Under The Cape

23 Mar

March 20, 2019/Day 167

Noon Position: 56 03S  67 58W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): E 7

Miles since departure: 22,959

Avg. Miles/Day: 138


Hour after hour we run in towards the shallows below Tierra del Fuego and hour after hour the barometer remains fixed at 1008mb and wind at 30 knots. I know this is how the low will come on: isobars will trend east/west until the slanting wave of more powerful winds arrive. But those more powerful winds have been due for some time.

I train the flashlight on the barometer: it reads 1008. Count to three hundred. Click the light again. The barometer reads the same.

I’ve had my glass of wine and dinner and have donned an extra layer of fleece while my belly is still radiating its recent receipt of lentil stew. Now I am crammed into the starboard quarter of the pilot house, kitted-up in foulies and ready. I’m on big weather watch and will be here for the duration, unless called on deck.

Click the light again. Same.

Mo is tearing along under a heavily reefed working jib. Beyond her rails, night has consumed the sea, but not entirely. Typically during a blow, darkness is complete. Often a graybeard is heard long before its boiling embrace emerges into the dim cast of running lights. But tonight there is a full moon behind the thick veil above so that the sky glows eerily and against which the black heave of sea is just visible. Thankfully, there’s not much to it. Yet.

Click the light again. Same.

I’m beginning to think that the low’s center has slunk prematurely off to the south, that Mo and I will steal in under the Cape unchallenged.

Click the light again. Now the barometer’s resolve has wavered; it reads 1007.

Within the hour winds have increased to a standing 40 knots and have veered into the northwest. I roll a fourth reef into the working jib, adjust Monte’s control line, and begin to wonder at the intelligence of my plan.

By midnight, 1005; by 3AM, 1003. Now a heavy rain has set in with winds gusting well above 40 knots. I have thoughts of bailing out, of gybing around for a run around Diego Ramirez so as to stay in deeper water. But the angle would be difficult for Monte. And besides, this is all happening too quickly for there to be much of a sea.

Dawn. We are rushing in over the rise. Here and for some twenty miles, water shallows rapidly, from ten thousand and more to an average of three hundred feet. But it’s not the depth that worries me so much as the east-setting current, which flows like a river around and around the southern ocean loop and must, necessary, be shoved upwards and accelerated as it meets the lifting depths.

At first there is no change, but as daylight comes on, the wind-driven seas of eight to ten feet start to stack up and double in size. Their blue-black faces become sheer and their crests heavy and crashing in on themselves with an explosiveness I’ve never seen. Mo is being thrown. Frequently now she surfs with a roar. Twice before 8am, she is laid over and scoops a cockpit full of water. Whatever the circumstance, however, she recovers, and we race on.

The low is due to blow itself out by early morning, but at 11AM winds are still pushing 35 knots. We are under the peninsula with Cape Horn several hours further east, and I let Mo ease north to meet it. The cloud above us is beginning to thin; however, the coast is enshrouded in fog, so it comes as a surprise when just after making the noon log, I sight land, a lone, dark hump on port beam I take to be Cape Spenser.

On we rush in these mad seas, but the day has become fine and bright. And then, just after three o’clock, the Cape hoves into view, two points off port, awash in sunlight. Even at distance, I can see the breakers throwing themselves at her feet. Gray, hulking rock not so much barren as raw, jagged and torn from eons of facing the worst, and when the sky clears, always the sea remains and the Cape remains.

It has been one hundred and ten days since we last saw this rock, looping around with the express purpose of seeing it again. In that time Mo has sailed more than 15,000 non-stop miles in the roaring forties. What should I feel? Proud of the accomplishment? Humbled by the privilege of exploring so long these byways of wildness? Lucky to have survived with boat and self intact?

Yes, all that, but not now. Now I only feel the relaxation of fatigue, of relief and release. After two tries this circuit is closed. Wind is slowly easing but is still strong. I let Mo push past the Cape with her reefs in. I make a hot dinner and then go right to sleep. And under a night sky ablaze with the cold, blue light of stars, Mo sails on, on and on and on…

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


  1. Chris Miles

    First class description and narrative of some of the most dangerous waters of South America. Pictures and text convey moments of fear and achievements. Well
    Done !

  2. Frederick J "Fritz" Wenzel

    What an incredible story about an incredible achievement. The words in your description and the pictures leave a vivid imprint on my memory. Congratulations on your achievement and thank you for allowing us to have a peek into your adventure. Stay safe!

  3. Rob't Garthwaite

    Rendall, your descriptions are so vivid and complete I’m able to shut my eyes, ease my mind and transport my soul to be on Mo, seeing, feeling, hearing and sensing the surroundings. Great job, and thank you! I’ve always wanted to sail around the Horn, and now I have…..

  4. eddie gallagher

    Ha ha a great read of your adventure around the Horn! Not until I read your brief bio did I realize you’re from SF, where I am now and was born. I’m a novice but some days the Bay seems like a fearsome ocean to me! Funny, just poking my nose under the bridge feels huge some times, ha ha now I feel like a wimp! : p
    Take Care, Safe Sailing!

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