At Cape Horn (and lagniappe) « Why Evolution Is True

As of 6:37 this morning Antarctic time (3 hours later than Chicago time), the ship’s map shows us where we are: sailing back through the Drake Passage from Cape Horn to Antarctica. We’re scheduled to land tomorrow (I don’t know where yet), which suggests that more penguins may be in store! I can’t get enough face time (or is it beak time?) with these adorable, tough, and well-adapted birds.

As it’s getting closer to Antarctic summer, expedition-ship traffic is increasing, with most of the boats run by Hurtigruten or Quark Expeditions. You can find out which boat is which by going to the map site and putting your mouse over a boat. The Roald Amundsen is circled in red:

The ship’s real-time Panomax Camera shows us, as of 20 minutes ago, in the middle of the Drake: sea all around as the sun rises:

Yesterday we landed on Cape Horn, which is somewhat of an accomplishment because, as the Captain told us, conditions are so rough there that only one in five or ten visits has weather mild enough for a landing. I spent a good two hours on the island, and show some pictures (with lagniappe at the bottom). First, some words about this passage from Wikipedia (most quotes from that source):

Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island. Although not the most southerly point of South America (which are the Diego Ramírez Islands), Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage and marks where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.

Cape Horn was discovered and first rounded in 1616 by the Dutchman Willem Schouten, who named it Kaap Hoornafter the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. For decades, Cape Horn was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs.

Here’s a view of the Cape from the ship. You can see a tower on the headland, as well as a small dot in front of it. The tower is supposed to mark the southernmost part of the island, and the dot is a lighthouse, inhabited year-round.

Below: going ashore in Zodiacs from the Roald Amundsen. It is considered a difficult landing because there’s no easy way to beach a Zodiac on the shore, and so you must exit from the front (usually it’s from the side), while several Expedition Team members hold the boat steady. Kudos to those team members, who must stand in cold water up to their waists for several hours to receive and send off the Zodiacs. This is a touch bunch, I tell you, but they’re absolutely dedicated to their work.

Disembarking passengers. The seven people in yellow and blue jackets are Expedition Team members, while the guy at the rear with the goggles is a skillful Zodiac driver (it takes, I’m told, a lot of practice to steer one of these rubber, flat-bottomed boats):

Here’s the entrance sign to the lighthouse complex, which is run by a Chilean naval officer and his family. They are there for at least a year, though the last guy apparently didn’t last more than a few months. The Spanish is roughly translated as “Chilean Army.  Mayor of the Sea, Cape Horn.”

Here’s the plaque by the huge flagpole that formally marks the southernmost point of South America, the “monumental flagpole of Cape Horn.” Spanish-speaking readers are invited to give a translation in the comments.

The monumental flagpole. It is big, but there was no flag flying on this pole. I imagine that, given the winds, it would be quickly ripped to shreds.

The lighthouse from afar. It is, as I said, still manned, though I can’t be sure it actually lights up to help ships get around the Horn safely.

A closer view. There is apparently a smaller lighthouse lower down, located right on the sea, but we weren’t able to glimpse it.

The lighthouse stands next to a small church, the Chapel of Stella-Maris, where, I suppose, mariners give thanks for safe passage or families pray for the many sailors lost at Cape Horn.

Here’s the friendly naval officer stationed at the lighthouse with his family. Their children are homeschooled for the one year period of tenure, but I wasn’t able to ask how they got supplies. Presumably they are supplied by vessels or helicopters (there’s a helipad) that service the nearby naval base.

The tiny Chapel from the outside. . .

. . . and from the inside:

And a memorial plaque to Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865), captain of the Beagle during the latter part of its first voyage and the entirety of its second voyage, which also carried Charles Darwin. According to the plaque, FitzRoy landed here on the first voyage—on April 19, 1830. The second voyage lasted, as all Darwin aficionados know, from 1831-1836.

This is the Cape Horn Memorial. According to TripSavvy, it was “added to Hornos Island in 1992. The Chilean section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood sponsored the erection of this memorial that honors thousands of mariners who lost their lives in the waters around the Cape.”  And the date is 1989, not 1992.

Here’s the inscription, which, curiously, is in French.

The conflation of the monument above with the very famous Cape Horn Monument, below, is confusing. But there’s no doubt about how moving—and how artistic—the metal monument is. As TripSavvy notes:

The memorial, designed by a Chilean artist, is constructed of 22-feet-high steel plates and made to withstand winds of 200 miles per hour. To build it, members of the Chilean Marine Corps used an amphibious exercise to transport over 120 tons of materials from two barges to shore.

It’s very clever, as the plates are in two separate sections, with the space in between outlining the shape of an albatross. Wikipedia names the sculptor:

[The] memorial [includes] a large sculpture made by Chilean sculptor José Balcells, [features] the silhouette of an albatross.

Isn’t it lovely?

I think this is the most beloved part of the Cape Horn experience (you are limited to walking on wooden paths because the peat-bog and tussock-grass habitat is marshy and fragile). A line of passengers snaked its way to the memorial:

Wikipedia explains why so many sailor have been killed, and ships foundered, on Cape Horn:

Several factors combine to make the passage around Cape Horn one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world: the fierce sailing conditions prevalent in the Southern Ocean generally; the geography of the passage south of the Horn; and the extreme southern latitude of the Horn, at 56° south. (For comparison, Cape Agulhas at the southern tip of Africa is at 35° south; Stewart Island/Rakiura at the south end of New Zealand is 47° south.)

The prevailing winds in latitudes below 40° south can blow from west to east around the world almost uninterrupted by land, giving rise to the “roaring forties” and the even more wild “furious fifties” and “screaming sixties”. These winds are hazardous enough that ships traveling east would tend to stay in the northern part of the forties (i.e. not far below 40° south latitude); however, rounding Cape Horn requires ships to press south to 56° south latitude, well into the zone of fiercest winds. These winds are exacerbated at the Horn by the funneling effect of the Andes and the Antarctic peninsula, which channel the winds into the relatively narrow Drake Passage.

The strong winds of the Southern Ocean give rise to correspondingly large waves; these waves can attain great height as they roll around the Southern Ocean, free of any interruption from land. At the Horn, however, these waves encounter an area of shallow water to the south of the Horn, which has the effect of making the waves shorter and steeper, greatly increasing the hazard to ships. If the strong eastward current through the Drake Passage encounters an opposing east wind, this can have the effect of further building up the waves. In addition to these “normal” waves, the area west of the Horn is particularly notorious for rogue waves, which can attain heights of up to 30 metres (98 feet).

Here are the two marble plaques describing the Albatross Monument. Here it says the monument was erected in 1992 in honor of those who died fighting the “elements of the Chilean southern sea”.

A poem to go along with the albatross memorial. I’ll leave a reader to translate the Spanish in a poetic fashion:

More from Wikipedia:

Traditionally, a sailor who had rounded the Horn was entitled to wear a gold loop earring—in the left ear, the one which had faced the Horn in a typical eastbound passage—and to dine with one foot on the table; a sailor who had also rounded the Cape of Good Hope could place both feet on the table.

Here is the tussock grassland surrounding the Cape. This part actually has stunted trees, called Krummholz (“crooked wood”) in German. The Wikipedia article at the link explains how this happens.

More views of the grassland:

I’m not sure exactly what this is, but I am sure that a botanist or botanical enthusiast will identify it:

This plant, too, needs identification:

A close-up of the vegetation:

I’m told that our passports, which are in possession of the ship, have all been stamped with a special Cape Horn stamp featuring penguins. I can’t wait to see it!. The Internet says the stamp looks like this:

Back to life aboard ship. Here’s a menu and some photos from the four-course dinner the night before last (I skipped the egg drop soup):

The chorizo and pork terrine:

Lamb shank with mashed potatoes and ratatouille. As you see, we’re not eating poorly on this trip!

And the dessert—pineapple mousse.

In the main dining room, seats by the window—first come, first served at breakfast and lunch—are at a premium. Here you see why:

The second night aboard, the Captain has a speech and a toast in the “Explorer Lounge” (a comfortable large room with chairs overlooking the view and a bar). All the ship’s officers are introduced, as are the Expedition Team, with each of us asked to say a few words. Here’s the “brass”. We have a new captain for this section of the trip; he’s on the extreme left. The friendly chef is on the right.

And so we ply on to Antarctica. The Drake Passage is remarkably calm this morning (it’s called “Drake Lake”, which could also apply to Botany Pond), and it’s even a bit sunny.

Petrels, fulmars, and albatrosses are wheeling around the ship, hoping to grab a fish stirred up by our wake. I almost never see these birds flap their wings, so adept are they are using air currents to soar. Penguins are everyone’s goal here, but we shouldn’t neglect these remarkable sea birds.


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