56° South – Rounding Cape Horn

AntarcticIce

Jump out of bed. Pants, shoes and jacket on! Run down the hall, up one flight of stairs. Open the door and get hit by a wet, cold easterly gale. Fight the wind to try and walk the (slippery) deck on starboard side to the ship’s bow. Find your footing and hang on to a hand rail. Look at the horizon. Wake up!

You are at 56° South and that land you see in the distance, coming out of the fog, is Cabo de Hornos, the southernmost tip of the American continent. This small Chilean island is one of those epic, almost mythological, places in the collective minds of sailors and adventurers everywhere. Countless ships have been wrecked by these rocks and these waters. In times past, British sailors who sailed around it would pierce their left ear as a symbol –as they walked the streets, people would look at them in awe. “There goes a real sailor, he has felt the cold winds of Cape Horn!”

Around Cape Horn, the wind roars and the waves grow as high as cruise ships. Later on in the day, we would have a weather briefing. The crew showed us just how lucky we had been, steering clear of a massive storm in the Drake: massive in size with 10+ meter waves and winds above 70 knots (55 knots is considered a hurricane).

When confronted with a location like this, face to face with the power of nature, it is hard not to recognize the place that we –as humans– occupy in the largest scheme of things: not masters of the universe, but merely another (important) part in the system. An idea that has often been thrown around this ship is that we are not placed on this Earth to reap and take as we please, but rather as stewards of this incredible natural wealth. In the end, the natural world needs us as much as we need it. Our recognition of this reciprocity points us toward a sustainable way of life. Although we all understand this idea in theory, stepping on glaciers in Antarctica or gazing out into a storm in Cape Horn places it bluntly in front of you. It becomes an undeniable fact.

We stood there, with our eyes fixed on the horizon and making out the shape of a small building. A voice from the PA system said, “That is the Albatross Memorial. Inscripted in it are the following words:

I am the Albatross that waits for you at the end of the Earth
I am the forgotten soul of the deceased sailor
Who crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the World
But they did not die in furious waves,
Today they fly in my wings to eternity
In the last trough of the Antarctic Winds” [1]

-Diego

[1] A Tribute to Sailors from Days Gone By (Sara Vial), translated from the original Spanish

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