Like many Sailnet readers I have been avidly following the progress of the Volvo Ocean Race. In fact, the fleet has just sailed into my home waters here in South Florida; the tumultuous Southern Ocean is a distant memory; theyíre entering the homestretch. I tend to consider the race in terms of latitude and longitude, Iím more interested in where the fleet is in general than which boat is in the leadójust finishing the race is an impressive feat. But there is one set of coordinates that always gets my attention: roughly 56 degrees South and 67 degrees West. When race leader illbruck
sped around Cape Horn on February 10, I felt a familiar pang. Not that I have ever raced on a Volvo boat, or even want to, but itís the Horn you see, the Call of the Horn. John Masefield called it, "a wild call and a clear call that cannot be denied."
Eighteen years ago I cut my teeth rounding the Horn, the hard way, or some say, the wrong way. Ours was in some ways a quaint voyage, quixotic really. We sailed a little Contessa 32 from New York to San Francisco in the wake of the Clipper Ships. We were anything but a crack Volvo crew and we established no records worth mentioning without asterisks. Just the same, when you casually drop that, yes, youíve been around the Horn, rightly or wrongly others take your sea stories more seriously.
Cape Horn, old Cape Stiff, what is it about the place that makes it both a headland and a metaphor? Why is it such a challenge to sail around Cape Horn and why does it continue to stir the hearts of so many sailors? Indeed, there are enough crazy souls out there that several charter sailboats successfully operate from a bottom of the world base in Ushuaia, Argentina. Well, like any piece of real estate, it starts with location.
Perched at the faraway tip of South America, Cape Horn is the end of the road when comes to continental land masses, the only thing south of the horn is the great white expanse of Antarctica. Cape Horn is actually the grizzled edge of an island, the southern face of a rocky archipelago stretching below Tierra del Fuego. The region is cold and windswept, and thatís being charitable. There is nothing west of Cape Horn to impede the windís furyójust uninterrupted ocean for thousands of miles. The prevailing westerlies have revealing nicknames defined by their latitudes, the Roaring Forties, and down around the Horn, the Furious Fifties. Day after day these fierce winds funnel between Cape Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula three hundred miles south, creating a tempestuous strait named after its accidental discoverer, Sir Francis Drake. Add a mixture of strong currents, poor visibility, and incessant gales and you have the perfect recipe for adventure sailing.
Sailing around Cape Horn from east to west, like Drake and other early explorers did, is a different kettle of fish. I was young, immortal, and not particularly bright when I launched our expedition. We had convinced Strohís Brewery of Detroit, MI, to sponsor us and our nominal objective was to reach San Francisco in 120 sailing days, the average time of a gold rush era clipper ship. This route implied that we would Ďdouble the Horní a curious phrase left over from the sailing ship era. Doubling the Horn entails sailing nonstop from a point above the 50th parallel in the Atlantic, down around the Horn and back to a point above the 50th parallel in the Pacific. Only this near 1,000-mile passage was considered a genuine Cape Horn rounding and according to legendary author and seaman, Alan Villiers, "nothing else counted as a rounding, for the eastward passage before westerly gales was reckoned no rounding at all." The lyrics from the old sea chantey say it best:
"From 50 south to 50 south you wonít grow fat and lazy boys,
For the winds that howl around Cape Horn, will surely drive you crazy boys,"
I confess, the details of that long ago voyage blur, but the vision of Cape Horn is etched in my mindís hard drive. It was a gray, ugly morning when Cape Horn hove into view off the starboard bow. I hadnít planned to round the Horn so closely, but Neptune had other plans, we passed just two miles south of the storied headland. It wasnít beautiful Ė it was humbling. I wrote in my book, ĎCape Horn to Starboard,í "Iíll never forget the sight of the Horn. Itís a brazen, rocky point that has defied erosion and juts a craggy chin into the cold blue sea, dividing the two great oceans of our planet." My shipmate, Ty Techera, and I didnít whoop or holler; I think we were both quietly terrified and simply anxious to gain sea room in the Pacific. After months of struggling to reach Mecca, we wanted to put it astern as quickly as possible. Incidentally, we managed to double the Horn in 11 Ĺ days, which is still one of the fastest yachting times ever.
Do you hear the call of the Horn? Do you want to test your mettle in her stormy seas? Well, the good news is that today you donít have to launch a major sailing expedition to experience the pitch of the Southern Ocean and the thrill of rounding Cape Horn. As noted earlier, there are several different chartering options for sailors intent on exploring the waters of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Mind you, I am talking about real sailboats, not cruise ships, as there are several lines that offer a glimpse of Cape Horn through port holes of the luxuriously appointed dining room as they ferry well-heeled passengers to and from Antarctica. To truly experience the Horn you need to be standing watch, not gazing out a window, to feel the chill westerlies on a bucking deck, clad in foulies and sea boots.
"We represent a range of sailboats offering Cape Horn itineraries," explains Mary Crowley, President of Ocean Voyages, a charter brokerage firm specializing in exotic destinations. "You can sail a luxury yacht, or be part of a sailing and climbing expedition aboard a more basic boat; itís up to you, but either way you must be prepared for a fascinating but physically demanding expedition." Most boats base out of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Tierra del Fuego, and accessible by air from Buenos Aires. "Cape Horn charters are usually at least two-week trips," Crowley continues, "some boats offer 10 day voyages but canít guarantee a Cape Horn rounding; naturally itís subject to the vagaries of the weather."
Finding a charter can be difficult because the boats are often booked by educational and research institutions or film crews. "Also," Crowley adds, "Antarctica is really a hot destination, no pun intended, and many boats sail those waters in the southern hemisphere summer effectively taking them out of Cape Horn waters for long periods of time." When the boats do offer regularly scheduled Cape Horn trips, they fill up quickly.
The range of boats operating in Cape Horn waters is surprising, you can find a charter program that fits your specific needs. Europa is a luxury 126-foot yacht that can accommodate 12 and charters for a mere $44,000 a week. Dione Star is a 182-foot three-masted schooner built in 1911. Victory is a 76-foot schooner based of Punta Arenas, flies the Chilean flag, and can accommodate about a dozen charter guests. Prices are affordable, ranging from less than $2,000 for a one-week Cape Horn passage, to just over $3,000 for two weeks.
There are several boats, mostly steel or aluminum hulled vessels, in the 50 to 70-foot range that carry fewer guests and offer a more intimate experience. Sarah W. Vorwerk
, is a 53-foot sloop operated by a German family and offers Cape Horn passages from around $2,000 per person. Philos
is 50-foot schooner, while Darwin Sound
is an Ocean 71, one of my all-time favorite boats and possibly the best sea boat I have ever sailed. Pelagic
is a specially designed 54-foot steel-hulled expedition sailboat owned and operated by Skip Novak. Novak is a four-time Whitbread (todayís Volvo Ocean Race) veteran and an expert mountaineer. If you are really craving adventure, you can book a charter aboard Pelagic
, round the Horn and then sail to distant glacier for a climbing expedition.
The Horn on the WebFor more information about chartering in the still untrampled Cape Horn region, here are two fascinating websites worth exploring: www.oceanvoyages.com and www.victory-cruises.com.
You may also want to take a closer look at Pelagicís website (www.pelagic.co.uk) and read Skip Novakís gripping expedition logbooks.
Another interesting site is the Sarah W. Vorwerkís at www.capehorn.net where youíll find a complete sailing schedule for the current and the following year, information about the skipper, and what to expect during the voyage.
Rounding Cape Hatteras by John Kretschmer
Charter Boat Preparation by Tania Aebi
Strait of Gibraltar Strategies by Paul and Sheryl Shard
SailNet Store Section: Foul-Weather Gear