South America

Around Isla Hornos

Cape Horn….the most dangerous sailing route in the world

C ape Horn was first rounded by Captain Willem Cornelius Schouten, his brother Jan, Issac Le Mare’s son Jacob and his crew on the “Unity” in January 1616.


The expedition was financed by Issac Le Maire, a founding member of the V.O.C. (Dutch East Indies, Company). Two ships (the Unity and the Hoorn) sailed from Port Hoorn into the North Sea.


After a long arduous crossing, both ships found a Patagonian river known to have a nine foot tide. When reaching the eastern shore of South America, it was standard practice to clean the hull. The captain would sail close to shore over a shallow shelf and wait for the tide to go out, thereby “dry docking” the ship. This maneuver would allow the crew to burn off the barnacles, seaweed and other hull attachments. Unfortunately the Hoorn was lost when fire shot up and got into the rigging. Being high and dry, there was no water to put it out. All useful fittings, nails and supplies were salvaged and transferred to the Unity. Those items that could not be stored were buried ashore for future retrieval.


Eventually Captain Schouten was successful in finding a route around Cape Horn. He named the straight for his benefactor and the Island after his home port (Hoorn) and the lost ship.


(Again, I recommend Murphy’s book for the details.)


Because of high winds and treacherous ebb and flood tides through the Straits of Le Maire, it is considered the most difficult passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. But it is still better than sailing down to Drakes Passage where there is no protection from the elements.1 Rounding the Horn (2004) Dallas Murphy



Our dash across the southern Atlantic Ocean from Stanley (Falkland Islands) to Tierra del Fuego, was moderately rough. Seas were 7-12 feet and several times during the night we experienced a loud thump and vibrations as the ship reached the bottom of larger wave. The stabilizers were working overtime. We still got a good nights rest. Everyone was getting excited about visiting this historic area. The weather changed rapidly as we approached the Islands of Deceit, so named as early explorers optimistically thought they had finally reached the bottom of South America.


We were approaching 56º South latitude. The water temperature this far south is influenced by Antarctica. Water temperature had dropped from the 60s to the 40s (ºF). The wind force increased from the West (due to the Earth’s rotation). The prevailing currents also run from west to east in Drake’s passage.


We were a-beam from the Cape (point Epsilon) at 17:00 hrs (5:00 pm) on 2/26.2012. We entered the channel to circumnavigate Isle Hornos in a counter clockwise direction. The day was overcast but not too windy. It was cold on the outside decks (40º F). It took us about an hour to complete our trip around the island.


The “horn” was covered by clouds but I was determined to get a clear photo. Finally as we passed the southern most tip, the ships horn was sounded. This indicated that we had officially “rounded the horn”.


Most of the passengers had gone inside to warm up. A few of us stayed to see if the cloud cover would clear. Guess what…it did. I must have clicked off 30 shots. I was a happy camper. I had rounded the Horn. If I wanted to follow the old sailors tradition, I would have gold earring put in my ear. I also would be granted permission to put my feet up on the dinner table if I choose to do so. I don’t think I will do either, but I do have a dandy certificate for this occasion.


The Captain ordered us to turn East and then North to enter the Beagle Channel. Our next port was scheduled to be Ushuaia, Argentina.


Later in the afternoon, the Captain announce that there was a problem in Ushuaia. He mentioned that there was some sort of labor dispute and a large ship was not moving away from our reserved berth.

He announced there would be some delay, but he assured us that the company was in constant negotiations with the port authority to allow us a place to berth.


We all went to sleep thinking we would arrive in Ushuaia by morning.


1Rounding the Horn (2004) Dallas Murphy