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Mithhril's Voyages

A Day Trip To Cape Horn.

Cape Horn - the sailor's Everest. I used to think that Cape Horn was the most southerly point of the continent and I had visions of Mithril struggling in mountainous seas and screaming winds to round a barren, windswept finger of rock. But it's not like that. Cape Horn is actually on an island and Cabo Froward 200 miles to the north is the southern tip of the continent. A scattering of islands link the two and the Beagle Channel is the main thoroughfare. You don't need to round the Horn at all. What a disappointment.

Another surprise was that the Beagle is busy with yachts. For the previous 600 miles in the Chilean waterways we'd met about 5 other boats. Now we actually had to share anchorages. In one an American boat offered us the use of their satellite phone. It's a mystery to me why anyone would sail to the most wild and isolated cruising ground imaginable and bring the phone.

There's also a charter fleet in the Beagle doing trips around Cape Horn. Most of the boats are French, complete with children and dog. Cape Horn's easy said one skipper who's been round about 50 times now. 40 miles and back by lunchtime he said with a typically nonchalent Gallic shrug.

Bureaucracy in the Beagle is a nightmare as Chile and Argentina squabble over ownership of the channel. Before going anywhere you need a permiso de zarpar, literally permission to weigh anchor. Peter was in the Port Office extracting this when there was an incursion into Chilean waters by the Argentinian navy. Sirens blared and sailors manned the guns. But the Port Captain calmly reached under the counter, produced his tin hat, put it on and continued pen pushing.

We waited a considerable time for a suitable day in which to go round the Horn. When the weatherfax forecast a brief high pressure ridge we set off in the pre-dawn calm. It was exciting to be so close to the famous cape. As a child I'd been entranced by the tale of someone who'd sailed round it in their carpet slippers so I put mine on and Peter took a photo with the rugged headland in the background. Then, by vhf, the lighthouse keepers invited us ashore to buy a souvenir certificate for $10. They don't sell t-shrits - yet.

Just then, however, the gearbox failed completely and with the wind now gusting up to 40 knots we had no choice but to run off eastwards. The celebratory champagne was put away unopened and I put my wellies back on. Peter effected a skilled repair by adding the ends of some baked bean tins to the clutch plates, enough to enable us to motor up into Port Stanley, in the Falklands, a week later.

So that was my experience of Cape Horn - carpet slippers and baked bean tins. I really wish we'd been able to get that certificate of verification.

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Article © Peter and Geraldine Foley
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