One of the greatest challenges facing visitors to Cape Horn is the weather that they will likely encounter. Cruise ship companies sometimes incorporate two attempts at rounding Cape Horn and landing on the island into their itineraries to have a better chance of success in the face of possible inclement and difficult weather conditions.
What are the weather conditions like?
Part of the experience of travelling to Cape Horn is surviving the infamous “screaming sixties” – the gale force winds which batter the premonitory and are responsible for causing many passengers to experience a bout of seasickness.
These winds are a result of Cape Horn’s location at 56° south latitude. Winds below 40° south latitude can blow from west to east around the world almost completely unobstructed by land, making these westerlies stronger and more persistent than those found in the northern hemisphere. This phenomenon causes the “roaring forties”, “furious fifties” and the even fiercer “screaming sixties” with gusts known to exceed 60 mph.
Sudden, violent squalls called williwaw winds are also common: gusts resulting from the cold, dense air from ice fields of coastal mountains in Patagonia being forced down by gravity to the sea. These winds can strike ships with little warning and are one of the reasons why it is notoriously difficult to round the horn.
Waves can also reach heights of over 100ft. (30 m) while an average of 270 days of rainfall per year, including 70 days of snow, can restrict visibility.
When should you visit Cape Horn?
With gale force winds and the threat of icebergs increased during winter, cruise ships only sail during the summer months, when longer days and (slightly) warmer conditions make for a more pleasant trip around the Cape. Either way, the waters in this region are known for being some of the roughest in the world and seasickness tablets are always recommended.
How can you visit the island?
Stella Australis, the expedition ship from Australis cruise line, is the only expedition cruise ship that visits the area. As part of this voyage, passengers land upon Hornos Island where they can speak with the Chilean Naval officer and his family.
Australis are also the only expedition company granted permission by the Chilean authorities to sail through the Murray Channel and land on fabled Wulaia Bay as part of their cruises to Cape Horn. Wulaia Bay is a historical site that was once the largest settlement of the indigenous Yámana people and is worth visiting for the opportunity to explore the small, Australis-sponsored museum that charts the history of this almost extinct population.