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Full Circle

Day 156: Cape Horn to Puerto Williams

Cape Horn, Chile 
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The chapel at Cape Horn - hard to get to on a Sunday morning.
Michael Palin - Full CircleBobby the black collie, part of a three men and a dog team who make up the entire population of Cape Horn, bounds down towards me, tail waving and head turning insistently back up the hill to the single-story wooden hut which serves as naval communications station, living quarters and post office.

The Chilean navy vessel that brought me here, the General Patrol Boat Isaza, stands off-shore, grey and discreet, riding the swell, a compact 600 tonne, hundred-and-fifty-footer, the unmistakable outline of its 45 mm. forward cannons showing it to be more than just a supply vessel.

The weather is kind. On the way down Commander Merino, our escort, was at pains to point out that the odds on making a safe landing at Cape Horn at this time of year (early summer in England, early winter in Chile) were against us. But for now the clouds have rolled back and a pale sun warms a big, well-behaved sea. It must have been a day like this when Magellan first came up with the name for the ocean he had never seen before. Pacific.

Now Commander Merino is anxious to get us back on board for we have forty-eight hours sailing between here and the safety of Punta Arenas, the nearest mainland town. The weather can change with startling speed.

Bobby follows us down the wooden steps to the landing stage. He clearly doesn't see many other dogs on Cape Horn, and has taken quite a shine to Nigel's left leg. An eagle wheels slowly in the skies above Cape Horn as our Zodiac landing craft carries us out to sea, back to the Isaza.

This is the start of a long journey up the other side of the Pacific coast, from Cape Horn at 55.58 South to complete the circle at Little Diomede at 65.40 North. By the time we reach Puerto Williams, a Chilean naval base, and the southernmost permanent settlement in the world, outside Antarctica, we have made almost a hundred miles of the fifteen thousand that still lie ahead of us.

It's dark and a smell of wood smoke hangs over the town as we come alongside.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 156
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Cape Horn
  • Book page no: 214

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