Some History of Cape Horn and
Tierra Del Fuego, is featured in the
June, 2003 ISSUE OF THE PATAGONIAN NEWS
The prison and penitentiary for recurrent convicts in Ushuaia, was
created to populate the southern lands through a system of colonies. In
this way, with the penitentiary as its penal epicenter, a small village
began to grow. This village, Ushuaia, was founded by Commodore Augusto
Lasserre on October 12th, 1884. The penitentiary functioned during just
over half a century (1896 - 1947), and among it's best known convicts
were the anarchist Simon Radowitsky, and Cayetano Santos Godino ( "El
Petiso orejudo" -Stout with large ears-). The writer Ricardo Rojas was
confined to the Ushuaia Penitentiary in 1934 for political reasons
after the "coup d'etat" of 1930 when President Hipólito Yrigoyen
was ousted. Although there is no documentation to prove it, it is
believed that the famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel spent some time in
the Ushuaia Penitentiary cells.
Exhibited is clothing used by the guards and the convicts of the
Ushuaia Penitentiary, which covered just over half a century of Tierra
del Fuego's history.
Presence of "Julio Popper" in Tierra del Fuego
One of the most interesting happenings in the history of Tierra del
Fuego was the presence of "Julio Popper", a Rumanian engineer. After
having traveled during his youth through different parts of the world (
Egypt, Japan, China, India, Siberia, United States, Cuba, Mexico and
Brazil), he arrived in Argentina in 1885, and in 1888 he came to Tierra
del Fuego, settling at "El Páramo" (bare and cold region), on
the north east coast near San Sebastián Bay. There he built and
worked gold mines. As an example of the power and the influence he had
in this area, he coined his own money and stamps, and had his own small
army uniformed as Prussian soldiers to defend himself from marauders
who came, attracted by the desire for gold.
La Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego (SETF)
The First Fifty Years (1893--1943)
[This summary is based largely on an authorized history of the company, published in 1943.]
Origins: The inspiration for creating the largest sheep-ranching
enterprise in Southern Patagonia is due to José Nogueira, one of
the early settlers in Punta Arenas. In the year 1880, only 3 years
after Henry Reynard introduced the first flock of sheep from the
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) into Magallanes, Nogueira brought
another consignment of sheep to Pecket Harbour. Sheep were sheared
annually, and their wool was graded, baled and shipped overseas, where
the fleeces commanded high prices.
Around this date, Chile and Argentina began to explore the interior of
the island of Tierra del Fuego, and found large expanses of
grass-covered steppe, similar to the "pampa" north of the Magellan
Strait. The success of his ranching enterprise convinced Nogueira and
others of the economic potential of these "empty lands". In 1889, both
he and his brother-in-law, Mauricio Braun, obtained concessions of land
in Tierra del Fuego from the Chilean government, measuring 180,000 and
170,000 hectares (ha) respectively. Then, in 1890, Nogueira
successfully petitioned, for a 20-year concession of 1,000,000ha (over
3,400 square miles), also in Tierra del Fuego. The authorizing
legislation required that the operating company be established within 3
Birth of the Company: Raising the share capital proved difficult. The
scale of the operation was unprecedented, and the long-term
profitability of sheep ranching was uncertain. Locally, there were
simply not sufficient investment funds (as late as 1895, the region had
only 5,170 inhabitants). In Santiago, the Territory (until recently a
penal colony) was essentially unknown. Overseas investors were
reluctant to invest in the region until the Chilean and Argentinean
governments solved their border disputes. Then, in 1891, Chile was
unsettled by a civil war, which led to the resignation of President
Balmaceda. Finally, early in 1893, Nogueira died.
It was Nogueira's widow, Sara Braun, in conjunction with her brother
Mauricio Braun, who led the project to fruition. The latter lobbied
successfully with the Peter H. McClelland (British), general manager in
Chile for the powerful trading house of Duncan,
Fox & Co., and the necessary backing was found in
And so, the "Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego" was legally
constituted in Valparaíso on August 31st, 1893, with Peter
McClelland as President, and Mauricio Braun as Director General,
operating from Punta Arenas. The authorized share capital was
CH$1,250,000, of which the largest initial shareholders were all from
Magallanes - Sara Braun (14%), Mauricio Braun (11%) and José
First Operations: Straight away, in the summer of 1893-94, Mauricio
Braun set about establishing the Company's first "estancia" at "Caleta
Josefina", on the north shore of Useless Bay (Bahía
Inútil). Like much of the island, therewas no local
infrastructure: there were roads to be made; fences to be laid out, and
houses, sheds, barns etc. to be built. All construction materials
(much, of course, previously imported from overseas), had to be
transported by sea from Punta Arenas: this was dangerous, and some
precious supplies were lost.
Despite the hazards and setbacks, a good start was made; and in 1894
the Company appointed Alexander A. Cameron (New Zealander) as Manager
("Administrador") of Estancia Caleta Josefina. The same year, work
began on Estancia San Sebastián, on the east coast of the
island, with Norman G. Wood (British?) as its appointed Manager.
Paid-up share capital arrived slowly, constraining the Company's
ability to acquire additional livestock. By 1897, however, both
Estancias were fully operational, with a total of 72,000 sheep; and a
modest dividend was declared.
The Human Cost: Sadly, this development had a darker side. In keeping
with the expansionist, colonial attitudes of the era, the licitation
process had taken no account of the indigenous peoples, whose
traditional lands were to be developed. Friction with the local tribes
was inevitable, and predictably unequal: they were viewed as intruders
and obstacles to business success. To protect the newly arrived sheep,
natives were displaced: some were gathered by missionaries into
reservations, while others were killed outright by bounty hunters. Like
native groups elsewhere, they succumbed rapidly to the overwhelming
pressures: and public opinion held the Company largely responsible for
Profitability and Expansion: Economically, the Company was demonstrably
successful, and its operations continued to expand. By 1901, it owned
216,000 sheep, 4,500 cattle and 1,300 horses. All the original shares
had been taken up, and the Board prepared for further growth, by
authorizing an increase of share capital to CH$5,000,000. It also
diversified operations by building a fat-rendering plant
("grasería") at Rio McClelland (near to Ea. San
Sebastián), with capacity for 40,000 sheep annually.
By this time, the economic returns of sheep ranching had been amply
demonstrated throughout Southern Patagonia, and investor interest was
high. In 1905-06, the Chilean Government held a successful series of
public auctions of lands in continental Patagonia and in Ultima
Esperanza. More than half-way through its 20-year concession, land
ownership was increasingly important to the long-term existence of
Company. In these auctions, and via subsequent private purchases, the
Company acquired ownership of 380,000ha outside its leased tract in
Tierra del Fuego.
Recognizing that the primary market for its products was Great Britain,
and wishing to avoid the uncertainties of exchange rate fluctuations,
the Company redenominated its share capital in pounds sterling. Also in
1905, and doubtless aware of the importance of good contacts within the
financial and political establishment, it established its Commercial
Management office at Valparaíso, with Francisco Valdés
Vergara as Director General; and an Agency in Santiago. The new
position of General Manager ("Administrador General"), stationed in
Punta Arenas, was awarded to Alexander Cameron, who held it until 1915.
Growth by Acquisition: In 1906, the Company purchased the "Sociedad La
Riqueza de Magallanes". By this operation, it acquired the concessions
on 440,000ha of productive lands in Tierra del Fuego and Chilean
Patagonia, plus another 600,000ha of marginal economic value in Isla
In 1906-07, 106,000ha in Ultima Esperanza were bought from private
owners. These lands, together with 66,000ha acquired later in
Argentina, were the foundation of what would later become the Estancia
"Fuentes de Coyle", in Santa Cruz province. [Two further land purchases
were made in Argentina, in 1933 and 1940 respectively, totally 141,000
For long-term business stability, it was important to reduce the
proportion of leased land. The 1910 acquisition of "Sociedad Ganadera
de Magallanes" furthered this objective by adding 349,000ha of owned
land, plus a second fat-rendering and meat-packing plant, at Punta
Delgada. The costs of this purchase were met through an increase of
share capital to £1,500,000. The Company now operated 2,900,000
ha, of which one third was owned outright: 750,000ha in Chile,
181,000ha in Argentina. By 1910, "The Explotadora" had become the
largest, and the most powerful, ranching company in the region.
The Years of Maturity: Holding Ground: The original concession of lands
in Tierra del Fuego was set to expire in 1913.Despite rising pressures
to speed up the process of colonization by making more land available
to private individuals, the government renewed the Company's lease on
1,370,000ha for a further 15 years. There were conditions, however. The
Company was now required to pay a rent; they had to agree to make
available, on demand, 200,000ha for sale to small landowners; and at
least 80% of the share capital had to be Chilean-owned.
Then, as later, popular pressures in Chile were strong to reduce the
power of the traditional "hacienda" landowners. In the centre of the
country, land reform was justifiable both on social and economic
grounds. But the "Explotadora" (a name which, unfortunately, suggests
"exploitation"), consistently maintained that this politico-economic
model was inappropriate for southern Patagonia: the weather was too
harsh, and the soils were poor. A family in the Central Valley, with
rich soil and a benign climate, might subsist comfortably on a few
hectares. But, in a region where the stock-raiser needs to allocate 1-2
hectares per sheep, only ranches in the tens of thousands of hectares
are viable. Evidence was presented to show that the typical small
operator, working lands previously leased to the Company, had poorer
yields of meat and wool, was unprofitable and (worst of all) degraded
the land's carrying capacity by over-grazing. Undoubtedly, lack of
capital played a part: more so, perhaps, there was a lack of business
and technical experience.
In any case, as evidence of sound livestock management (Corriedale sheep), the upward trend in the following table is obvious:
per capita wool yield (lbs.)
head of sheep yield
1893-94 6,930 5.79
1903-04 420,204 6.99
1913-14 1,163,968 7.55
1924-25 1,213,178 8.26
1934-35 1,293,873 8.69
1942-43 1,154,728 9.95
In 1924, four years prior to the expiration of the Tierra del Fuego
lease, the Chilean government found itself in urgent fiscal
difficulties (perhaps linked to the collapse of the salitre market). At
this date, the Company owned no fewer than 1,860,000 sheep, and had
large cash reserves: there was an opportunity for mutual benefit. A
commission was despatched to Magallanes to review the ranching
operations: it concluded that large companies were the best model, and
recommended renewal of the existing leases with the "Explotadora" and
the "Sociedad Ganadera Gente Grande". Making a full rental pre-payment
of £1,204,000 (about half of its reserves), the Company was
granted a 16-year extension. In return, it agreed to cede a further
226,000ha in 1928. The Ponsonby concession (600,000ha in Isla Riesco)
was also returned to the state in 1930.
In 1938, six years prior to the expiration of this latest lease, the
Chilean budget was strained, this time by the need to buy weapons for
the armed forces. Once again, the Company successfully obtained a
second early renewal, this time for 13 years (to 1957). In return, the
Company pre-paid £699,000 in rental, returned another 242,000ha
to the state, and agreed to subsidize the (national railway's) shipping
service to Magallanes. They had held their ground.
Reference: "Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego 1893-1943", Fernando Durán, Valparaíso, 1943
Last updated: 23-V-2002
Tierra del Fuego
At the very tip of southern South America, mere miles away from
Antarctica, the land breaks up into islands and archipelagos. One of
these archipelagos calls to the adventurous, the pioneer, the person
willing to brave hardships and adverse climates. This is Tierra del
Fuego, Land of Fire, (map) named for the constant fires that warmed the
indigenous hunting and gathering peoples who wore little clothing.
It was a territory unto itself until 1881 when it was divided between
Chile and Argentina (map). Chile now owns over half the Isla Grande,
the big island, and much of the surrounding archipelago. The northern
part of Isla Grande is more or less level, covered with grasslands. The
southern part is broken up into islands, mountains, including the
Cordillera Darwin which runs east-west, and is densely forested.
Situated between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, Tierra del Fuego
is buffeted by constant winds from both directions. It is cold. Very
cold. It's best to plan your visit from the middle of November to the
end of March, but still be prepared for cold and rain.
The land areas are scenic, the waters teeming with fish and marine
wildlife. Trekkers, mountain climbers, fishing fans, sailors and bikers
will enjoy the challenges of Tierra del Fuego, but all visitors need to
be aware of storms and wind. At the southernmost tip of the archipelago
is Cape Horn. The cape was first rounded on January 26, 1616 by a Dutch
navigator who named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn - or so the
story goes. What is fact, however, is that subsequent sailors
documented the difficulties of rounding the tip of South America.
You may want to stay at an estancia outside Ushuaia. These farm/ranches
were established many years ago, and some now offer a taste or rural
life. The oldest of these is the Estancia Harberton, founded by an
English missionary. A Literary Journey to Fireland tells the history of
Thomas Bridges whose descendants own and operate the estancia now.
In Ushuaia, capital of the Argentine province, you'll find lodgings,
restaurants and a lot of scenery to photograph. Browse through Tierra
del Fuego: all you have to know before traveling for very practical
information about the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. Cruise ships
sailing southern waters often put in at Ushuaia and local tour agencies
provide off-ship excursions to nearby attractions. Virtual tour of
Tierra Del Fuego: http://www.victory-cruises.com/tourtdf.html
A LITERARY JOURNEY TO FIRELAND
by Adam Freedman
Now that virtually every inch of the planet has been charted and tamed,
some part of our collective psyche has become bored. Witness the
explosive growth of the "adventure tourism" industry. By the score,
people are paying top dollar to go to places that still bear the cachet
of being wild and inaccessible: the Sahara, say, or the Amazon—or
Tierra del Fuego.
A more comfortable route to the age of exploration is by reading the
classic Uttermost Part of the Earth: E. Lucas Bridges' rip-roaring
account of his life among the indians of Tierra del Fuego. First
published in 1948, Uttermost records an era when a few people still
lived as pioneers—not to escape urban ennui but out of necessity.
Bridges' engaging style also speaks from a different era: you know
you're in the hands of a high Edwardian writer when the author is not
even born until sixty-seven pages into his memoir. Before that, one
gets an overview of "Fireland" and the Bridges family antecedents. The
modest author has no significance outside his context.
Lucas Bridges was born in 1874, the third child of the Rev. Thomas
Bridges, who, just a few years earlier, had founded Ushuaia as a
mission station. Lucas' playmates were Yahgan indians; he learned to
speak their language, play their games and wear moccasins.
His Ushuaia—of plucky English missionaries, docile indians, and a bored
Argentine prefect—has little to do with today's city of 40,000 souls.
But here and there, one finds remnants of Bridges' Fireland even today.
As I read Uttermost, my mind kept returning to my own visit to Tierra
del Fuego last year.
From my hotel, I take a street that leads to the shore. "On the
right-hand side of that road," Bridges writes, "as one walked up from
the beach, were several houses of corrugated iron lined with wood." I
meet up with Alejandro—a friend of a friend who lives in Ushuaia—in one
of those brightly-painted corrugated iron cottages. Today, it is
In exquisite detail, Bridges describes the advance of civilization, and
its discontents. From the very beginning, "the inhabitants [of Ushuaia]
had followed, however unintentionally, what is said to be the general
rule—that the wealth and luxury of a town spread westward, while
poverty is to be found in the eastern quarters. The eastern and
northeastern slums of Ushuaia were made up of wigwams . . ."
We get into Alejandro's jeep and drive through the eastern outskirts of
Ushuaia, past abandoned factories. There is a vast shanty town; blue
smoke curls up from cinder block shacks and dark indian faces peer out
of makeshift windows. But who are they? They cannot be Yahgans.
"They're squatters," says Alejandro, "Bolivians, mainly."
After 15 years of missionary work, Lucas' father acquired 20,000
hectares of Fireland from the Argentine government and founded Estancia
Harberton. A large pre-fabricated house was imported from England and
erected on the shore of a sheltered harbor selected by the Yahgans.
The ship's loudspeaker announces our arrival at Harberton. It is the
first sign of civilization since leaving Ushuaia. Miraculously, carved
out of the windswept banks is a little piece of Devonshire. There is a
large, white farmhouse with green shutters, neat garden, and white
picket fence; beyond that, a shearing station and supply houses.
Thomas Bridges spent his remaining years at Harberton. After his death,
the thriving estancia eventually devolved upon his son Will (Lucas'
younger brother, described in Uttermost as an incorrigible
troublemaker). Years later, the economics of sheep shearing turned
against Fireland. Today, Harberton survives on tourism and is run by
Will's grandson, Thomas Goodall
A small confitería for day-trippers has been added at the back
of the house. I take a cup of tea from the serving table and give my
money to a tall weather-beaten man in dungarees and flannel shirt. As
he hands me back the change, one of the tour guides calls out to him:
"hey, Tommy!" Only then do I realize that it is Thomas Goodall, great
grandson of Rev. Bridges, manning the till. I want to acknowledge my
admiration for the family but don't know what to say. Besides, the next
customer is waiting to pay.
The isolation of Tierra del Fuego, both terrible and sublime, is
constantly in the background of Uttermost. The closest contact with
civilization was the Malvinas chain, 400 miles away and itself only a
transit point to Britain. Such ordinary goods as chocolate, coffee, and
rifles, became priceless treasures. Above all, books were savored, read
and re-read aloud in Harberton's drawing room. Tierra del Fuego is a
harsh place for the literary-minded.
Alejandro invites me to dinner at his house. A friend comes by and he
and Alejandro swap novels; dog-eared books that appear to have been
swapped and lent numerous times. "I read a lot," Alejandro tells me,
"but it's difficult to find good books here. I have Saki on mail order
. . . "
There was no regular mail in those early days. When Rev. Bridges went
away to Punta Arenas, Buenos Aires, or London, an anxiety would fall
over the house as Mrs. Bridges stared into the empty expanse awaiting
word of her husband.
The next day, I strike up a conversation with a woman who works at the
Museo Del Fin Del Mundo. "What with telephones, fax, and email," I say,
"do you feel connected to the rest of the world, or do you feel far
away?" She looks out to the water. "I feel far away. Very far
Although Lucas Bridges grew up with the Yahgans, his great ambition,
and the central drama of Uttermost is his effort to integrate himself
with the Ona tribe. The Ona were an inland tribe of fierce hunters,
much feared by the mussel-eating Yahgans. As Bridges placidly puts it,
"unlike the Ona . . ., the Yahgans disapproved of homicide."
Bridges becomes the first white man to make peaceful contact with the
Ona. He is completely enraptured by the romantic life of these tall,
powerful nomads, with guanaco skins aristocratically flung over their
shoulders. Little by little, he learns their language and gains their
respect by joining their hunting parties wearing nothing but moccasins
and a guanaco skin against the freezing cold. He is invited to the
heart of Ona land and is initiated into the "Lodge," the secret society
of Ona men.
Bridges longs to start an estancia in Ona land. The Ona encourage him
to do so; they know the white man is coming and much prefer him to the
others. Bridges selects a parcel of land and starts work on a track
between Harberton and his home-to-be. The distance is 50 miles as the
crow flies, but the terrain is an obstacle course of mountains, rivers,
bogs, and thickets. After a year of back-breaking labor, Bridges and
his Ona helpers finished the zigzagging track. Even with the track, it
was a two-to-three day journey, with the traveler having to wade across
Alejandro proposes an excursion to Lake Fagnano in the former Ona land.
I eagerly accept. It won't be terribly comfortable, Alejandro warns me
as we get into the jeep, most of it is gravel road, very bumpy to drive
on. We're there and back in an afternoon.
In a few years, Bridges makes the estancia in Ona land, christened
"Viamonte," into a great commercial success with over 80,000 sheep. And
then something very odd happens: Lucas Bridges goes across the world to
join the British Army in the First World War. Nothing in Uttermost
prepares the contemporary reader for the idea that Bridges – an
Argentine citizen, born at Ushuaia and raised with the indians – had
always considered himself an Englishman. It seems forced, like
Senegalese schoolchildren reciting "our ancestors, the Gauls." But
Bridges' narrative is so effortless, one accepts that he truly saw
himself as a child of the Empire.
Bridges survived the war, and went on to have further adventures and,
finally, to pen his memoirs. And a good thing too, for under that
guanaco skin beat the heart, if not exactly of an Englishman, at least
of a great English writer.
Fuegian (Firelander) to the Bones
by Kaitlin Quistgard - Buenos Aires - 9 June 1996
The following interview with Natalie Goodall was conducted during a trip to Tierra del Fuego by the author in December 1994.
Natalie Goodall first visited The Uttermost Part of the Earth over
three decades ago after a chance encounter with the Lucas Bridges's
book describing turn-of-the-century Tierra del Fuego. Shortly
thereafter she married into the Bridges family and became part of the
region's lifeblood, raising fifth-generation Fuegian children.
A biologist recognized internationally for her work on the region's
mammals, Natalie is also known by tourists from around the world as the
American patrona at Estancia Harberton, the island's oldest farm.
On a warm spring morning Natalie greets a boatload of visitors with a
brief lecture on the history of Tierra del Fuego, easily repeating the
tale of the white man's arrival and the destruction of the Indians, in
fluent Spanish with an Ohio accent, after delivering the first round in
English. She smiles easily and welcomes questions in the outdoor
lecture hall where camera-toting tourists perch on log benches and orca
However, Natalie would be happier if she could close the gates to
guests and get down to work. "I'm very much a part-time scientist," she
admitted wistfully in an impromptu interview in the flower-filled
garden. "Now with tourism and things it's a bit harder. We used to go
bone collecting all the time, but now it's just two or three times a
No hoodoo voodoo practitioner, the bones Natalie collects belong to
citations, or small marine mammals, which she finds washed up on the
beaches along the northern coast of Tierra del Fuego. "We also pick up
seals and birds. The bird collection has turned out to be quite
important for visiting scientists," she said.
Goodall has had 14 grants from the National Geographic Society for
Research and Exploration. The Society has requested that she send
Fuegian specimens to different museums around the world. "But I think
it makes more sense to keep them all here. It's easier for interested
scientists to come and see it all in one place," she explained.
And it's quite a place. Her husband built the bone house at Harberton
after an apartment building went up alongside their house in Ushuaia,
where she spends winters researching and writing. "You can't boil bones
there anymore. It smells too bad," she explained as she started up her
truck and made good on her invitation to visit the new bone house.
"We simmer them carefully in big pots, clean off the dead meat, being
very careful not to lose teeth or small bones -- Look, a condor," she
interrupted herself momentarily then warned, "it's rather smelly in
Several small whale skeletons are laid out in a grassy paddock
alongside the bone house and two uncleaned whale skulls, mummified by
the strong sun, lean against the wooden fence. Inside two still-fleshy
skulls are soaking in buckets, filling the air with a putrid scent. The
walls are lined with catalogued boxes. Goodall grabs a box of bones and
counts the rings of a dolphin's teeth to figure its age. Her fingers
glide over smooth bones as she fits vertebra in place to reconstruct a
"The object is to learn as much as you can. Scientists come here from
all over the world to study animals, measure whales, etc. And I have
done about 35 publications mostly on dolphins and some plants." Her
voice is eager, but already other duties are calling and she must head
back to the house.
"I have three or four books underway," she laughs as the truck bumps
along. One is the revision of Tierra del Fuego , a
history-biology-geology-travel guide first published in 1979. With a
"who knows when" deadline, she has begun work on a revision in two
volumes. "One will be more touristy -- from Santa Cruz south -- and the
second more a history of the farms and the work at the research center
opened in Ushuaia in 1982," she said.
"We're working on Thomas Bridges' diaries too and the project is nearly
finished. It will be several volumes. And then I'm doing a cookbook --
my adaptation of Argentine, Chilean and British recipes. The most
famous though is my grandmother's chocolate cake, which we serve here
in the tea room and everyone always asks how to make."
Juggling so many books and research and the farm itself has made it
difficult for Goodall to complete any one project. "I take care of the
garden and house and the tourists and then when the generator goes on
at seven or eight I have to be inspired to sit down at my computer and
work until midnight," she laughs. "Last night instead of paying bills
and writing letters to send off with people on the boat who are going
to the U.S., we put together a dolphin."
By now she is in the hallway of the original English pre-fab house
-- the island's first European dwelling. Visitors who have
completed their tour peek through the kitchen windows as they head to
the public tea room.
"It's not something we like doing," she says of receiving paying
guests. "When the road opened in 1978 (allowing cars to reach Harberton
by road) people just started showing up, because it's the oldest farm
here. Everybody said they had to use the bathroom so they could come in
and see the house. Eventually we built bathrooms outside and then we
converted the patio into a tea room."
While it may not be her role of choice, Goodall is warm and charming
when greeting her guests. As many as six young women work as bilingual
guides in the summer, so even when the boats and buses are gone, home
is no longer a quiet place, but Goodall is forgiving. "Tierra del
Fuego has given me an awful lot -- my husband, my family, my work," she
Tales Of The Notorious Cape
9 February 2002 -- No other stretch of water on this
planet has cost so many lives of brave seaman, has challenged and
broken the best and rewarded the ones who succeeded with the highest
honours. Rounding Cape Horn is regarded as the pinnacle of round the
world racing in the days when the shipping lanes of the world prefer to
lead through the Panama Canal.
Rounding Cape Horn (or Cape Hoorn as originally named) is still the
ultimate achievement for every sailor on the planet. No other stretch
of water on this planet has cost so many lives of brave seaman, has
challenged and broken the best and rewarded the ones who succeeded with
the highest honours. Rounding Cape Horn is regarded as the pinnacle of
round the world racing in the days when the shipping lanes of the world
prefer to lead through the Panama Canal. The crews in the Volvo Ocean
Race are the heirs of the sailors of the old days, “when the ships were
of wood and the men of steel”.
The sailing history of Cape Horn started less than 30 years after
Christopher Columbus succeeded in his first Atlantic crossing. Spain’s
King Charles approved Magellan's plan to get to the Spice Islands by
sailing west and granted him generous funds on March 22, 1518. In
September 1519, he set sail with 270 men, crossed the Atlantic and
followed the South American coastline to Patagonia. There he spent the
cold winter months and finally in the latter half of August 1520,
Magellan decided it was time to move south to look for a passage.
Eventually in October, the fleet sighted a strait and started through
it. Magellan named it the Strait of All Saints, but it later was named
after him. The strait was a tricky passage that took the fleet 38 days
to pass through. While sailing at night, the crew saw countless fires
from distant Indian camps. They called the land Tierra del Fuego (land
of fire). During the last week of November the three ships emerged from
the strait to the open sea of the Pacific. On September 6, 1522, almost
three years from the day it began its historic journey, the Victoria
and 18 crew members, (without Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed in the
Pacific Ocean) arrived in Spain. It was the first vessel to
circumnavigate the globe.
50 years later, Francis Drake set sail from England in  with 165
crewmen and five ships for the first English led circumnavigation.
Drake's voyage helped to give a more accurate picture of the true
geography of the world. During the course of the voyage, Drake
discovered that Tierra del Fuego, the land seen to the south of the
Magellan Strait, was not part of a southern continent as had been
believed previously, but an archipelago, or group of islands. Francis
Fletcher, the chaplain on Drake's ship described it like this :
"In passing along we plainly discovered that same Terra Australis to be
no continent, but broken islands and large passages amongst them..."
This meant that if the American continent was not connected to a
southern continent, the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans met at Cape
Horn. It should be possible to sail ships around the bottom of South
America, south of Tierra. This was the Cape Horn route, eventually
discovered in 1616. The Dutch navigator Willem Cornelis Schouten, the
first to sail around the cape (1616), named it for his birthplace,
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. That was the era of the
"cap horners", of those who had rounded the terrible Cape Horn.
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-masted 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 arrived from the
Pacific Ocean had to overcome the danger represented by the false Cabo
de Hornos as the Chileans, who 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, it may confuse the helmsman who may choose the
tragically wrong route.
Joshua Slocum onboard "Spray" was not the first yachtsman to round the
cape, he preferred to go through the Magellan's Strait despite the
difficulties and the hostile natives. The first yachtsman 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 yachtsman 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-horner in history.
Prior to the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973 -74, less
than 10 private sports yachts had ever rounded Cape Horn successfully.
But thanks to the Royal Navy the racers were not entirely alone. HMS
Endurance was stationed nearby to keep a watch on the racers as they
rounded the Horn. Happily, she wasn't needed. One by one the battered
Whitbread boats made their way past the treacherous Horn and headed
north. By the time the entire fleet had rounded they had more than
doubled the number of sporting yachts to do so.
In the 1977 - 78 race GBII (Great Britain II) had the honour of
rounding the Cape first, being pushed from astern by a Force 7 gale.
Flyer was next, rounding in a blinding snowstorm. By 18 January, most
of the fleet was safely around the Horn and heading for Rio. The
Roaring 40s weren't ready to quit, though, and 33 Export had no sooner
rounded than she got another blast. Whilst running under a spinnaker
the boat suddenly broached. Water surged across her decks, slamming
crewman Eric Letrosne against life-rails with such force it fractured
his leg. It was an ugly break. When the call for medical help went out,
Japy-Hermes, with Dr. Sarbarly aboard, responded. When it proved too
rough to transfer Letrosne to Japy-Hermes, Sarbarly swam through the
ice-cold water to 33 Export to treat him.
The next race saw the first modern maxi yachts battling around Cape
Horn. Flyer, the yacht of the eventual winner Cornelis van Rietschoten
rounded the Cape Horn in January 13, 1982 just 30 minutes in front of
his main rival Ceramco with Peter Blake in charge. They raced the leg
from Auckland to Mar del Plata within sight of each other for most of
In 1985 -86, The first boat to round Cape Horn was UBS Switzerland, on
4 March. One by one they rounded. In order were Cote d'Or, Atlantic
Privateer, Drum and Lion New Zealand. As they sailed north toward Punta
del Este, the boats were rewarded for the ordeal thy had to endure
through the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn with such natural wonders as
Halley's Comet, and hundreds of dolphins, from which streamed green
trails of phosphorescence at night.
In his last Whitbread Round the World Race, Peter Blake crowned his
historic victory with leading around Cape Horn. The two New Zealand
yachts Steinlager II and Fisher & Paykel rounded Cape Horn on 22
February. The other Maxis followed a day behind, and three days behind
them came Maiden and Esprit de Liberté. It was a uneventful
rounding by Cape Horn standards. The weather, though mostly grey and
cold, was not its usual vicious self.
When the boats finally reached the dreaded Cape in the 1993 -94 race,
it failed to live up to its fearsome reputation. In fact, the fleet
experienced some of the best weather of the trip so far. The sun was
out, and winds were moderate. NZ Endeavour rounded the Cape first, with
Tokio the first V.O.60, then called the Whitbread 60 in history three
miles behind. Yamaha with Ross Field as skipper was the second V.O.60
In the last edition of the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1997-98,
Paul Cayard described "Cape Horn is my Mount Everest. It came out of
the fog, this rugged land with waves crossing in different directions.
The mystery of the Cape evaporated as we sailed from the Southern Ocean
into the South Atlantic."