On Tuesday, the last day of January we were issued a zarpe from Puerto Williams to Cabo de Hornos, for departure early on Wednesday morning, the 1st of February. There appeared to be a weather window opening on Thursday morning and slamming shut on Friday afternoon. We had decided to head out in Wednesday's iffy weather to be in position when the window opened.
With our zarpe issued, we walked from the Capitania over to the almacen to see if there was anything worth buying. The vegetable selection was down to a few shrivelled potatoes, one mushy tomato, a few so-so carrots and a bin of rather decent onions. We took none. However, in the freezer was a large selection of one-kilo bags of skinless and boneless pangasius fillets. We had enjoyed the packet we had bought a couple of weeks previously, so we bought two more. We also bought a dozen hockey-puck bread rolls.
We spent much of the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the free wifi connection of the Club Naval de Yates Micalvi. In the evening I sautéed the fish fillets and served them with tarragon basmati rice and a butter sweat of julienned carrots, red and green peppers, shallots, garlic and quartered crimini mushrooms. The 2011 Carmen Chardonnay accompanied splendidly.
We were up shortly after 0700, and while Edi brewed a pot of coffee, I organized our lines to enable us to easily slip out from the nest of boats. Comings and goings the previous day had put us second out from Micalvi, with three commercial sailboats rafted outboard of us. At 0740 we slipped and headed eastward along the Beagle Channel in rather calm seas. The 6 to 8 knot northwest winds were insufficient to offer any push to our sails, so we motored. Above us were bundles of stratus and tatters of stratus fractus and above them, through the gaps, the sky was filled with altostratus. There was fresh snow on the hills down to about 300 metres; it was a cold midsummer day.
Edi took advantage of the smooth going to go below and prepare breakfast. She scrambled some eggs, which she added to ham and cheese on sliced hockey pucks and then browned them in a covered dry frying pan. Our Cape Horn version of eggs McMuffin went wonderfully with steaming cups of fresh-ground Starbuck's from the thermos. She had used the tail-end of the bag of beans, leaving us with only two bags remaining. We have been averaging eighteen days per 907-gram bag, so in about five weeks we'll need to revert to our stock of Peruvian coffee.
The Beagle Channel east of Puerto Williams narrows and twists between islands that mark the separation between the tides flowing in from the east and from the west. We passed close to some isolated mid-channel rocks, and saw them thick with cormorants and penguins.
Further along, past Isla Snipe we passed another reminder to mariners of the difficulty of navigation in these waters. It appears a freighter had found a submerged rock and converted itself into a chart symbol to aid the navigation of those who followed.
We reported to the Armada watchkeeper at Alcamar Snipe, and a few miles further along, at Alcamar Toro. There are five of these one-family Armada outposts east of Puerto Williams, whose responsibility is to monitor and maintain radio contact with passing traffic. As we passed Puerto Toro, the most southerly village in the world, we saw one sailboat on the wharf and the other side of the wharf empty.
The weather was still rather benign, so we decided to continue southward. We told the Armada watchkeeper at Toro that we would head to through Paso Goree and cross Bahia Nassau to Caleta Middle, an anchorage on Isla Wolliston, or possibly continue to Caleta Martial on Isla Herschel. As we approached Punta Aaron, we were hit by 35-knot winds from the southwest funnelling up through Paso Goree from Bahia Nassau. The Italian Guide says about Bahia Nassau: "...crossing between Paso Goree and Isla Wollaston can prove very hard in heavy weather. Even large yachts may be forced to sail back and find shelter in Caleta Lennox. The long fetch and the violence of the wind can rapidly develop extremely violent conditions, so that navigation in the bay might become impossible..." I considered this and thought of our beating directly to windward in deteriorating conditions for 28 miles before finding lee. I came 45º to port and as we reached across the top of Paso Goree to find some lee from Isla Lennox, I called Alcamar Toro and reported that we were diverting to anchor in Caleta Lennox.
It took us nearly three hours sailing, motor-sailing and motoring to cover the 12 miles to Caleta Lennox, the final 4 miles of this into 45-knot winds and steep seas. At 1426 we came to 25 metres on the Rocna in 5.5 metres of water about 2 cables from the low isthmus and point forming the bay, directly in front of the Armada building. The land offered no protection from the wind, but because of the short fetch, the seas had little chance to build.
Already in the anchorage was Guapita, a French-flagged sloop of about 10 metres. We had seen it arrive in Puerto Eden just before we left in early January. I set a long snubber on the chain, and we cocooned below as the anemometer bounced around in the upper 40 and low 50 knot range and Sequitur yawed in the wind shifts, which I assumed were being generated by interaction with the islands at the point.
At 1840 the 19mm nylon snubber snapped in a particularly violent gust, which was likely well into the 60s. I had watched the anemometer from time-to-time, and had seen gusts as high as 57 knots; the shrieking of the rigging clearly told us this one was stronger. I pulled-on my offshore foulies and went forward to rig a new snubber. An hour later, after I had organized gear and warmed-up, I went back out and added a second snubber to share the strain. Even with hi-tech underwear, three layers of fleece, insulated pants, offshore foulies, toque and gloves, I was quite chilled by the time I came back from my midsummer strolls to the foredeck.
For dinner I prepared a quick sauté of scallops, garlic, shallots, red and green peppers, Roma tomatoes and crimini mushrooms and served it with basmati rice. For the first time in many weeks, we had no wine with dinner because of the tenuous nature of the anchorage. We decided not to undress, but rather to sleep fully clothed on the settees in the salon, ready for quick action if necessary. This was the first time we had used this prudent step since Sequitur left Vancouver.
I was awakened at 0430 by the stillness and the cessation of howling in the rigging; the wind had decreased dramatically. By 0520 the wind had died. We quickly got up, and prepared to leave. It took us about ten minutes to coax the Rocna out of the mud bottom, and at 0555 on Thursday morning, a few minutes after sunrise, we weighed and headed out of Caleta Lennox. Bahia Nassau had a light chop, the remnants of the storm, as we shaped course across it for Paso Mar del Sur.
As we motored across Bahia Nassau, the wind filled from the northwest, and we rolled-out some sail. The further we went, the longer the wind's fetch and larger the seas. By 0800 we had 18 to 22 knot winds on our starboard quarter, and we were making 7 knots. As we approached the islands, we met a small cruise ship heading north, and a short while later we had found the lee of Isla Freycinet. Our 1100 fix showed us about to enter Paso Mar del Sur.
At 1145 we were through the 4 cable wide pass, with its nearly 2 cable chart skew, and on our final leg to Cape Horn, at least to the Cape Horn that most tourists visit. The Armada-manned lighthouse, the Cape Horn monument, the fair weather anchorage and the access stairs are all on the eastern point of Isla Hornos. Two miles to the west and nearly a mile further south is the actual southerly tip of the continent.
We continued past the tourist's Cape Horn and skirted well clear of the badly mis-charted reefs that mark the southeastern point of Isla Hornos. As we went we came increasingly into the 4 metre westerly swell, which was rather like a gentle roller-coaster. Once we had put the reefs well abaft our beam, we turned and motor-sailed straight into the swell, making about 4.5 knots with turns for 8.5 and assisted by the 18 to 20 knot winds at 45º on the starboard bow.
The slow roller-coaster ride westward took us over half an hour, which gave plenty of time to think of how long we had dreamed of 'doing' the Horn, how long we had planned the voyage, how long it had taken us to prepare before actually starting out, how long it had taken us to get to this point. And there we were, about to round Cape Horn.
The peak at Cape Horn is shown on the chart as being 425 metres high, and we watched as the bottom 70 or 80 metres of its face was obscured by the tops of the swells as Sequitur bottomed-out in the troughs.
We were sufficiently close-in that the height of the Cape gave us lee from the northwest wind. The sky had been completely obscured with low stratus, mist and light rain since we entered the islands. It was Groundhog Day, and there was no doubt that the little rodent would not have seen its shadow here. We pondered whether this meant that summer would soon come, or that it was over. The winter-like weather gave us no clues.
We continued along westward until we had clearly passed the most southerly point. We had rounded Cape Horn east to west.
We put a message in a bottle and launched it. The message was simple: 02 Feb 2012. Cape Horn. Michael & Edi. Yacht Sequitur. Email: [email protected]
I put our 1300 fix on the chart-plotter as we turned through the trough of the swells and headed east. When we had settled-in on our easterly course and had done a west to east passage of the Cape, we were surfing into the upper 13-knot range.
The run back to the tourist version of the Cape was quick, and as we ran, we felt a huge relief at finally having completed this goal we had so long ago set for ourselves. By 1330 we had cleared the reefs off the east point, done our departure radio contact with the Armada watchkeeper at the lighthouse and were well on our northerly route into the wind and back to Paso Mar del Sur.
While we were in the lee of Isla Freycinet on our way through the pass, Edi went below and prepared a big platter of nachos with two cheeses, sliced black olives, diced Roma tomatoes and with it we enjoyed steaming cups of rooibos tea. Once we had left the lee of the islands and were out into Bahia Nassau, we were into waves generated all day by the northerly winds.
The 44-mile run across the Bahia to Puerto Toro took us until two minutes after sunset at 2129. There, we secured stern-in, starboard side to on a wonderful, modern wood and steel wharf in the most southerly village in the world. We reported our arrival to the Armada watchkeeper by VHF. We had made 110 miles during the day.
We were feeling a great mix of relief, weariness, elation, tiredness, satisfaction and pride. We needed to celebrate. After we had left the Horn I had put a bag each of prawns and scallops into the sink to thaw. I sautéed them in julienned shallots, garlic and red and green peppers and quartered criminis, added the lot to a hot Alfredo sauce and served it over al dente linguine. We celebrated with a bottle of Mumm Domaine.
During the night a German-flagged commercial sailboat had come in from Antarctica with a group of clients from Spain. We chatted with the tourists briefly on Friday morning as we organized our lines to slip and head out. Some of them offered to help us, but we long ago learned it is safer and easier to do it ourselves than to risk having overeager and inexperienced people take unpredictable initiative. We declined their assistance, saying we needed the practice. We easily and safely left Puerto Toro at 1045.
The weather was initially rather benign as we motored into a 10 to 12 knot wind under skies half-filled with cumulus. We passed again isolated rocks with penguin, cormorant and sea lion colonies. The Chilean-Argentine border runs through the Beagle Channel, and at times it is necessary to cross into Argentine waters for safe navigation. On one of these crossings, we were contacted on VHF by the Argentine Armada, requesting our intentions.
The weather deteriorated rapidly, and by the time we arrived back in Puerto Williams at 1612, the wind was blowing above 25 knots. We secured sixth out in a raft off Micalvi, alongside the French sloop Ilena, where Philippe and Patricia helped us with our lines.
We are now waiting for a weather window for our departure to Cape Town. We've done one of the Great Capes; now we're heading for the next.