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This segment of the Journey Around Cape Horn is devoted to rounding the 'Horn.




After we emerged from the southern end of Estrecho de Le Maire, we took a southwesterly track crossing into Chilean waters.  The map to the left shows South America from north of Rio de la Plata to Tierra del Fuego.   The Drake Passage separates South America from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.




The route taken by the Splendor through Estrecho de Le Maire to Cape Horn is traced on the Google Earth satellite image below.




click image for additional sailing route view



A Google satellite image of the Hermite Group is shown directly above.  Isla de Hornos is the southernmost of the islands of the group.  Push "pins" locate Cape Horn and False Cape Horn to the north and west on Peninsula Hardy.  Ships mistakenly rounding False Cape Horn would see land to starboard and by then it would be too late, the strong westerly winds driving the ship to a water grave on the rocky coast of Isla Wollaston before it could maneuver, a fate suffered by more than 100 vessels.  The winds of the southern oceans are known as the "roaring fourties," the "furious fifties," and the "screaming" or "shrieking sixties."  These winds roar around the planet almost without obstruction.  In the region of Cape Horn, however, these winds are funneled through the Drake Passage by the Andes Mountains and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula, making for the fierce weather often experienced there.  Rounding Cape Horn (-55.9797 south and -67.2717 W) requires a vessel to go to 56 degrees or more south into these fierce winds.  Another feature of the Drake Passage can be large waves that in the case of rogue waves have been claimed to reach as large as 90-100 feet! (click HERE for more information) The day we rounded Cape Horn, the waves were in the range of 15-18 feet and the "furious fifties" were blowing at 75-80 mph, which is hurricane velocity.  It was a memorable day to say the very least.

Looking at images from Digital Globe, many of the satellite images shot of the region around Cape Horn have extensive or total cloud cover.  The day we rounded the Horn, that was the case.  In the Google image of the Hermite Archipelago above, part of the east side of Isla de Hornos is "missing"  as are portions of Isla Hermite and Isla Deceit, no doubt obscured by the clouds in the satellite image composite.  The image below from ASTER_2005Sep20 (Wikipedia) shows a relatively clear view of Isla Hermite to the west, Isla Herschel in the center, and Isla de Hornos in the lower right corner of the image.


click image above for a larger view


Our approach to Isla de Hornos from the north east took us past the southern tip of Isla Deceit.  That route took the ship near rock formations that jut up out of the ocean that are known as the Deceit Teeth.  We went between the Deceit Teeth to starboard and a small islet known as Isolete Deceit to port.  As we approached the opening between the Deceit Teeth and Isolete Deceit, Cape Horn was directly in front of us.



click photo for a larger view



click photo for a larger view




After passing through the notch between the Deceit Teeth and Isolete Deceit we made our way directly to Isla de Hornos.  As we sailed closer to what, in my mind, is the most famous cape on Earth, the weather got progressively worse.  The temperature fell perceptibly and the rain changed to periodic sleet.  The ceiling lowered, and the winds increased to hurricane velocity (75-80 mph).  As you approach Isla de Hornos and Cape Horn from the northeast, the low lying portion of the island in the forground to the right in the image below is where the Chilean Naval station and the Albatross Memorial are located.  Looking carefully, you can make out the red of the station and the white of a massive flagpole flying the Chilean flag.


click photo for a larger view




click photo for a larger view


click photo for a larger view



After the Splendor dispatched some crew members for the Chilean Naval Station on a tender, we began to maker our way counter clockwise around Isla de Hornos.  The northern flanks of the island are gently sloped down to the ocean rather than the precipitous drop into the depths that is Cape Horn itself.  In the lea of the island it was quite windy, but that was only a prelude to the conditions we would find on the Cape Horn meridian, the invisible line that divides the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.



click photo for a larger view


click photo for a larger view




Above: looking back, the Cape Horn lighthouse receded into the fog as we were sailing west off the north shore of Isla de Hornos.

When you reach the northwest corner of the island, the topography changes abruptly to jagged rock formations standing up out of the sea - these are known as the Cathedral Rocks - left and below.







From the Cathedral Rocks we continued west and then turned southward toward Cape Horn.  The photo to the left was shot when the Splendor was stopped, as is tradition, on the Cape Horn Meridian.  The vessels whistle was sounded three times in honor of the mariners lost off this fearsome cape and then we waited, also as is tradition, for the response that never comes.  It was a shame we couldn't see to the top of Cape Horn, which rises more than 1,400 feet out of the cold waters of the southern ocean.

While the Splendor was stopped and not making way on the meridian, the 75-80 mph winds pushing against her hull caused her to heel to port by about 15 degrees.  Keep in mind that the Splendor is nearly 1,000 feet in length and displaces 113,000 tons.  Imagine being in this place in one of the small sailing vessels of centuries ago, many of which were only in the range of 500-700 tons!


Continuing from the Cape Horn meridian eastward off the south shore of Isla de Hornos, we again passed by the Wandering Albatross Memorial standing high above the sea.  Unfortunately, because of the blowing rain and mist, not to mention the distance (this was shot at 600 mm), the image is much softer than I would have liked but you take what you get when you're that far from home...


click photo for a larger view


click photo for a larger view


For a clear view of Cape Horn from the Chilean Naval Station and from the south linked from Wikipedia,

click HERE


The view of Cape Horn below was shot from deck 12 of the Splendor while we were stopped to recover her tender after returning from Isla de Hornos.




The weather the day we were at Cape Horn was what is more typical of the area and what you would expect where two great oceans collide where the winds can race around the planet unhindered by land masses.  Despite having seen it, I still feel a need to go back there.  A need to stand on Isla de Hornos myself.  A need to see the Cape Horn lighthouse and Chilean Naval Station up close and personal.  A need to walk up to the Wandering Albatross Memorial to the souls lost off the Cape. 

Despite those things that I still feel a need to do for whatever reason... we had gone around Cape Horn!


I, the albatross that awaits at the end of the world...
I am the forgotten soul of the sailors lost,
rounding Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.
But die they did not in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity, in my wings they soar,
in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds.

Sara Vail, Valpariso, Chile









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All images are Copyrighted by Gary Martin, 1996-2009. No images can be downloaded or used for any purpose without premission in writing from the copyright holder.