It may be the most notorious ocean passage in the world, and for centuries it evoked dread in the hearts of sailors. But those who survived a trip around Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific slosh violently into each other, had bragging rights for life. Along this passage, the Tierra del Fuego, or "land of fire," where Chile and Argentina converge at the bottom of the world, got its name from early sailors who saw the fires of the people who lived here burning on shore. For some 8,000 years, until as recently as the end of the 19th century, this was the home of the Yaghan and other indigenous groups.
Magellan and Drake left their mark and names here, as did Darwin, who sailed through here on the HMS Beagle. The great clipper ships of '49er lore later fought their way through fierce waves carrying gold between California and the East Coast in that era before the Panama Canal. Just as Richard Henry Dana, Jr., described in his masterful Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840, a journey today around the Cape at the very bottom of the Tierra is shaped by capricious weather, as powerful winds and shallow waters can produce waves that reach as high as 30 meters (100 feet).