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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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