Cape Horn: the landing

It's about 90 nautical miles from Puerto Williams to Cape Horn; my little chartlet is not necessarily our exact route but gives you a good idea. We left in a glorious sunset across the Strait, with Laurits, one of the crew, replacing the baggy winkles on the mizzen boom topping lift. Around us swirled flocks of birds who landed to gossip and then took off again, swooping low across the golden reflections.

We came towards Cape Horn under grey skies but flattish seas. The island itself sits proud but not very high, almost unimpressive for such a site of legend and fear, but no sailor can look at it but through the lens of the reality of fierce storms, endless currents and massive waves. We were lucky to be able to land. Getting ashore here means the ship anchoring in a small bay then clambering into zodiacs to reach the slippery rocks and steep stairs at the outer end of the boardwalk. Amongst all the other exciting things about the Horn it is an important wildlife site, home to eagles and tussac grass, strange and wild.

The island is full of memorials to the many sailors who have tried their wits and strength and bravery in these waters. The grandest is the great albatross flying over the headland, making the many lives lost at sea, as does the simple finger stone. I found the memorial to Robert Fitzroy very touching. He was the captain of Darwin's Beagle, and later a pro-Maori governor of New Zealand. As Vice-Admiral he first systematised weather forecasting - indeed he invented the term. At the end of his life, having spent his fortune and his courage in public service, he killed himself. The country is sometimes hardest on its most faithful servants. 

The Horn of course has an important lighthouse. The keeper and his family live here for long periods. Like all lighthouses, it is an isolated posting but there must be a special loneliness to this distant spot. They greeted us all as we lined up to sign the visitor's book and see our passports get their Cape Horn stamp. And, of course, we all needed the picture of ourselves to confirm the memories and stories.

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