Thursday November 30th, 2000

Location

1224 nautical miles to Cape Horn

Latitude

49.21S

Longitude

99.10W

Course

124 deg True

Wind

NW 35 to 40 knots – gusting 45

Sea

Very rough

Air temp

6 deg C

Sea temp

5 deg C

Barometer

999 mbs and falling


0815 hours: I’ve just sat down at the computer after an interesting night. Reef down the foresail in rising wind just before 3am, then woken by Roger around 7am to say the wind and sea are up and it’s time for further sail reduction. As I pulled on my sea boots and Musto trousers, Ollie’s voice came over the internal intercom requesting assistance, as the auto-pilot had gone off-limits and he was hand steering through the big seas that had quickly developed. I woke a few crew and we quickly dropped the mainsail onto the boom, then rolled away the headsail and hoisted the small staysail in its place. All this time Ollie was doing a great job of pointing Seamaster in the right direction down the face of the now fully breaking seas, using the wheel in the pilot house rather than having the assistance of the big powered steering pumps. This reduction settled the boat down a lot; we slowed to about 8 or 9 knots and are far more in control. It’s raining hard right now, the water running off the windows in streams. The pilot house door is closed, and we can watch the spindrift streaking the surface of the sea. There are huge patches of foaming grey-white where the bigger waves are breaking with a roar down their fronts, leaving hectares of frothy white behind. It’s only a basic gale at the moment (3.15 am Sunday morning New Zealand time), and shouldn’t go much above 50 knots in the squalls - so far it has reached 45. But it will probably last much of the day. The albatross are notable by their absence.

The good news is that we are aiming just to the south of Cape Horn. We can sense we are closing in, although still with many miles to go. We also have a real feel for what some aspects of nature are all about. A gale at sea is normally no big deal; a full storm at sea is awe inspiring. Even now, the conditions make one realise how insignificant we are, compared to the might of the elements. To get here we left New Zealand 3 weeks ago, and this is our fourth gale. The past 10 days have seen far more moderate breezes, especially considering the reputation of the Southern Ocean. Today, we have a reminder; don’t be complacent; think about the “what-if” scenario; be prepared. Sure we have motored from time to time when the wind has dropped away, but essentially we have sailed here using the power of the wind to move this 150 tonne fully laden exploration vessel of ours across thousands of miles of ocean, in good weather and in bad. The square-rigged sailing ships of earlier times used these winds of the roaring forties and furious fifties to get their cargoes from Australia and New Zealand to Europe, often racing each other to be first to unload and hence obtain the highest prices. It is easy to understand why this part of the globe was their highway. Just as mountaineers dream about climbing in the Himalayas, sailors muse about Cape Horn. This cape of capes is a kind of altar, a Mecca, a place where man is blooded, a symbol of adversity and achievement, of hardship and conquest. The sailors of old complained and boasted about Cape Horn in the same breath, cursing the experience but loving every minute of it because it was the greatest adventure of their lives. Cape Horn is also a graveyard to many, many ships and their crews. A journey around Cape Horn is a trip to the ultimate classroom of the sea. The graduate is a deepwater sailor.