Cape Horn
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Cabo_de_Hornos

Cape Horn: Southernmost point in the Tierra del Fuego islands of South America and the official dividing point between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Roughly 2 degrees of latitude farther south than Chile’s Cape Froward, the southernmost point on the mainland of South America, in the Magellan Strait.

 

Discovered and first rounded in 1616 by the Dutchman Willem Schouten, who named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. For decades, Cape Horn was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.

 

The need for boats and ships to round Cape Horn was greatly reduced by the opening of the Panama Canal in August 1914. However, sailing around the Cape Horn is still widely regarded as one of the major challenges in yachting. Thus a few recreational sailors continue to sail this route, sometimes as part of a circumnavigation of the globe. Almost all of these choose routes through the channels to the north of the Cape. (Many take a detour through the islands and anchor to wait for fair weather to visit Horn Island, or sail around it to replicate a rounding of this historic point.) Several prominent ocean yacht races, notably the Volvo Ocean Race, the VELUX 5 Oceans, and the Vendée Globe, sail around the world via the Horn. Speed records for round-the-world sailing are recognized for following this route.

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In 1525 the vessel San Lesmes commanded by Francisco de Hoces, member of the Loaísa Expedition, was blown south by a gale in front of the Atlantic end of Magellan Strait and reached 56° S where they thought to see Land’s End.

 

In September 1578, Sir Francis Drake, in the course of his circumnavigation of the world, passed through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean. Before he could continue his voyage north his ships encountered a storm, and were blown well to the south of Tierra del Fuego. The expanse of open water they encountered led Drake to guess that far from being another continent, as previously believed, Tierra del Fuego was an island with open sea to its south. This discovery went unused for some time, as ships continued to use the known passage through the Strait of Magellan.

 

By the early 17th century the Dutch East India Company was given a monopoly on all Dutch trade via the Straits of Magellan and the Cape of Good Hope, the only known routes at the time to the Far East. To search for an alternate route and one to the unknown Terra AustralisIsaac Le Maire, a wealthy Amsterdam merchant and Willem Schouten, a ship’s master of Hoorn, contributed in equal shares to the enterprise, with additional financial support from merchants of Hoorn. Jacob Le Maire, Isaac’s son, went on the journey as “chiefe Marchant and principall factor,” in charge of trading aspects of the endeavor. The two ships that departed Holland at the beginning of June 1615 were the Eendracht of 360 tons with Schouten and Le Maire aboard, and the Hoorn of 110 tons, of which Schouten’s brother Johan was master. It was Eendracht then, with the crew of the recently wrecked Hoorn aboard, that passed through the Le Maire Strait and Schouten and Le Maire made their great discovery:

 

“In the evening 25 January 1616 the winde was South West, and that night wee went South with great waves or billowes out of the southwest, and very blew water, whereby wee judged, and held for certaine that … it was the great South Sea, whereat we were exceeding glad to thinke that wee had discovered a way, which until that time, was unknowne to men, as afterward wee found it to be true.”

 

“… on 29 January 1616 we saw land againe lying north west and north northwest from us, which was the land that lay South from the straights of Magelan which reacheth Southward, all high hillie lande covered over with snow, ending with a sharpe point which wee called Cape Horne [Kaap Hoorn] …”

 

At the time it was discovered, the Horn was believed to be the southernmost point of Tierra del Fuego; the unpredictable violence of weather and sea conditions in the Drake Passage made exploration difficult, and it was only in 1624 that the Horn was discovered to be an island. It is a telling testament to the difficulty of conditions there that Antarctica, only 650 kilometres (400 miles) away across the Drake Passage, was discovered only as recently as 1820, despite the passage having been used as a major shipping route for 200 years.

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Despite the opening of the Suez and Panama Canals, the Horn remains part of the fastest sailing route around the world, and so the growth in recreational long-distance sailing has brought about a revival of sailing via the Horn. Owing to the remoteness of the location and the hazards there, a rounding of Cape Horn is widely considered to be the yachting equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, and so many sailors seek it for its own sake.

 

Joshua Slocum was the first single-handed yachtsman to successfully pass this way (in 1895) although in the end, extreme weather forced him to use some of the inshore routes between the channels and islands and it is believed he did not actually pass outside the Horn proper. If one had to go by strict definitions, the first small boat to sail around outside Cape Horn was the 42-foot (13-metreyacht Saoirse, sailed by Conor O’Brien with three friends, who rounded it during a circumnavigation of the world between 1923 and 1925. In 1934, the Norwegian Al Hansen was the first to round Cape Horn single-handed from east to west—the “wrong way”—in his boat Mary Jane, but was subsequently wrecked on the coast of Chile. The first person to successfully circumnavigate the world single-handed via Cape Horn was Argentinian Vito Dumas, who made the voyage in 1942 in his 33-foot (10-metre) ketch Lehg II; a number of other sailors have since followed him, including Webb Chiles aboard “egregious” who in December 1975 rounded Cape Horn single-handed. On March 31, 2010, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland became the youngest person to single-handedly sail around Cape Horn in her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. In 1987 The British Cape Horn Expedition, headed by Nigel H Seymour, rounded Cape Horn in the world’s first ever ‘sailing kayaks’ called ‘Kaymaran’ two sea going kayaks which could link together with two sails mountable in any four of the sailing positions between the two kayaks.

 

Today, there are several major yacht races held regularly along the old clipper route via Cape Horn. The first of these was the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, which was a single-handed race; this inspired the present-day Around Alone race, which circumnavigates with stops, and the Vendée Globe, which is non-stop. Both of these are single-handed races, and are held every four years. The Volvo Ocean Race is a crewed race with stops which sails the clipper route every four years. Its origins lie in the Whitbread Round the World Race first competed in 1973–74. The Jules Verne Trophy is a prize for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by any type of yacht, with no restrictions on the size of the crew (no assistance, non-stop). Finally, the Global Challenge race goes around the world the “wrong way”, from east to west, which involves rounding Cape Horn against the prevailing winds and currents.

 

The Horn remains a major hazard for recreational sailors, however. A classic case is that of Miles and Beryl Smeeton, who attempted to round the Horn in their yacht Tzu Hang. Hit by a rogue wave when approaching the Horn, the boat pitchpoled (i.e. somersaulted end-over-end). Although they survived, and were able to make repairs in Talcahuano, Chile, they attempted the passage again, only to be rolled over, and dismasted for a second time, by another rogue wave, which again they miraculously survived.