Cape Horn

Well after drifting around in the wee hours of the morning yesterday the winds finally filled in with a vengeance at 3.30am.  It started with a nice 10 knots filling in from the NW that built to 15 knots and then within the space of 20 minutes I was sailing in 40 knots of wind with rain like bullets hitting the skin.  In that time, I went from one reef in the Main sail and the No 1 jib to three reefs in the main and the storm jib.  As the winds had only just arrived I still wasn’t in a bad sea way even though I was sailing over shallow waters however an hour later was a very different story.

I was still 10nm from Cape Horn so I didn’t want to put the drogue out just yet as I was wanting to have the freedom of manoeuvrability.  When it became apparent that I would be passing Cape Horn in the very early hours of the morning and at first light I began to get very excited.  I might actually have a chance to see this infamous cape.

I decided to sail a little closer even though the conditions were deteriorating rapidly. I would never know if I would get this opportunity again. I kept poking my head out the dome to see if I could spot land.  All I kept seeing was white.  Everything was a complete white out, with the rain and sea spray.  I couldn’t see very far ahead at all. 

I started to think that I may not get that chance when all of a sudden out of the white a darker outline started to take shape...  CAPE HORN!!!  Wahoo.  I was so excited. I still had another 5nm to sail until I actually passed the Horn Monument (the marker of a rounding), but I didn’t think that the rain would hold off long enough, so I shot up on deck in my full waterproof wet weather gear and my beanie and took the chance to snap some pics and videos.  Sure enough, a few short minutes later and Cape Horn was once again obliterated from sight.  I officially rounded Cape Horn at 05:08 local time or 10:08 UTC giving me an elapsed time of 50 days, 7 hours and 44 minutes.

Short Video of Cape Horn

I was looking at the conditions trying to decide if they warranted the storm drogue yet. The swell had started getting really large.  It was such a difference from an hour ago that I felt I was nearing the drogue deployment time.  I was really trying to hold out until I sailed off the edge of the continental shelf as I would be back in deep water again. 

While I was thinking this through, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of movement.  Dolphins!  What a great omen to be sailing around the most dangerous cape in the world and I get a personal escort of a pod of black and white dolphins.  I was so excited that I carefully made my way to the bow of the boat and sat there watching them play in the water.  I tried to get some footage on the camera however I didn’t realize that i still had it set to photo…….. woops. 

While I was on the bow the boat was surfing some really great waves and we were hooning along at a rapid rate with spray flying out both sides from the speed.  The dolphins were loving it.  I was holding on tight as I know how powerful the water can be and was starting to think that I need to get back to the cockpit. A few seconds later a monster wave came up behind me and woosh, we were off.  I knew this was going to end badly and gripped the safety rail with everything I had. The bow of the boat buried into the water submerging me up to my neck in freezing cold southern ocean waters. 

A second later there was this pop and hiss and my life jacket started to inflate...  It was quite hilarious. If you were a fly on the wall I am sure you would have been laughing as hard as I was.  I deflated a bit of air and quickly made my way back to the cockpit and down below.  It is not that easy to move around with an inflated life jacket on so it took me a bit longer than normal and then I almost got stuck halfway inside the hatch as the life jacket only just fitted in.  Just to top it off my favourite Beanie was soaked though and will be near impossible to dry in these conditions.

I discarded my inflated life jacket and put on my spare on as I had by now realized that the conditions were indeed drogue conditions. Best get that out asap before the boat gets rolled.  Back on deck I made my way to the back of the boat to deploy the series drogue.  I had pre-prepared it for this storm so all I needed to do was undo the bag, check all lines were clear and drop the sinker (weighted end) off the back of the boat and let it pull its self out.  The minute it was out there was a remarkable difference in the boat and how we were sitting to the swell.  A series drogue is a length of line that has over a hundred different little cones or mini parachutes.  The Drogue is set on a bridle at the back of the boat, as the waves shove the boat off course the bridle becomes tight on that side applying pressure to the back corner of the boat and pulls it straight again.  The little parachutes help to slow the boat down and pull against the waves that are trying to shove you forward. 

The boat was no longer flying out of control down 8 meter plus waves but calmly riding up and over them. The only drawback was that quite a few waves would flood the cockpit burying me in a meter of water for a minute.  I am glad to say that the Zhik offshore Isotak gear held up remarkably well considering I might as well have been swimming.

When I finally returned inside I was quite cold.  Not shivering but I knew that my base layers were wet with sweat and it was likely that it was the adrenalin that was keeping me warm, so I boiled the kettle with salt water for my hot water bottle.  I was so glad I did because in the time it took to boil and for me to get out of my foul weather cloths I was starting to shiver.  I had a muesli bar to tied me over and crawled into my bed to hug the hot water bottle.  I needed to get warm quick and dry out my cloths, an hr later and I was dry and warm again and wondered to myself….. why haven’t I been using the hot water bottle every day on this trip….. it was so nice and relaxing to cuddle.

I have tried to sleep on and off all day but the waves were having none of it as the boat would get side swiped and pushed this way or that.  After a couple of hours napping I got up again and went back on deck just to check everything.  I wasn’t looking forward to it. When I climbed out of the hatch I was buffeted by 50 knots of wind and freezing cold driving rain that felt like needles on my skin.

That wasn’t what took my breath away though.  It was the incredible size of the waves.  I have sailed in plenty of big waves but this was the largest that I have encountered on my own. The sheer size of this wall of water towering over me would cause my breath to hitch every time while I waited to see if the boat would ride over okay or not.  Imagine a small apartment complex towering over you and change the building out for a frothing cold angry wave and you have a slight taste of what it feels like.  The bigger waves of the sets were at least 10 meters high. I was still in relatively shallow water so they were also very steep.  Climate Action Now handled it like a pro. With the drogue, out, I only had minimal side swiping going on.  I shudder to think about how the boat would have coped in those conditions without the drogue.  I am positive it would be a very different story that I would be telling.

Just to add to the adventure several times today those waves flooding the cockpit have made their way inside.  The first one was so much water that it filled the whole of the cuddy and forced itself in through the air vents mounted near the roof.  Later that day I open the hatch for 3 second to hit a button on the auto pilot and at that exact time the water decided it wanted to flood in.  I had just rolled out of bed to acknowledge an alarm, so I was quite pissed when a wall of water landed at my feet soaking my socks and toes.  So, most of the boat is now wet inside and out.  I will be looking forward to some milder conditions that will allow me to get a bit of housekeeping done.

I am now sailing in mostly 30 knots occasionally 40 knots of wind from the WSW and am on a course of 070 making my way to the gap between the Estados islands off the Argentinean coast and the Burdwood bank (a large shallow area offshore). I will gybe in a few hours to pass between them.  I will be needing to go once again on the continental shelf so I can imagine that the waves are going to get nasty again.  I will use the time in between to get some sleep.
 Its currently 3am local time and I am now of the time zone of UTC -4 having jumped 3 times zones in 3 days around Cape Horn.  All in all, a great day….. but I am very tired and feel like I have been run over by a Mack truck, however nothing that a little rest won’t cure.  The conditions are expected to east right off later today.

So, I do have some reasons to be concerned……..on the bow looking at dolphins mmmmmmmmm why doesn't that surprise me.