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The HMS Polaris rounding Cape Horn, August 15th, 1814

During the Napoleonic War, the Polaris was ordered to cross the Atlantic ocean, round the tip of South America and sail into the Pacific to protect British shipping, and in particular the whaling fleet out of Dundee, Aberdeen, and Glasgow, who were being harassed by French privateers, and at times by the French Navy.

The Polaris was in the Vanguard Class of sailing warships, having two decks of 80 guns and she began her traverse of Cape Horn during the winter, which, in the Southern Hemisphere, is May through August.

Many hearty seamen have been belittled by the passage of Cape Horn. It has for centuries been called the graveyard of ships, with over a thousand vessels lost, along with 1,500 sailors. Sir Francis Drake attempted the passage in 1578, then later, the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Cook on the HMS Endeavour, Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle, and Captain William Bligh on the Bounty. Some turned back from their first attempt. Captain Bligh, after four weeks of battling ferocious winds, the treacherous currents, and blinding snow squalls, gave up and turned east to cross the tranquil Southern Ocean and reach Tahiti in the South Pacific.

Cape Horn, where the stormy Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic, has a sub-polar oceanic climate with high levels of precipitation, mostly in the form of snow and sleet, and what the sailors call the williwaw, a type of katabatic, or downward blowing wind.

After ten days of battling the fury of the Cape, the Polaris was blown back into the South Atlantic.

On her second attempt, on August 15th, 1814, she fought twenty-five foot waves and gale-force winds filled with hail and snow for three weeks. She lost two crewmen overboard, but finally sailed into the calm waters off Navarino Island in the Pacific Ocean on September 4th.

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