Chilean and Scotia Seas

Through the Strait of Magellan

Treacherous waters surround the southern most tip of South America, where it is claimed the ocean is at its most unforgiving. Trade ships were forced around Cape Horn for hundreds of years until the Panama Canal offered a short-cut. To reach the far east, vessels often sailed the eastern South American coast before crossing the Pacific. This was a head-on approach with a shorter trip compared to looping around Africa, across the Indian ocean and south China seas, but the dangers made it very risky.

Pirate Ship
Pirate Ship

Ships braving a trip around Cape Horn face a powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current, combined with williwaw and prevailing winds along the Drake Passage. Traveling through the Strait of Magellan in Chile reduced danger enough for more reliable trips to Peru, Malaysia, and even San Francisco during the gold rush. A large number of ships have disappeared around Cape Horn due to the severe weather, ice bergs, monstrous waves, and sudden gale-force winds. These are normal, day to day occurrences around the southern edge of South America. Facing a storm system in the Drake Passage becomes that much more life-threatening.

The imminent risks of sailing around Cape Horn also make the area very difficult to explore underwater, let alone attempt to salvage treasure from a wreck below. Chances of recovering a lost ship sunken deep in the fast moving Antarctic Circumpolar Current are slim, and it will take specialized technological advances to change this in the future. However, diving the Strait of Magellan or the hundreds of canals between islands at the South American tip is far less dangerous, and many shipwrecks are safely accessible with the right equipment and determination. Despite the unimaginable dangers of sailing around Cape Horn, many explorers were also successful in reaching new territories on the west coast of South America, the Galapagos biological treasure trove, and many previously uncharted Pacific islands. Without bold captains, rugged crews, and exceptional navigators, this part of the world may have taken hundreds of additional years to become accessible by boat.