Monday, December 21, 2015

#7 Cape Horn and Antarctica

 Leaving Ushuaia, we sailed west out of the Beagle Channel and into the Strait of Magellan.  Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, was the first European to sail through on his circumnavigation of the world in 1520.  It was originally called Strait of Todos Santos since he entered the strait on All Saints Day.  The name was changed to Patagonian Strait.  Seven years later it was re-named Strait of Magellan in his honor. 

In 1696 Sir Francis Drake further explored the area and we were in Drake Passage for a short distance as well.  In 1836, Charles Darwin was able to explore the area on the HMS Beagle. 

There are Humpback whales, Blue whales, Sperm whales and Southern Right Whales who live in the Southern Ocean.  We didn't see any, but one of the excursions went out and did have a Blue whale surface right next to their Zodiac. 

We sailed the Strait of Magellan passing by Cape Horn, a point lower than any other in Africa or Australia. We were right next to the sub-continent Antarctica.  There are 41 lighthouses along the Strait.  Cape Horn was named after the Dutch city of Hoorn and marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage.  The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailor's graveyard.  Over 1000 ships have been lost in the waters of the Strait.  The opening of the Panama Canal reduced the need for sailing so far out of the way to enter the Pacific (or Atlantic  if you were heading that way.)  The HMS Bounty only made 85 miles into the Strait in 31 days of sailing before turning around. 

There is a cold water, warm water convergence here so there is rarely a sighting of an iceberg.  not what you would think, right? 

Charles Darwin said, one sight of such a coast is enough to make a seaman dream of shipwrecks for a week!  I can see that.

 Although it is now in Chilean possession, it has been highly contested by Argentina as well.  In 1881, the Boundary Treaty of 1881 and again in the 1984 Treaty of Peace and Friendship it remains with Chile. 

Traditionally, a sailor who had rounded the Horn was entitled to wear a gold loop earring — in the left ear, the one which had faced the Horn in a typical eastbound passage — and to dine with one foot on the table; a sailor who had also rounded the Cape of Good  Hope in Africa could place both feet on the table.  I came home with my gold earring!

The Falkland Islands (we will see them next - Penguins!) were used as a stop prior to ships attempting The Horn.  The Chilean Navy maintains a few outbuildings and a memorial on the Cape itself.  The day we rounded the horn, there was a clear sky and minimal seas.........our captain said he had never seen it so  smooth in his 24 years of sailing here.  The outbuildings include a Chapel,  a lighthouse, a residence and a memorial consisting of a flying Albatross in honor of all the sailors who died in the passage. 

On the other side, Antarctica!

We could see the Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian climate research facility hosting scientists
from many countries at their 15 room residence. 

We were sailing in the Southern Ocean at this point.  And cold, the wind across our ship was stiff and cold. 


  1. what an amazing journey you had...........

  2. I have seen Plant Earth about this area and the waves they show were treacherous! Thank goodness you had smooth sailing! What a fabulous trip you and Frank had!


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