Approaching the Horn
Date: 27 February 2011
Position: 58:04S 65:44W - 150 miles south of Cape Horn
I feel rather manly and heroic looking at our GPS display which shows “Waypoint: Cape Horn”. It is only men of steel, and Laura, who get to see this. We are heading north, about 150 miles south of the great symbolic lump of rock at the bottom of South America, the most fearsome of the southern capes, the very thought of which loosens the bowels of lesser men.
This return passage across the Drake has been good and bad: good, because apart from the 60-knot screamer right at the beginning of the passage, running with the wind behind us at 10 knots, at night, and with all probability of coming across some hull-ripping ice, the wind has been kindly in strength, blowing between 20 and 30 knots (a mere zephyr in these parts). The stiff winds that had been forecast for last night have so far failed to materialise. And whilst Miles the skipper might having been losing his hair with anxiety during the scary run at the start, I felt altogether more relaxed, largely because I was snoring away in a drug-induced coma throughout it all. The not-so-good part of the passage has been the direction of the wind which has remained stubbornly from the north and northwest the whole time. This is roughly the direction we need to go, so we have been motor-sailing into the wind the whole time.
There has been a good Southern Ocean swell about 4 metres high and periodically this will coincide with a smaller breaking wave and Pelagic Australis will launch herself off the top and crash down into the trough with a spine–jarring shudder. And when your spine has a nerve trapped in it, the effect is interesting. It’s like doing your back in, then being told to jump off a 10 foot wall onto concrete every five minutes. Notwithstanding, the back is slowly improving and this morning for the first time in days I am suffering no pain.
A big difference on this passage compared to the passage south nearly three weeks ago is the comparative lack of birds. On the way down we were constantly accompanied by albatrosses, Wilson’s Storm Petrels and Cape Petrels. In deed, the Cape Petrels were flying around in such numbers on the way south, we were almost having to beat them off with sticks. This time, however, apart from the appearance of the very occasional albatross, we have seen very little.
We have been eating fantastically well, as we have done throughout the entire cruise. One thing that has surprised me is the sheer quantity of food we’ve been putting away. I reckon that my calorie input has conservatively been 50% more than normal but, notwithstanding, I have definitely been losing weight (mind you, after the copious sweet delicacies of six weeks in Buenos Aires I jolly well needed to lose a bit of weight). Apart from breakfast of porridge and toast we have always had two very wholesome meals a day. Typically lunch will consist of a filling and nutritious soup or stew with doorsteps of bread and butter. And none of your emptying cans into a pan and heating it up – everyone homemade from fresh ingredients. In the evening it will be even more calorie-punched and substantial. In theory we all take it in turns to prepare the food and we have had some really excellent regional specialities like bortsch (with lamb) made by the Russians, and a brilliant sausage stew of Polish origin made by Niko the German. At the other end of the spectrum was the failure of the upside down roast chicken and roast potatoes cooked by me (I’ve not been asked to contribute since). In practice, however, most of the cooking is done by Miles, Laura and Dave on top of their numerous other responsibilities of planning, navigating, sailing the boat, routine maintenance and cleaning, and making sure that our every waking moment is fun-filled and adventurous. How they do it, I don’t know. They must be exhausted but when we leave the boat, whilst they may well heave a sigh of relief, there will be no time for relaxation. A quick turn around of cleaning, re-supplying and maintenance and they will be off again with another bunch of clients for yet another adventure. They’re a really special team and they deserve and receive our enormous gratitude.
As a final attempt to give us yet another unforgettable memory they are trying to stage managing our passing of Cape Horn in daylight hours tomorrow morning. Let’s hope they will succeed.