Ever had that feeling of despair when you have expended lots of effort to get somewhere, only to find it was closed?
Well, imagine travelling 8,500 miles, taking three flights and half a day’s journey by sea, only to find you cannot reach your ultimate destination.
That’s what happened to me when I got to Cape Horn.
OK, so my destination was more than a little off the beaten track, and has been ever since the opening of the Panama Canal saved ships having to make the long journey to the southern tip of the American continent to cross from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. And I am by no means the first to find that weather conditions prevented me from going ashore at this desolate spot – now I know how Charles Darwin may have felt.
But with winds gusting at near hurricane force 75-80 knots, it was inevitable that my fellow passengers and I would have to remain on board the expedition ship Via Australis rather than clamber aboard Zodiac inflatable boats for a landing on the island’s rocky shore.
All we got was a tantalising glimpse of the spectacular monument at the island’s peak, its twin steel sails creating the shape of a soaring albatross, and the lighthouse which came too late to prevent hundreds of shipwrecks in these perilous waters.
And, of course, the satisfaction of getting to this point, even though we were so near, yet so far away from our goal.
The captain had done his best, sailing overnight from Ushuaia in Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, but even as my alarm trilled at 5.50 am the howling wind foretold the worst.
Our vessel, a mere 200-feet in length, was heeling over at a steep angle as we battled south, pitching around in a shroud of spray. The little flag at the bow was almost ripped to shreds, and the ship’s whip-like radio aerials bent as if they were fishing rods with a sizeable salmon on the hook.
The open observation deck had to be closed for obvious safety reasons – anyone foolhardy enough to ignore the chains across the stairs would have risked being plucked off their feet by the wind. Even the sothern giant petrels and black-browed albatrosses which frequent the area knew better than to venture out in this weather.
There can have been no more than a dozen and a half of the 120 passengers who braved the moment in the shelter of the stern deck area ironically next to the Zodiacs which would have carried us ashore. At least we were rewarded when the sun broke through the grey clouds and illuminated the headland
We jostled around taking pictures of the headland and each other as our boat circled for 20 minutes before deciding to run for shelter. Then we went inside for a welcome glass of warming rum and then breakfast. First things first!
There were several hours of rough seas to endure before we reached shelter, and I suppose it was some consolation to learn that these were the fiercest winds the ship had encountered all season. We may not have been able to go ashore, but we were treated to an authentic Cape Horn experience.