Maritime Topics on Stamps:
  Cape Horn      

Cape Horn is the name of the southern tip of a small island called Horn and a 424 meters high mountain (see stamp above). The island is the southernmost point of America on geographical 55 degree 59 minutes southern latitude and 67 degree 14 minutes western length. The name Horn was assigned by it's Dutch discoverers and refers to their hometown. The notation differs from Cape Horn or The Horn (England, see the stamp above), Cap Horn (France), Capo Horn (Italy), Cabo Hornos (Spain) to Kap Horn or Kap Hoorn (Germany).
On the stamp above the British 'Tryal' is shown, breaking it's main mast while rounding Cape Horn in 1741. The ship was assigned to the squadron of Lord George Anson.

Cape Horn is an area feared by all sailors because of frequent heavy storms and hurricanes. Cold and hot air clash and form extensive low pressure eddies. These areas were also called the howling fifties and roaring forties, as the gales reach up to 160 km/h. The wind blows from mainly western directions causing all sailing ships heading for the Pacific to constantly tack against high seas, rain, cold weather and poor visibility. The crews fought on overflooded decks and in wildly swaying masts against stiff sails and frozen cordage. In those times it took superhuman strength to bear the strain of a successful Cape Horn rounding.
In addition, here the two oceans hit each other with warm and cold water masses causing a strong current to the east. This current has thrown many ships and sailors on the reefs and islands. The swell builds up over thousands of nautical miles and hits against the Continental shelf. Gigantic waves and dangerous cross seas are the result, capable of simply smashing ships apart. Wave heights can reach up to 110 feet.

If the captains tried to round the Horn far in the south to reach the zone of easterly winds they were in danger of the ice drift. Their ships, their sails froze, collisions with icebergs were frequent as the area was also known for sudden and heavy fog as well. The cold crept into every corner of the ship and made life miserable. And then there was snowfall, too!
Even if the ships headed from the Pacific into the Atlantic, the high abaft sea threatened to break over the stern. The ships heavily rolled from one side to the other in the wild sea. Several men armed the rudder at once to keep the course and prevent breaking.

Now on to the men, who discovered this 'end of the world' and rounded the Cape Horn first:

In August, 1519 Fernando Magellan, a Portuguese sailing for Spain, started with a fleet of five small ships and 237 men crew into the unknown. The ships were the 'Trinidad', the 'San Antonio', the 'Conception', the 'Victoria' and the ' Santiago'.
The destination of the journey were the spice islands, the Molukken. They should be reached by discovering a route other than the one controlled by the Portuguese around the Cape of Good Hope. In November, 1520, Magellan discovered a passage into the Pacific which bore the name 'Magellan Street' from this time on. They sailed for 38 (30) days through a tangle of islands until the fleet reached a peaceful ocean which was named 'El Pacifico'.
On the stamp to the left Magellan is depicted with his Magellan Street.
Despite their success it was a terrible voyage. Many sailors died of famine, ships were lost, captured or deserted. Magellan himself was killed by natives in the Philippines. On September 8th, 1522, after three years, the 'Victoria' under command of Sebastian Del Cano, reached the port of Sevilla carrying only 18 survivors. The first voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific and simultaneously the first circumnavigation of the world was history!

The English seafarer and corsair Francis Drake had experienced the Pacific in Panama and planned to raid this area. Supported by the English queen, Elizabeth I., he assembled a small fleet of five ships and in December 1577 he set sail at Plymouth and headed for South America. His flagship was the 'Pelican', renamed 'Golden Hind' later on.
Supported by winds and currents (tidal range 39 feet) it took Drake only 17 days to cross the Magellan Street. On September 6th, 1578, they sailed into the Pacific where they met a terrible gale. The small 'Marigold' disappeared, the 'Elizabeth' fled back into the Magellan Street and then on to England. The 'Golden Hind' tried to clow off the coast and was driven far to the south.

Here Drake discovered that the Tierra del Fuego was not the beginning of the legendary continent 'Terra Australis Incognita' but an island. He had reached the southernmost point of America. The sea south of Cape Horn was named after him 'Drake Street'. Drake turned and sailed towards the north along South America's west coast (see souvenir sheet above). After a circumnavigation of the world, he returned in September, 1580 to the port of Plymouth - his holds full of treasures.

The Dutch merchant Isaac Le Maire and the captain Willem Cornelisz Schouten wanted to trade in the South Seas, circumventing the monopoly of the Dutch East-Indian Compagnie. They outfitted two ships and left the port of Horn on May 16th, 1615; Schouten on the 'Eendracht' (see stamp to the left) and Le Maire on the 'Horn' (see stamp to the right). They needed almost six weeks to reach the Magellan Street. There they let the 'Horn' dry-fall at ebb-tides and cleaned and tarred the hull. But during the repairs the wind turned and the ship caught fire and burned down until only a smoking ruin was left. Only the 'Eendracht' continued the voyage to the Southwest. Schouten came to the passage between Staaten Island and Tierra del Fuego which they named Le Maire Street. They reached the southernmost island on January 26th, 1616 and called them after their hometown 'Cape Horn'. Therefore the 'Endracht' was the first (European) ship, which rounded Cape Horn.
Later on Le Maire died in Batavia in Dutch captivity. Schouten succeeded to return to the Netherlands, where he wrote an amazing report about the voyage and the new passage into the South Sea (Pacific).

From 1831 to 1835 the scientist Charles Darwin conducted a research expedition with the ship 'Beagle' (stamp to the left), under the command of captain Fitzroy. They did not sail through the Magellan Street and they did not round the Cape Horn, but sailed south of Tierra del Fuego through a maze of small islands direct into the Pacific. Since those days this water way is called the Beagle Channel.

Now on to some memorable ships:
The stormy bad weather zone at Cape Horn left quite a few captains in despair. The eternal time facing against the storm, the endless tacking and drifting back to the east - all reasons for some ship masters to turn around. Then they took the alternative route over the Atlantic, sailed through the Indian Ocean to Australia and from there to the Pacific.
Among them the famous captain Bligh. He fought in heavy seas 30 days off Cape Horn with his 'Bounty' (stamp to the right). Then he gave up, sailed straight to Cape Town and overhauled the ship. From here he continued to Tahiti. This all happened in 1788 and then the famous mutiny started, but this is another story and has nothing to do with Cape Horn.

Cr. Castle
In 1912 the British 'Criccieth Castle' (stamp to the left) was on the way from Peru to Europe with a cargo load of guano. The rudder broke in a violent northwest storm off Cape Horn and the ship heaved. The rudder caused a leak at the sternpost and the ship rapidly gained water. When the crew started pumping it was already too late. The guano had blocked the pumps. They manned two lifeboats, and the 'Criccieth Castle' sank. Another storm separated the boats, the one of the first mate was never seen again. After seven days through the icy ocean the captain and his boat reached Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. Of the 22-headed crew only seven survived.

In 1908 the four-mast barque 'Admiral Karpfanger' (stamp to the right) was built in Bremerhaven as Belgian 'L'Avenier'. In 1937 the Hamburg-America Line bought the ship to use her as training ship. In September 1937 she sailed under her new name to Australia and loaded 40,000 bags of wheat. On homebound course around Cape Horn the ship disappeared without a trace. 33 cadets were among the crew of 60. The barque was declared missing. Years later parts of the wreck were found at the coast of Patagonia, suggesting that the ship was was thrown on a reef or collided with an iceberg.
Admiral Karpfanger

In 1921 the Danish five mast barque 'København' (stamp to the left) was launched at Scotland as the largest sailing ship of the world. Around Christmas 1928 on the voyage from Buenos Aires with destination Adelaide the 130 meter long ship simply disappeared without any trace - presumably in the region round Cape Horn. The crew consisted of 60 men, among them 45 cadets. Intensive search operations began but nothing was found. The 'København' remains missing!

The British 'Wavertree' had been built in 1885 in Southampton. The fullrigger was successfully used by different shipping companies for 25 years. In 1910 on the voyage from Cardiff to Valparaiso the ship was so heavily damaged by storms off Cape Horn, that the captain turned and sailed back to Montevideo. After repairs a second attempt to round Cape Horn was made. But this this time the main mast broke and five sailors were seriously wounded. The 'Wavertree' changed course back to the Falkland Islands. There she was sold and towed to Punta Arenas. The unrigged hull was used as a storage for wool for 37 years. Today the reconstructed 'Wavertree' is a museum ship at New York.


Picture: Enno Kleinert

The area of 50 degrees south latitude in the Atlantic up to 50 degrees south latitude in the Pacific is generally called the Cape Horn region. From one side to the other side the sailing ships had to travel about 1200 nautical miles. In the harsh Cape Horn winter of 1905 the German fullrigger 'Susanna' fought 99 days to sail this way (see map to the left, with dates from August 19th to November 26th). The 'Susanna' needed 189 days for the complete voyage from England to Chile, this is half a year without entering a port. Scurvy broke out and snow water was used to quench the thirst. Nevertheless, they didn't give up and had success! This was the longest rounding of Cape Horn in history.
Here are some specifications of the 'Susanna':
1892 launched at Blohm and Voss, Hamburg
L * B * D   265 * 42 * 20 feet
GT 1989, tdw 3080.
The 'Susanna' ran aground in 1913 in heavy fog on the rocks of the Scilly Islands. Since there does not exist a stamp of 'Susanna', the 'Crusader' is shown on the top right, which is a very similar ship to the 'Susanna'. She had nearly the same rigg and the black-and-white haven strip.

Cap Horner
Flying Cloud
In 1848 gold was found in California. The message spread over the world and traffic across the seas was growing. In 1849 775 ships with immigrants and gold hunters set sail for San Francisco. The town 'exploded' from 1,000 to 20,000 citizens. The voyage around Cape Horn was faster than across the American continent with it's endless Prairies and the dangerous Rocky Mountains. The standard sailing ship of those times needed 160 to 240 days from New York to San Francisco, clippers ran the 15,000 nautical miles in about 100 days. The biggest problem of the clipper captains was not Cape Horn but their deserting crews hunting for gold as well once they reached San Francisco.

In 1851 the Clipper 'Flying Cloud' (see stamp to the right) set the record for the fastest single trip with a time of 89 days and 21 hours. Despite a heavy storm breaking three yards, tearing several sails and cordage the record was undercut by nearly a full week, as the crew was able to repair everything within two day.
Some specifications of the 'Flying Cloud':
1851 built by Donald McKay at Boston as a three-mast fullrigged ship,
L * B * D   225 * 41 * 21 feet
2,320 tdw, 1874 the ship burned out at St. Johns, New Brunswick.
See also Maritime Topic's clipper side!

From 1880 to 1938 the windjammers of the German shipping company Ferdinand Laeisz were the fastest and steadiest sailing ships on the route around Cape Horn. As nearly all the ships names started with the letter 'P', they were also called 'Flying-P liners'. The five-mast barque 'Potosi' was famous for constant fast journeys, the biggest ship of the fleet was the five-mast fullrigger 'Preussen'. These ships, built around the turn of the century, had a steel hull and belonged to the 'three-islands-type' - a system introduced for the protection of the crew. With forecastle, bridge and poop they had three superstructures over the whole ships breadth which were connected with run bridges.
On the stamp to the left the Flying-P liner 'Pamir' is shown with set storm sails.
The fastest rounding of Cape Horn of all times was done by the four-mast barque 'Priwall' (stamp to the right). In 1938 (!) it took her only five days and 14 hours! A unique sailing ship record, which will be probably never broken.
Some specifications of the 'Priwall:'
Year of construction 1917-20, Blohm and Voss, Hamburg
L * B * D   323 * 47 * 24 feet
GT 3,185   4,100 sqm of sail area
1945 destroyed by fire as 'Lautaro' off the Peruvian coast
See also Maritime Topic's 'Preussen' report!

James Craig
Cape Horn was rounded first by the discoverers, beginning with Lemaire over Cook up to Dampier.
Raiding voyages followed, like Drake and Anson.
Afterwards hunters came to the area and nearly exterminated the seal population.
The whalers from New Bedford and Nantucket rounded Cape Horn, in order to hunt the sperm whale in the Pacific. Merchant sailing ships brought immigrants and general cargo to the North American west coast.
During the times of the gold rush searchers, adventurers and diggers were shipped to California.
When the Suez channel was opened in 1869 and passengers and general cargo transportation resorted to steamers, the sailing ships were used for bulk cargo voyages. Grain, coal rounded the Cape and and from South America mainly guano (Peru) and saltpetre (Chile) were exported to the rest of the world.
Guano, bird excrement of cormorants and pelicans was needed as fertilizer. Salpetre was won in the Atacama desert and used as fertilizer as well. In addition it is used in the production of preservatives, explosives and various other chemical products.

The ship illustrated above - the 'James Craig' - rounded Cape Horn 23 times. She was built in 1874 under the name 'Clan Macleod ' in Sunderland and today can be visited in Sydney. She still is sailing on the route from Sydney to Hobart regularly.

Note: the Panama channel was opened in 1914.
Have a look to Marine Topic's Panama side!

Cape Horn
Cape Horn !
Cape Horn
In 1936 French captains, who had rounded Cape Horn, established a federation of friends in St. Malo, which was called 'Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long-Cours Cap-Horniers' (A.I.C.H.). From 1950 they also accepted captains of other nations. In 1955 the association already consisted of 13 international sections.
In the beginning only captains were allowed to join, who had sailed around Cape Horn at least once. Later on crew members also were accepted. In the Fifties the Cap-Horniers had approximately 2,600 members, among them 672 Germans. An albatross is depicted in their coat of arms (see stamp). After a famous superstition the souls of drowned sailors live on in the albatrosses.
The Cap-Horniers held annual meetings and/or congresses in a member country, see stamp of their 30th meeting 1974 in Stockholm.
In May 2003 the federation was dissolved in St. Malo, membership was down to less than 400, the average age 87 years. The German section compromising another 50 members dissolved in 2004.

This is a beautiful stamp of Chile. This version is shown enlarged as it shows the actual rock of Cape Horn. It was issued for the 51st convention of the Cap-Horniers and also depicts the albatross and sailors dropping sails while a sea is runnig over the deck. The Aaland stamp was issued for the Cap-Hornier 1992 convention.


Cape Horn
Today many sailors try to round the island - attracted by the myth of Cape Horn. Sport sailing boats and also kayaks and canoes have tried. The Kayak Expedition depicted on this letter took place in December, 1977. Four canoeists started in Puerto Williams and rounded Cape Horn.

You can also see a map of southern South America, showing all important geographical locations mentioned on this page. To the north the Magellan Street, on the right the Le Maire Street at Staaten Island. The Beagle Channel begins in the south of Tierra del Fuego (Feuerland) at the red border lines and runs nearly directly west through the island tangle. The Drake Street is the sea area south of Cape Horn.

Cape Horn
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Sources: U. Feldkamp, Rund Cape Horn
F. Brustat-Naval, Die Cape Horn Saga
E. Wiese, Männer und Schiffe vor Kap Horn

© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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