A Taste of Cape Horn

Position: 54 32.65 S 071 54.74 W
At anchor Calita Brecknock, Peninsula Brecknock
Wind: SSW, F3-7 gentle breeze to near gale
Weather: Snow, drizzle, sunny patches, and hail. Cold.
Days run: 37 nm (42 nm sailed)

Once again the weather fax this morning was barely intelligible, I am going to have to have a look at my receiver. Nonetheless it looked like the low was at last moving off the east, this correlated with the grib files which showed southwesterly winds and the barometer had risen overnight. One can’t be too careful about the weather around here as today was to prove.

Seeing as we wanted to be heading in mostly a northwesterly direction for the moment a southwest wind was something that could not be wasted even if a bit on the fresh side. We got underway at 9 a.m., not having put out any shorelines last night meant a lot less messing around this morning. Once out in the channels it was apparent that the wind had quite a bit of south in it. I decided this might be a good day for putting some miles behind us. Today we were approaching the western entrance of the Beagle Channel out into the open ocean, the Pacific at long last. The thought even crossed my mind if the wind did prove to be more southerly we might spend a night at sea and see how far north we could get. But as we left the relative protection of Punta Biton the seas built up and the wind increased significantly up to a steady 20 to 25 knots and we were close hauled, leaning well over with one reef in the mainsail and about 50% jib. Instead I decided we would make a bit of ground to windward and then bear away to re-enter the Channels for Canal Brecknock. We left a significant rock, Islota Penon, guarding the entrance to the southern channels a couple of cables (about 400 yards) to starboard and a couple of other nasty looking rocks passed even closer to leeward, gnashing their cold sharp black teeth at us as we did so. At this point the wind picked up a notch more and I could put off putting another reef in the mainsail no longer. The side decks were mostly immersed and we were starting to take water into the cockpit in large quantities, and to top it off the galley drawer once more crashed out onto the cabin sole. Damn, I thought, I forgot to secure it properly again. And poor old Bob Cat, I am really going to have to do something to make it easier for him to use in rough weather. But first, the reef. I donned my safety harness, hooked up to the jackline and made my to the mast. It was cold, it didn’t take long to put the second reef in, though it seemed a long time and afterwards my hands were frozen. Gloves would have made the work nigh on impossible and in some respects more dangerous. I can honestly say my hands have never been so cold before. When I was back in the cockpit as they started to slowly warm up they looked puffy and red and they hurt like hell. I had read of this experience but had never felt it myself, and that was only after maybe 10 minutes of exposure. I thought of the old time sailors battling their way around the Horn in mid winter, climbing aloft in screaming gales, handling wet frozen stiff heavy canvas with bare hands, sometimes for many hours, and wondered how they did it. For me it was definitely time to return to the channels.

Once in the lee of Isla Sidney conditions improved markedly. I was very relieved. The seas flattened out and the wind abated with only the odd williwaw gusting down the snowy mountainsides of the chain of islands to our southwest.

I took the second reef back out and we creamed along at between six and even knots, heeling well over as we luffed up to the williwaws, despite the minor bashing we had received outside we had made excellent progress for the day. I set my sights on making Caleta Brecknock for the night, apparently one of the scenic highlights of the area. We made it comfortably before dark, dropped anchor, got the dinghy in the water and a couple of lines ashore with minimum of fuss - the polypropylene rope seems to becoming a little less recalcitrant thank goodness.

One of the nice things about sailing the channels at least is that you get to stop each night, a nice hot meal with the boat rock steady, the heater on for a few hours before retiring for some unbroken sleep (I hope).

More about Caleta Brecknock tomorrow.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse …

I suffered another indignity. Instead of fising up my kitty tray for rough weather why don’t we just avoid the rough stuff. Seems simple to me.

More hardtack.

At least the heater is on. ,,,, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.