February 10th: Ushuaia and rounding the Horn
We’ve rounded Cape Horn, or more specifically, we sailed around the entire island. I had assumed Cape Horn was the tip of the pointy end of the South American continent – on that bit shaped like an inverted rhinoceros horn that curves slightly towards the Atlantic Ocean. I was completely wrong. Cape Horn is actually on an unimposing, and otherwise insignificant island, Horn Island, which is part of an archipelago. It’s significance is that it’s the southernmost bit of land on the planet before you reach Antarctica. The second most southerly point is south of the Cape of Good Hope, and Stewart Island rocks in at third place.
Our captain, who is a very dashing Italian, decided conditions were good enough for us to actually sail around the entire island – thus ‘rounding the Horn’ which doesn’t occur very often due to weather conditions. Although we were assured the conditions were calm, the wind was gusting at 45 knots. It was hard to stand up, and Cavan had to hold on to his glasses as the wind simply snatched everything away. Within minutes the weather changed from sunny to icy cold rain, and then back again. I can only imagine how terrifying an experience it was for the early sailors in the Clippers who had to manoeuvre through these seas under sail power. It was impressive enough with the power of a modern vessel behind us.
There is a house on the island which we saluted with a burst from the ship’s horn as we passed by, and the Princess line ensign was raised. Albatross soared around us throughout the morning – they are the souls of mariners who lost their lives rounding the Horn, and a statue of an albatross stands on the island in memory of them.
At Ushuaia yesterday we took a boat trip to look at the wildlife. We saw where the birds nest on rocky, multi-coloured little islands in the bay. From a distance these islets are prettily coloured in green, orange and white. Closer too, the green is formed of moss and grass, the orange by lichen, and the white is guano – all of which is lovely from a distance, but downwind of the islands the stench of guano is foul, overpowering, and I didn’t really feel free of it until I’d had a shower that evening.
Sea lions rested in a happy pile on one of the islands. They looked very contented in the sun. It was hard to remember only a few weeks ago a NZ scientist was been badly bitten by one and had to be airlifted home for treatment.
The town of Ushuaia is pretty, nestled as it is at the foot of truly inspiring and dramatic mountain peaks. There was a very visible police presence. There were probably at least four cops on every single street corner. I assume they were in evidence to protect us passengers from the cruise ship, and wondered what it said about the moral values of the native Usuaians. We are now of course in Argentina. It was a far cry from Chilean Punta Arenas where we were assured the crime level was so low, no one locked their car or their homes.
We are now in the Atlantic Ocean and heading for the Falklands. The weather has clagged in, and we are sailing through fog. Thank heavens for modern gadgetry like radar.