Cabo De Hornos

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Cabo de Hornos is the Spanish name for Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Originally named for the hometown (Hoorn) of its Dutch discoverer, Willem Schouten, this promontory became a deadly lure for sailors seeking alternative options to the only known route from the Atlantic to eastern destinations, which was around the Cape of Good Hope. Hundreds of ships and thousands of lives have been lost in attempts to navigate the ferocious waters and battle the fierce winds of the Horn.

Despite its worldwide reputation, this passage became popular during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Apparently, it was preferable to the dangers of the vast prairies of the United States. With the opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, this faster, safer means of transportation diminished the importance of Cabo de Hornos for travelers. When the Panama Canal was opened to shipping in 1914, traffic around the Horn was reduced even more.

The Perilous Cabo de Hornos

The daunting voyage facing sailors, even today, can be comprehended by absorbing some dramatic statistics about the Horn. On average, there are 200 days out of the year that have gale-force storms; about 130 days have heavy cloud cover. Sailors frequently face waves of over 65 feet as they sail around Cape Horn. Even without violent storms and huge waves, normal weather brings high winds and rough seas. Captain Bligh tried to take the HMS Bounty around the Horn on three occasions in 1788; he finally had to give up and continue to Tahiti via the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.

Today, cruise ships take tourists on Antarctic expeditions and make stops at permanent research stations on the continent. In summer months, these ships tackle the Beagle Channel, which is named after Charles Darwin's ship. "Rounding the Horn" in a sailing vessel, however, is still the ultimate in seamanship. The irony is that, whereas sailors traditionally have avoided Cabo de Hornos if at all possible, today's sailors are impassioned about mastering it, and regard it as one of the great challenges in the modern world.

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