Our final day on the ship was appropriately dramatic. The hopeful climax of the cruise is to be able to embark at Cape Horn. Cape Horn is the southernmost tip of South America and a legendary place. If the weather in Patagonia is challenging and unpredictable, the weather and sea surrounding Cape Horn takes it up a few levels.
Sailing around Cape Horn and then through the Drake Passage is one of the most challenging nautical routes on the planet. The waters between South America and Antarctica are plagued by icebergs, gale force winds and giant waves. The opening of the Panama Canal was not great for Patagonia but saved the lives of many sailors.
We began our final day on the ship with a less daunting initial destination. This time I decided to sign up for the medium hike instead of the hardest one. We got to walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, going ashore at Wulaia Bay. He did his walk through the Magellanic forest on January 23, 1833 but it likely hasn’t changed much since then.
My fitness had obviously improved a little and I was hot on the heels of the guide the entire hike. It was a decent hike with enough vertical for some heavy breathing showcasing the native flora and fauna, including the reward of a panoramic view of Wulaia Bay at the top of the hill.
This was also one of the largest settlements of the original inhabitants of the region, the Yamana. There is a small museum which features exhibits on the history of the Beagle Channel (including Darwin and Fitz Roy) and the Yamanas. Lots of controversy amid the human achievements in science and navigation – the progress of civilization is never a simple and straightforward path.
Prepare some photos to submit to the slide show that will part of the final night’s entertainment and wait for us to reach Cape Horn. I watch the weather and it doesn’t look promising. The water looks really choppy and the sun doesn’t magically appear calming the sea.
We are all herded into the lounge for a briefing about Cape Horn. We are shown a video and instructed on what to do if the zodiac
starts to fill with water. If the conditions aren’t safe, we will have to fly the pirate flag in lieu of an actual excursion and Cape Horn photo shoot.
We all wait around anxiously as a small team of experienced staff members is sent out in a zodiac to test the waters and report to the captain on the conditions. It looks challenging but the captain says it’s a “go” so we don’t want to miss the opportunity.
The zodiac rides are slower and more somber but we manage to not take on water so it’s only a small adventure. I pile on all the warm gear I brought – the polar worthy fleece, thick gloves and a wool hat I bought in equally weather challenged Iceland. It was totally worth the space in my luggage! The wind is blowing so hard we can’t go into the lighthouse but we can climb up the stairs and take photos with the wind battered albatross that marks the spot as Cape Horn.
The Cape Horn Memorial was erected in 1992 to honour all the sailors who died trying to round the Cape. The albatross is supposed to support winds of 200 kilometres per hour but there has been some damage already from the wild weather and it’s a little crooked in places but still impressive.
Our voyage ended with a delicious dinner, the group slideshow and more people hanging out at the open bar. The Germans I had met the night before gave me a hard time for not doing the hardest hike and I had a lovely conversation late into the night with Lee from England.
One of the trips that had been floating in my imagination for over a decade was complete. I would have loved better weather but it was still spectacular and worth the journey to the end of the world…