Around Cape Horn, Part 2

The Island of Horn is the southernmost point of South America, below Tierra del Fuego. Horn is the island around which ships pass to go between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Alternatively, the Strait of Magellan provides a sheltered passageway when the seas around Horn are violent, which is often the case, especially in winter.

The only residents on Horn are a family of four, with a one-year contract, who monitor the light house and weather station.

Picture by D. Dears of Cape Horn, Horn Island, Chile
Picture by D. Dears of Cape Horn, Horn Island, Chile
Picture by D. Dears of lighthouse and weather station, Horn Island, Chile
Picture by D. Dears of lighthouse and weather station, Horn Island, Chile

Before arriving in Buenos Aires, we stopped in Montevideo, Uruguay. Here most electricity comes from hydro, with around 25% from oil. A relatively small gas turbine plant has been installed to provide power for peak periods.

The most interesting story in Montevideo is that of the first major sea battle of WWII, between the Graf Spee and three British cruisers, the Exeter, Ajax and Achilles. The badly damaged Graf Spee sought refuge in Montevideo, but, because Uruguay was neutral, the Graf Spee was required to leave in 72 hours or be interned by Uruguay. Believing that the British fleet was concentrating off the coast, the German Captain, Admiral Langsdorff, decided to scuttle the Graf Spee in the Rio de la Platta.

The renewed battle would have taken place a few miles off the coast at Punta del Este, which is now a world renown resort area resembling Fort Lauderdale and Miami. George Clooney, among other celebrities, is said to own a condo in Punta del Este. Trump is building a tower in Punta del Este.

The Graf Spee’s anchor and range finder are on display in a small park in the Montevideo port, adjacent to where we docked.

Picture by D. Dears of Graf Spee anchor, Montevideo, Uruguay
Picture by D. Dears of Graf Spee anchor, Montevideo, Uruguay
Picture by D. Dears of Graf Spee range finder, Montevideo, Uruguay
Picture by D. Dears of Graf Spee range finder, Montevideo, Uruguay

This was of special import to me, as I had spent several days on the Exeter while it visited New York City immediately prior to the start of WWII. The Exeter was finally sunk by the Japanese during the battle of the Java Sea in 1942.

Argentina, which is about one-third the size of the United States, is, in many ways, different from its western neighbor, Chile.

The lower two-thirds of Argentina has broad, semi arid, windy plains, extending from the Andes to the Atlantic. It also has large reserves of natural gas and oil, with the potential for shale gas. Unfortunately, Argentina has recently expropriated the oil company that would develop shale gas.

The possibility of finding oil around the Falkland Islands is one of the motivating factors behind Argentina’s desire to take the Falklands, which they call the Malvinas. The city of Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina, is the capital of Malvinas, which includes, theoretically, the Falklands.

The Argentine population is centered in and around Buenos Aires. Argentina is a country that once was rich, but Peronistas  and socialism have spread the wealth around so that Argentina has been reduced from a land of plenty to a land in need. Hidden unemployment is rampant, with meaningless jobs created to keep people employed. Inflation is currently running at 25%.

The president, Cristina Kirchner, who succeeded her husband as president, is hobnobbing with Hugo Chavez, and his Venezuela-Iran axis, and is attempting to smooth over ties with Iran by overlooking the death of 85 people killed by Iranian agents when they destroyed a Buenos Aires synagogue in 1994. The Simon Wiesenthal Center finds the new accord with Iran “embarrassing.”

Sailing around Cape Horn today, in modern ships, is a relatively safe endeavor, even when seas are rough. It brings to mind the time when wooden sailing ships, one or two hundred feet long, struggled to make the passage. A monument, the silhouette of an Albatross, was erected on Horn Island in 1992, near the lighthouse, in memory of the thousands who lost their lives rounding the cape. A nearby plaque carries this poem:

I am the albatross that waits for you
at the end of the world.
I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners
who passed Cape Horn
from all the oceans of the earth.
But they did not die
in the furious waves.
Today they sail on my wings
toward eternity,
in the last crack
of Antarctic winds.

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