Home ° 2017

South America

Cape Horn

Distance from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn: 13,328 Nautical Miles

Map of Magellan Strait.
Map of the Magellan Straits, Patagonia

Cape Horn is the southernmost point of South America and is the steep headland on Horn Island, part of Tierra del Fuego, in southern Chile. It is the southernmost point of South America and extends into Drake Passage.

The cape was sighted by Sir Francis Drake in 1578, but it was named for the birthplace (Hoorn) of the Dutch navigator Willem Schouten, who, with Jacob Le Maire, first sailed around it in January of 1616. They named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn, Schouten's birthplace. The Spanish name of the place is a degeneration of the dutch: Cabo de Hornos. Europeans located the Strait of Magellan in 1520 when Ferdinand Magellan sailed into its waters.

In 1767, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville commanded the frigate Boudeuse; the Etoile joined him in Rio de Janeiro in June 1767. After negotiating the sale of the Spanish takeover of the Falklands, Bougainville sailed into the Strait of Magellan. Due to rough seas and winds, de Bougainville needed fifty-two days to complete the transit. He found evidence of a prior passage by the British ships commanded by Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret.

The area of the Cape is in Chile. The terrain is entirely treeless, although quite lush due to the frequent precipitation. Cape Horn is one of the stormiest and most dangerous passages in the world.  Winds blow cold and constant between 35 - 125 knots. Waves are between 80 to 120 feet rising out of freezing cold water and the likelihood of survival once overboard is minimal.

Excerpted from The Voyage of the BeagleShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports., Charles Darwin

During our previous visit (in January), we had an interview at Cape Gregory with the famous so-called gigantic Patagonians, who gave us a cordial reception. Their height appears greater than it really is, from their large guanaco mantles, their long flowing hair, and general figure: on an average, their height is about six feet, with some men taller and only a few shorter; and the women are also tall; altogether they are certainly the tallest race which we anywhere saw.

In features they strikingly resemble the more northern Indians whom I saw with Rosas, but they have a wilder and more formidable appearance: their faces were much painted with red and black, and one man was ringed and dotted with white like a Fuegian.

Patagonian Woman and Man Dancing.

Captain Fitz Roy offered to take any three of them on board, and all seemed determined to be of the three. It was long before we could clear the boat; at last we got on board with our three giants, who dined with the Captain, and behaved quite like gentlemen, helping themselves with knives, forks, and spoons: nothing was so much relished as sugar.

March 24, 1891, Monroe Daily Independent, Monroe, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

It is curious to note that the shepherds who come to Punta Arenas to buy goods and provisions often pay in gold-dust, which they gather in the streams near which their flocks are feeding. Skins and furs form a second important industry; seal and sea-otters abound in the various channels between the islands, of Terra del Fuego and of the Straits of Magellan, and three times a year the Patagonian Indians ride into Punta Arenas to sell the produce of their hunting excursions, namely, puma, ostrich, guanaco and silver-fox skins. The exportation of furs is an important business here, and the port, standing as it does in the regular steamer track, is destined to greater and greater prosperity; When we returned on board we found two Danish fur dealers displaying their stock of merchandise and endeavoring to do business with the passengers. The skins were spread out over the hatches on the aft deck - ostrich, guanaco, seal, otter, puma, fox-looking soft and warm, and interspersed with a few Indian curiosities, such as bows, arrows, spears, lassos, shell-work, spurs, models of bark canoes, and the terrible bolas, which the Patagonians and their pupils, the Argentine gauchos, use to hunt the ostrich.

This tribe has had so much communication with sealers and whalers that most of the men can speak a little English and Spanish; and they are half civilized, and proportionally demoralized.

1611 Argentina, Chile, Magellan, Strait of Magellan. Exquisita and Magno Aliquot Mensium Periculo Lustrata et Iam Retecta Freti Magellanici facies: Eijgentlicke Asbeeldinghe der Magellanischer Strate die nu met veel gevaers eitelijeke Maenden doorsien van nieus ondecktis.

Strait of Magellan. Map.

Cape Horn is famous for the weather conditions that made it difficult to round in the days of sailing ships. Even so, the open waters of the Drake Passage south of the Cape meant plenty of sea room for maneuvering, while the narrow Strait of Magellan through the Tierra del Fuego islands could be a slow and tortuous passage.

Clipper Red Jacket Off Cape Horn.

Clipper Ship, Red Jacket, Off Cape Horn
Passage from Australia to Liverpool. c 1854

October 31, 1854, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Red Jacket -- Considerable interest has been excited in consequence of the appearance in our bay of one of the finest clipper ships the world has ever produced. The Red Jacket, under the command of Capt. Reed, has performed the passage from Liverpool to Port Philip, in the astonishing short period of 67 days 10 hours -- a passage unparalleled in the history of sailing ships. The greatest speed attained during her run from England to Australia in the 24 hours was 402 miles, being a little over 17 knots an hour! From the light winds under which the ship has labored, her passage has been astonishingly rapid, thus preventing the possibility of adhering strictly to the priniciple of great circular sailing. As a proof of the admirable qualities of this ornament to our sailing ships, it is recorded by Capt. Reed's log, that in her passage from the longitude of the Cape, taking it at 21 east, she occupied the short time of 17 days 10 hours. ~ Melbourne Morning Herald, July 17

November 30, 1854, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Editor: I noticed that your correspondent "Canada." at Melbourne, whose letter was published in your yesterday's issue, stated that the world renowned clipper ship Red Jacket was built in New York. I will merely state that I was present on the day that this noble craft for the first time touched the water it was in Kockland. Maine. She was built by Geo. Thomas, Esq., and is owned by Messrs. Secomb & Taylor, of Boston, and Mr. Thomas, the builder. The Red Jacket is admitted to be the fleetest craft afloat. On her first voyage, which was from New York to Liverpool, for seven days the averaged eighteen knots an hour; while her greatest run in the 234 hours was four hundred and thirteen geographical miles, being about eighteen knots an hour! ~ W.

November 23, 1894, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Roundabout but Quick Voyage of a Ship to San Diego

Alcide D'Orbigny, French Edition.

San Diego, Nov. 22. The British ship Harland, which arrived from London Tuesday, was in company with the American ship Sterling, Captain Weldon, bound from Philadelphia for this port. Both encountered a fearful gale off the Horn, which drove the Sterling back and forced her to go to the Falkland Islands to repair her topsides. The Harland, after a desperate struggle, gave up trying to pass through the teeth of the gale and turned eastward, taking the course straight across the South Atlantic, doubling the Cape of Good Hope, passing between Tasmania and New Zealand, and coming thence across the Pacific to San Diego. The immense distance was covered in 183 days.

June 29, 1895, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Wrecked Off Cape Horn

Montevideo, Uruguay, June 28. The American ship Arabia, from New York May 14 for San Francisco, was totally wrecked off Cape Horn, some days ago. The crew was landed at this port today.


All around old Cape Horn
Ships of the line, ships of the morn
Some who wish they'd never been born
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn
Fal deral da riddle de rum
With a rim dim diddy
And a rum dum dum
Sailing away at the break of morn
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn

See them all in sad repair
Demons dance everywhere
Southern gales, tattered sails
And none to tell the tales

Come all of you rustic old sea dogs
Who follow the great Southern Cross
You we're rounding the Horn
In the eye of a storm
When ya lost 'er one day
And you read all yer letters
From oceans away
Then you took them to the bottom of the sea

All around old Cape Horn
Ships of the line, ships of the morn
Those who wish they'd never been born
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn

Fal deral da riddle de rum
With a rim dim diddy
And a rum dum dum
Sailing away at the break of morn
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn

Come all you old sea dogs from Devon
Southampton, Penzance, and Kinsale
You were caught by the chance
Of a sailor's last dance
It was not meant to be
And ya read all yer letters
Cried anchor aweigh
Then ya took them to the bottom of the sea

All around old Cape Horn
Ships of the line, ships of the morn
Those who wish they'd never been born
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn

Fal deral da riddle de rum
With a rim dim diddy
And a rum dum dum
Sailing away at the break of morn
They are the ghosts of Cape Horn

In Darwin's Wake: Revisiting Beagle's South American AnchoragesDarwin's Wake: Revisiting Beagle's South American Anchorages.
John Campbell
Darwin's Wake: Revisiting Beagle's South American Anchorages.While planning a cruise on Thalassi, an 83-ft. ketch, along the South American coast and around Cape Horn, skipper John Campbell realized that his route would closely follow that taken by Charles Darwin on his historic journey aboard the Beagle. Thus was born his plan to compare the reality of those same places today with the descriptions and observations made by Darwin over one hundred and fifty years earlier.

Cape Horn.
Rounding the Horn: Being the Story of Williwaws and Windjammers, Drake, Darwin, Murdered Missionaries and Naked Natives--a Deck's-eye View of Cape HornCape Horn.

Dallas Murphy

Cape Horn.Fifty-five degrees 59 minutes South by 67 degrees 16 minutes West: Cape Horn, situated at the bottom of South America, is a place of forlorn and foreboding beauty that has captured the dark imaginations of explorers and writers from Francis Drake to Joseph Conrad. For centuries, the small stretch of water between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula was the only gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Storms are bigger, winds stronger, and the seas rougher than anywhere else on earth.

In Rounding the Horn, author Dallas Murphy undertakes the ultimate maritime rite of passage weaving together stories of his own nautical adventures with tales of those who braved the Cape before him from Spanish missionaries to Captain Cook and interspersing them with breathtaking descriptions of the surrounding wilderness.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

Kindly Kindly Donate.


DALevy @


Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.