Rounding Cape Horn: The World’s Wickedest Waters

Kent E. St. John travels to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. This is a premier destination for nature enthusiasts who like coming in close contact with wildlife and using glaciers as their playgrounds.

Seals basking on the rocks of Cape Horn. Photo by Kent St. John.

I am the albatross that awaits you
At the end of the world.
I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners
Who passed Cape Horn
From all the oceans of the world.
But they did not die
In the furious waves.
Today they sail on my wings
Toward eternity,
In the last crack
Of the Antarctic winds.

With my mind fueled by poems by many, including this one by Sara Vial, I packed for an adventure cruise to the turbulent waters of Cape Horn. Magellan, Drake and Darwin are just some of the many to “Round the Horn.”

Many others sleep at the bottom of some of the world’s wickedest waters. Tradition was that a sailor who passed the Horn was allowed to wear a gold hoop earring in the left ear, the ear facing the Cape while sailing east. Such a feat also allowed one to get a tattoo of a fully rigged ship. My trip on the Mare Australis was blissfully peaceful and comfortable.

Just as wild as stormy seas are the incredibly rugged and beautiful islands and peninsulas we passed while cruising through the Straits of Magellan. Glaciers and mountains were a continual glorious backdrop. With the cruise lasting four nights, I also added some time to check out one of the wildest places on earth, Patagonia.

Wide Open

The wind pushed the clouds double time providing endless panoramas, one side of the car rolling hills, the other vistas of snow-capped peaks. Occasionally a truckload of sheep remind me I need to watch the road.

Even today it is the huge ranching stations that dominate the list of reasons for living so far from everything. That said, however, the endless places to get lost are a draw to the fast-growing number of outdoor adventurer junkies.

Three hours after leaving the airport in Punta Arenas I arrived at my base of Puerto Natales, a funky town that pulses with a New Age vibe.

Prissy the town isn’t, lively it is, and ranchers, fisherman and hikers fill the streets, a brotherhood of those in love with nature.

The place is a wonderful scruffy outpost with a scene of ‘work hard play hard.’ Early morning wake-ups combined with late nights of beers and music, a civilization unto itself.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Though my French guide and I were miles away from the Torres del Paine National Park, the three sheer granite towers stand like a beacon. Since 1978 the park has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere site as diverse as it is challenging. The options match the diversity, trekking, climbing or horse pack trips can be arranged.

Rounding Cape Horn: The World’s Wickedest Waters