Christmas in Puerto Williams
17 December 2002 | Puerto Williams, Chile
Merry Christmas! After a wonderful two-month trip south down Chile's channels, Hawk reached the naval base of Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino less than a degree north of Cape Horn in early December. We then spent ten restful and relaxing days tied up to the Micalvi - a half-sunken ship that serves as the local yacht club - before we cleared for Cape Horn. We expected to take a week to ten days to make the 180 nautical mile round trip, but just over twenty-four hours after leaving Puerto Williams, at 1330 on December 14th, we had the infamous headland to port in absolutely perfect weather. A few minutes later, we spoke Cabo de Hornos Control. Two and a half days after we left, we were back in Puerto Williams tied up to the Micalvi with Cape Horn behind us.
Isla Hornos - Horn Island - is the southernmost of a group of fractured islands called the Wollastons that lie fifteen miles south of Isla Navarino, across the shallow and often confused waters of Bahia Nassau. Boats wanting to go "to the Horn" (as opposed to "rounding the Horn" - which requires sailing non-stop from 50 degrees South to 50 degrees South from one side of South America to the other) have to get a special cruising permit from the Chilean navy. This zarpe allows yachts to anchor in a single anchorage in the Wollaston Group, Caleta Martial, and specifies the exact route they must take in sailing around the Horn. The sailing was pretty uneventful except for six hours of beating into SW winds of 45 to 50 knots true (with a few gusts to 60 - the first time ever we've seen that much), right when we were closing with Isla Wollaston and trying to reach our anchorage late Friday night. Hawk was extremely impressive and managed to claw her way right into that wind. The rest of the time we had light to moderate westerlies except when we were passing by the southern coast of Isla Hornos - when we had light easterlies right on the nose!
The actual Cape was more impressive than we expected, a 1,400 foot high cliff rising sheer out of the sea with the Southern Ocean swell breaking in seething white walls at its base. The rest of Horn Island is low and eroded, most of it only a couple of hundred feet high, so the bare rock faces of the "Great Cape" tower above the green land rolling down toward sea level, dwarfing the rest of the island from every vantage point. The northwest corner of the island surprised us even more - here two eroded spires of bare rock hundreds of feet high have been carved by the wind and the water so that they each resemble the facade of a cathedral complete with towering doors and arched lintels. Cathedral Rocks, as they are called, demonstrate the incredible power of the unceasing swell as it slowly digests the island. At their bases, the waves break in huge plumes of whitewater over the jagged teeth of partially submerged rocks, and the sea seethes in colors from cobalt blue to mint green under the maelstrom of spume.
The trip would have been picture perfect except for early Saturday morning when a Chilean Naval ship called us and told us that our EPIRB (emergency beacon that sends a distress signal and position to a satellite) had gone off and a search had been mounted for us. We attempted to explain that our EPIRB had certainly not gone off, but they were convinced it had. They directed us to proceed to Caleta Martial where a Navy cutter met us and six of its crew boarded us, checked our EPIRB and inspected Hawk for damage before they would let us continue our voyage. They found us and Hawk in fine condition and the EPIRB switch still sealed. It turns out that a 35-foot German boat with two people on board got into trouble just to the west of Cape Horn on a voyage from Tahiti and we were somehow confused with them. Their EPIRB has been recovered but nothing else has been found after a five day sea and air search. The sobering reality of this disappearance has cast a long shadow over all the yachts here in Chile.
While seeing Cape Horn rounds out our Chilean voyage, it felt to a certain extent like an anticlimax. For both of us, entering the Beagle Channel after our sail down the length of the Atlantic remains the crowning moment of our last year and a half of cruising. But the image of the rocky headland and sheer, scree-covered cliff will remain one of the highlights of our cruising experiences.
What's next for Hawk? We intend to leave here in mid-January and head east. We hope to reach Australia this summer season, but may detour to South Africa. You can continue to reach us at this e-mail address. For the next month we will have full Internet access, so feel free to get in touch. We'd enjoy hearing from you!
Enjoy the holiday season, Beth and Evans s/v Hawk