No, we did not sail around Cape Horn on Shaula3, but we had the opportunity to sail along the Magellan and Beagle channels on a small ship on which we later went down to Antarctica.
So, no great adventure to boast about, but nevertheless an interesting trip in an area which is the mariners’ equivalent of Mount Everest, and perhaps some information could be of use for those few who plan to actually sail there!
Let’s start by saying that the area is very beautyfull, with a dramatic shoreline interspersed with fjords, snowy mountains jutting out of the water and glaciers coming down to the sea.
The main problem of sailing around here to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean(or vice-versa) as an alternative to going via the Panama canal is in fact a matter of time, as this detour would easily take one, or possibly even two years!
The problem is that by the time you have crossed the Atlantic to the Carribbean or to Brasil, getting there between december and march, it’s also the “right” season to be in Patagonia, 6000 miles away.
Better then to sail leisurely along the coasts of Latin America, timing your arrival in Tierra del Fuego for the next year-end, sail around there in January/March and then sail north on the other side (sheltered between the innumerable islands and the actual shoreline) while waiting for the cyclone season in the Pacific islands to come to an end and then sail towards Tahiti or thereabouts.
In Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fires, at it was named by Magellan after the scattered fires visible on the shore) there are two shortcuts to cross between the two oceans without getting around Cape Horn (which in fact is not a proper cape, it’s an island!), namely the Magellan and the Beagle channels. The Magellan channel is much wider and more to the north, with a main port in Punta Arenas, while the more twisted and narrow Beagle channel is more to the south and has two main towns, Ushuaia on the northern shore on the Argentinian side, and in front of it Puerto Williams, on the Chilean, southern side, both near the Atlantic entrance to the channel.
Among the 3 towns, Ushuaia is the only one offering a – relatively – sheltered anchorage thanks to a narrow promontory to the west of the town, where the local airport is located, while there is no real shelter in Punta Arenas, and in Puerto Williams there is only a very small cove where the local “yacht club” is located on an old barge moored there.
From the point of view of provisioning, Ushuaia is well furnished, and I suppose Punta Arenas to be the same, while Puerto Williams is a small village with a handful of very small shops.
From what we have seen, most yachts choose to go by the southernmost channel (Beagle), stopping first in Ushuaia for provisioning and clearing out of Argentina, then crossing to Puerto Williams for a brief stop and to clear into Chile and beg for the authorisation to sail around Cape Horn.
As I said, the area is beautyfull and deserves some leisurely cruising, but the weather conditions can be fierce: while in the Magellan channel, we experienced a blow at 80 knots that lasted several hours (!!!….): any small sailing boat would have been in serious trouble, unable to tack upwind and even anchoring in a shelter would have been very tricky or impossible.
We had mild conditions while we were in the Beagle channel, but hera as well conditions can be very dangerous, we got report of two serous accidents just in the few days we were there, one causing the sinking of a yacht, and the other causing the death of two crewmembers of a large charter yacht which was returning from Antarctica.
We landed on Isla de Hornos!! Even on board a ship, landing there is rather exceptional, as there is no real shelter and the swell would quickly make landing on the nearly non-existent stony beach a very tricky affair. There is actually not much to see there, just a beacon, where one can sign the visitors’ book, and the monument to the sailors of all countries that died in these treacherous waters, representing an albatross in flight. We came on a ship, but for sailors like us being on this barren, windswept island and reading the simple words of the sailors’ memorials has been a peculiar experience.
Wonderful places, dramatically beautyful but also very dangerous and to be visited with great caution and an adequate preparation.