Detailed Description of
The Straits of Magellan
by the Pilot

Martin de Uriarte

(in the expedition of the Comendador Loaysa)

Uriarte was the pilot of one of the ships in the Loaysa expedition, but neither he nor the Hakluyt Society editor identify which ship it was (see Notes for additional information). Within the text, letters within a black border against a yellow background refer to places indicated on the NASA Tierra del Fuego image below. Bracketed data [S.W., 54° for example] are based on original Spanish text or are corrections of typos in that text, or in the Hakluyt edition.

Uriarte's Description… is included here because he is the first to provide navigational details for sailing through the strait. Apparently better at navigation than at writing, some parts of his account are difficult—others, almost impossible— to follow. He often refers to the entire passage as if it were multiple straits. Thus he describes the following sections:

In places where Uriarte refers simply to “the strait” but actually means only one of the above sections, a word is inserted [in brackets] to clarify his meaning.

Wednesday, January 24th, 1526. The directions for knowing the entrance to the [first] strait are that, when you arrive at the point of the Virgins you have to steer to the west, and four leagues before you arrive at the mouth of the strait you will see on the starboard side a white sand hill which rises on the slope of the mountain to the summit, and after passing this sand hill the land becomes higher. Until you pass this sand hill the course is W.S.W. Three leagues further on there are three great mountains of sand which look like islands, but are not. They are on the port side. Here you will see the mouth of the strait, and on the starboard side—N.N.W. and S.S.E. with these sand mountains—you will see a lofty round mountain, and to the south of it two smaller mountains like islands, but are not. Of these three mountains of sand the centre one is the highest, and is all of clean white sand, and the other two have a growth of bushes on their summits. Being here you will see the mouth of the strait and in entering take the mid-channel, as there are shoals on either side.

From inside the Cape of Virgins to the entrance of the strait you can anchor on any part of the coast on the starboard side in 18 to 20 and 25 fathoms clean bottom, and on all the south coast, and it is better to keep on the south, rather than on the north side.

You must know that in the channel of the strait you will find bottom at 40 to 45 fathoms. In coming out of the [first] strait keep in mid-channel where you will always find this depth, greater rather than less, near a mile from the land on the starboard side, because on that side many shoals run out with very little water on them, and for that reason you should give the coast a wide berth. If you wish to anchor keep along the coast for three leagues, when you will find a bay called the Bay of La Victoria.* When you are in it, the bay is so landlocked that you will not see where you entered it. But it has little depth, only four fathoms at low water. The rise and fall is only one fathom, the bottom rocky, and wretched holding ground.

* Bay of Virgins or of Santiago on the north coast between the two narrows. [Now, Bahía San Gregorio on many modern maps.]

On Thursday the 25th of January we entered the [first] strait and, before we had passed through it, we were taken aback and were forced to anchor, which we did in five fathoms, and we were there until low water. We then weighed and proceeded to the Bay of La Victoria already mentioned, where we found the Anunciada and the two caravels. On Friday Juan Sebastian [del Cano] departed with the two caravels and the pinnace [Santiago]§ to recover the wreckage that had been saved from the Santi Spiritus.

§ Uriarte never gives the name of the pinnace, but it is known from the title of Narrative of the Voyage of the Pinnace Santiago in Markham: Early Spanish Voyages … .

On Tuesday, the 6th day of the following month of February of the said year, being the day of St. Dorothy, the ship Victoria, being a league from the shore, with five anchors down and with five azustes*, dragged her anchors and was driven towards the shore. She struck several times, and made much water. The wind W.S.W. On Wednesday the wind went down, and we got the ship off, and on Thursday we got her back to her former position.

* A splice.

On the same day we got the rudder inboard, and found it to be much injured. On Friday morning we shipped the rudder again. On that day the San Gabriel made sail and went out of the bay, anchoring on the north coast, near the entrance of the strait. In the afternoon the Anunciada made sail, and went out of the strait. We never knew where she went, as we had no further news of her.

On Sunday the 11th of February we left this bay of La Victoria where we were anchored, and went out of the [first] strait. We were unable to reach the place where the San Gabriel was, so we anchored three leagues from her on the south side. Presently the Santa Maria del Parrel came with Juan Sebastian on board, with all that could be saved from the wreck of the Santi Spiritus; also the San Gabriel. They anchored near us, and we remained at anchor together until Tuesday afternoon, which was Shrove Tuesday the 13th of February, when our anchor broke near the cross. We stood off and on, under a foresail, until Wednesday, when we sighted the San Lesmes, and we then went to the river Santa Cruz, to refit our ship. On Thursday morning the Captain General ordered Don Rodrigo, who was Captain of the San Gabriel, to return to the place where the Santi Spiritus was wrecked, and order the pinnace, which had remained there, to go to the port of Santa Cruz where she would find us, and to recover her boat, which the caravels had taken to recover what could be saved from the Santi Spiritus and which had been left there with the pinnace.

We entered the river of Santa Cruz on the 17th of February, and got everything out of the ship, hauling her up high and dry. We found three fathoms of the keel broken off and all the adasta. We had her on shore during eight tides, repairing her in the best way we could. The pinnace arrived on the 1st of March, with news that the San Gabriel had taken her boat, but there was no further news of her. We were in this river until the 29th of March when we departed, and during all that time we had no news either of the Anunciada or of the San Gabriel.

On Thursday the 29th of March§ we left the river of Santa Cruz to return to the strait, the squadron then consisting of the Victoria, Santa Maria del Parrel, San Lesmes, and the pinnace [Santiago]. We sailed on that sea, sometimes with fair, and sometimes with foul weather, until Easter Monday when we found ourselves near the river of San Alifonso. That day the pinnace was not in sight. We had lost her on Sunday night, and had not seen her up to this time, nor did we know what had become of her.* On Thursday the 5th of April we passed the Cape of Virgins.

§ See Note in Urdaneta ms. pertaining to this departure date.

* She soon rejoined.

On Sunday the 8th day of April we entered the first strait [a], and passed through it in nine hours. As I have already said, this strait has a width of nearly a league, and is three leagues in length*. From the first to the second strait is W.S.W., the mouth of the one to that of the other being ten leagues. Following this course, keeping more on the north than on the south side, although you may go in mid-channel, you will see a small island outside the mouth of the second strait. Make for this island [b], pass it on the port side giving it rather a wide berth. The second strait is two leagues wide and four long. From its mouth to the island there are three leagues, and from this island to the northern coast barely one league. Between the two straits there is a great gulf which is ten leagues wide, and on its coast there are many bays.

* The first narrow, named by Sarmiento “Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza.”

There is great depth in this second strait. If by chance you should make for the north shore and try for soundings, you will find good and clean bottom. This strait runs, from one entrance to the other N.N.E. and S.S.W., and outside there is a great gulf 12 leagues wide. On the coast to the east there are two bays [c] & [d]; and also a large bay on the west side [?] extending over 12 leagues to W.N.W. and 5 leagues wide. Before reaching this bay there is a good anchorage with shelter S.W., and you can anchor in 8, 5, and 9 fathoms with clean bottom. From the island, mentioned before, to the third opening of the snowy mountains the course is N.E. or S.W. [N.N.E. and S.S.W.] Going on this course you will see an island distant 2 [2½] leagues, and another larger one. You should pass a league clear of it, because some shoals run out from it, with 6 to 7 fathoms. Taking this course you will find great depth in the channel. When you are abreast of this island you will see a bay [g]. Make directly for it, for here you will find a good harbour, called the port of La Concepcion.§ If you wish to enter it you must do so in this manner. Keep clear of the port side of the entrance at least a musket shot, going no nearer on that side as there are some shoals. Entering in this way you will find 18 to 25 fathoms in a well protected harbour with clean bottom. In leaving this port, intending to enter the third entrance of the strait, you should shape a S.S.W. [S.W.] course.

§ Uriarte may have mistaken the land on the north side of Isla Dawson's Bahía Lomas [e] as “one island” and that on the south [f] as “another larger one.” In this case, his “a bay” and port of La Concepcion is in the vicinity of the modern Puerto Hambre.[g] This agrees with the final sentence above, referring to taking a S.S.W. [actually, S.W.] course to reach the mouth of the (continuation of the) strait.
Possibly, Uriarte named the port himself, after one of the vessels in Magellan's fleet, La Concepcion, which had been sent to explore the channel on the eastern side of Isla Dawson. It rejoined the fleet after doing so, perhaps in this general area—hence the name of the port.

Having this island to the east, and the said port to the west, sailing on this S.S.W. [S.W.] course you must take this bearing to know the mouth of the [third] strait. You will see ahead a lofty mountain [Mte. Vernal?] high in the centre, and sloping to N.E. and S.W., on both sides forming four peaks, like the teeth of a French saw. To the S.E. there is another smaller mountain [Mte. Hurt?] , with a ravine [Canal Magdalena?] between them, and a league further on the small mountain ends at the sea shore like the snout of a tunny. Here is the entrance to the snowy strait.§ To enter this snowy strait you will presently see the opening, but you must take care not to be deceived; for on the coast, to the east, 8 leagues beyond this mountain, you come to a great gulf. You must not take it for the strait, for it has no outlet. Then you come to another entrance to the strait which is narrower. Leave it, and keep on by the west coast. At the point of the mountain you will then come to the strait's entrance.[h] This mountain may be better known from there being another lower mountain near it, with a deep ravine between them, and before you reach the mountain you will see a low point running out like an island, but it is not one. From the second entrance of the strait to the end there are 3 leagues, and from the island to the end of the mountain which is the entrance to the third snowy strait there are 16 leagues. Thus from the entrance of the one strait to that of the other there are 23 leagues. On the coast to the S.E. there are very high mountains covered with snow. From above the crest of the nearer mountains a lofty peak rises which faces two points like Santa Entrega, but it is very high.

§ At first, Strait of the Snowy Mountains (estrecho de las montañas nevadas) in the original, subsequently shortened to estrecho nevado. The rest of this paragraph is an example of Uriarte the writer at his worst, as in these examples:

On Monday morning, the 16th of April, we arrived at the point of this mountain, which is at the entrance to the third strait, and this point is in 53° [54°]. This entrance has a width of 1½ leagues.§ The coast to the S.W. forms a large bay, and there is an opening, not very wide, supposed to lead to the open sea.* In this opening there is a small island. After doubling the point of this mountain, you will see another point† on the coast to the N.E. at a distance of 10½ leagues, and another to S.W. At a mile before reaching this S.W. point there are three islets near the shore§§, two smaller and one larger, which form a very good harbour, and near the rocks there are soundings in 7 fathoms. You may enter between any of these islands as the wind serves. Though the harbour is small, fear nothing, for you can get out to sea again.

§ Uriarte's “1½ leagues” agrees with the width of the strait in the vicinity of Cape Froward.

* Channel of Santa Magdalena.

§§ Possibly, islets in the Islas Charles group, mentioned again below.

† Point Glascott, the southern boundary of San Nicolas bay. It is the end of a high range of peaks, that of the Nodals being the most conspicuous.

Note regarding Santa Magdalena and Point Glascott cited in the above footnotes: Since the ship entered the “snowy mountains” segment of the strait on the previous day, it is well to the west of both locations. Same comment applies to several of the additional footnotes below.

Beyond this harbour* there is another point† a league distant, bearing west, and when you have rounded it, you will be in sight of the Port of Sardina‡ This point was named the Cape of Descanso, and is three leagues from the Port of Sardina. A league further on you will find a large valley and in front of it there is a small island. In this valley there is a river of sweet water, with another small island at its mouth. On the coast to the S.W. there are indications of great bays and harbours. To the S.S.W. of this point, where the coast trends S.W., there is a large and a small island, half a league from the coast. In front of them there are three openings which appear to form good harbours. W.S.W. of the islands there is a bay which is thought to be a channel into the open sea.^ Beyond this the strait becomes narrower, and is only three leagues across.

* Bay of San Nicolas.

† Cape Froward.

‡ Andrews Bay on west side of Cape Holandes.

^ Channel of San Pedro.

To reach the Port of Sardina§ it is necessary to sail along the north-east until you come to the island already mentioned. You will then see a point two leagues further on,* and before coming to it there is a small beach, and in the middle of it there is a river of sweet water. Before arriving at the cape there is a well sheltered bay formed by a point called the Cape of San Jorge. From this cape to the bay of Sardina the distance is a league and a half. This port of Sardina is a small sandy beach having no shelter whatever, but a desert coast. Before reaching it, off the S.E. point, there is a shoal a cable's length from the shore. Opposite this beach of Sardina there is an island in the channel.

§ See footnote later on for more details about this location.

* Cape Holandes.

On Tuesday the 17th of April we arrived at this beach of La Sardina. It appeared to be a wretched place to be at, so we returned to the bay of San Jorge* to take in wood and water. Opposite this cape, on the south side, there are three openings which appeared to lead to good harbours, and there are three small islands near the land, to the south. At the bay of San Jorge, Diego de Covarrubias died. On the same day two canoes of Patagonians came. They called to us in their language which we did not understand, and went on.

* Bay of Solano. [now, Bahía Wood, after Master's Mate John Wood on Narborough expedition.]

On Wednesday the 25th of April we left this cape with a light wind from the east.§

§ Locations between the strait's entrance [h, above] and here are in the general vicinity of [i] on the map immediately below.

Uriarte's passage through the Strait of Magellan, with a few modern place names added.

On Thursday the 26th of April, in the afternoon, we came to a port on the coast to the S.W. which was called Buen Puerto.* Between this port and the east coast there are four islands, one large†, § and three small.‡ Beyond the beach of La Sardina, at a distance of four leagues there is another cape. Between it and La Sardina there is a low point, and another large one. Leave the four islands on your port side, passing between them and the coast. From this cape (four leagues from La Sardina) to the end of the strait at Cape Deseado the distance is 22 good leagues. The course is here N.W. to W. and in mid channel there are six islands, making ten with the other four. The first you come to is small, the second large, then three small, next one large, and opposite on the S.W. coast is the Buen Puerto already mentioned. This port has three small islands at the entrance. If you want to enter this harbour, leave the islands on your port hand, and anchor where it is convenient. Here you will find fresh water and plenty of wood. Passing the island in front of this port there is another large island, making eleven altogether. When you want to pass by this strait, leave all these islands on your port side, and keep along the N.E. coast. In front of the third large island, the land to the S.W. has two branches which are supposed to lead to the South Sea. Near these islands there are some small islets. The port bears from the large island N.N.E. and S.S.W. When you leave the port, have all these islands on your port side because the passage is not safe along the S.W. coast.

* Perhaps Port Nash, but it is not a good port.

† Isle of Carlos III [j].

‡ Isles of the Princes. (now, Islas Charles & Isla Wood [k])

§ The Port/Bay/Beach of Sardina mentioned in the paragraphs just before the above map may be on the north coast of the strait, adjacent to Isla Carlos III ([j] on the above map). If so, Uriarte may have taken “Sardina” from Pigafetta's Magellan's Voyage, in which he writes that “… we arrived at a river which we named the River of Sardines, because we found a great quantity of them.” (Arrow points to river.)

On Wednesday the 2nd of May we left the Buen Puerto and anchored among the islands because we were turned about by contrary tides. We found a good port [l] between two large islands, named San Pedro and San Pablo.* You may know them because a league beyond there are two small islets, one larger than the other, and a league further on, in the last island, there is a wonderful port called San Juan de Portalatina.† [m] We entered this port on Sunday the 6th of May. There are two small islands in it.‡ There is here as much wood and water as you can want. Bearing E.N.E. from the islands there is a large valley, and opposite this island harbour there is a bay on the mainland which is supposed to lead to the open sea. The bay is called San Cristobal.^ All this channel, from the beach of La Sardina to the cape in front of the Buen Puerto, trends N.W. to W. 12 leagues. From that cape to the cape of the bay just mentioned it trends N.W. 4 leagues. From the cape of that bay to another cape in sight from it, which is called Cabo Hermoso||[n], the course and distance is west 3 leagues. The channel between the island and the N.E. coast has a width of 1½ leagues in the narrowest part. We left this port of San Juan de Portalatina on Wednesday the 9th of May.

* Port Butler,[l] so named by Wallis, abreast of Cape Quod, very bad anchorage ground.

† Swallow Bay, [m] named after Captain Carteret's ship. Very rocky bottom. [See Some Place Names… for information about the original name.]

‡ Fitz Roy rock, and the kelp marking Fisgard rocks.

^ Probably the Channel of San Jeronimo.

|| Cape Quod, 800 feet high. [n]

Between Cabo Hermoso and the bay of San Cristobal, all on the N.E. coast, there is a bay called Nevada, which is a good port. If you want to enter it, you should take the east side, and you will see a moderate-sized island and four other smaller ones, steer between the larger one and the shore, leaving the island on the port side, and anchoring where you like. If the wind is light when you want to enter or go out, you can pass between the large island and the smaller ones which is the best passage, for between the small islands there is only a depth of 4 fathoms. Between this port and Cabo Hermoso, as far from one as from the other, there is a shoal distant a mile from the N.E. coast, with only 1 fathom on it. When you wish to go by this channel, keep in the middle, and to know when you have passed the shoal, you will see a hill notched and white like Santoña.† With this hill to S.W. the shoal will bear N.E., and in this way you will know when you are clear. Beyond the Cabo Hermoso the coast trends N.W. to N.

† The Gibraltar of the north, a rock on the coast of Vizcaya, near Laredo. It rises perpendicularly from the sea, forming magnificent cliffs with a less steep incline on the land side. Santoña was the birthplace of Juan de la Cosa.

When you pass Cabo Hermoso there is a very good harbour called the Puerto de la Ascension.* If you want to enter it you must follow this direction. You will presently see four islands north and south of each other. Leave them on the port hand steering north, when you will enter the harbour, and can anchor where you like. You can also enter it, leaving the islands on the starboard side, where there is another channel. Leaving the island to starboard you must steer N.E. to N. and you will come into the harbour. Being in this channel you will see a bay. Leave it, for this is not the harbour, but further on you will find a very good one.

* Port of Guirion, a very bad anchorage and only for the smallest craft.

On the S.W. coast this furthest island, where is the port of San Juan de Portalatina, being passed, N.E. and S.W. from its cape, there is another port. When you want to enter it, in a line with the cape of the island you will see a bay to S.W. Steer directly for it, and there is the port. You will see a little island off the starboard entrance. Sail past it and anchor where you like.

On this S.W. coast, a little further on, there is a rocky height called Santoña, and beyond it there is a large bay.

On Thursday the l0th of May we returned to the port of San Juan de Portalatina because we were unable to work our way onwards. On Monday the 14th of May we left that port again and on Tuesday the 15th we anchored in a port 12 leagues further on, on the S.W. coast. It was named Puerto de Mayo.

From this Cabo Hermoso, for 12 leagues, the coast runs N.W. to W. with a league and a half of width. It has this direction as far as a large island in the channel. On the N.E. coast there are four openings which appeared to form good ports. Before reaching the said island, a great bay*[o] is formed on the N.E. coast where there also seem to be good ports. On the S.W. side two good ports appear. Before you reach the Puerto de Mayo there is an island, and the anchorage is outside it, for inside there is insufficient water. N.E. of this port, on the N.E. coast, there is a port.

* Gulf of Xaultegua, 15 miles in length, and 4 wide.[o]

On Friday the 25th of May, at noon, we left the Puerto de Mayo with a S.W. wind, and on Saturday morning, the 26th, we came to Cape Deseado.*[p] About half a league from the Puerto de Mayo there is another very good harbour called Espiritu Santo which extends a league inland, and is like Ferrol. There are such a number of ports in these coasts as far as Cape Descado that they cannot be counted.

* Cape Deseado is the south point of the western entrance of Magellan Strait. It was so named by Magellan. Since the voyage of Sir John Narborough it has, very improperly, been called Cape Pillar, 52°43 S. —74°41 W.§ It has two peaks, the western one like a pillar. The name Deseado has been poked away 2 miles S.E., where Magellan could not possibly have seen it.

† Cape Pillar is now more often seen in its Spanish equivalent; Cabo Pilar. Degree symbols seen here (and below) appear as periods in the Hakluyt text, presumably in error.

On the N.E. coast there are many bays and indications of ports as far as the Cape of San Alifonso* which is at the outlet of the strait opposite Cape Deseado. Here the outlet is 5 leagues across, and between the last island and Cape San Alifonso there are five islands, one large which, with the four smaller ones, looks like the Berlings. They are almost in mid channel. When from here you would reach the S.W. coast after doubling Cape San Alifonso you will find three islands near the cape, and it bears from Cape Deseado nearly north.

* Cape Victoria of Magellan.

On arriving at Cape Deseado after coasting along the south side, the directions for knowing it are that near it there is a round steep-to islet which is very high, and on the summit there is a sharp round peak, much higher than the islet. Thence the coast turns to the south. This cape is in 52°20,* and on the coast that turns south there are two small islands near the cape.

* 52°41. Cape Pillar is a modern name. It appears to have been given by Sir John Narborough, for I have not met with it at any earlier date. There are pinnacle rocks, like pillars, on the cape.

On Saturday the 26th of May we came out of the strait with the wind S.E. It was the day of San Antonio, and eve of Trinity.