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Sailing expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia,
Cape Horn, Falklands & Tierra Del Fuego


On this virtual tour you may see: Majestic mountains dipped in snow...
Crystalline waterways... Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels..


ANTARCTIC TRIP - Cape Horn, February 4, 1998

Last updated: 12 February, 1998

Notes from my journal:

"High pressures have followed us around the
southern sea on this trip, making us all
believe that the tales of the Drake Passage
and its raging storms are inventions intended
to discourage potential visitors. Our final
day across the notorious passage from south
to north should have exposed us to broadside
swells. Instead we still have tailing seas
and slight waves. Packets of Dramamine lie
ignored in the nooks and crannies of our
baggage. We hang nearly upside down over the
bow of the ship watching porpoises riding the
bow wave, our ride sufficiently smooth that
we have no fear of losing our balance and
falling.

As the afternoon progresses Cape Horn hoves
into view, unobscured by wind or wave. The
waters here are as placid as those of the
Beagle Channel. Darwin, who suffered greatly
from seasickness as the Beagle traversed
these waters, is probably watching from on
high with envy.

We have experienced perhaps the most
uneventful rounding of the fabled Cape ever
recorded."

- Roy Beckemeyer writ this most unusual
record on February the 4th, the year of our
Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-eight.




Cape Horn - Navy house




CAPE HORN by SKIP NOVAK (condensed)

I first rounded the Cape in 1977 on board the
British Cutter Kings Legend in the second
Whitbread Round the World Race. I was the
navigator at the tender age of 25 - in the
days when navigation had nothing to do with
computer literacy and all to do with the
ability to shoot a quick round of stars
through a hole in the clouds while bucking
through a full blown gale. That first
circumnavigation, or for that matter the
first Whitbread you do (for those of us who
made it a way of life) is always the best and
the memories are easily recalled.

We had been dead reckoning for five days
without a fix on the last afternoon before we
were due to round the Cape. The anticipation
and anxiety were real. We didn't know
precisely where we were and in the strong
westerly flow and following seas it can
easily be imagined we would be way off
course. This reality, somewhat ignored before
on the safety of the open sea began to have
its affect as we "smelled the land" and the
once carefree, round faces of my shipmates
began to visibly lengthen under their black
sou'westers. Providence showed its hand at
the right moment; the sun broke through and I
bagged it and was therefore able to make a
line of position, then cross it with another
two hours later. We were ten miles north of
our supposed track and a healthy forty miles
ahead of schedule!

That evening in the fading southern ocean
light we made landfall on the snow clad
summits of high mountains in ;the hinterland
of Tierra Del Fuego. Moments later another
squall ripped through and they disappeared.
At once the seed of future travel had been
planted. We rounded Cape Horn at night
running hard in forty knots of wind with a
poled out jib and saw nothing more than a
weak light flashing when five miles off.

At dawn we were surprised to find "33 Export"
on our stern surfing up to us quickly. As
they pulled abeam (close enough to exchange
fusillades of beer cans with the French) we
broke out the storm chute with reckless
bravado and surged ahead half underwater. We
rounded the eastern tip of Staten Island that
afternoon and I remember it was like
deflating a balloon, the pressure, anxiety
and all that goes with a Southern Ocean run
had gone out of it. We were "safely" back in
the Atlantic, a metaphorical millpond. Cape
Horn and Tierra Del Fuego slipped astern -
the mystery was left in tact.


Cape Horn from the East (Atlantic Side)

Mystery goes part and parcel with Cape Horn.
The coast of Tierra Del Fuego (defined by all
land south of the Straits of (Magellan)
appeared on Ptolomy's map and many others
subsequently, but all were certainly
apocryphal prior to Magellan's documented
discovery in 1520 of the passage that bears
his name. By 1540 a rumor in Spain had
circulated that the Straits in fact did not
exist because out of 21 ships dispatched
there only one had returned to Europe. Later
in the 16th century when the conquest of Peru
and Chile and attendant privateering were in
full swing, Drake, de Gamboa, Camargo,
Ladrilleros, Hawkins, Cavendish and John
Davis (recognized as the first scientific
navigator) ran the gauntlet of the Straits of
Magellan preoccupied not with exploration

further south but with riches around the
corner to the north. It was left as late as
1616 when the Dutch men Jacques Le Maire and
Willem Schouten in the Unity plied
successfully further south (there were many
prior failures) and discovered the Straits of
Le Maire, Staten Island, Isla Barnaveldt and
of course, Cape Horn, which they named after
their ship the "Hoorn" which had burned in
Port Desire on the Patagonian coast. Soon
after in 1624 another Dutch expedition, the
"Nassau Fleet," under there command of
Jacques L'Hermite found the passage he named
Nassau Bay which by-passed the Cape Horn
archipelago to the north. On this voyage they
were the first to encounter the nomadic
Yaghan Indians who lived as far south as
Wollaston Island and traveled nearly naked in
bark canoes.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought attempts
at colonization form Spain, exploitation for
seals and whales by all interested countries,
missions to save the souls of the aboriginal
"canoe Indians," and most important of all
expeditions for science. James Cook with the
botonist Banks and Solander made collections
from the region during two expeditions in
1769 and again in 1774/75. In 1787 William
Bligh in ;the Bounty tried for twenty nine
days to round Cape Horn and was forced to
circumnavigate via the Cape of Good Hope to
reach Polynesia. It was left to a British
expedition to accomplish the first
significant hydrography of the area. In 1829
William Parker King in the Adventure and
Robert Fitzroy in the Beagle brought their
two ships into the archipelago for five
months and discovered what is now the Beagle
Channel, which in addition to the Straits of
Magellan and Nassau Bay offer the only
alternatives for the mariner wishing to
forego the Cape when passing from one ocean
to another. His surveys of small coves and
bays are still current on British Admiralty
charts!

In 1982 Fitzroy returned in the
Beagle for more surveying, this time with a
young Charles Darwin whose somewhat unkind
observations on the aboriginals helped
formulate his theories of natural selection.
Fitzroy, who believed in divine providence
rather than Darwin's environmental
determinism had collected his won specimens
for investigation on the first voyage. ..The
four Indians he brought back to England for
an education and spiritual indoctrination
were supposed to be the vanguard of another
mission. The idea back fired; one quickly
died and then when his protege Jemmy Button
fled into the bush after he was returned to
Tierra Del Fuego on this second voyage.
Fitzroy's hopes of Jemmy setting an example
to his savage brethren were shattered. The
already famous Jemmy was later implicated and
stood trial for the massacre of the Wulaia
missionaries on Navarino Island some twenty
years later.

In 1839 the American Wilkes based in Orange
Bay just west of Cape Horn did further
exploration in southern Tierra del Fuego and
in 1842 Captain James Ross accompanied by the
scientist Joseph Hooker wintered on Hermite
Island. A succession of lesser known, but
equally significant explorations of discovery
continued into the 20th century. Sadly, the
Fuegan Indians, fragile in numbers from the
outset quickly succumbed to European diseases
and were reduced to below sustainable levels
by the end of the 19th century. Although
Tierra Del Fuego never had an intrinsic
commercial worth it quickly became the
crossroads of commerce; Clipper ships doubled
the Horn regularly in the middle of the 19th
century supplying the California Gold rush.
As political conflicts deepened in a post
industrial revolutionary Europe, nitrate
clippers, then windjammers loading in Chile
and Peru made the passage back around the
Horn with the ingredients for world wars.

When steam began to erode the windjammers
predominance on the high seas, the relatively
sheltered waters of the Straits of Magellan
was the preferred route and Cape Horn would
see less traffic. In 1914 when they opened
the Panama Canal even the Straits took a
dive, and the port of Punta Arenas just west
of the First Narrows and already famous for
its seaman's brothels slipped into decline.
It wasn't until very recently when the advent
of super tankers and cargo ships too big for
the canal began to ply the oceans that the
route around the Horn was used once again.

The reputation Cape Horn weather with 100
knot winds, mountainous seas and snow storms
in ;high summer may seem like exaggerations,
but they have foundation in a record of
shipwrecks that is substantial. The features
on the chart of ; the area are named for good
reason and the warning is clear; Isla
Desolacion, Isla il De Fonso, Isla Hope,
Arreclife Peligroso. Falso Cabo de Hornos and
Isla Deceit. The area is dominated by an air
stream that is unmodified by any land to the
west and the easterly moving depressions that
spawn in the Southern Ocean any where south
of 50 degrees will have gathered full steam
by the time they strike the Southern Andes.
The Drake Passage drowns and separates those
mountains from their natural counterparts 500
miles further south which surface like a
dragons spine to form the Antarctic
Peninsula. In summer, these lows usually
track through the Drake south of Cape Horn
subjugating the region with a strong westerly
flow having a northerly bias at the onset of
low pressure. The southwesterly cold fronts
that follow can be savage and sailing through
heavy snow squalls while in the archipelago
is commonplace.

Although the Argentine/Chile border in Tierra
Del Fuego was defined on the land section of
Isla Grande during the 19th century, the
exact claims of the islands in the
archipelago around Cape Horn remained "all at
sea" until recent times when it was obvious
there would , one day be commercial gains
from these island territories. Chile has by
far the most of the territory south of the
Straits of Magellan including Cape Horn, but
while it is vast, the land is mountainous and
poor. Horn Island, only five miles long
across a northwest/southwest axis and 1400
feet high is part of the Hermite Group and is
typical in form and vegetation with all the
islands in these archipelagos.

Most species of avifauna found in Tierra Del Fuego are
also found here and the Condor, master of the
mountain, can be seen on the same day as the
Great Wandering Albatross, the; undisputed
King of the open sea. Most of the plants in
the Beagle channel are also represented, but
all in their creeping forms. Trees grow only
in deep ravines and open ground is dominated
by spaghnum and tussock grass, which on the
southeastern tip of Horn Island is home to
the Magellenic Penguin that burrows below the
ground cover to nest and tend its two chicks
that hatch in November.

The classic aspect of Cape Horn, the one that
is photographed and celebrated is the cliff
face on; the southern headland. Well below
its summit the old lighthouse that I saw
burning feebly back in 1977 still stands but
shines no more below the clouds. Exposed
rocks a mile offshore break heavily even on a
calm day here as the rollers coming in from
the Southern Ocean pile up on shelf water 75
miles away to the southwest . In 1982 on
Alaska Eagle in; the Whitbread we almost ran
into the cliff during a foolish photo session
with an inexperienced helmsman in the
"cardboard cut-out" which happened to be at
the steering wheel. He promptly gibed her
all-standing and we were making headway on
our side into the shore before an enormous
wave fortuitously flung the hull in the other
direction, back out to sea. Score was a blown
mainsail, broken spinnaker pole and one
shattered ego.

The mysteries of Cape Horn and its outlying
regions have for centuries given the world
something to wonder about which has intrinsic
value to a certain quality of life. Without
this hidden and rugged part of the world we
would not have Colerdige's "Rhyme" nor Poe's
"Narrative." and Paul Theroux and Bruce
Chatwin would not have felt the need to
analyze the psyche of those who gravitate
towards what Chatwin called "the final capes
of exile."

Today, Cape Horn has become a media spectacle
and a tourist attraction. Indeed you can land
on the Island, compliments of the Chilean
Navy, sign the visitors book (thousands per
year) and receive you Cape Horn certificate.
Years ago it used to be rare for yachts to
round the Horn, sailors from Motissier to
Blyth, to Knox Johnson and Taberly changed
all that and the publicity generated planted
the seed of ocean racing and girdling the
globe under sail has become almost
commonplace. During the last 20 months the
Globe Challenge, The Whitbread, the British
Steel Fleet, the BOC Fleet and the sole
survivor of the Jules Verne Trophy, Commodore
Explorer all passed by on their way around
the world. Kayaks, Hobie Cats and wind
surfers have done it too.

Expeditions on the "Pelagic"
are available through Victory Adventures




Cape Horn offshore on a calm day



Getting to the Cape Horn Monument

At the Chilean station, Cabo de Hornos there is a beach
made up of smooth stones, many covered with algae.
From there you may climb a steep wooden staircase
to the top of the 40 meter cliff to the Chilean naval
station which is manned by three sailors sent from
Puerto Williams, 70 miles North.
The Chilean sailors will welcome you and ask you to
sign the guest book.
There is a small chapel there called Stella Maris, "Star
of the Sea," dedicated to those sailors who had been lost
at sea going around the Horn.
A monument was erected in 1989 to commemorate those
passages. The monument is dedicated to all the captains
and crews from all over the world, who have made the long
journey around Cape Horn, and to those who have lost their
lives in the process.
There is also a newer, large metal monument where one can
distinguish that the Rorschach abstract cut-out in the shape of
a flying Albatross with it's wings outstretched above the jagged
cliff edge and the wave swept sea.



Richard Henry Dana's interesting book
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
about rounding cape Horn was written in 1840

Another excerpt from TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST:

"Just before eight o'clock (then about
sundown, in that latitude) the cry of "All
hands ahoy!" was sounded down the fore
scuttle and the after hatchway, and hurrying
upon deck, we found a large black cloud
rolling on toward us from the south-west, and
blackening the whole heavens. "Here comes
Cape Horn!" said the chief mate; and we had
hardly time to haul down and clew up, before
it was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier
sea was raised than I had ever seen before,
and as it was directly ahead, the little
brig, which was no better than a bathing
machine, plunged into it, and all the forward
part of her was under water; the sea pouring
in through the

bow-ports and hawse-hole and over the
knightheads, threatening to wash everything
overboard. In the lee scuppers it was up to a
man's waist. We sprang aloft and double
reefed the topsails, and furled all the other
sails, and made all snug. But this would not
do; the brig was laboring and straining
against the head sea, and the gale was
growing worse and worse. At the same time
sleet and hail were driving with all fury
against us. We clewed down, and hauled out
the reef-tackles again, and close-reefed the
fore-topsail, and furled the main, and hove
her to on the starboard tack. Here was an end
to our fine prospects. We made up our minds
to head winds and cold weather; sent down the
royal yards, and unrove the gear; but all the
rest of the top hamper remained aloft, even
to the sky-sail masts and studding-sail
booms."




Light House at Cape Horn


More on Cape Horn


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