Plenty of Drama as Pelagic Australis Rounds Cape Horn!

Pelagic Australis rounds Cape Horn in gale force winds.

April 4, 2012

Pelagic Australis, Cape Horn

It seems ages since I wrote my last update. It was probably when we were in Antarctica in February, hauling the boat off the rocks and waiting for our guests to come back down off the mountain. Once they were back on board, we had an AMAZING time! The sun shone almost every day and the wind stayed at bay so we had the pick of places to go and took full advantage of such fantastic weather. The guys skied almost every day-day skis from the boat while we drifted at sea amongst the icebergs enjoying the balmy weather. Every day they got back in fantastic form, raving about the conditions of the snow and marvelling at the opportunities that they had.

We returned safely across the drake, and even managed a few days seeing the Argentinian side of the Beagle Channel. It was really sad to see them leave when we eventually tied up in Ushuaia and sent them on their way.

After a couple of much needed weeks without a charter, enjoying the company of friends in Ushuaia and doing some routine maintenance and cleaning jobs at a leisurely pace, we collected a group of 8 Australian men, had an emotional departure from Ushuaia and headed to Puerto Williams. This is a much smaller town than Ushuaia, just 25 miles away, but on the south side of the Beagle Channel and therefore in Chile.


This is our base for the next month or so before we set off back to the Falklands, then to Cape Town to hand the boat over to Skip.

We had a brilliant trip with the Australians-they wanted wind and weather and they got it! It was a slow start with two days sitting in Puerto Williams as it was too windy to leave, but once we were off it was great. After a week or so cruising the western end of the Beagle Channel where we can see endless glaciers, mountains and unbelievable scenery, we set off through Bahia Cook and into the Pacific Ocean. The forecast for 25 to 30 knots of wind was clearly wildly underestimated, and though the barometric pressure remained completely steady for 24hrs, we had severe gale force winds with gusts into the 50s for the whole journey round Cape Horn and into the anchorage behind. I suppose we should be used to the weather being a little crazy despite a reasonable forecast, but it still surprises us how often we are living in gale force winds – almost every day at some point.

My watch was on at 6AM, in the dark, and just 20 miles from the horn. There was a real sense of excitement on board, this is what they had come here for, and so far nothing was disappointing. At about half past six, we needed to gybe off to avoid some rocks. It went smoothly until I realized that the running backstay (an essential part of the rig) was caught on the front of the mast, and the only way to clear it was to climb up to the first spreaders and flick the rope off. I was on watch with three of the guests, and as much as they wanted excitement, it isn’t fair to send them up the mast at Cape Horn in 50 knots of wind. I had no choice, and so I clipped on and went forward. The guys watched me from the cockpit with their torches showing me the way, and I slowly climbed up the ladder. It isn’t difficult to climb the mast, but it is my least favorite job on board. Only 12 hours earlier, I had mentioned to Dave that it was pretty much the only thing I wouldn’t be able to do in strong winds. I suppose there is nothing like a sense of urgency and need to overcome fear, and in the end it wasn’t so bad. The rope was freed and wound on tight, and the rig was strong again. I was safely back in the cockpit, and everyone was happy to be back on course, clear of the rocks and with the faintest shadow of the Horn appearing through the gloomy light.


The actual rounding of the horn was fantastic. With the wind from the west, we had to gybe again but this time with plenty of crew on deck and no mistakes. I have been round Cape Horn several times, but this was pretty spectacular, and I couldn’t help smiling to myself and feeling so lucky to be here. The dramas weren’t over however, and as we approached a narrow gap between two islands, with the engine running and just a small amount of mainsail up, the engine started to overheat. We were still in very strong winds but now with islands all around us, and we had to quickly turn around and run off downwind into clearer water while Miles had a look at it. There was an airlock in the engine cooling system caused by the rough seas, and the smell was horrendous, but after an inspection of the impeller, Miles confirmed that it was just a matter of bleeding the air out and sealing the system again. Phew, engine back on and back round to the anchorage.

The following day, it was calm, and so we had a chance to land on the Horn. How lucky we were that the weather turned out as it did, with an exciting rounding and then nice calm conditions to land. We visited the lighthouse keeper who lives there with his wife and two children (age 13 and 8) and a four-month old poodle!

As chance would have it, just as we reached the lighthouse, the two leading boats of the Volvo Ocean Race were sailing round so we were able to watch from to top of the hill and discuss their progress (in my very broken Spanish). Another boat, Telefonica, had been leading but they had fallen off a wave at 25 knots in our storm and delaminated some part of the hull. They would be coming into Caleta Martial to try and make some repairs – a maintenance team were on their way. He also said that, as we had rounded the day before, up at the top of the hill he had recorded 110 knots-no wonder I hadn’t been so happy to climb the mast!


We were invited into the house for coffee, and I have now officially seen the kitchen with the best view for the washing up EVER! Their kitchen sink overlooks Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean behind it. Today was calm but she said that when we sailed round a day earlier it all looked pretty wild – we could agree with that.

A couple more days and we were back in Puerto Williams preparing to say goodbye to another wonderful group. They set off home for their wives in Australia with pickled livers (147 bottles of wine and 14 bottles of spirits in 2 weeks), gold rings in their left ears and beaming smiles on their faces. It’s sometimes a strange and difficult job to share such intense experiences with a group, make friends with them, trust them with your lifeline or downwind helming in a big boat in a big sea and then just to say goodbye, wave as they go off round the corner and start again with the turnaround jobs. I know on balance it is time for this
all to come to an end for us, but with just 10 weeks till we get home, the reality of ‘normal’ life is looming large.

Lots of love to all of you and enjoy your wonderful weather (if it hasn’t turned yet). Any news as always, welcome.


All the best,
Laura and Miles


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