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Cape Horn is featured in the January, 2003

Long Drag Chanty "Around Cape Horn we've got to go"

Around Cape Horn we've got to go,
To me way, hay, o-hio!
Around Cape Horn to Calleao
A long time ago!

2. 'Round Cape Horn where the stiff winds blow,
To me way, hay, o-hio!
'Round Cape Horn where there's sleet and snow.
A long time ago!

3. I wish to God I'd never been born
To me way, hay, o-hio!
To drag my carcass around Cape Horn.
A long time ago!

Cruising Cape Horn

by Fraser Heston,
 (Feb 1990)

Four men realize their lifelong dream in the world’s most terrifying and awe-inspiring waters.

There is something magnificent about Cape Horn. It is a place of elemental power, of primordial energy; wind, sea, rock, ice, rain, sun. All in perpetual motion and conflict, and also in perfect balance. To navigate a small craft around the Cape and through the islands of the archipelago immediately to the north of it is one of the most challenging and exciting experiences a yachtsman can ask for. Cape Horn. Cabo de Hornos. Cape Stiff. The name resonates with legend.

A year ago my friend and colleague Billy Graham (the film director, not the evangelist) phoned with a mad idea: Billy and film producer Roger Gimbel had formed a society for the stated purpose of sailing around Cape Horn. It would be called, for some reason, Sociedad de Cabo de Hornos. There were two founding members: Roger and Billy -- a couple of very salty and experienced sailors. I thought it was the finest idea I had ever heard of and instantly became a third member. Yacht broker Carlos Echeverria (those who have studied the Mexican revolution will remember his grandmother) was the fourth.

We researched and planned and bought Sailing Directions, books, and the entire Patagonia catalog. For a year we schemed, and Carlos found us the perfect vessel. The steel-hulled sloop Pelagic would be available for a one-time charter in the Tierra del Fuego/Cape Horn area in January/February of '89. Her co-owner, Skip Novak, had just handed her over to partner Phil Wade in South Africa after an expedition to the Antarctic (see YACHTING, Jan.'89).

Pelagic had been hatched from the dreams of Phil and Skip while they were bashing their way around the world in the last Whitbread Race on Drum. An ideal boat for the Southern Ocean, Pelagic was carefully designed by Patrick Banfield with a heavy lifting keel for shoal waters and ice; simple ultra-strong sloop rig; fuji-battened main; clean, flush decks with a small permanent deckhouse over the hatchway; and a double main hatch. We agreed to leave from Ushuaia and our route would be determined by the weather and the vagaries of the Chilean Navy, which (owing to the on-going cold war with Argentina) controls the movements of all maritime traffic in these waters.

Phil Wade and first mate Yosie Katalan met us at the Albatross Hotel in Ushuaia. You can tell that these men are serious bluewater sailors as soon as they walk in the room. Their hands are thick and every finger a marlin-spike, their oceanic tans deep and their manners quiet, confident, full of wit and grace. Phil has sailed more than three hundred thousand miles (this figure staggers me). Yosie, a submariner in the Israeli Navy, had taken a holiday from his job as captain of a 75' sailing yacht in Turkey. I wondered if these guys ever did anything mundane, like golf or tennis, on their day off. Probably not.

With this ship's company, we cast off our mooring lines at Ushuaia and weighed our anchors and set sail for Cape Horn. Phil's standard anchoring system uses two, 100-meter warps, shackled to wire strops on bollards ashore and three anchors: a big CQR shackled in line with a bigger Danforth on 100 meters of one-inch hawser. It took about an hour for us green hands to get all this gear stowed and something less to rig it each night but it served us well. We had all read the stories by Slocum, Roth, Bjelke, et al, of getting blown out of anchorages.

(L-R) Billy Graham, Fraser Heston, Carlos Echeverria and Roger Gimbel

Our first port of call was Puerto Williams, Chile, about 25 miles down the Beagle Channel. We had 30 knots of westerly to push us down there under full sail and pleasant sunny skies. This amount of wind proved to be about the average, though on occasion we would have plenty more. The Beagle Channel cuts through the tip of South America on an east-west line, cutting the main island of Tierra del Fuego off from the smaller group of islands. It is one of the most spectacular stretches of water in the world. Great jagged peaks rise right up out of the slate-gray sea on either side of the fjord, serious dark pinnacles of black rock stark against the white of permanent snowfields. The highest peaks are 8,000 feet above the sea; lenticular clouds were flying like banners off these, testament to the howling winds that perpetually blow at that altitude, stratospheric gales which, occasionally, stoop to touch the sea.

Puerto Williams is a checkpoint for Customs and Immigration and a Chilean naval base, although aside from a few gunboats and an old World War II frigate sunk at her moorings you would hardly know it. Pastel-colored houses straggle up from the shore toward the dark, timbered flank of the mountains of Isla Navarino.

Naval responsibilities are taken very seriously here in Chile and they are twofold: the security of the country and the security of the yachtsmen who are welcome to sail here. Yachts are required to report in daily to various control points in the islands and also whenever they pass any port. Certain bodies of water are prohibited, such as Canal Cockburn and Murray Channel, as is anchoring in certain coves. Commandant of the port, Teijente Jordan explained to me that they are genuinely concerned for the safety of the yachts that cruise Chile's treacherous waters. "Last year there were more than 80 yachts... even un loco windsurfer!" Given the truly awful weather the region is famous for, it is amazing that they let anybody down there at all. As it is, you must pass inspecion before you are given el permiso for the Cape.

Our departure from Puerto Williams was delayed by the arrival of Howard Rice, the first American to kayak around the Horn alone, who came cheerfully paddling over to us for breakfast. He had been battered by 90-knot winds and huge waves, had capsized off Wollaston Island and crashed on a rocky beach.

We left later that afternoon and motored down the eastern edge of Isla Navarino toward Caleta Yawl in a flat calm and a cold rain. The temperature was usually cool, averaging in the low forties and fifties during the day. We were well prepared with synthetic long underwear, layers of pile pants and synchilla sweaters, wet-suit gloves, ski goggles, seaboots and heavy-duty foul weather gear. During the cruise we wore various combinations of the basic trousseau but most of the time when we were on deck we shamelessly donned the whole shooting match. After a day or so, we got used to dressing like polar explorers and perhaps we also got used to the cold. In any event, it never dampened our enjoyment.

Since it was calm, we were able to observe an amazing variety of birds and mammals in the eastern end of the Beagle Channel: Blackbrowed albatross soared effortlessly, gliding on the face of the waves, then turning and wheeling up into the steely sky. Brown skuas and black and white cormorants dove, squawking, into the sea. Small, timid Magellan penguins ducked under the water at our approach and swam off, appalled. Antarctic terns spun overhead. A big bull fur seal bellowed on a rock in mid-channel. Phil served an elegant lunch below, replete with salad, cheeses, sausages, chilled South African wine and a rich heady brew he optimistically termed "goose soup."

The day we rounded Cape Horn dawned crystal clear, calm and cold. We motored through Paso Goree, past Isla Picton and into the infamous Bahia Nassau in warming sunshine. If you stayed out of the wind you could sunbathe with your shirt off. We had been warned about Bahia Nassau, but it was smooth and glassy, with only a hint of ominous rolling swell coming off the Southern Ocean to remind us where we were.

Having heard all the stories of the most fearsome cape in the world and read all the books about the ghosts of Cape Horn we were so full of Cape Horn legend that I, for one, simply did not know what to expect. I remembered Sir Francis Chichester's quote from Gypsy Moth Circles the Horn: "The seas around Cape Horn had a reputation unique among all oceans of the world . . . . Off the Horn there are gales Force 8 or more one day in four in spring, and one day in eight in summer . . . the waves are likely to be 60 feet high."

What we did not expect was flat calm. As the day went on in eerie calm, we all became apprehensive that either we were in for an almighty blow or, ignominy of ignominies, the Sociedad de Cabo de Hornos would have to motor around Cape Stiff. Fortunately, we were spared this disgrace. A brisk 25-knot westerly sprang up as we sailed into the desolate Wollaston group, through Paso Bravo, past the tall mossy pinnacles looming over the channels, barren and windswept and devoid of any vegetation higher than a shrub. We hoisted all plain sail and sailed close-hauled out between Isla Herschel and Isla Deceit and there, fine on the starboard bow, lay Cape Horn.

My heart began to pound with excitement as the castellated pinnacles of that mysterious island came into view. It looked like an island out of a fantasy, something painted by Frazetta. It was astounding. I had read some disgruntled accounts by mariners who sailed past this fabled cape well out to sea, who were disappointed by the appearance of the actual item. Well, either they were too far off or they had hearts of stone. Nothing I had read could have prepared me for the grandeur of it, both in myth and reality.

Great winged albatross flew wheeling over the rocks and booming surf, screaming and crying out in the wind, turning and soaring past us in exaltation, fully at home and happy in this awesome place. We tacked along the southern flank of the island, closing within a hundred yards or so of the rocks, and then sailed easily past the looming bulk of the Cape itself, which towered darkly above the bright heaving sea, the official end of the earth.

Roger stood on the foredeck and whooped ecstatically. Phil popped the champagne. We cheered and drank in the cold heady wine, taking turns at the helm as we beat our way around the Horn.

As we rounded the windward shore, sailing between dragon's teeth rocks breaking with surf, a black squall began to fill the northwestern horizon. We anchored in a little no-name bight on the eastern side, in blinding rain and 35 knots of wind. As we sipped single-malt whisky and glacier ice that Phil had picked up at the far end of the Beagle Channel, a gigantic, complete double rainbow appeared to leeward. Snug in the heated cabin below we tucked in to a feast of risotto parmesan (prepared by guest-chef Billy), Phil's Fish Pie and a rich, red Argentinean wine. Roger strung his bipole antenna to the spreaders. "This is KB6AVR, KB6AVR... C-Q, C-Q," he intoned into the crackling ether, then proudly, "KB6AVR, Cape Horn, Chile!." and was pleased to contact a ham in Los Angeles who kindly patched him in to his young son, Barney.

The next morning we shifted anchorages and took the Zodiac ashore on Isla Hornos. We were met by two of the lightkeepers, who seemed glad to see us. We had coffee and freshly baked biscuits with the lightkeepers and gave these friendly fellows a bottle of wine, a New York Yacht Club burgee and a Sociedad polo shirt. After lunch we signed their log and they stamped ours with the postal stamp. They took us on a tour through the swampy wilds of the island, inhabited largely by tuxedo-clad penguins.

That afternoon we had a long fast reach in boisterous winds back to Wollaston and a long beat up to and through Bravo Channel. We sailed into the long deep inlet called Bahia Scourfield, which is entirely surrounded by great green peaks and looks more like Bora Bora than Cape Horn. We hiked up through the dinosaur land in wind and sun and rain and hail, climbing past a waterfall to a fantastic lake at the head of the valley. At the lake we all lay exhausted on the spongy ground and watched the williwaws blast the surface of the water into white foam. One bowled me over, then gusted down the valley to knock Pelagic over 10-15 degrees and continued on to Antarctica. I had no idea how strong these winds were.

Over the next few days we beat our way westward up the Beagle Channel against the howling prevailing wind to see the glaciers at the western end. We stood short watches and I had a wild stint at the helm, steering under quadruple-reefed main and storm jib and, later, just jib. The anemometer was touching fifty. At the time, I saw an albatross soaring along the top of a wave, perfectly at ease with the elements, at home in the gale. It occurred to me that this creature was devised to be at one with wind and sea, made expressly to thrive in conditions that man finds, at the least, somewhat appalling. The albatross soars effortlessly over waves that sweep our decks, the perfect synergism of design and environment, to which, as sailors, we can only aspire.

Fifty-five miles (and almost as many tacks) from Puerto Williams, we pulled into Caleta Olla, a snug cove at the foot of Hollandia glacier. Phil led us on another of "Phil Wade's Tierra del Fuego Survival Hikes" to the lake at the foot of the glacier - what became an overland, hell-in-the-swamp epic. But that night we were rewarded with a barbecue on the beach: freshly gathered mussels steamed over the fire in their own shells with butter and garlic sauce, an entire sheep that Phil had thoughtfully stowed in his deep freeze, and a huge jug of Chilean rotgut wine.

The glaciers slid past us, more spectacular and more frequent the farther west we sailed up the Brazo Noroeste, the northeast arm of the Beagle Channel. They all had international names: Espania, Francia, Hollandia, Romanch, Italia. Big unnamed and unclimbed peaks loomed up higher and higher on either side, plastered with snow. We shoved off Romanche, the most spectacular so far in front of an astounding river of blue-green ice, which tumbled chaotically out of the sky and down the slick rock face.

That night we anchored snug with lines ashore in Seno Garibaldi, a huge fjord with a startling gigantic glacier at its head. It revealed itself before us in the last fading pink alpenglow filling up the entire sky with its big imposing peaks and guarded flanks, cloud banners streaming off its summit. In the morning, the entire sound was choked with ice, the wind having changed direction.

Pelagic's steel hull broke through the pack ice and we motored on, stopping to photograph a sea lion rookery where four or five big slug-like bulls roared dominance over their harems of 30 or 40 females and little wet black nursing pups - all barking and honking away happily and making a terrific stench. Three separate glaciers joined here, calving icebergs into the bay with a booming resonance every ten minutes or so and sending a low swell across the sound. Pelagic made her way dead slow through the bergy bits right up to the blue face of the biggest glacier, nudging flows out of the way with her resounding steel hull.

That night I fell asleep to the sound of my old friend the wind rising in the rigging, and woke to the sound of icebergs grating softly against the hull.

On the way back to Ushuaia we were rewarded with more glaciers, more mussels (steamed and eaten in the sunny cockpit and washed down with cold white wine and Mozart on the deck speaker). We found another beautiful anchorage (Awaikhirr, one of the forbidden coves, but we were kindly given permission to spend the night there) and had a speedy spinnaker run down the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams, where we had to clear customs for Argentina.

The last trick at the helm fell to me. We were beating against the westerly gale, making the final leg up the channel toward Ushuaia. The wind freshened and backed northerly, which allowed us to scrape by the rocks at the entrance to Ushuaia Bay. We slanted in on a long board, Pelagic blasting along close-hauled in 45 knots of wind and spray with two reefs in the main and the full staysail stiff, stable and fast, like the albatross, at home in her element.

I have never been so happy reveling in the pure joy of sail. It was a proper end to the first Sociedad de Cabo de Hornos cruise.

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.


A five day itinerary of Cape Horn

1.   Puerto Williams, Chile (54°56'S / 67°36'W) Beautiful view from the plane across the Beagle Channel and glaciers -The wreck of the 'Micalvi' is our jetty and provides at the same time all harbor facilities: pub and shower - here are a handful of boats tied off already, getting ready for Antarctica, Cape Horn or just coming down from the Chilean Channels - Yamana Indians - Martin Gusinde Museum - last shower-you choose your bunk and get familiar with the boat - sailing East on the Beagle Channel - we pass 'Isla dos Lobos': Sea Lions and Cormorants.

2./3. DAY ROUNDING CAPE HORN (55°50'S / 67°18'W) "The classic aspect of Cape Horn is the cliff face to the southern headland. Well below its summit, the old lighthouse I saw burning back in 1977, still stands, but shines no more below the clouds. On exposed rocks, a mile offshore, the sea breaks heavily even on a calm day, as the rollers coming in from the Southern Ocean pile up on shelf water, 75 miles away to the south-west." " Cape of the ultimate challenge" - many destinies and catastrophes have taken place here - symbol for the end of the world. - visit to the island: Chilean navy control post - passport stamps and post - chapel - monument - wildlife - deep tussock grass.

This will most probably be a tough day, the sea is very rough, we get short waves, we get changing local winds, its cold and wet - we have to fight - last radio contact with navy patrol station at 'Cabo de Hornos', they will contact Puerto Williams and have our names registered: we have rounded Cape Horn - the sea contains plenty of life: Commerson- & Dusky Dolphins, Seals. Wandering Albatross, Condors, Giant Petrels, Skuas will follow us. We deserve a quite rest at caleta Martial.

4. Castle Cove  (Puerto Castillo) on the Historic Murray Channel, where Darwin and Fitzroy sailed- dealing some fruit and flour with some fishermen for more than enough King Crabs, Centollas, to feed the whole crew.

5.. DAY PUERTO WILLIAMS /USHUAIA At the navy control post we can pick up our Cape Horn certificate - we can make a splendid trekking up to the 'Pico de Bandera' from where we get a tremendous view across the Beagle Channel - we exchange our experiences with the other yachts around - yachtlife.

End of January, 2003
issue of the Patagonian News

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