Cape Horn and the Ferocious Fifties

Monday, February 20, 2017

We got up early today to witness the rounding of Cape Horn. The cape was named for the town of Hoorn in the Netherlands, where Captain Willem Corneliszoon Schouten was looking for an alternate passage to the Strait of Magellan. The captain discovered a high pointed promontory that he mistakenly thought was the southernmost end of the South American continent. Instead, it is a small island. Although the waterway here is much wider than that of the Strait, the wind can be ferocious, and many ships have failed in navigating around the Cape. Perhaps the best known navigator to fail was by William Bligh, later captain of the HMS Bounty.

About 25 years ago, a memorial was created by José Balcells, and sponsored by the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood to memorialize the many people who have died here. The memorial incorporates the shape of the albatross. The following poem by Sara Vial is included at the memorial:

I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world…

I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed 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.”

The wind was very strong, yet we were told that it was actually pretty calm for the Cape, where gale force winds can create waves of up to 65 feet. This area, near the 50th parallel, is know as the Ferocious Fifties. When we were heading south, I thought we would be blown off the deck. It was very difficult to remain upright, and most people only ventured out for a minute or two – just long enough to get a photo – then scurrying back to the warmth inside. Once again, I was so happy that I had my down parka with me.

There are several islands, many of which are craggy and others, clearly older, that looked like they had grass growing on them. We crossed from the Atlantic Ocean back to the Pacific Ocean, then the ship headed up to the northern side of the island where it was less windy. For at least one sailor, it was a good day near the Cape. The sky was mostly sunny all day, something that happens only about 35% of the year.

The Chilean Navy Station and Lighthouse are actually located about one mile east-northeast of Cape Horn itself.

We are now heading into the Southern Ocean. It will be a few days before we get close to Elephant Island, the northernmost part of Antarctica (as always, weather permitting.)

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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