Islas Diego Ramirez

16 Mar

March 14, 2019/Day 161

Noon Position: 53 08S  91 47W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ExS 6

Wind(t/tws): NW 17 – 21

Miles since departure: 22,114

Avg. Miles/Day: 137


Strong wind overnight as a cold northerly passed over us. It came on slowly, a steady thirty, then thirty-five topping out around midnight gusting forty. Mo let the building sea take her on the port quarter, a challenging angle for Monte, and so I ran a small headsail until morning. The blow came down to thirty-five some time after 1AM, when I started sleeping.

Winds are now aft and light, but setting the twins may have been an error in such a boisterous leftover sea. A big swell rolls down from the north and meets another from the west, and in the middle, Mo is tossed around like a bottle cork. The sails slap; the sheets slack and then snap-to with a grunt; the poles twang. Not sure what’s to be done but hope that more wind fills in soon.

When I quote miles to Cape Horn (in above stats), it should be understood that the waypoint is actually south of a small group of islands called Islas Diego Ramirez that are, themselves, about 50 miles south of the Hermite Island group in which lies the famous Isla Hornos.

Yes, Cape Horn is an island.

The reason for this is water, or a lack thereof. Diego Ramirez sits on the outer edge of the South American continental shelf, and between it and the Horn, water depths are as little as 200 and 300 feet; whereas, south of Diego Ramirez is abyssal.

This difference can be important if weather has been running foul west of the the Cape and the seas are high. If strong winds also pass over this shallow water area, seas can break with fury.

The most famous, early stories of yachts running into difficulties here were those of Miles and Beryl Smeeton who, with John Guzzwell as crew, attempted Cape Horn twice in their ketch, Tzu Hang. During the first attempt in 1956, the yacht was overtaken by severe weather in this area and was pitchpoled by a large and breaking sea. Beryl, on watch in the cockpit, was flung from the yacht and (luckily) recovered. The sea had taken both masts, damaged the yacht structurally, and filled her with water. The saving of Tsu Hang on this occasion is a tale for the ages.

But she was saved, taken to Chile, repaired and, in 1957, made a second attempt on Cape Horn with the same result. After this she was shipped home to England. Years later the Smeetons circumnavigated in Tsu Hang, including a successful rounding of the Cape.

Since then, it has become customary, as well as prudent, for yachts to *plan* a rounding of Cape Horn via the deeper water. If weather looks moderate on approach, as it did for Mo’s first pass, one can always adjust course.


The islands were first discovered in 1619, three years after the Horn itself came out of the gloom, and were the most southerly landmass known until Cook discovered the South Sandwich Islands in 1775. It is a testament to the nature of weather in this region that Antarctica, across the Drake Passage and a mere 400 miles further south, went undiscovered for another 200 years. (source: Wiki)

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


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