while under way.

A week after our arrival in Punta del Este, we made an overnight sail from Punta across the mouth of the wide River Plate, then on to another coastal resort city, Mar del Plata, Argentina. There we found ourselves, once again, gazing at fireworks and sipping champagne. (No one said this voyage wouldn't be without hardships.) This time we were on the porch of the Mar del Plata station of the Argentina Yacht Club, whose main headquarters are in Buenos Aires. A friend of skipper Mark Schrader's, Horacio Rosell, is a member there, and he'd accompanied us on the short hop from Punta del Este. It was another pretty night, and another unforgettable evening.

I'd never really given much thought to cruising down the coast of South America; I'd considered our journey across the equator, ultimately bound for Cape Horn, as little more than a delivery trip, the price of admission we'd have to pay to enjoy the much anticipated higher latitudes. But our stops in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina were all fantastic, highlighted by wonderful people, interesting culture and scenery, and lots of memorable occasions beyond the two I've mentioned here. Perhaps I'll return someday with a bit more time on my hands to have a proper look around. From the charts, it's clear that there are plenty of interesting places to explore.

That said, once the champagne was gone and the fireworks had fizzled out, it was good to have the holidays behind us. Now it was time to set sail for the Falkland Islands and points beyond.