Posted by: travelrat | August 8, 2017

Around the Horn


It would be nice to think that America ended with a dramatic cliff, with a monumental lighthouse, or a huge statue of Magellan, or somebody atop, but it doesn’t. It fizzles out in a ragged archipelago of countless islands, the largest of which is Tierra del Fuego; Cape Horn itself is on a little island called Isola del Hornos, or Horn Island. It’s uninhabited apart from the lighthouse and a Chilean Navy base. These islands provide a few calmer alternatives to the Drake Passage, that stretch of water between the Horn and Antarctica, which is noted for the adverse weather conditions. These passages were widely used by shipping before the Panama Canal was built, as they were really the only practicable means of getting from one side of the continent to the other.

The best known is the Straits of Magellan, which passes between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland, before weaving its way through the islands to the Pacific Ocean. To the south of Tierra del Fuego runs the Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle, which passed this way carrying Charles Darwin on his famous voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

We sailed right around Horn Island, and the weather conditions were almost perfect. I did have some misgivings about this; I remembered an old sea-shanty about sailing to ‘ … Valparaiso round the Horn’  … which contained the words:

‘ … half the crew a-spewing o’er the ship’s side

And the other half a-spewing over me’.

Happily, such conditions didn’t happen on this trip. As we rounded the island in an anti-clockwise direction, the lighthouse on the cape came into sight. It’s a squat, almost invisible building, topped by a slight white ball maybe a metre or two across. We couldn’t see it very well from the ship, but there was a replica at Ushuaia, our next port of call.

More imposing is the radio tower at the nearby Navy station, which many think is the Cape Horn lighthouse, but isn’t. Julio, the Port Lecturer, told us that personnel for the base were specially selected, and had to fulfil certain conditions. Which surprised me. Given the remote, desolate nature of the place, I thought that defaulters may have been given the option of a six-month tour on the Cape, or a year in the brig.

Cape Horn



  1. Hmm. I’m not a good sailor so I doubt that I would have even attemped your trip, so good on you. It sounds just fantastic, and what a trip!

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