Roberto Benavente - Rear Admiral
On December 5th 1992 the Cape Horn Memorial was inaugurated. It was erected through the initiative of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood, the "Cape Horners"; in memory of the men of the sea from every nation that lost their lives fighting against the merciless forces of nature of the Southern Ocean that prevail in the vicinity of the legendary Cape Horn.
This project was initiated at the end of 1990 when the Commander in Chief of the Chilean Navy, Admiral Jorge Martínez Bush agreed to sponsor the project. He promised the logistic support necessary that this difficult task would demand, knowing problems caused by weather conditions of this far south and desolate region of Chile.
In January 1991, through a press release, national artists were invited to take part in a contest for designing the actual monument. There were specific requirements for the design, enumerated in the published Notice. These requirements were later revised by the Chilean College of Architects.
At the end of October 1991 the papers, plans and models of the fifteen artists who participated were submitted. These new and interesting designs for sculptures were to be analyzed by the Committee.
A panel of eight judges, presided by the Commander in Chief and made up of high ranking representatives of different areas connected to this project, chose the work presented by the sculptor José Balcells. He is professor of the Faculty of Architecture of the Catholic University of Valparaíso. His contribution represented an albatross in flight. This giant bird is typical of the southern seas and the emblem of the Cape Horn Captain’s International Brotherhood, whose head office is in Saint Malo, France.
Beginning 1992, an active campaign for raising funds for erecting the monument was started. Due to the complexity of the project many technical problems arose, as well as the need to solve many construction and logistics dilemmas. The Construction and Building Service of the Chilean Navy did the structural resistance calculations and drew up the corresponding plans. These took into account the basic necessity of the structure to support wind loads of up to 200 kilometers per hour, plus a 60% safety factor.
The financing needed to raise this monument (steel and of seven (7) meters in height) was raised through the help of maritime companies and donations by public and private entities relate to the sea and individuals, both in Chile as well as many other countries. It must also be pointed out that the necessary materials – steel, iron, concrete, paint, paving stones, bricks, wood, dry goods, etc. – were donated, almost entirely by different Chilean companies. This generosity allowed that the money collected for this task be given as prize money to those who obtained the first three places, as well as making it possible to acquire certain very modern materials and equipment and hire highly qualified personnel to build the monument.
The structure’s ten metal plates, each 6mm thick, were made by the ASMAR Shipyard in Talcahuano. From around the country the necessary materials were assembled in Punta Arenas. The Department of Construction of the Third Naval Zone was placed in charge of building the monument. A 328 meter wooden walkway of native wood was constructed to cross the soggy peat bogs that join the Naval Surveillance and Signal Post of "Hornos" to the monument construction site. Construction was by personnel of the Chilean Navy assigned to the Beagle Channel Naval District.
The construction required 120 tons of material to be transported into the area. This was the responsibility of the barges OROMPELLO and RANCAGUA. This material was later transferred ashore by personnel of the Chilean Marine Corps and naval helicopters in an amphibious training exercise. The officers and men put an extraordinary amount of effort and dedication into the task, demonstrating their capacity to work in demanding conditions with a great spirit of sacrifice and self-denial.
The monument was to be erected on a hilltop 50 meters above sea level, under the direction of Galmier Morales. A group of specialized craftsmen were hired for the sole purpose of building the base of the monument, a 6 x 6-meter concrete and steel platform buried 1.50 meters beneath the peat surface covering the area.
The actual raising of the monument occurred between the 17 October and the 22nd of November. In October the weather was quite unfavorable for building, but with the improved weather conditions in November, the programmed work schedule went ahead according to plan.
The inauguration ceremony of The Cape Horn Monument was attended by fifty people personally invited by the Commander in Chief, who was at the time also the Honorary President of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains. A delegation of nineteen foreign Cape Horners attended the ceremony, consisting of ten men and nine women, coming from Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Norway. The rest of the guests were Chilean businessmen except for a couple from the United States of America, all of whom had contributed generously towards the financing of the construction of the monument.
The guests gathered in Punta Arenas at the beginning of December, where they boarded the Chilean Naval ship AQUILES, which sailed on the 3rd of that month. There was a stopover on the 4th in Puerto Williams and then on to San León Cove, Isla de Hornos, arriving at dawn on the 5th of December, a day that will always be remembered by those who participated. It was an exceptional occasion, with warm weather and a clear blue sky with just a slight southeasterly breeze, something quite rare in such fierce southerly latitudes.
In less than an hour all the guests, including twelve to fifteen journalists from radio, newspapers, and television were brought ashore by two naval helicopters. There were six Chilean naval ships present in the area to give special honor to the ceremony; in addition to AQUILES there were RANCAGUA and four torpedo boats.
Approaching the monument one encounters two cement structures containing marble plaques, one dedicated to the monument, and the other containing a beautiful poem written by the author Sara Vial of Valparaíso, Chile, which says:
The inauguration began with a stirring speech from the President of the Chilean Section, Vice Admiral Juan Carlos Toledo de la Maza. He explained the reasons why the Brotherhood had pushed for this project, giving details of the relevant aspects of the building of the sculpture, which was now being put under the custody and maintenance of the Chilean Navy.
Next, the Naval Chaplain, the Reverend Father Roberto Codina read a psalm from the Bible, a prayer for the sailors that lost their lives rounding Cape Horn, and blessed the monument.
Representing the Navy, the Commander in Chief of the Third Naval Zone, Rear Admiral Hugo Bruna, thanked the Brotherhood for what they had done and accepted on behalf of the institution the responsibility of safeguarding the monument.
Finally, the President of the International Brotherhood, Captain Jean Perdraut, of France, addressed the audience. He thanked the Commander in Chief of the Navy for having invited him, and congratulated the Chilean Section for their great initiative in creating the monument. Lastly, he gave tribute to all those sailors from all over the world who lost their lives fighting the unforgiving Cape Horn.
The ceremony came to a solemn end when Admiral Jorge Martínez Bush, accompanied by the sculptor José Balcells, placed beneath the monument a duly protected memorial. This contained a copy of the plans and the most important information from the construction of the monument, along with a beautiful "Cape Horn Memorial Inauguration Act" signed by all of the guests attending the ceremony.
After the closing of the receptacle where the memorial was placed, Solveig Erikson, a lady who came as a representative of Åland Islands, Finland, laid a wreath of flowers and wild fruits by the monument, one that she had prepared the day before during her stay in Puerto Williams.
With the ceremony, photography and intense interviewing finished, the guests went to visit the Cape Horn Lighthouse, the Stella Maris Chapel and the monument of the Unknown Sailor erected in 1989. To finish it all off, everyone signed the visitor’s book at the Naval Surveillance and Signal Post "Hornos".As soon as the guests had reboarded the AQUILES with the help of the naval helicopters, she set sail towards the south and later towards the west. On approaching the meridian of Cape Horn, the ship stopped all engines. In compliance with naval protocol, she blew three long whistles to greet all those who had died at Cape Horn, a salute that received no answer. During this moment of silence and respect the Norwegian representative, Mr. Johan Nilssen, raised his arms in the air showing to all a beautiful laurel wreath. He had brought this from his own country to throw into the sea in memory of those who had died in that place.
Once this symbolic, emotional and simple ceremony had finished, the AQUILES started its engines again and set course for the Fuegian channels arriving in the port of Punta Arenas on the 6th of December, the end of this memorable journey.
The inauguration ceremony was widely publicized in national and international newspapers, radio and television. In the London Times, on the 7th of December there appeared an interesting article with an impressive photo of the monument.
The passing of time has slowly blurred the news of the inauguration. What remains as strong as ever are the memories of those who assisted in this special occasion; the erecting of this majestic albatross which projects itself over the horizon, flying towards Cape Horn. Those who had the opportunity to participate in the voyage aboard the AQUILES and attend the ceremony – especially the guests from abroad – agree that this ceremony, for them, was the most important event of 1992.The Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captain's Brotherhood is justly proud of the work they have accomplished here, showing the ability of a dedicated group to carry out such a difficult project. We have given our country a beautiful monument and hope that this monument will serve to lure our countrymen to hear and heed the call of the sea, to work with, on, and in, the oceans.
Finally, we would like to thank all those people and entities who contributed intellectually, physically, economically and in so many other ways to make this monument a reality. We would like to give a special thank-you to the Chilean Navy, for if it weren’t for its participation, this would never have been possible. This was a task of sheer perseverance and strength for all those who took part in the task. The Commander in Chief’s brief but very precise message to all those who contributed expressed this perfectly. The Admiral sent out a "Bravo Zulu" which in signal code means "Well done".