One of the highlights of team YW’s trip to Tierra del Fuego was rounding Cape Horn aboard Skip Novak's Pelagic. Let me describe the experience...
“Will you be wearing an earring?” It’s a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion since Yachting World’s rounding of Cape Horn last week, an event which formed part of our research for the magazine’s forthcoming Heavy Weather Seamanship series (see Elaine Bunting’s blog for the full description).
Cape Horners are entitled to wear an earring as a mark of their achievement but a genuine rounding involves sailing from 50 degrees south on one coast of South America to the same latitude on the other, a distance of some 930 miles. Clearly I wouldn’t be eligible for a Cape Horn ear piercing although, for what it’s worth, I think I can claim to be the first editor in Yachting World’s 119-year history to have rounded the Horn!
Ours was a rapid rounding. When we set off on 30 January aboard Skip Novak’s 54ft steel cutter Pelagic we were just ten miles from the Cape itself having spent the previous night held in a cat’s cradle of Panama lines in the glassy calm, kelp-engorged anchorage at Maxwell on the eastern flank of the island of Hermite.
The night before our rounding, Cape Horn lighthouse had recorded 70 knots from the west and at least 40 was the prediction for today, typical for the time of year. Despite the notoriously sudden and seemingly unpredictable changes in conditions described in Elaine’s blog, this prediction did materialise and as we emerged from the lee of Isla Hermite the full force of the Furious Fifties hit us, seas piling up dramatically and the wind tearing at our tiny sailplan which comprised a main reefed to its fourth point and a tiny staysail which served as our storm jib. Skip Novak is not an advocate of trisails, because of the difficulty of setting them in heavy weather conditions. Much better to have quadruple stitched, bulletproof Dacron already bent on. This was a perfect demonstration and vindication of his thinking.
Even with this tiny sailplan we bore down on the Horn at an easy 8 knots, Pelagic feeling as light as a feather on the wheel and completely under control. In fact we were so under control, even in big waves, that we felt confident sailing within a few hundred metres of the two menacing offliers which extend from the Cape itself and were rewarded with an explosive display of breaking water being thrown 200ft into the air.
Just as the Cape bore north Skip looked over his right shoulder. “Here comes something,” and within seconds visibility went down to 100 metres, windspeed leapt to 55 knots and the tops of the waves were reduced to spume. Rain pelted us like gun shot and Cape Horn completely disappeared.
The squall was gone as quickly as it arrived but now the seas seemed steeper and on one we hurtled down the face at 15.8 knots, a pod of Peale’s dolphin riding down the same face as Cape Horn rose majestically in the background bathed in sunshine. What a day!
In the May issue of Yachting World I’ll be telling the whole story of our activities in Tierra del Fuego. Don’t miss it! And in September we’ll be starting our unique Heavy Weather Seamanship Series lasting 12 months both in print and online video.
If you want to improve your sailing skills (whether it’s hoisting a spinnaker, helming in light and heavy airs or trying to avoid that death roll) experienced solo sailors Pip Hare and Brian Thompson demonstrate simple techniques to make your sailing safer and faster. You can download YW’s Sail Safe Sail Fast app here.