For almost 600 years mariners have considered this single geographic spot to be the end of the world. Talk to anyone who has ever sailed on the oceans and the words ‘Cape Horn’ contain equal measures of dread, mystery, and anticipation. Cape Horn is the ultimate challenge – Cape Horn is their deepest fear.
Books abound about the challenges of sailing around Cape Horn. Two of the very best are Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and The Last Time Around Cape Horn (The Historic 1949 Voyage of the Windjammer Pamir) by William F. Stark. Much more will be written about the ill-fated Pamir in later posts. The history of the Pamir is fascinating – fifty years under sail in war and peace under national several flags. Stark’s fine book tells the story of Pamir’s final journey around Cape Horn – which turned out to be the very last navigation around Cape Horn by any commercial sailing vessel.
A voyage around Cape Horn under sail is generally defined as a voyage of at least 3,000 nautical miles which must pass through 50 degrees South Latitude in both the Atlantic and Pacific (or Indian) Oceans. This would place the vessel only 600 nautical miles north of Antarctica. ‘Under Sail’ means that the use of any propulsion except the wind is prohibited. It is a challenge and it is dangerous, but once it was somewhat common. Today it is an extremely rare event – best said in a quotation from the web site of the International Association of Cape Horners:
“Cape Horn is sometimes called the Mount Everest of sailing. Mount Everest was first climbed on 29th May, 1953. We believe that, since that date, fewer people have qualified for full membership of the IACH than have climbed Mount Everest.”
A superb site to discover the IACH and the history of sailing Cape Horn can be found at http://www.capehorners.org/. Take the time to visit and browse their ‘Related Items’ page. It will take you to the web sites of their international chapters, links to videos of sailing Cape Horn, satellite photographs of the area – even information on visiting the area. Perhaps no other spot on earth contains as many souls lost at sea