Category Archives: Chile

Doubling Cape Horn, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 33-34:

On the 30th of January a strong land-breeze began to blow, which obliged us to get under way and beat out to sea. The weather now began to grow cold, the thermometer ranging from 50° to 45°. Our ship glided through the water like a thing of life. For several days many whales, seals, and porpoises showed themselves on the surface of the water. The porpoises differed from any I had ever seen before, in having a stripe around their necks. We captured several of them, and this made a fresh mess for all hands round. The next night at midnight we had a view of the rugged peaks of Terra del Fuego, and at twelve o’clock we entered the Straits of La Maire. The land here presents rather a dreary appearance. The high peaks on either hand are covered with snow, even in midsummer.

At sunset we passed the straits and again entered the open sea. We doubled Cape Horn in our shirt-sleeves, with studding sails set on both sides, below and aloft, and left it under close-reefed top-sails, with our pea-jackets on. We had but just rounded the cape and arrived in the South Pacific, or summer seas, when the wind suddenly shifted to the south, blowing a perfect gale from the regions of perpetual ice and snow. The change of temperature was sudden and keenly felt, and made us hug our pea-jackets closely about us. Such is the life of a sailor — from one extreme to another. Cape Horn is in latitude 55°48′ south, and sometimes vessels are driven as far as 60°, in order to get round into the Pacific. Cape Horn is called the “stormy cape.” It takes its name from the peculiar hornlike shape of its rocky mountain heights, which terminate the land. Be it fair or foul, rain or shine, in all weather and at all seasons, Cape Horn is a terror to the sailor, and many a long yarn is spun in the forecastle by poor Jack as this much-dreaded point is approached.

On the 18th of February we came to anchor in Orange Harbor, Terra del Fuego, or, as the name implies, the “land of fire.” This is the first harbor on the western side of Cape Horn. The cape was discovered by Magellan in the year 1519. It was at this spot that the celebrated circumnavigators, Captains Cook, King, Fitzroy, Laplace, d’Urville, and others used to make their rendezvous and lay in a supply of wood and water. The harbor is land-locked, and is the safest on the coast. It has many small bays, the best of which is Dingy Cove. Here boats may enter to obtain wood, and from its banks game and fish may be taken in great abundance. Everything about has a bleak and wintry appearance and is in keeping with the climate, yet the scenery is pleasing to the eye.

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