A place of many storms, Cape Horn presents
a legendary challenge to sailing ships in passage.
PAINTING: "BOUND FOR CAPE HORN"
painted by Anton Otto Fischer (1882-1962)
The Chapel at Cape Horn is named Stella Maris, "Star of the Sea,"
dedicated to those captains and crews from all over the world, who have
made the long journey around Cape Horn, and who have lost their lives in the process.
for the South Seas, Augustus Dalrymple
brought together the collective of his
thinking, experience and research to propose
there existed a large, heretofore unknown to
the Europeans continent somewhere in the
region of the south Pacific. He reasoned an
imbalance of the known oceanic mass with the
known land mass in the southern regions by a
ration of about 8 to 1, indicated a large
continent to be found. His writings of the
known state of the Pacific and his reasons
for expecting more caught the attention of
the geography and political elements of
As the planet Venus was to pass across the
disk of the sun (in the view from Earth) on 3
June 1769, the Royal Society of Britain
determined to make a world observation of the
event. One viewing station was to be from an
island (Otaheite) in the South Pacific and
Dalrymple was chosen to lead the expedition,
the Admiralty providing a ship. However, when
Dalrymple insisted that he have command and
control of the ship, the Navy said No and it
came to pass that a young officer by the name
of Cook was inserted to control the vessel.
Dalrymple declined to participate in the
expedition under the circumstances. The ship
was the Endeavor Bark and Cook was 40 years
There is much to be said about preparations,
influences, concerns, and capabilities in the
setting of this venture, but two things are
notable in this abbreviated account.
* Though the chronometer had been invented
and was available to the Admiralty, Cook was
not carrying one on this voyage. * Cook was
insistent that individuals of his crew would
not succumb or become incapacitated by what
he called the sickness, or scurvy.
The ship's crew included the accomplished
botanist, Joseph Banks, and the capable
naturalist, Daniel Solander, as well as
Charles Green, an assistant at the Greenwich
Observatory. A natural history artist by the
name of Sydney Parkinson, was also part of
the scientific entourage. Departure from
England was from Plymouth on 26 August 1768.
Enroute, Cook took the direction of the
Strait of Le Maire, then passed Cape Horn and
into the Pacific on 27 January 1769. After
refreshing at several islands along the way,
Cook anchored at Tahiti on 13 April 1769. In
the passage, he noted no ocean currents
indicative of nearby land mass. He found no
reason to believe a great land mass (Terra
Australis) existed in the region he passed.
SEAWITCH rounding Cape Horn with a Nor'easter
History of the Sea Witch
by Smith & Dimon in their yards on Fourth
Street, New York City in 1846. Her plans were
done by J. W. Griffiths for owners Howland
and Aspinwall, merchants and shippers from
New York. Griffiths was the first architect
to employ models for testing and scientific
principles in designing ships. His Sea Witch
design was an innovation in her lines and
The Sea Witch was launched on December 8,
1846, and became famous for her record runs
to and from China. There's no doubt that the
Sea Witch was the fastest vessel afloat at
the time. Authorities differ in which was the
first clipper ship, but some say the Sea
Witch was the first true clipper.
She was small with an overall length of 192'
and a 43' beam of about 908 tons, compared to
the 2000 ton clippers which were built later.
In spite of her smaller spars and sails she
established records which have never been
beaten by sailing ships. They say that her
lines were never improved upon in clippers
which followed, but their lines were merely
variations of the famous Sea Witch.
Captain Robert Waterman commanded the Sea
Witch on most of her record runs. He was
famous for his skillful piloting which pushed
his ship to new records. From her launching
until the untimely wreck off the coast of
Cuba in 1856, the Sea Witch established new
records. Her two fastest runs from Canton,
China to New York stand this day as all time
records for sailing ships. She was famous for
fast runs to California, being the first ship
to sail from New York to San Francisco,
'round Cape horn, in less than one hundred
he Sea Witch sailed on her first voyage,
bound for China, December 23, 1846, went to
sea in a strong northwest gale, and made a
remarkably fine run southward, arriving off
the harbour of Rio Janerio in twenty-five
days, where she exchanged signals with the
shore and sent letters and New York
newspapers by a vessel inward bound. She made
the passage from New York to Hong Kong in 104
days, and arrived at New York from Canton on
July 25, 1847 in 81 days, making the run from
Anjer Point to Sandy Hook in 62 days.
The Sea Witch's career was less than ten
years, by all odds a most remarkable period
in the history of sail. Before her brief life
ended, she had established the majority of
sailing records that still survive.
on her maiden voyage sailing in the China Sea.
The dolphins are heralding the excitement of this new clipper.
Satellite view of Cape Horn showing Antarctica and Faulkland islands
take on average about six months without stopping. The Cape
reaches into high latitudes where severe weather could catch
a ship and tear it to pieces so trips were usually planned to
round the Cape during the milder months in the Southern
Hemisphere. Few who were familiar with the risks attempted
the Cape from May to September.
Trade, war and weather would sometimes take ships the
longer route to the Atlantic via Asia and thence through the
Indian Ocean and the safer Cape of Good Hope transit.
But most ships traveled the shorter route via Cape Horn
from 1820 to 1849. Thus, the Cape Horn route was the
most commonly used mail route.
Drawing of one of the many shipwrecks off Cape Horn