Part 7 - Cape Horn
March 8th, 2015 - Cape Horn, Chile - „The big day“
In a way, this day had something of Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. On those days, the course of the day is relatively normal, but at the same time characterized by a certain sense of tension and expectation. Everything is somehow leading up to this one big event. In our case it was sailing around Cape Horn, which to us was yet another milestone in our cruise history.
The day began, like so many others, with a beautiful breakfast on the outer deck. Followed by a lecture on marine mammals by Milos and a presentation by MickeyLive, who shared interesting facts on Cape Horn, our route and the Beagle Channel.
Cape Horn itself is a tongue of land belonging to the island of Hornos. It is considered the southernmost point of South America, not taking into account the Diego-Ramirez Islands located a bit further to the south. The name originates from the Dutch town of Hoorn, from where an expedition was once launched, which in 1616 mentioned the Cape for the first time, and after which one of the expedition´s ships was named.
Afterwards, the circumnavigation of Cape Horn was one of the most dreaded ship routes in the world. Difficult, quickly changing weather and currents should become the calamity of some 800 ships and more than 10,000 seamen. Charles Darwin wrote about Cape Horn, “One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death”.
The Infinity was to reach the island’s southernmost point around 4.00 pm, then circumnavigate Hornos and, from approximately 5.00 pm on, linger for about an hour in front of the lightouse and the Cape Horn monument. On our way to the Horn, we could see the rugged landscape of Tierra del Fuego alongside our ship. Through stormy winds, albatrosses accompanied us - defying the power of nature and with no apparent effort glided majestically through the air. Sometimes they were sailing high above the ship, at other times just a few inches above the crests, never with more than a few effortless beats of their wings offering an impressive show.
Half an hour before reaching the cape, MickeyLive started a kind of Countdown – it really did have something of New Year’s Eve.
We got to witness how quickly the weather could turn in this corner of the world. Within the shortest time the wind grew stronger and the sea rougher. I liked it! I had told Birgit that I’d find it almost boring to circumnavigate Cape Horn in fine weather and a calm sea. I wanted to get at least a little impression of the dreaded weather. Now the spray of the whitetips came all the way up to our balcony, and outside, due to the strong winds, it was impossible to hold the camera steady.
Birigt had put the bottle of champagne on ice which we still had from the day of our arrival. Now was the moment to open it and to ceremonially celebrate the moment. With MickeyLive’s comments on TV channel 16 in the background, we sailed around Cape Horn.
Many thoughts were going through my mind, and I even got a little emotional during the circumnavigation. The barren cliff in the storm ahead of us was very impressive, and through the curtain of rain and spray it also exuded a very special atmosphere. But those weren’t the reasons why I was moved by this key moment. For me it is times like these which remind me of how lucky we are to experience such moments. We have sailed on many beautiful ships to many beautiful destinations. Alaska and Norway all the way up north, now Cape Horn all the way in the south, and in between we were blessed to visit many other fascinating destinations like Jerusalem or the Greek isles, etc. During those trips we met many wonderful people and took with us indelible memories and a lot of new knowledge. To me, this is the essence of happiness – happiness and a reason for gratitude.
While I was lost in my thoughts, looking out on the sea and the Cape, I didn’t believe my eyes when passing the so-called Cathedral Rocks. A small sailing boat was circumnavigating the Cape in the opposite direction. Our big ship was already rolling reasonably, and due to the strong wind it was almost impossible to stand up straight on our balcony – what must it have felt like on this little boat?!
Once we had passed the southern tip of Hornos, the sea had calmed down again and the weather had slightly improved. We were now able to begin to understand what MickeyLive had mentioned in his talk: “At Cape Horn you can experience all four seasons in one single day”. After we had done a full tour around the island, we stopped in front of the lighthouse, and our Captain slowly turned the ship 360° on the spot so everybody on board was able to see the nlighthouse and the monument nearby.
The Chilean navy station is traditionally manned by one officer and his family in turns of 3 months. Next to the base is the steel monument for the seamen who died at the Cape. A gap between both halves of the monument outlines the silhouette of an albatross, and the albatross stands for the souls of the sailors. In 2014, one of the two halves was blown away by a strom and still waits to be repaired.
This poem by the Chilenian poet Sara Vial is attached to the bottom of the memorial in honor of the sailors who lost their lives at Cape Horn:
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