Cape Horn

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, marks one of the most dangerous seafaring routes in the world. "Rounding the Horn" has been the cause of more than 800 shipwrecks and 10,000 lives lost. For centuries, European explorers attempted to find shortcuts via the Northwest Passage through the archipelago north of Canada and via southerly routes around the continents.

The Horn, 1,391 feet high, was discovered as a direct result of the Dutch East India Company's restriction on any other Dutch trading company using the Cape of Good Hope or the Straits of Magellan, some 200 miles north of Cape Horn. Seeking a different, legal route, a Dutch navigator, Willem Schouten, sailed around the Horn in 1616. Unfortunately, when he arrived in the East Indies, no one believed he had used an alternate passage, and he was thrown in jail until the new route was confirmed.

Cape Horn, Cape Hoorn, Cabo de Hornos

Named after Schouten's hometown of Hoorn in the Netherlands, the promontory was anglicized to "Horn." In Spanish, which is the language of Chile where the Horn is located, it is Cabo de Hornos. Whatever the name, it is the most feared spot on earth for those who sail. So great is its legendary status that, even today, it is a magnet for adventurous sailors, and some still die in the attempt.

According to sailors' lore, anyone who "rounds the Horn" is permitted to wear a gold hoop earring in the left ear to let the world know of the feat. In this modern age, visitors who sail these treacherous waters still feel a sense of accomplishment at having met the challenge of these turbulent seas. Today, sailors may be more knowledgeable about navigating the waters around the promontory than in years past, but they are still respectful and fearful when they sail around Cape Horn.


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