The Strait of Magellan refers to a waterway that is situated in the southern part of Chile. A strait is a narrow waterway, which may or may not be navigable, that connects two larger water bodies. Consequently, a strait also divides two landmasses. In the case of the Strait of Magellan, it divides Tierra del Fuego and mainland South America to the south and the north respectively.
The two larger waterbodies it connects are the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. However, the strait itself is rather difficult to navigate due to unstable currents and winds as well as several narrow points. If a vessel has to navigate the strait, then it must have a maritime pilot. The maximum length of the Strait of Magellan is about 350 miles while the minimum width is about 1.2 miles. Before the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal, the strait was the main route of transportation between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The narrow strait, which is narrowest at Carlos III Island, has several features around it that make it interesting. For example, it is connected to other waterways by the Smyth Channel to the northwest. On the eastern side, there is also a bay that opens up at the border between Argentina and Chile.
The strait’s western section eventually leads to the entrance into the Pacific Ocean. This side of the strait is surrounded by several islands like Capitán Aracena Island, Santa Inés Island, Riesco Island, and Manuel Rodriguez Island.
History Of The Strait Of Magellan
Before its discovery by Europeans, indigenous tribes inhabited the area for thousands of years. Some of the tribes include the Alacalufe on the northern coast and the Tehuelche in the east. All the tribes more or less depended on the water for survival although the Tehuelche were, by far, the least maritime community. Before discovery by Europeans, some old charts stated that the strait was known as Draco Cola, which translates to “The Dragon’s Tail.”
However, history attributes the discovery to none other than the Portuguese explorer known as Ferdinand Magellan who successfully navigated the waters in 1520. Ferdinand’s navigation happened when he was making his circumnavigation trip around the world. When Magellan first discovered the strait, it was first called the Strait of All Saints or Estrecho de Todos los Santos in Spanish. Others gave it different names such as the Patagonian Strait and Victoria Strait. However, within seven years, the name was changed to Estrecho de Magallanes (Strait of Magellan).
As Part Of Chile
In fear of an invasion from either France or Great Britain, Chile’s president, President Bulnes, ordered the possession of the waterway on May 23, 1843. The Chileans established a fort first and then some settlements later on. Eventually, other countries, starting with Argentina through the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina, started acknowledging the strait as part of Chile. Before the agreement, Argentina had claimed part of the waters.