On the outskirts of Chile’s and the world’s southernmost city, Punta Arenas, lies the Nao Victoria, a museum like none other in the country. A life-size replica of the first ship to successfully circumnavigate the globe, Nao Victoria is Ferdinand Magellan’s historic ship.
Retreating from Punta Arenas’ downtown, and passing by massive ship repair yards where actual cruise ships are propped up on stilts for repairs, the Nao Victoria perches by the waterfront peering out across the expansive bay.
Designed according to historical records of the ship and using construction techniques of the era, visitors to the Nao Victoria can scramble around the main deck, descend into the shadowy underbelly of the ship, and peer into the captain’s quarters. The visitor begins to imagine what it would have been like to inhabit such a ship nearly five centuries ago.
“The Magellan fleet (five ships and 260 crewmembers) performed the most extreme adventure of mankind,” an introductory leaflet to the museum boldly states. The voyage took, “more than three years sailing over unknown oceans and uncharted territories.”
Only eighteen of the original crew lived to tell the tale and just one ship of the original fleet finally made its triumphant way back to Europe. This ship, now recreated in Punta Arenas, is historically significant to the world, but even more so to Chilean Patagonia.
“[The Nao Victoria] gives birth to Chile and to the Strait of Magellan and is one of the four ships that entered the strait,” owner of the museum Juan Luis Matazi told This is Chile.
Nao Victoria’s enthusiastic administrator Cristián Manca had more to add about the ship’s importance both to the country and the world.
“For the first time, this boat uncovered real information about the actual dimensions of the earth by way of experience,” Manca told This is Chile.
For Chile, however, Manca saw the Nao Victoria to be important for two other reasons.
“Chile is said to have been discovered by Diego del Mago in the north,” Manca explained. “In truth, however, Magellan had discovered Chile years before from the south. That’s what we hope to do, celebrate this discovery of Chile from the south.”
The Nao Victoria’s second historical importance to the region according to Manca is a more pragmatic one.
Beyond the Nao Victoria
While Matazi’s project began focused on one ship, its success encouraged him to expand the scope to incorporate other boats of historic importance in the region. Currently a second smaller ship is available for exploration: the Ancud. Built in Ancud, Chiloé, this ship was responsible for the first exploration and colonization of the Chiloé archipelago.
Finally, Matazi’s biggest project yet has just begun – the construction of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed through Patagonia as he began forming his theory of evolution.
“The Beagle is a tremendous piece of work; it’s a higher level of construction due to British carpentry, with extreme detail,” Manco described. “The Nao Victoria was built in one year and a half; this boat will take two and a half years to build.”
According to this schedule the ship should be completed by May 2015. However the HMS Beagle is under construction in the same shipyard, and available for viewing in its varying states of assembly.
The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. except major holidays. It’s located about a 15-minute drive from the city center. Taxis cost around US$ 10 (CLP5,000), and drivers are familiar with its location. Buses leave from the corner of Chiloé and Carrera Pinto in the city center with signs for ‘Rio Seco’ and pass just near the Nao Victoria. Ask the driver to tell you when to get off.
For more information, visit the museum’s website here, or call them at (56- 9) 96400772.
By Gwynne Hogan