Steve White rounds Cape Horn - rather appropriately in 40 to 50 knot winds
British yachtsman Steve White (Toe in the Water) – currently in ninth place – describes his passage around Cape Horn:
“Our rounding of the Horn was done rather appropriately in 40 to 50 knots of breeze and large steep seas, which were very close together. I gybed and completely rounded up, the first one of the entire race, as I came on to the shelf. The wind had increased and the seas were very short, crossed and now breaking, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go around in too much more wind than that I can tell you.
“There was quite a bit of current too, nearly a couple of knots at times to add to the entertainment by further worsening sea state. I finished up going around with three reefs and staysail because it was easier on the pilot, and there was less strain on deck gear from the staysail as it collapsed and filled as the boat was slewed around by the waves. I remember being on deck and watching the bow trying to force it’s way through the wave in front, and a wave behind just curling and trying to break into the cockpit behind, that’s how short some of them were!
“The island of Cape Horn actually became a lea shore as I got closer, so I had to gybe out and finished up so far offshore that I thought I was not going to see it as the visibility was so bad! I did in the end get some shots and some video of it through the murk, but I’m not sure how well they turned out, I’ll have to wait and see. Cape Horn was just a mark of the course to me up until that point, but when I was actually there I felt it did represent a lot more than that for us – it was the culmination of ten years of hard work to get here, the end of the Southern Ocean which had spared us, and the start of the last leg home.
“In many ways to have gone around in less wind would have left me feeling cheated, it was a proper rounding and I had my moneys worth. As soon as I was around I had dolphins, black and white ones of a kind that I don’t remember seeing before, which really was the crowning glory of a fairly emotional moment and a time for a huge sigh of relief.
“After the Horn it was straight on to Staten Island, which rises up almost vertically out of the sea giving one of the most spectacular coastlines that I have ever seen. With its peaks shrouded in mist most of the time it was like something out of Boy’s Own, little sheltered inlets and coves all probably with deep water and dying to be explored.
Under any other circumstances wild horses could not have kept me away and I’d have gone ashore to wander around, and I imagined it would feel like I was the first person ever to have set foot there, that’s what kind of place it was. All of the points, bays and other landmarks were obviously named for the most part by the sailors of many different nationalities who first went there. When you pass a place like that you can see what the attraction to people like Bill Tillman was and is. There are so many empty lonely places where nobody goes just crying out to be explored.
“I was called up by the Argentinian Navy who popped out from behind the island. They were desperate to do something, anything to help! They spoke very good Enlish and French, and were really polite, and the first voices I had heard over the VHF since passing Madeira on the way down. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that if they helped me I would be disqualified! I should have asked them whos permission I needed to ask if I wanted to go ashore.
“We were quickly flushed onwards around to the Falklands by the current. Yet more shelving, and quite a lot of breeze, once again 30 to 40 knots as we approached. The outlying Islands were on the wrong place on the electronic charts, which lead to a few anxious moments, and as they are for the most part are fairly low lying, they didn’t show up that well on the radar either. Partly out of curiosity, and partly because there was so much wind I thought I’d be safe, I finished up too close to Stanley and the weather changed suddenly, left me in the lea of the island and pretty well parked up for hours in a large swell that meant I couldn’t keep the sails in shape.
“It was really frustrating, and I cursed myself for coming within twenty miles, let alone eight! It did give me chance, however, to have a look at a place which has fascinated me since it was in the news when I was small, and it was really strange to ponder then whys and where-fors of what had happened there whilst actually looking at the place for real. The dolphins came back, the same type as before, playing around the boat – I got some good video of them for once, and the birds changed too. There were lots of albatross still, but even more skuas, big brown birds that are the equivelant of hyenas, with short wings, powerful bodies and a beak, which looks like it could open tins! I did see two of them mobbing an albatross.
“There were also very strange brown and white birds that I thought were ducks to start with, but once they were airborne, which looked like a struggle, they were obviously some sort of cormorant. Flying really was not natural for them, and they were made to look worse after watching the albatross for so long, their short wings going ten to the dozen, little fat bodies that looked like stuffed toys, and a head that stayed perfectly level and motionless despite everything else flapping like mad! As I watched, I suddenly heard a deafening noise; two fighters went overhead at full bore seemingly a hundred feet above the mast. I thought the end of the world had come and gone! It was the first man made sound I had heard since the ninth of November, and having been used only to the noise of wind and water it was a real shock! I was pretty tired by that point too – a combination of relief at getting out of the South in one piece, rounding the Horn and the close proximity of land and the constant work on deck required by light winds had meant I had very little sleep for a few days.
“I gradually broke free of the Falklands; the kelp which I had caught around the keel and refused to come off despite repeatedly going into reverse, decided just to fall off and we were gone, and we have been upwind on the same tack ever since. But now the sun is shining, the water is warm and it is shorts weather on deck once more. I even had a flying fish on deck last night. Just wish me luck as I negotiate the high pressure in front of me over the next twenty four hours, and hope I don’t park up again……..”