New Zealand’s Castaway Depots For Shipwrecked Sailors


An old castaway hut in the North of Antipodes Islands, New Zealand. Photo credit: LawrieM/Wikimedia

Before the Suez and Panama Canals opened, ships sailing from Australia and New Zealand to England and back had to make a treacherous journey through the frigid waters of the Antarctic Ocean fighting fierce winds, huge waves and skirting potentially dangerous icebergs. This route was known as the clipper route—so called because they were usually taken by clippers, a very fast sailing ship of the 19th century.

Clipper ships bound for Australia and New Zealand from England would drop south below the equator and into the Roaring Forties, located between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees, where strong westerly winds blow. These winds carried ships across the Antarctic Ocean towards their westerly destination in the fastest time possible. The return passage from Australia continued east through the same Roaring Forties taking advantage of the same fierce winds, and as the ships approached Cape Horn, they would dip south to make a perilous crossing through the Drake Passage around the Horn. If all goes well, the ships would emerge unscathed and make a successful passage back up the Atlantic and towards England.

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