A Michael Palin documentary a few years back saw him actually land and set foot on Cape Horn. For those who don’t actually know, Cape Horn is, realistically the last point of “liveable” land on planet earth. Conditions further south are generally too cold, and this particular island is the southern most tip of South America.
It’s owned by Chile, not Argentina and forms the southern point of the island area known as Tierra Del Fuego. I love the name actually – CAPE HORN. It has a certain inspired ring to it. I was hell bent on seeing it for real, and selfishly I wanted to step foot on it.
It’s not cheap to land on the Cape of Horn and Michael Palin got it all paid for so that’s why he could afford it. He was a posh English type on a rich travel budget. I backpacked my way to Antarctica so to land on the Horn sadly wasn’t within my budget. Besides, Chilean officials do not allow any ships to go tithin a certain distance of Cape Horn, especially in strong waters – it’s around 12 or 13 miles for the usual proximity to the horn, unless special permission has been granted.
We left Argentina behind for Antarctica sailing on the MS Expedition which was built up in Denmakr, had been registered in Africa at Liberia and was now making these regular trips down to the white continent. Everyone on the ship was asleep (except the crew) the night we headed south on the dreaded Drake Passage, so getting up close to Cape Horn wasn’t happening – we were much too far east for that anyway and we had one intention – arriving in Antarctica
Russell and I had talked about whether or not we would see Cape Horn on the way back. Indeed the day before they had shown us a Cape Horn documentary which had us wondering. I asked a few of the leaders and they were tight lipped about it.
But it became obvious that the plan was to change direction so we could catch a glimpse of the horn. I noticed that we were making fast progress (there was a live map on board the boat near the reception, where we could all see where we had been and where we were going) and in fact had suddenly changed direction to head north west rather than directly north, following our departure from Elephant Island.
On the evening of our final ascent up the Drake Passage the visit to view Cape Horn was finally confirmed by the crew amid a joyous response. We were told at the recap of the day and the briefing session that we would indeed be sailing close to Cape Horn for a view at 5am the next morning.
The night before proved to be quite a late one in the onboard Polar Bear Bar, it was our final journey on the treacherous Drake Passage and we had all bonded as a group on board the ship and on land on the magical continent. I left the bar around 2.30 am, with many still up. Sunset had passed us by on the west and sunrise had begun in the east, giving the boat the odd position of one side in darkness and the other side in early morning light.
It was only 2 hours in bed and then up again so that we could actually see Cape Horn. It was a massive crowd gathered on deck for the viewing as we inched closer to the horn itself. It must have been 6.30 when we finally caught sight of it.
By 7am there it was and we all gasped as we saw it – this island tip ahead of us was indeed Cape Horn. Cheers roared louder when the captain then announced that the seas were not as rough as normal and we were being allowed to get beyond the normal 12 mile barrier and see Cape Horn close up.
Everyone gathered on the very top deck laden with cameras and warm clothes. It was a joy just staring out at this remote piece of land on the south tip of Chile knowing we had seen the end of the civilised world. We didn’t land on it, but we saw it.
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