Crewmember Paul Larson savours the moment


Paul Larson, formerly crew of Team Philips and now a watch leader on Tony Bullimore’s Team Legato, describes their rounding of Cape Horn. They are now high-tailing it to try to make Marseilles by The Race deadline of 2 April:

‘For so long it had just been a waypoint in our minds. Something to be rounded, hopefully safely, and then left behind as quickly as possible. Now here I was steering Team Legato at breakneck speed, on course under a cloud-shrouded full moon. Far from being a moment to be dispensed with quickly, at a constant 25-32 knots, this was a moment to savour.

‘We’re doin’ it boys, we’re doin’ it!

‘About 50 miles from the Cape, bearing of 70°T, steaming in on a broad reach in 30 knots of breeze with two reefs and a staysail up, Team Legato is hitting her straps. After some of theslow, painful miles just gone, this is bliss. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs: “Eat this!” (referring to our nearest competition), each time we smoke off at over 30 knots.

‘Mike Gettinger is standing by in the cockpit and Tony is down below navigating when I notice a light to starboard winking through the squalls and waves. Gotta be a boat thinks I. Hang on, doesn’t look like navigation lights to me. Matter of fact it’s showing all the characteristics of a lighthouse. What the?? As far as I knew we only had to leave the Horn to starboard and that was it. Now I’m rocketing up the wrong side (to my way of thinking) of a lighthouse! Of all places, Larsen!

‘Mike is now on deck, Tony is checking it out and the radar is switched on. We got all hands on deck, dropped sails and hove to while we re-assessed our position. It turns out that the light was marking the largest of a group of islands called the Islas Diego Ramirez and they were further west than we expected. They are pretty poorly marked on both charts, electronic and paper.

‘These little dirtbergs live right on the edge of the continental shelf which in turn caused the sea state to rise considerably. Big squalls were coming through with winds just under 50 knots. Lying side on, the spray is peeling across the decks in stinging sheets.

‘We gingerly make our way north under bare poles before taking off again downhill towards the Atlantic. The wind is now touching 50 knots and with only the staysail up we are still managing bursts up to 27 knots! We decide not to pass as closely to the Horn as we would have liked. Damn it, I really wanted to see it. The conditions certainly aren’t disappointing us, as it is freezing cold, howling, grey and lumpy with poor visibility.

‘Freddy Dahirel spots it first off our port beam. The unmistakable outline of Cape Horn can be made out through the gloom of low scudding cloud. Perhaps this is how she should be seen. There’s a rush of excitement as everyone runs for their cameras and mementos.

‘The night’s action had left us not as well prepared for this occasion as we might have hoped but what the hell. There it is in all its bleak glory: the bane of yachtsmen for centuries, the Everest of Capes. Forget the race for a moment and enjoy the here and now.

‘We made it!’