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Cape Horn
Sunny Cape Horn, February 2000 © Robert L. Webb
Now we are ready to head for the Horn
Way, hey, roll and go;
Our boots and our clothes they are all in the pawn
To me, rollickin' randy-dandy O!
Traditional shanty, late 19th Century
The Dutch honored the place for their countrymen early in the 17th Century, while seeking an unregulated route to the riches of the East Indies. Then, an Antwerp-born merchant named Isaac LeMaire found himself blocked in every effort to trade in the Pacific, both by Spanish control of Magellan Strait, and by the Dutch East India Company's legalized trade monopoly there. He decided to investigate an unknown route to the Pacific Ocean that was supposed to lie to the south of Magellan Strait.
He sent Willem Cornelis Schouten and his brother, both sea captains, and he sent his own son Jacques as his personal representative. The Schoutens' ship set out from Hoorn, a seaport on the Zuider Zee, and sailed to the southward and then to the west'ard until, in January 1616, they sighted barren islands and a land falling away in black cliffs and snowy peaks to the north and westward. Here the sea-color changed, and the swell increased, leaving no doubt that they had passed into the Pacific.
To those dark rocks at the conjunction of the two oceans they gave the name Hoorn, to celebrate the village from whence they had come.
After the Schoutens, those sometimes treacherous seas filled gradually with merchantmen, whale ships and men-of-war until, by 1850, the Cape Horn road had become the principal route of commerce between old-world seaports of the Atlantic and the "new" world along the Pacific Rim. That inhospitable place, the Cabo de Hornos of modern Chilean and Argentinian maps, the jagged punctuation stopping South America, below which all is frozen, eventually earned the respectful nickname "Cape Stiff."
Nineteenth-century mariners well knew the way. Their preparations began as their ships approached the Argentine coast. There, the much-patched fair-weather sails were replaced on the yards by stiff new ones made of "OO"-gauge canvas, all the better to withstand the blow surely to come. Tarpaulins were stretched over hatch covers as waterproofing, and some crews bolted massive timbers over the hatches, to keep them from being stove-in when the great Cape Horn rollers would come aboard.
Steady gales from the southwest thwarted their desire to reach the Pacific Ocean with their cargoes and lives intact. These westerlies pinioned the sails against the masts, threatening to back a vessel all the way to the Falkland Islands. Some westbound crews never got around at all, but were compelled to run their easting down, circumnavigating the Southern Hemisphere until they reached the Pacific from the west. And any crew attempting Cape Horn had to thread carefully between the dangerous lee shore of South America and the Antarctic ice, particularly in June, July and August, at the height of the southern winter.
Most captains under sail avoided the narrow seaway in Magellan Strait: only steam power made that route commercially viable. By 1900, the isolated city of Punta Arenas, near the eastern end of the strait, became a major port, providing coal to steamships bound west through the desolate canal.
But sailing ships continued their outside passages, even after 1914 when the Panama Canal was opened. Any paying cargo would send a crew around the Horn, and so the shantymen sang, "We're bound for Yokohama with a load of grand pianners!" The American ship Eric the Red, for example, cleared out for Japan in 1879 with a cargo consisting of 49,750 cases of "case oil" (kerosene), coal, fire brick, pitch, paint, printing ink, books, plaster, acids, stoveware, oars, clocks, glassware, an organ, and two iron safes!
These vessels did not come home empty, but chartered cargoes for return to Europe and the eastern seaboard of North America--chrome ore from New Caledonia, coal from Australia, nitrates (for fertilizer) from Chile and Peru, grain from California, sugar and whale oil from Hawai'i, lumber and tinned salmon from Washington and British Columbia.
Thousands of such passages left us an important legacy in song and story, and we celebrate the fraternity of "Cape Horners" today, at sea-music festivals, concerts, and in educational programs around the world. Through shanties and sailors' songs, we can live in our imagination some part of what we can no longer experience for ourselves--a romp past old "Cape Stiff" in a windship running free.

Around the United States, you can visit aboard merchant ships that once rounded Cape Stiff (and there are others in Europe and elsewhere):
Balclutha, 3-masted iron (steel) ship,
Connell & Co., Glasgow, 1886
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park http://www.nps.gov/safr/local/balc.html
Charles W. Morgan, 3-masted wood ship (now bark)
J. & Z. Hillman, New Bedford, 1841
Mystic Seaport (Connecticut) http://www.mysticseaport.org/visiting/exhibits/ships.boats/morgan.html
Elissa, 3-masted iron bark
Alexander Hall & Co., Aberdeen, Scotland, 1877
Texas Seaport Museum (Galveston)
The Elissa does not seem to have rounded Cape Horn, but hundreds like her, built in Scottish shipyards during the 1870s -'90s, ploughed the southern seas on their comings and goings between the Pacific and Atlantic. http://www.tsm-elissa.org
Falls of Clyde, 4-masted iron ship
Russell & Co., Port Glasgow, Scotland, 1878
Hawaii Maritime Center (Honolulu)
Only three 4-masted "full-rigged" ships exist today. The Falls of Clyde is the only one easily accessible to the public anywhere in the world.
Joseph Conrad (ex-Georg Stage) 3-masted iron ship. Burmeister & Wain, Copenhagen,
Denmark, 1882
Mystic Seaport (Connecticut) http://www.mysticseaport.org/visiting/exhibits/ships.boats/conrad.html
Moshulu, 4-masted steel bark
Alex. Hamilton & Co. Port Glasgow, Scotland, 1904
Now a restaurant (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) http://www.gophilly.com/american/moshupg.html
Peking, 4-masted steel bark
Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, Germany, 1911
South Street Seaport (New York City) http://www.southstseaport.org/shippek.html
Star of India (ex-Euterpe), 3-masted iron ship (now bark)
Ramsey Shipyard, Isle of Man, 1863
San Diego Maritime Museum (California) http://www.sdmaritime.com/ourfleet/star.html
Wavertree (ex-Southgate, ex-Toxteth), 3-masted iron ship
Oswald, Mordaunt & Co., Southampton, England, 1885
South Street Seaport (New York City) http://www.southstseaport.org/shipwav.html
If you have donables to spare, remember that these vessels live on voluntary contributions of money and time. Please support the care and restoration of whichever of these ships means the most to you, and help preserve these irreplaceable icons of maritime history! Thanks!
Among the modern-day "tall-ship" fleet, two of the world's sail-training vessels began life as real working Cape Horners: they are the Sedov (ex-Magdalene Vinnen), built in Kiel in 1921; and the Kruzenshtern(ex-Padua), built at Bremerhaven in 1926.

Sattellite view of Cape Horn




Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815&shyp;1882). Two Years before the Mast.
The Harvard Classics. 1909&shyp;14.
Chapter V
Cape Horn-A Visit

"Friday, Nov. 14th.
We were now well to the westward of the Cape, and were changing our course to the northward as much as we dared, since the strong south-west winds, which prevailed then, carried us in towards Patagonia."


Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815&shyp;1882). Two Years before the Mast.

Chapter XXXII
Ice Again-A Beautiful Afternoon-Cape Horn-"Land Ho!"-Heading for Home

"In our first attempt to double the Cape, when we came up to the latitude of it, we were nearly seventeen hundred miles to the westward, but, in running for the straits of Magellan, we stood so far to the eastward,"

Cold Oceans


Cape Horn

Click to enlarge
The first Cape Horn expedition was solo. I launched early every morning because the weather was calm at that time, so my memory of the expedition was that of sailing alone into the sunrise.
By the time I reached the Beagle Channel, I was close to Cape Horn and thought that I would succeed.
Second Cape Horn Expedition
When I returned to the Beagle Channel
on the second Cape Horn Expedition, I had better gear, better boats, a partner, and years of experience.

We finally reached Cape Horn 17 years after my first attempt.


Father, son discover new truths sailing around Cape Horn
"Like Jews wandering in the desert, David Hays and his son Daniel found their own Mount Sinai in Cape Horn.
It was a journey that lasted not 40 years but 317 days and 17,000 miles. "



"Sailing away at the break of morn
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn".


Sailing the Southern Ocean
"The Southern Ocean is a sailors' graveyard. The old square-rigger seamen called it "Dead Men's Road," where ships were constantly exposed to huge waves, constant high wind and gales, frigid water, chaotic cross-seas, endless chains of low-pressure systems, occasional icebergs and complete remoteness."

Sources: Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters, by Derek Lundy and http://www.therace.org.


"In 1990, Wilson acquired and re-fitted the 60' trimaran Great American toward his first project. He sought a project long enough to allow for bringing in all the disciplines desired, dramatic enough to arouse media attention, and uncertain enough to keep the outcome in doubt. He decided to tackle the sailing record from San Francisco to Boston by way of Cape Horn set during the California Gold Rush by the clipper Northern Light."

Journeys in Time: Places

Horn, Cape (Tierra del Fuego, Chile)
Location: 55° 59' S, 67° 16' W
The southernmost point of South America [more correctly Cape Hoorn or Kaap Van Hoorn]. Rocky headland 424 m high on Horn Island in Tierra del Fuego. Notorious for stormy weather and heavy seas.
Francis Drake has long been credited with the discovery of Cape Horn in 1577 on board the Pelican (later renamed The Golden Hind [100 tons]). However, the cape was first rounded on 29 January 1616 by the Dutch seamen Jacob le Maire and Willem Schouten, passing through the strait between Staten Island (Isla de los Estrodos) and Tierra del Fuego, which they named the Strait of Le Maire ( Estrecho de la Maire), and round Cape Horn, which they named in honour of Schouten's birthplace, the town of Hoorn in Holland, and also where the ship had been fitted out.
'False Cape Hoorn' is the southern extremity of Tierra del Fuego, whereas the true Cape Hoorn is on Hoorn Island, a little further south. [It became Cape Horn in English and Cabo de Hornos (the Cape of Ovens) in Spanish.

The Era of the Clipper Ships

Mutiny off Cape Horn

Soon the Challenge ran head on into a pompero much like the one that had battered the Flying Cloud around. Ominous black clouds and lightning loomed on the southern horizon that promised that a larger storm was headed their way. The calm period that proceeded this storm's arrival was put to good use as crewmen scurried up the rigging to furl in the canvas and tie the sails down with gaskets before the storm's arrival. The southwest trade winds were becoming more erratic and intense as the Challenge entered the "Fearful Fifties" and the clipper fortunately experienced fair winds long enough to sail through the Strait of Le Maire past Staten Island. Thousands of seabirds screamed at their passing presence and off the starboard bow loomed the rocky tip of Tierra del Fuego, the "Land of Fire.
Waterman was optimistic that he would have a swift passage around the Horn and charted the Challenge on a southwest slant for a time. Then took a tack to the northwest, followed by another tack to the southwest over another leg in his effort to gain some westing and was making good progress, although his calculations as to his true position was optimistic and off a little; not as far as he thought. As he approached Diego Ramirez Island a fierce gale suddenly blew down on them that brought with it a head-on blizzard of snow and huge rolling waves, some of them sixty feet high. In the Southern Hemisphere it was the middle of winter. Shipowners back in New York gave this fact little thought in their mad rush to get their precious goods around the Horn to San Francisco and expected much from their captains to make the passage regardless of the weather. This storm showed no sign of slacking off. Instead it got worse as the screaming westerly gales blew head-on.
Douglass limped around deck screaming for all hands and Coghill soon forced a half a dozen men up the mizzenmast's slippery rigging pushing and kicking them on. He drove his men out along the foreropes of the rolling ship to take in topsails and secure them to the spars with gaskets. The waves were so high that they brushed the yardarm tips as they rolled on past. Those up in the rigging froze in terror as the crest of each wave, known as "Cape Horn snorters," crackled and broke. Sending forth to eastward a white frothy mane as the stays and rigging screamed out so loud that the men up in the mizzentop yards could not hear Douglass on the deck below as he was screaming at them to get a move on, and this soon led to disaster.
Douglass kept his watch lined up on deck who fought to keep their balance on the pitching clipper as they started to loose the mizzentopsail braces to furl in sail. Too much line was loosed and a powerful gust of wind quickly filled the canvas with a boom sounding like a cannon shot. The sail recoiled into the yardarm knocking one of the men in the mizzentop yards off his perch and he went tumbling, screaming into the stormy sea. No attempt could be made to rescue him, as the ice cold water would have surely killed him instantly.
Coghill screamed for Douglass to cant the yardarm in the desperate hope of spilling the wind from the sail, but the flapping canvas was out of control. Men on the yard desperately fisted in some of the canvas with one hand and tried to grab for more with the other. The flapping sail got away from them again and there was another boom as the sail whipped back against the yardarm and two more men were knocked off their perches with one falling into the sea and the other onto the deck. Both men were killed.
In the huge seas waist-high waves rolled over the rails and cascaded over the deck with each roll of the ship. Douglass and his men were caught by the frothing white water and it swept them all across the deck banging them into the bulwarks. Douglass lashed his men back to the pinrail and ordered them to try and take control of the topsail brace. Finally both watches managed to furl the mizzentopsails, maintopsails and foretopsails to the yardarms which eased the angle of the heel and the peril was somewhat diminished. With this feat accomplished, Coghill's battered, bleeding survivors climbed down the ratlines and staggered off to their bunks. Douglas and his watch remained on deck making sure that the braces remained secure. The seaman who had fallen to the deck and died was taken below.
After a brief ceremony the next day his body wrapped in a tarpaulin and weighted down, was swung over the side into the sea. The screaming westerly winds came on that day in hurricane like gusts of up to 80 or 90 knots. Sheets of sleet accompanied the gusts as the sea rose up to mountainous heights and rolled along so high that even such a large, sharp clipper like the Challenge could not cut through the waves as each wave broke and came crashing down upon her. Sending tons of sea water flooding over her decks sweeping the men off their feet as they scrambled to grab hold of anything that they could get their hands on to keep from being washed over the side.
At the top of each wave the ship would pause for a moment. Everyone onboard would experience a moment of terror as the Challenge pitched forward and began her roller coaster ride down the backside of the wave toward the trough. Which would bring the clipper fetching up to a sudden shuddering stop, her stays and timbers straining to the max, as the next giant wave came boring down on the Challenge as she started to climb again.
In the wheelhouse two quartermasters wrestled with the wheel to keep the Challenge heading into each wave. This became particularly perilous for when at the top of the crest of each wave the clipper would pitch forward and her long rudder would momentarily lift out of the sea. The clipper would roll off to leeward as she began her descent down the wave sliding sideways as her lower yardarms dipped into the sea almost capsizing the ship until the keel and rudder took hold to bring the ship head-on again to meet the next wave.
Only one or two storm jibs flew off her bow along with a fore-and-aft staysails and reefed topsails; just enough sail to control the ship and keep her on course and to catch the winds in the valleys between the waves.
The screaming westerlies picked up with intensity in gusts close to a hundred knots as the Challenge's windward shrouds went taught with tension and her leeward shrouds sagged. Soon the sails were ripping along the seams and tore to ribbons in seconds. Bolt ropes yanked loose from their clews with a crackling sound like gunfire as men scrambled up the rigging to attend to the flapping canvas, to reef it in or replace it with heavier canvas before it ripped to shreds in the wind. The shrouds and footropes were covered with ice and slippery. The new heavier canvas the men hauled aloft was frozen stiff making handling most difficult for men whose hands were bloodied and frozen blue as the surging winds threatened to blow them off the yardarms. The constant pounding of the heavy seas threatened to drive the Challenge under.
The endless wail of the howling wind deafened the crew who could barely hear one another and the wind screamed on day after day which unnerved everyone aboard the constantly pitching ship. The foul-weather gear that only a few of the more experienced sailors brought along on the voyage did little to ward off the paralyzing cold and left the men at the end of their watch in a state of exhaustion as they huddled together in a corner of the forecastle. Many of them soon came down with pneumonia and nearly all were frostbitten. Many were also injured from being battered about aloft with broken arms and legs, ribs or worse. The sick bay of the ship was filled up with 17 men with many more crewmen feigning illness and injury, by then more than willing to shirk their duties to keep out of the treacherous rigging.
A series of storms came on, one after the other, for the next three weeks as the crew shuddered in terror. The forecastle air stunk of vomit, sweat and urine, but staying there was preferable to going up into the rigging again to face certain death.
Over the course of one storm Douglass came up on deck and "found it nearly deserted." Waterman stayed on deck the whole time catching occasional naps on a bench near the companionway in the charthouse. All the while he kept fighting for every bit of westing, but each new storm that came his way drove him back. Desperate to find the more favorable winds that were mentioned in Maury's Wind and Current Charts, he took the Challenge south to 60° south close to Antarctica, but could not find favorable easterly winds there either.
Waterman was frustrated and exhausted beyond belief and he and Douglass were absolutely outraged at the conduct shown by the malingering crew. So the two men now felt that they had no recourse than to begin a reign of terror. Soon they went after George Lessing, "The Dancing Master," who had somehow avoided punishment for so long and as the next storm was building up, Douglass ordered Lessing up the rigging. Pleading dysentery, Lessing refused and Douglass screamed at him "Go aft!" The captain will cure you," and shoved Lessing toward the ratline. Waterman joined in the bullying, "I think we'll baptize him," as he grabbed Lessing and tossed him over into the lee scuppers where the frigid waters sloshed around. The sadistic Douglass jumped the fallen man and held his head under water as Lessing thrashed about. Until Douglas yanked him up and marched him over to the weather rail and tied him to the rail and left him there in the freezing wind for close to an hour before cutting him free. The shivering sickly man then went below to his bunk and a few days later had all the signs of acute dysentery and twelve days later he was dead.
Waterman certainly must have realized by then that Douglass was out of control with his frequent berserk outbursts of sadism that could flash at any time he went after a malingerer. But Waterman let it go on and Douglass soon went after another malingerer who complained of chilblained legs and gave him a similar baptism in the freezing slush. Second Mate Coghill was also becoming increasingly more violent. Waterman did nothing to reign him in either. Leaving both his mates to whatever desperate measures they deemed necessary to get the Challenge around the Horn. Leniency was the last thing that ran through Waterman's mind.
Birkenshaw had raised Waterman's ire because he was one of the few veteran seamen aboard his ship and had been 16 years in the Royal Navy and four years in the merchant marine. They certainly could have used him for their rounding of Cape Horn. Now Birkenshaw was before him and Waterman's voice rose as he began to speak.
Waterman asked "Have I ever ill-used you in any way?" to which Birkenshaw answered no. Waterman questioned him about the mutiny and Birkenshaw denied taking part in any conspiracy, but all the others had implicated him as the ringleader already. Birkenshaw said it was not true and Waterman erupted in anger screaming "Down on your knees, you son-of-a-bitch!" And swung his heaver as Birkenshaw tried to ward off the blow with his arm with the blow breaking his arm instead of his head. All the while screaming out that he was innocent. Soon one of the ship's boys was ordered to set up in the rigging a block and tackle as Waterman quickly made a hangman's noose from the line. He slipped it over Birkenshaw's head and pulled on the line at the other end till Birkenshaw was up on his toes and decided to confess.
At Waterman's request, Cornelius Sterling, one of the ship's passengers, recorded Birkenshaw's confession of conspiracy which implicated just about the entire crew including the second mate Coghill who Birkenshaw said had promised to supply the handcuffs that were to be used on Waterman and Douglass. Instead, Birkenshaw was placed in handcuffs and marched off to sick bay and left there with his arm untreated.
Coghill was soon confronted and indignantly denied any part of the conspiracy or uprising claiming that he had been asleep in his bunk when Douglass was attacked. Waterman gave him the benefit of the doubt, but over the rest of the voyage he never let Coghill forget that he was keeping an eye on him.
For a time the Challenge caught the southern trade winds in the Pacific which sped the clipper right along, but as she crossed the line at the equator, she ran into the doldrums just as she had in the Atlantic. With the wind no longer in her sails, the big clipper lay dead in the water. Bobbing in the long swells of the glassy sea until the northeast trade winds picked up and began to fill her sails again and she at last began to show the speed that she was designed for. Two weeks later she was off the California coast where she found another patch of airless sea and drifted around for four days, dead in the water again, as Waterman nearly went berserk. The Challenge's last day's run was but 35 miles and the ship did not reach the Farallons until October 29, 1851, and sailed through the Golden Gate into San Francisco harbor flying her distress flag from her mast upon completion of her 108 day passage from New York.

The Flying Cloud had already departed for Hong Kong nine days earlier, bound for a cargo of tea to fill her hold with on her voyage home. The Flying Cloud had won the race around the Horn with a record-breaking passage of 89 days, 21 hours and beaten the Challenge by 19 days.

Mutiny on the bounty, chronicles - cape horn


'From now, and every day henceforth, there will be fires lit below and attended by the people on watch.' I ordered. This was to counter the unhealthy dampness that was beginning to cover everything. I also made a roster so every afternoon the men listed will pump fresh water down to the bilges then pump it up again until it is clear. The officers of the watch will determine this.'
The 20th. March - we struck the first southern gales between Cape Virgin Mary at the eastern entrance to Magellan Striates and the Falkland Islands. It is exactly what I feared!
The violent squalls caught us entirely by surprise and gave me little time to bring the ship under the mizzen main sail. I decided to sail nearer the coast, and headed towards Tierra del Fuego.
The 23rd. March - fortunately the gale died and at two this morning and a coastline loomed out of the darkness. We had sighted land - the first since the Canaries! Although I knew the greatest test was yet to come I immediately ordered a sheep killed to celebrate the event.
Rounding the horn at the beginning of winter was ahead of us - and a fearsome prospect. I went below and began to study my charts. Eventually I decided that the safest course was to go as far south of Staten Island as I dared in order to avoid the powerful currents that run near the land. The choice was between the cold and the ice, or the currents. The Striates of Magellan I determined too dangerous and totally out of the question in these conditions.

Finally the wind has got up, the fog cleared and the sea starting to run. I order double reefs then close reefs.
....Midday and the wind is tearing through the rigging and whipping the shrouds; we are surrounded by wind streaked foam.
The night, the 28th. of March and our ordeal has truly begun. The westerly gale is bringing strong slanting rain striking our arms and faces as if it were shot from a musket, with the seas breaking completely over the deck. I have never experienced worse conditions. It is with great difficulty that I write my log and these few words!
April the 23rd - three days later. It is difficult to write my log as I am thrown all about the cabin ... then possibly the worst moment of all!.... This morning I just managed to struggle up on deck following a futile attempt to sleep. I could hardly fail but observe the terrible conditions. A huge sea that was white, as drunken foam and boiling milk mixed together, and we were caught in its grip. I cast my gaze up searching for a break in the grayness above. Nothing! For us in 'Bounty' ... no sun, no sky and little hope, just aa grey, semi-darkness of angry clouds and an infuriated sea. I felt terrible but still I was more useful than my officers.
I struggled hand over hand along the rail and looked up. I could not believe my eyes. Someone had set an extra sail. Men were balanced on yard arms, reefing wet canvas, clutching at wet rope. I looked around and spied a huddled figure emerging from a quarter deck hatch. 'Mr Fryer' I yelled above the wind, 'your report!' I stared furiously at the man, as a result of his incompetence, eagerness, or plain desperation to get around the Cape, it was his judgement to carry the extra sail, and in so doing he showed no patience, and a total lack of regard for the lives of all ... in particular the men he ordered aloft. I was even more put out by the fact he waited for me to go below before making his decision! Any competent officer should have known better, much better than to risk the ship so!
I glanced up and saw a sailor miraculously hanging in the rigging ... grimly clutching at swaying yards. I yelled at Fryer above the roaring sea, 'order the men down instantly.'
Then I observed the sail and gulped. Second yard main mast, close reefed and stretched to breaking. Clutching a safety rope I leaned out over the ship's gunwale and peered into Neptune's black depths. Waves were ripping past. Bows down we were ploughing along before the wind with a reckless speed certain to destroy us all. Only the merest change in the wind direction, a sudden shift, a gust to turn us just one or two degrees either way and we were done for. I yelled to the nearest seaman, 'Get me an axe - make haste man!' The tenor of my voice did little to hide my concern and the man jumped to it. I eased my body towards the stays; now humming like strung cat-gut under their great load. I looked aloft The sail they retained seemed like a solid object, not canvas- - such was its tautness I thought ... if I could only part the stays before...

I sensed it before I felt it. Too late by God! Too late the wind shifted. An axe materialised in my hands and I swung wildly at the rope, again, and again ... but alas, too late! She swung, she turned as a top caught in the fullness of its spin. We broached.! The rope snapped, it cracked like a released bowstring and whipped by my face stinging my frozen cheek - but I could not care less! All I felt was the vertigo as I was pitched against the rail. We turned side on to the raging inferno, our masts now almost horizontal - if one were able to rule a line across that raging fury of green, black and white . Then we turned full circle, anti...clockwise I think, and were lent over, our starboard keel out of the sea.... like a virgin's thigh it was never supposed to be bared to the elements Would we go under? Now I thought for the moment of truth. I clung on as I felt the cold sea enveloping me. Freezing but not too painful - I felt some relief as I closed my eyes to make the dying easier.... but in the blackness of that despair, I realised, it was my imagination - and my mind struggled as I fought a way back to reality. I opened my eyes. Remarkably we were still afloat. The bows had swung back away from the wind, clockwise, away from danger. My arms were still locked square into the rails as she righted herself. I looked around to where terrified sailors clung to various parts of the ship as a clutch of frightened monkeys would cling to a fleeing parent. I raced across the deck and released the remaining stay. The sail was destroyed but thankfully we were saved.
I praised God - and my relief was so tangible I almost felt I could hug it.
At last all the men were down and HMS.'Bounty' brought under the smallest stay and mizzen sails without loosing way. Yes, today was by far the greatest peril I have ever experienced.
...I have decided that it would be improper and too dangerous to continue any longer. The wind has changed yet again and in just two days we have been forced back to a position we passed some three weeks ago. Heavy winds and snow falls are so violent that I have been forced to 'lay to'. The wind is backing to the west and the sea running high. What choice do I have? I decided we must turn back.
....William Bligh in a letter to Duncan Campbell and from the log of HMS.'Bounty'

Cape Horn the terrible

There is always a cape waiting for you in life, but if it is Cape Horn, the cape at the southern tip of the American continent and if you are lucky enough to round it, then you will never forget it.


There are four or five places all over the world in the presence of which man feels perturbed, surrounded as they are by a perennial mystical aura of spirituality. If, as it is the case of Cape Horn, they are the craved destination, the obliged passage, the insuperable difficulty, everything takes the aspect and the importance of the sanctuary and of the unconsciously supernatural place. After all, its positioning of 55°56' south and 67°19' west, the particular orographic formation and the intensity of atmospheric phenomena which surround it, turn Cape Horn unique and matchless.
Cape Horn, loved and hated by seamen over the last four hundred years, was named after Hoorn, a small calm town of the Netherlands, not far from Amsterdam, where Willem Corneliszoon Schouten was born. He was the captain of the ship "Unitie" on which he sailed in search of an alternative passage to the Magellan's Strait and to the Cape of Good Hope, to reach the Far East. Passage was allowed through these two areas only to members of the Company of the Indies as established by the Company itself. Thus, with the sailing vessel that could carry up to a 360-ton cargo and was defended by 19 cannons, he looked for a canal south of Magellan's Strait to reach the Pacific Ocean. On January 29th of the year 1616, after a long crossing together with a school of whales and many albatrosses, he discovered a high pointed promontory that he called Hoorn, later called Horn by the English. The fog that surrounded the ship deceived the whole crew: everyone thought it was the extreme southern tip of the continent and not an island as it really is. Its 1,400 feet of harsh rock were admired for the first time by its discoverers. Unfortunately, after landing in Java, nobody believed in them and they were imprisoned for having infringed the Company's orders. Only after being taken as prisoners back to their mother country, could they assert their rights and spread the news of their geographical discovery. Nevertheless, the route round the extreme tip of the southern American continent was not widely accepted. Even though the stretch of water between Cape Horn and the Diego Ramirez Islands was more than sixty miles wide compared with the few miles of the Strait of Magellan where maneuverability was often difficult, this did not compensate for the violent weather conditions found in the area. Conditions that were unpredictably violent: the first Dutch discoverers rounded the Cape on a calm day as well as the Spanish Garcia and Gonzalo de Nodal who renamed it Cabo San Ildefonso, thinking to be the first ones to see it.

Anyway, only in 1624 it turned out to be an island because of the very few vessels that rounded the cape in the 1600's. Passages round the cape were more frequent during the following century when the real nature of Cape Horn revealed itself. In 1741, the crew of the English Admiral Anson, in order to take by surprise the Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast, rounded the Cape and lost five of the eight vessels under his command. While Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, sailing along a more southern course, James Cook and his "Resolution" safely rounded the cape and continued its journey to explore Oceania. The stretch of water around Cape Horn became really crowded from the start of the Gold Rush in California until the completion of the railway lines. The clippers sailed one after the other along the New York-San Francisco route, the same route followed by the best sailors today - including the Italian Giovanni Soldini, onboard his new 60 footer "Fila" - with departure on January 17 from the Big Apple. That was the era of the "cap horniers", of those who had rounded the terrible Cape Horn. Whoever had rounded the cape bound westward was part of a superior class of men: they were authorized to carry an earring on their left ear or on their chest, and they could urinate to windward. Actually, having sailed through a hostile environment gave them much authority in their field. As a matter of fact, Cape Horn lies where the continental shelf rises from the 13,120-foot deep Pacific bed and where the strong force of the winds that blow around Antarctica often create gales with waves that are frequently more than 65 feet high. The weather forecast of the area announces an average of 200 days of gale and 130 days of cloudy sky and for the rest of the year the wind is strong and the sea is rough.
Many vessels have rounded the cape, but many others have failed. William Bligh, who later demonstrated to be an able seaman when captain of the Bounty, failed to round the cape in 1788. He reached Polynesia by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The four-mast vessel "Edward Sewall" rounding of the cape lasted from March 10th to May 8th in 1904; "Cambronne" took 92 days to go from one to the other ocean. The rounding of this Cape has not been more perilous than other well-known capes around the world, yet the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean is complete only after having sailed the 1,000 miles or so that separate the Falkland Islands from Wellington, along the Chilean coast. Whoever arrives from the Pacific Ocean also has to overcome the danger represented by the false Cabo de Hornos, as the Chilean, who politically own the area, call it. This cape is sighted twenty miles ahead and, when surrounded by big breakers and foamy waves that carry powered snow along their crests, may confuse the helmsman who may chose the tragically wrong route. The "funnel", as Italians call it, attracted and is still attracting modern sailing boats. As opposed to common belief, Joshua Slocum onboard "Spray" was not the first sailor to round the cape, he preferred to go through the Magellan's Strait despite the difficulties and the hostile natives. The first sailor who really tried circumnavigation was the Australian Clio Smenton who, as a prize after the wreckage of his "Pandora", received a copy of Slocum's boat.
The first sailor who really conquered the great Cape Horn was Connor O'Brien, who rounded it with three friends on board the 42 footer "Saoirse", during the circumnavigation between 1923 and 1925 becoming the first cap hornier in the history of sailing. In 1943, Vito Dumas rounded the cape on board his 31'-long "Legh 2", but the contemporary attempt of Hal Hansen was not equally successful and the hull of his boat was later found along the coast of Patagonia. More recently, the rounding of Sir Francis Chichester onboard "Gipsy Moth IV" remains unforgettable. He was the first man to sail single-handed around the world with only one stop. His feat inspired the first Whitbread Round the World race, which is today at its seventh edition. At the moment several vessels are participating in the fifth leg of the race which rounds Cape Horn. In the first edition, Bernard Moitessier, after rounding the "Cape" with a good advantage over the second participant, decided to turn back. He returned to the islands of the Pacific Ocean, renouncing the prize of the Golden Globe and £ 5,000 that were waiting for him at the arrival of the race in England. Nowadays, only single-handed sailors and seamen round the Cape which, sometimes, still claims its victims, as was the case of Gerry Roufs in the last edition of the Boc Challenge - his boat was found offshore the Falkland Islands.

Yet, Cape Horn is the most noble symbol of navigation and rounding it approximately twenty times on board the ocean tugboat of the Chilean Army, the ATF Galvarino, has been one of the most exciting experiences that a sailor and lover of the sea as I am might wish. We sailed from Puerto Williams, the southernmost town of the world that lies on the island of Navarino, the last big emerged land, under the command of Captain Fernando Perez Quintas to wait for the boats of the Round the World Race. Cape Horn was calm, sly and well disposed, maybe because of the tribute of the seamen who threw their underwears in the sea, in a sort of counter-spelling habit that this time seems to have worked. The Cape reserved us a thirty-knot wind that lulled in their laziness the surrounding albatrosses with motionless wings around the Cape. Whales, Magellan's penguins and the "carancho negro" birds of prey completed the faunal picture of the area, which is extremely rich thanks to the cold currents of Antarctica. Even Charles Darwin tried to round the cape, with many risks, on board the "Beagle", but then he passed behind the islands through the channel, which was named after him, while continuing his studies. Notwithstanding the calm conditions, the captain of "Galvarino" preferred to shelter behind the nearby islands of Hermite and Wollaston, as the Horn archipelago is called, when we had to wait for more than a couple of hours. "The sea conditions here worsen in very short time" he said, based on his experience of months spent sailing in this area and near the Diego Ramirez islands where he later took us to collect the men of the meteorological observation station. These islands, which are seventy miles south of Cape Horn, have always been a point of reference for seamen who had to leave them some hundreds miles back before heading north without running the risk of being pushed by the current toward the dangerous coast of the Land of Fire. It is a sort of highway, bounded by the two lands, that sailing and motorboats have to sail at its center in order to avoid the winding course of the emergency lanes. After the opening of the Panama Canal, this highway is not much used and Cape Horn again dedicates itself to the adventuresome sailors in the races around the world and to its preferred subjects, the lazy albatrosses with their swift enormous wings.

North America and the Cape Horn Route


The route of the Windjammers and steamships joining the Pacific ports of the US with her Atlantic ports and Europe required rounding Cape Horn. This was the only maritime route passing the Americas prior to the opening of the Panama Canal.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 created a stampede of traffic from the New England ports to California. Per Dr. John Lyman, an eminent American Maritime Historian, in 1849 777 ships departed from Atlantic ports for San Francisco, all via the Cape Horn route. In effect this migration from the Eastern States to California was one of the largest migrations in modern history.
Dr. Lyman has estimated that some 10,000 ships rounded Cape Horn bound for San Francisco during the period 1850 &shyp; 1920; all contributing to the population and economies of the Pacific States. And in reverse, the this Westward migration spawned the salmon, timber and grain industries of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which rapidly became important sources of raw materials and food for the population centers of the Atlantic States and Europe.
Following the Civil War shipbuilding in New England and the Canadian Maritimes became a major industry, producing oceangoing ships capable of doubling Cape Horn in either direction.

The Canadian ships &shyp; often seen on the Cape Horn Route &shyp; were employed principally in the grain and timber trade. The shipowners of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec added to their wooden fleets iron and steel ships from British yards. They continued to operate sailing fleets until the First World War, when the majority of these ships were sold to foreign countries. Many experienced Canadian captains, boatswains and sailors moved over to the US sailing ships still operating. The names of distinguished Canadian Captains such as Richard Quick, John Collins Amberman, Adelbert F. McKay and Dan McDonald deserve to be remembered.
In 1914 two things occurred which had great effects on the sailing fleets of Canada and the US: the inauguration of the Panama Canal and the start of World War I. The commerce raiders and submarines of the German Fleet sank French, Norwegian and Canadian sailing ships, considerably reducing the fleets of these countries. And on the other side, the enormous sailing fleet of Germany &shyp; consisting of 132 oceangoing vessels &shyp; disappeared from the world's oceans through internment in neutral countries, capture or blockade.
The last west bound rounding of the Cape by a US windjammer was the Edward Sewall, she sailed from Philadelphia loaded with coal bound for Seattle in 1913 - 1914. Rounding the cape, that is passing from 50° S Latitude to 50° S Latitude took two months, the vessel encountering bad weather conditions at the Cape.
The time and distance savings of using the Panama Canal route were obvious. Nevertheless in 1917 the French 4 masted bark Champigny rounded the Cape westbound loaded with Welsh coal. This made her the last sailing ship to load coal for San Francisco via the Cape.
As the First World War ended, traffic around the Cape lessened. It was limited principally to the transport of lumber from the Pacific Coast to South Africa, the transport of grain from Australia to Europe, and the transport of Chilean nitrate destined for European ports.
The Second World War restored to active duty four US, and two Canadian windjammers, which transported lumber to South Africa. The old four-masted schooner Vigilant was renamed City of Alberni in 1940. She made two voyages from Canada to Australia hauling lumber. On her next voyage she attempted to transport lumber again, this time to South Africa, but the stormy seas of the Horn forced her to turn back to Valparaiso for emergency repairs. The ship and the wood were sold and the crew returned home from Valparaiso in 1943. City of Alberni continued navigating under the Chilean Flag with the name Condor (Buque Velero). Her history will be related on another occasion.
These sailing ships marked the last of the tradition of the commercial "Cape Horn Windjammers" in North America. Nevertheless there are six large steel or iron-hulled sailing vessels preserved in the United States as ship museums. In Honolulu is Falls of Clyde, in San Francisco is Balclutha, in San Diego is the Wavertree. All of these ships have rounded Cape Horn and are destined to preserve the history of the brilliant era of the "Cape Horners"; before they were made obsolete by steamships and the Panama Canal.

In the decade between 1920 and 1930 a group of old sailors, in the majority British, founded the Cutty Sark Club in Winnipeg, Canada. In 1932 another group of Canadian mariners from British Columbia founded the Thermopylae Club. Each club had the goal of protecting and preserving the nautical history of British and Canadian sail. Their clubs, named after two of the most famous "China Clippers", gave honor to the commerce in tea made possible by these vessels.
Thermopylae sank in 1907 and Cutty Sark was acquired by a Portuguese shipowner who renamed her Ferreira. Later she was acquired by a Briton who, after 25 years of work, restored her to in her original condition as a typical example of the last China Clippers. Today she is displayed in drydock for viewing by the public at the museum of Greenwich, outside of London; where she is a great tourist attraction.
The Canadian clubs worked to keep alive the traditions of navigation under sail among the retired sailors who had founded them. They kept on by dedicating themselves to the creation of models of sailing ships, and with social events among their members.
In 1965 a group of retired German sailors who were naturalized Americans founded a new club, the Square Rigger Club, in San Francisco. The impulse for the foundation of this club was a three day visit by Captain Roberto Miethe to San Francisco. He had been one of the best known square rigger captains in Germany and Chile, and the last captain of the famous Potosi of the Flying 'P Line, which rounded Cape Horn numerous times. This ship was interned in Valparaiso in 1914, and was later given to France as war reparations. Finally she was acquired by the Chilean firm Gonzalez, Soffia y Cia who changed her name to Flora. She worked transporting cargo of Chilean nitrate to Hamburg and returned loaded with coal from Cardiff. On her first and last trip, fire in the cargo hold obliged the crew to abandon her off the Atlantic coast of Argentina, where she sank.
The Clubs referred to above have dissolved with time and the decease of their members. Their files and libraries were donated to different maritime museums in the United States and Canada.
The Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long-Course Cap Horniers, known as the AMICALE, or in English, the "Cape Horners", invited the Canadian and American groups of retired sailors to join their organization which was accomplished in 1993; thereby creating the American Section of the AICH. Currently that Section includes three categories of members: ordinary, extraordinary and sympathizers. With only one exception, all of these Canadians and Americans have participated in the commercial navigation of a sailing vessel.

The old ships are no longer. The sailors who drove them so hard from Europe, Africa and the Americas to round the Horn are very few. However the tradition is maintained in the maritime museums, in societies of nautical history, and on the pages of books which record with nostalgia this long run around the continent via the feared Cape Horn.


The Voyage (and Loss) of Great American

In 1990, I decided to try to link a long and dramatic voyage to students in classrooms and at home, little knowing how dramatic the voyage would ultimately be.
We needed a voyage that was long enough so that a school program could cover the multiple topics relevant to this multidisciplinary adventure. We needed one that was dramatic enough to get people's attention.
Knowing that a group of boats had attempted to break the old clipper ship record from New York to San Francisco, and two had, I investigated the record books and found another great record to tackle: San Francisco to Boston by way of Cape Horn. The great clipper Northern Light had set the record of 76 days 6 hours in 1853, during the Gold Rush era. Before the days of the Panama Canal or the trans-continental railroad, sailing ships were the fastest way to get from the east coast to the west coast, and vice versa.
I wanted to use as many distribution mechanisms as possible to reach as broadly as possible. We worked with the Mame Reynolds who had set up newsletters to classes for the BOC Race and would append information from us to those newsletters. We worked with the American Lung Association (because of my asthma) who would print information from the voyage in their newsletters. We set up a 900# (couldn't afford an 800#!) and determined to call in by radiotelephone every day and leave a message about conditions aboard so that people could hear in our voices exactly how the voyage was going.
Steve Pettengill joined me to sail the 60 foot long by 40 foot wide trimaran (three hulls) Great American. Steve had sailed aboard her with Georgs Kolesnikovs when they set the record from New York to San Francisco in 1989. We departed with a terrific story by Bob Dotson on NBC Nightly News on October 22, 1990.
Slowly inching ahead of the phantom ship Northern Light, my mother had found an abstract of her logbook, we streaked south for Cape Horn and Boston. we made all our daily reports to the 900# and delivered information to Mame for her newsletters. All went according to plan until we got to the Southern Ocean, at 40 deg South latitude.
There disaster struck. The detailed version can be found in a story that I wrote for SAIL Magazine entitled "Capsize at Cape Horn". A shorter version follows here.
The usually stormy Southern Ocean became wilder than usual. Leading up to Thanksgiving Day, seas gradually grew from 25 feet (trough to crest) to 65 feet high. Under bare poles (no sails set) Great American was surging to 18-19 knots (most sailboats sail at about 6-8 knots).
Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, 400 miles west of Cape Horn, Great American turned sideways on a wave, and was slowly rolled upside down. Standing now on the ceiling, in 41 degree water up to our knees, we got into survival suits (large ovesized neoprene wet suits) and set off an emergency beacon.
An hour later, a wave that must have been far larger than the rest, atruck Great American and must have thrown her. I was launched upward, my head struck the floor overhead, and I was knocked out for about 15-20 seconds. When I came to I was underwater. Finding something with my feet, I pushed off and came to the surface. Now we were neck deep in water, inside Great American's cabin, and the boat was upright. Fortunately, Steve was OK, and I was OK. No one has ever heard of a capsized multihull being re-righted by a wave.
The beacon had worked, and 15 hours later (we expected a wait of 3-7 days, and that was if the beacon had worked), the New Zealand Pacific, the largest refrigerated containership in the world, on the trade route from New Zealand to Europe by way of Cape Horn, found us, directed to our position by satellite telephone by Coast Guard New York. Captain Dave Watt was awesome as he brought his 815 foot long, 62,000 ton ship, rolling through 60 degrees herself, alongside the awash Great American at 3:30 am in the dark, and Steve and I were given a chance to jump for a rope ladder hung down from the side of the ship.
We successfully made the leap, climbed for our lives to get out of the way should the trimaran surge back to crush us, and got inside the pilot door. We were safe, but it was heartbreaking to watch the valiant trimaran Great American, with her bow held high and proud, wash down the side of the ship into darkness, never to be seen again. She had been our third shipmate, we had guided her, and she had defended us.
Aboard New Zealand Pacific, we kept our 900# recordings going to inform people of the details of the disaster, and to pass information to Mame for her school newsletters.
We travelled to Vlissingen, Holland, and disembarked, eager to get home to New England, but sad to leave the ship. The crew had been our saviours, and were now our friends.
In the months that followed, I had a chance to visit a dozen of the classes that had followed our journey. The young students were so excited!
Although the program had been abruptly abbreviated, a real-life experience had been brought into their classroom, and they loved it. It had captured their imagination, and they had learned about geography, history, math, nutrition, weather, and wildlife during the process. As well, they had seen that our preparation, planning and teamwork had saved our lives.
Our linkage programs to young students had worked. Now if we could organize it better, provide more volume and timeliness of information, we could REALLY make a difference!
I determined to try again.

Owls of the Cape Horn Archipelago

November 26, 2001
Navarino Island, southern Chile&shyp;Tucked between Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, this island is a luxuriant landscape of forested mountains, mists, glaciers, and dramatic fjords. Here you will find the southernmost forest ecosystem in the world, full of endemic species. This rich, old-growth forest supports the rufous-legged owl (Strix rufipes), which like its northern counterpart, the northern spotted owl, may nest only in the cavities of ancient trees. And like the northern spotted owl, these owls and other inhabitants of Chile's old-growth southern beech (Nothofagus spp.) forests are endangered by global threats-everything from logging by international timber companies to the hole in the ozone layer. Indeed, forest products are now Chile's second-largest export after copper, and southern Chile is the site that Boise Cascade has chosen to build a billion-dollar chip mill. You can join a multidisciplinary project to assess the habitat needs of rufous-legged owls before their habitat is irrevocably altered.
You will help plant physiologist Dr. Francisca Massardo (Parque Etnobotánico Omora), ecologist Ricardo Rozzi (University of Connecticut), and biologist/writer Leonard Yannielli (Naugatuck Valley Community College) assess the distribution, abundance, and habitat needs of rufous-legged owls on Navarino Island. At night and in the early mornings, you will hike the lush forest trails known to Charles Darwin and Nobel-prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Using taped owl calls to stimulate owl response-calls, you will survey owl populations, recording additional environmental data along the way. By day, you will return to owl response sites to take forest measurements, such as tree diameter, core samples of the venerable trees, and document each site photographically and artistically. You may also try to assess if the owls nest in secondary forest or use hawk's nests as well as ancient trees. Your data will help inform land managers about the habitat requirements of rufous-legged owls and other old-growth forest species. Your efforts will feed the larger goal of integrating human values and cultures as well as ecological studies through a series of projects that build on each other, including a restoration project on Navarino Island involving local schoolteachers and students. With that goal in mind, Massardo and Rozzi helped create the Ethnobotanical Park Omora on Navarino Island in 1999.

Sing and heave, and heave and sing

O, around Cape Horn we are bound to go
To me hoodah! To me hoodah!
Around Cape Horn through the sleet and snow,
To me hoodah, hoodah, day!
Blow boys blow, for Califor-ni-o
There's plenty of gold so I've been told
On the banks of Sacramento.

For full song go to:

  Exploring The "Uttermost Part Of The Earth"
Antarctica, Cape Horn & Patagonia

Puerto Williams, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile
Phone:56-61-621010, Phone/Fax:5661-621092

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fifteen day tour combination of Tierra Del Fuego
and of rounding Cape Horn is suggested, if you
have time, in order to maximize your visit here.

The glaciers and fjords of Tierra Del Fuego are
extremely beautiful.

              "All men dream: but not equally.
              Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses
              of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity,
              but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
              for they may act on their dream with open eyes,
              to make it possible."

              T. E. Lawrence

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