1996, BT Global
Challenge - Cape Horn
It was a difficult call. A pressure pump
in the water-maker had broken. We were 30 days out of New
Zealand, yet to round Cape Horn, and there were no spares.
Consultations with the pump makers and
the BT Global Challenge headquarters left David Tomkinson,
the skipper of the yacht 3Com, with the problem of whether
to ration supplies from the four water tanks, each holding
100 gallons, or whether to make for Port Stanley in the
Falkland Islands and await a spare.
Loss of the water-maker was the final disappointment
after a series of mishaps had frustrated our attempts to
join those contending for the lead. An apparently slow start
left us with every chance of closing with the leaders since
3Com had deliberately steered a true course instead of sailing
westwards, a tactic employed by many others.
As we converged, nearing the tip of South
America, we found ourselves fighting with three boats for
a possible fifth place but fell back when we lost our final
Spinnakers are giant triangular light-weight
sails flown in front of yachts to make them go faster in
light breezes. They billow out like bed sheets in the wash.
The first one blew out in an electrical
storm last week. The final spinnaker was a fine looking
sail, complete with its promotional logo. We cosseted it
and fretted over every rise in the wind.
In the end it was the hail that did for
it - great nuts of ice like flattened golf balls. They bounced
off the steel hull like peas on a drum and weakened the
spinnaker until it ripped apart.
The seam of a spinnaker sail is about 75ft
long. Several of ours have split along their entire seams.
The stitching has begun. It is laborious, and working under
the forehatch in pitching seas can easily induce nausea.
My seasickness returned.
The crew of 3Com have each paid more than
£18,000 for the privilege of a life worse than prison,
the most important difference being that prison does not
rock from side to side continuously.
Another day, another watch. The monotony
on deck is broken by the appearance of two fully-grown fin
whales alongside the boat. They cross our bows and swim
with us for about half an hour before diving into the deep.
There can be few more majestic sights. Suddenly prison seems
no more than a memory. Sailing with whales is freedom defined.
The pump on the water-maker is dismantled
and a jelly fish is discovered lodged in the filter. Once
removed, the water-maker is working but it breaks down again
in the evening with an unrelated fault. Washing is out from
now on. Tomkinson said: "It is a difficult decision
but I think we shall continue with rationed water.
"At least in that case we will be
near the rest of the fleet in an emergency. We would probably
be held up a week in Port Stanley."
It is a sobering moment. We have just sailed
through a force eight gale and are in sight of land for
the first time in two weeks, with worse to come. With barometer
and thermometer falling and isobars closing together as
we reach the southern latitudes, everyone is growing anxious
about the approach of Cape Horn .
Yet when it came, Cape Horn was something
of an anti-climax. Unlike reaching the summit of a mountain,
the passing is noted only by sailing over 67 deg 17 minutes
longitude, the north-south axis of the promontory.
I could write of a rocky wasteland and
of waves as big as houses, as indeed they are, but the moment
itself was quite different.
The truth is recorded in my diary: "Well
we did reach the horn and we have passed it. I have rounded
Cape Horn . Not many people can say that. It was dark at
the time and I was asleep, not that there was anything to
"We are about 20 miles south of it.
Some celebrated with a tot of whisky. I did not. You don't
feel like celebrating much when you have been awoken at
2am and find your four-hour watch has been extended to five
because of a time adjustment and you have to put two reefs
in the mainsail in a force eight gale and freezing rain."
Somewhere out in the gloom was Cape Horn
Island and a small unit of soldiers enduring what must be
the worst posting in the Chilean army. We would have gladly
swapped them our berths.
Now, we have turned the corner of a continent
with 4,000 miles of cold, grey ocean waste before us.
© Financial Times