The bottom of the world

Text by Jonno Turner
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Fast and furious
The bottom of the world Text by Jonno Turner
 
On Monday, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will round the legendary Cape Horn...

It's one of the most famous and mysterious areas of the planet. But why is it so special to these salty adventurers?

Well, listen up fact fans - because here's everything you need to know about the place that Charles Darwin wrote "is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death".

Something to write home about. Cape Horn, at the southern-most tip of South America, is regarded by sailors as the most iconic and feared landmark in the world.

What makes it so challenging? It's cold, it's bleak and it's dangerous. It's home to biblical storms and gale force winds, making visibility difficult. Oh, and lying just 500 miles from Antarctica, look out for the odd iceberg too.

Making history. The first to make it around was Dutch mariner Willem Schouten, who named it after Hoorn, his hometown in the north of the Netherlands.

Only the toughest. Even today, more people have reached the summit of Everest than have sailed around Cape Horn.

"If you understand history, if you like ships, to go around Cape Horn means a lot" - Sir Peter Blake, Steinlager II

Middle of nowhere. The need for ships to round Cape Horn was greatly reduced by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, which makes a modern-day visit there even more special. There are no commercial routes around the Horn, and modern ships are rarely seen.

Location, location, location. Set your sat nav to 55°58′48″S 067°17′21″W. 

Lest we forget. On Hoorn island, there's a large sculpture by Chilean artist José Balcells featuring an albatross in remembrance of the sailors who died while attempting to round the Horn.

Rich traditions. Sailors celebrate a successful rounding of Cape Horn in many ways, including lighting up cigars and pouring a small bottle of alcohol into the sea to toast those who didn't make it, and thank King Neptune for a safe passage.

"Keeping in one piece all the way to the Horn is important, because that’s where the race will be won and lost" - Ian Walker, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Waves bigger than houses. The strong winds of the Southern Ocean mean equally large waves, and, free of any interruption from land, these waves roll at a great height, some even 30m tall. But south of the Horn, the waves become shorter and steeper, which can be a nightmare for passing boats.

Gold rush. During the 1800s, Cape Horn was deemed so dangerous that the Spanish dragged their plundered gold across land rather than risk shipping it around the landmark. The current has thrown many sailors and ships onto the rocks.

Permanent reminders. Those who have successfully made it around the landmark are entitled to wear a gold hoop earring in whichever ear passed closest to Cape Horn. Also, if you see someone with a tattoo of a full-rigged ship, give him a pat on the back. According to maritime tradition, it means he’s been around the Horn! 

Oh yeah, and you're allowed to put your feet up on the table too. ANY TABLE.

"This is the dream. Cape Horn is a rite of passage. It's the leg I thought about when I signed on as skipper in Alicante" - Charlie Enright, Team Alvimedica