Cape Horn to Starboard
After a long, hot, difficult slog southward, the Around the Americas crew tackles the legendary South American headland-from the wrong direction. A feature from our June 2010 issue
There's no question that the epic promontory called Cabo de Hornos-Cape Horn, the steep slab of rock on a windswept island off the tip of South America-had been on our minds for a while. When skipper Mark Schrader conceived of a voyage Around the Americas to raise awareness about ocean health and conservation, and began to think hard about the route of the voyage, he worked backward from a rounding of the Horn at the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer. Now, on a spooky January morning before a rare 20-knot southeasterly breeze, the crew aboard our 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch, had the legendary cape, shrouded in mist, square in their sights.
Nearly eight months earlier, we'd left Seattle and set sail first for Alaska, then eastward above the Arctic Circle and through the Northwest Passage. After a challenging voyage down the eastern seaboards of North America and South America, in keeping with our clockwise circumnavigation of the continents, we angled in toward Cape Horn from the east. Most yachts, of course, approach from the west, ahead of the prevailing Southern Ocean breeze. But we never seem to do things the easy way.
We'd dreamed of this moment on countless occasions, fantasizing endlessly about how it might unfold. For my part, all the scenarios featured big wind and heavy seas. Never, in my wildest flights of imagination, did a spinnaker come into play.
So when Mark gave the call to "get the chute ready," first mate Dave Logan and I instantly swapped "He's got to be kidding" looks. And even as we rigged the sheets and guys and hoisted the sail aloft, cocooned in its sock, the notion remained highly surreal. It wasn't until we actually raised the sock to the masthead and, with a loud snap of sail cloth, sheeted the huge asymmetric kite home-emblazoned with a dramatic representation of the two continents that now lay directly north of us-that the fact of the matter became clear.
Yes, we were flying a spinnaker off Cape Horn.
Man, it'd taken some doing to get there.
Following our successful east-to-west transit of the Northwest Passage and a spin through the Canadian Maritimes (see "Ice Capades," January 2010), we enjoyed a tour of the Atlantic seaboard, with stops in Boston, New York City, Charleston, South Carolina, and Miami. The 900-mile passage that followed, from South Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was fast and uneventful. Then, on November 8, we pointed the boat south and set out on what was meant to be the single longest leg of the entire trip, a 3,500-nautical-mile voyage to Rio de Janeiro.
That's when things got dicey. Unfortunately, for the most part, we had no one to blame but ourselves. Much later, we received a bit of tongue-in-cheek advice from a seasoned passagemaking friend with the "proper" sailing instructions for a jaunt from the Caribbean to Rio: "Head directly for the Canary Islands. When you see them, turn right." Let's just say we decided to, ahem, cut the corner. In essence, we set what was basically a rhumb-line course from the islands to Cabo Calcanhar, the Brazilian cape at the very tip of the country's extreme eastern bulge. And then we paid the consequences.