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IV: Cape Horn

See also [part 3]

Roy F. Halvorsen:
Let me tell you about my personal adventure around Cape Horn. It was only a short sail comparable from City Island in the Bronx to Montauk Point and back but not the same.

I met Eric Barde the captain of Philos my charter in Port Almanza Argentina in the Beagle Channel about 9:00AM after a hour and a half taxi ride from Ushuaia over a rutted gravel roadway. The port consisted of a short pier put together with salvaged part from who know where. His boat a 48 foot steel schooner rig looked shipshape floating at the dock in the morning mist.

His wife Grdule and son Paul were just getting up and we enjoyed breakfast together before cleaning the customs to leave for Chile. The crossing of the Beagle Channel at this point to Port Williams is about a half hour under motor.

For the most part the Beagle Channel is very much like sailing in our home waters of Long Island Sound. It is not as wide but a pleasant body of water with a few very large sheep Estansa on the coast line. The close in mountains are only one to three thousand feet and are free of tree in the upper reaches due to the cold.

We arrived in Port Williams the most southern town in the world to clear into Chilean customs. The town has eighteen hundred and fifty souls with about two thirds military personal. The Port Williams Yacht Club is an old rusting costal steamship for the turn of the century firmly resting in the mud. All the boats (about five) raft up in a very protective cove. The town has several stores with marginal inventory. When you find something you need you buy as much as possible for they may not have the items for another month. The tavern which was our first stop could have been from the wild west of the states in 1880. The only difference was that the beer was ice cold and came in cans.

We filed our sailing plan with the Navy and departed about three in the afternoon. Winds were very light so we used the iron jib to reach our first overnight stop at Port Toro. A excellent harbor for the two fishing boats that ply the waters. As we came into port the dock was full of people to see who was coming. The total population of the village is sixty souls. We tied up to the dock and enjoyed a dinner of Santorio the large local crab with heavenly tasting white meat. Eric traded a bottle of wine for ten of this delicious creatures. We went to bed early for the next day sail into Nassau Bay.

The early morning was again dead calm so we turn on the iron jib and motored out passed the mouth of the little port. At the very edge of the point all the trees were bent away from the southwest due to the constant wind. I was to find this on all the islands. However, the trees are really big bushes south of Port Toro for the geography becomes sub arctic in climate.

We raise the fisherman, full jib, and mail sail under a blue sky in a pleasant breeze of about 10 knots. We sailed past a couple of very small islands covered with guano. You can smell them from over a mile away. Guano may be great fertilizer but it does not encourage close neighbors. Sooty Shearwaters seem to dive at us and the penguins are not many but are very busy fishing. The wind starts picking up and we drop the fisherman, reef the main and rolled in most of the jib.

After about an hour with the sails down to a minimum the wind is really blowing. The spray hits you eyes so hard your blinded for a few seconds. The trick is to just duck you head under the dog house before the next wave comes over the bow. We continue to sail like this for about three hours before we arrive a Scourfield Bay. On the charts it is the nearest and that is what we go for with the storm still building. The local charts we used were drawn by Captain Fitzroy in 1830 and by the H.M.S. Beagle in 1834.

The tiny anchorage of Scourfield was very welcome to weather out a storm. All during the night and for the full 36 hours we held up .The wilywaws came screaming down the mountainside at up to 100 knots. The wind at times tossed the 48,000 pound boat about as if it were a dingy. The barometer fell to 992 during the first night. The weather fax showed a new depression on the way but we figured it would be more then 36 hours before it hit the area from the south pole.

We left very early on the 14th of February for the Horn. Nassau Bay was relatively calm with winds only 10 to 15 knots. Just in case we did not raise the fisherman. In about 30 minutes the wind picked up and we put two reefs into the main and rolled the jib to a handkerchief. Hermit Island can into view and as we were about to enter the Pacific Ocean a large group of Dolphins joined us for a couple of miles.

Past Hull Island and into the ocean the swells piled up and now the waves were between 18 to 20 feet and the wind was steady at 45 knots with a few gusts to 50 knots. The sun was out and it looked like a great day for a sail. Sailing in that was not easy. You clipped on and hung on if you were not at the wheel. The physical and mental drain required is almost overwhelming. To move about your concentration is so limited you can only think, “now where do I clip on and how do I rest until my turn at the wheel,” your mind limits your actions to what must be done. There is a large rock just to the southwest that is partially covered and we spotted it to port about 200 yards. That was to close for comfort and since I first saw it we called it Roy Rock. Do not forget to mark you chart of the area.

It was impossible to stop in at the three man naval station on the east side of Horn Island so we headed for the nearest shelter on Herschal Island to spend the night. The whole rounding from Scourfield Bay took a total of nine hours. Later that evening we spoke to Isabel Atesse on her race from New York to San Francisco and early the next morning we spoke again on the VHS to Mark Rudiger on EF Language doing this leg of the Whitbread Race.

The trip back was an easy sail with the wind on the port quarter varying from 15 to 20 knots. By the time we reached the Beagle Channel we had to use the iron jib for the last 20 miles back to Port William. Again in port we check in with the Chilean Navy and waited for customs to check us out to go over to Argentina and my ride home to Ushuaia. It is interesting in the Yacht Club two boats were heading out looking for crew one for South Africa and the other to Germany. We made Port Almanza at 10:00PM and I arrived in Ushuaia by 1:00AM to my wonderful wife Gladys who put up with all my little adventures. We left the next day for the two thousand mile drive through Patagonia to Buenos Aires and home.


Go to the part 3 and 4WD-Travel pages

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