EFEHornos Island, Chile

The wild seas surrounding Cape Horn, where 10,000 seafarers are believed to have died, are now being watched over by the only inhabitants of Hornos Island.

For two months now, naval officer Andres Morales, his wife and their three young children have lived in the solitude of a lighthouse that illuminates the Drake Passage, beyond which lies Antarctica.

"My main function is to safeguard the lives of all the seafarers of all types of vessels that transit this place. To give them information on the weather, maritime traffic. And to maintain, protect and take care of this beautiful park," Morales tells EFE outside the door of the house.

"The place is beautiful, and it's a unique opportunity that the Chilean navy has given me and my family," says Morales, who was selected from among a group of candidates to man the Cape Horn lighthouse for a year.

In case of emergency, navy vessels are dispatched to the island, while a ship carrying supplies and provisions comes every two months.

It is no easy task to get to Cape Horn, discovered in 1616 by the Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, who named it in honor of their home port in the Netherlands, Hoorn.

The island is subject to frequent storms that make docking treacherous, though today's ships are nothing like the precarious vessels of yesteryear.

While some cargo vessels still pass this way, most of the traffic to and from Hornos is cruise ships.

"Nowadays it's still one of the most inhospitable places, stormy and dangerous. With mayor biodiversity importance. On this island there are many species of plants, lichens and mosses that can grow in isolation in this remote place," Enzo Mardones, a guide aboard the cruise ship Australis, told EFE.

The first thing visitors see after coming ashore in small boats is the albatross sculpture erected in honor of the sailors who lost their lives in the Drake Passage.

Following a path, they encounter plaque commemorating the disembarkation of British scientist and naval officer Robert FitzRoy in 1830 and the Monument to the Unknown Sailor.

The lighthouse and the keeper's residence are at the other end of the island. The home has living quarters and a radio-radar room equipped with satellite telephone and Internet.

Alongside the residence is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, the patroness of sailors.

"This is how days are here on the island, without going anywhere. It's a special kind of life," the lighthouse keeper says.

With the opening of the Panama Canal, in 1914, what was for four centuries one of the world's major trade routes became largely obsolete. Yet for mariners looking to prove their mettle, the challenges of rounding Cape Horn remain compelling.

By Rodrigo Garcia