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Up Close to Cape Horn

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.[


Cape Horn is in Tierra del Fuego. A series of islands owned jointly by Argentina and Chile, however Cape Horn is on the Chilean side. What a great name – Cape Horn – it just sounds inspiring and makes you want to see it. That was the plan and we were on our way!

it’s expensive to visit the Cape of Horn. For some reason Michael Palin didn’t pay for it – it would all have been covered by a generous BBC budget for the purpose of filming. My trip was on a much lower budget and I managed to backpack my way to Antarctica – the trip to visit the Horn, even just to see it on the way back was such a bonus. However the Chilean marine authorities don’t let ships close to it – they issue a proximity maximum of around 12 – 13 miles except in special circumstances.

The boat we were sailing on was a mighty fine vessel. Having been made in Denmark and registered in Liberia it was now making regular journeys from Antarctica to Argentina! We didn’t catch a glimspe of Cape Horn at all on our departure from Argentina and in fact we headed into the dreaded Drake Passage late at night so even passing by the area close most of the passengers on board would have been asleep. Plus we didn’t actually go near Cape Horn on the way down, as it’s further west. [


There were rumours circulating on board the ship that we would be calling at Cape Horn on the way back up to Argentina. This all began by the crew showing us an intriguing documentary about Cape Horn as we headed back onto the Drake Passage, however nothing was confirmed.

On the way back up on the Drake Passage most of us noticed the ship had changed direction slightly and now appeared to be heading north west rather than directly north. As Cape Horn was north west of us, it became clear that we were indeed going to be passing by Cape Horn!

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.

I awoke at 5 am just a few hours later, and awoke Mark my cabin mate to say “It’s 5 am, aren’t we supposed to be near Cape Horn now?” I looked out the window and there was no sign of Cape Horn so we drifted back to sleep and waited on the wake up call. I awoke again at 6 am, still with no announcement from The Bridge about whether or not we had reached Cape Horn, but I decided to get up and shower and change anyway as I couldn’t miss this chance.

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.

It was straight upstairs to the For’d Deck for the fantastic morning view of the fabulous Cabo De Hornos. In the end we got within 3 miles of Cape Horn! It wasn’t even a dream. I saw Cape Horn for real. Totally immense. Been there, done that, didn’t stand on the land there.

To read more articles like Seeing Cape Horn head to Jonny Blair’s popular website A Lifestyle of Travel for ongoing travel stories and advice.