Capo Horn: facing it during a storm and rounding it

Global Ocean Race 2011/2012 – Route to Cape Horn

After the second storm, the wind dropped rapidly, and within half a day it went aft and we could even hoist the big gennaker. Hugo and I celebrate, laugh, joke. The weather for the next few days seems favourable and we can certainly take a break after a really hard week. Seven days of storms, two boats withdrawn, but we managed to overcome the worst without damage. We are en route to Cape Horn from New Zealand.

Cape Horn - The respite after the storms of the previous days
Cape Horn – The respite after the storms of the previous days

The navigation proceeds smoothly, the large gennaker gives us beautiful surfs. Soon we will be joined by a ridge of light winds what will slow us down Everything seems under control and the only thing that is really changing is the temperature. It was really cold outside, the humidity in the air was incredible and the sea water is down to 6 degree Celsius. We were still in second place, but the weather seems to open up an opportunity for us to recover miles on Cessna, the boat leading the race.

Route to Cape Horn
Route to Cape Horn

Racing towards Cape Horn

“Do you think they’ll slow down so much they can we pass them”? asked Hugo.

“Why not? If we positioned ourselves in this area, you see, we too would be at the edge of the ridge of light winds, only further south and with better wind”. Hugo followed me with a puzzled look, then placed the cursor on the point I indicated.

Que putas, sixty degrees South! Do you really want to push yourself that low?!”

Cape Horn - A moment of respite
Cape Horn – A moment of respite 

Just as our debate progresseed happily, the autopilot decided it’s time to play one of his tricks on us. The autopilot drive pushed the tiller all the way to one side, without any posibility to react, the boat did an involuntary gybe. We were laid flat by the wind with all the weights on the wrong side and the mainsail resting on the runners and checks. I didn’t even reach the sheets in the cockpit that I hear the gennaker tear again. Nothing we could do. We dowsed it down, but the damage was too extensive to repair. We really didn’t need something like this to happen.

We change to the medium spinnaker and get back on course. We take the more southern route to attempt to overtake our opponent.

Cape Horn - Torn Gennaker
Cape Horn – Torn Gennaker 

The calm before the storm

As expected the ridge of light winds reached us, but then slowly we started to make way again, slowly. Behind the ridge we find pressure and we start making up miles on Cessna, which seems stuck in light airs. Hard to think that a few days ago this was the fiercest sea we had ever seen.

Our tactic works and our comeback is relentless. We manage to reach their same longitude by passing them over fifty miles further south and making good 300 miles over them. I’m in a good mood.

Cape Horn - The calm before the storm
Cape Horn – The calm before the storm

There was a thick fog outside and the boat moved like a ghost on smooth water. With little more than six knots of wind we were sailing at nearly 7 knots. The air was humid and cold and we were very near the freezing point. The water temperature has dropped to four and a half degrees Celsius. It feels like returning to the Great Banks of Newfoundland, during the OSTAR, where I had sailed in absolute silence, in an enchanted forest atmosphere. As then there is that smell of snow in the air.

Cape Horn - Cold and humid air
Cape Horn – Cold and humid air

The visibility was very scarce and we are force to rely on the radar, an e-mail from Cessna confirmed my suspicion: we were in iceberg territory. They’re thirty miles north of us and they had just spotted two small ones. We went out on deck but it was useless, the fog was thicker than ever. There isn’t much we can do.

The icebergs near Cape Horn

Puta madre, iceberg? Really?”

“We are in a danger area, I think, but the probability should be low.” I showed him the last satellite image provided by the race committee before the start. “We were less than a hundred miles from the known ice limit and some small icebergs could easily have drifted this far.”

“We kept an eye on the radar and if only the fog rose we could also look outside”!

We continued on our course and collected more dividends on our investment. For the first time since the start of the race we are leading the boat. I have no illusion on the possibility of winning the leg. But a mistake or a damage aboard Cessna would be enough to give us to give us the top spot on the podium. To finish first you first have to finish.

Leading the race

For now I just want to enjoy the unique feeling of leading a race that goes around the world. With two icebergs to my left, the Antarctic ice cap to the right and Cape Horn in front of me! I’m suddenly elated and Hugo looks at me every now and then and shakes his head. It is amazing how much the state of mind influences our perception of things.

Cape Horn - We take the lead in the race
Cape Horn – We take the lead in the race 

In the following days we sail straight towards Cape Horn without major surprises. A cold front visits us with its usual wind shift and crossed sea which even brings us some snow for the first time. The most feared of the Capes is now less than three days of sailing and the goal of rounding it seems more and more palpable.

The Pacific, however, wants to greet us in its own way. A new deep depression is on a collision course with us.

The great storm of Cape Horn

Hugo and I sat down at the chart table to download a grib file that confirms the usual scenario. The vortex would pass just south of Cape Horn in less than three days and we could do nothing to avoid it. We will suffer the fury in full and we will find ourselves at Cape Horn just at the passage of the cold front, in the most dangerous moment.

Meteorology - Cape Horn - Cold Front
Meteorology – Cape Horn – Cold Front

The situation is so serious that an e-mail exchange begins between us, Phesheya and Cessna. For the first time we even get an email from the race direction. Violent gale expected with force eleven winds in the centre of the depression. The wind could easily exceed sixty knots average.

It is a different beast from the others. We study it on the map, the isobars are so close that they can hardly be distinguished on the computer screen.

Cape Horn - The threatening cold front
Cape Horn – The threatening cold front 

Josh sends us another email to tell us that they have alerted the Chilean and Argentine coast guards. All this contributes to generating a certain atmosphere of anxiety. Nick on Phesheya is also not calm at all and just writes to me: “Be careful, remember where you are.”

Difficult choices in the race, will Cape Horn will let us pass?

I spent the night reflecting, I wasnt afraid of the wind, but I was afraid of arriving with a very formed sea in the vicinity of Cape Horn. The seabed goes from about four thousand meters to a few hundred, as in the Bay of Biscay, as on the banks of Newfoundland. This is what makes the waves much steeper and more dangerous in these places.

There would be breakers, and with the passage of the cold front the two crossed wave trains could really create hell. When this was due to happen I wanted to be in deep waters, with enough without having to worry about a lee shore and no where to escape.

Cape Horn - Concern about the storm
Cape Horn – Concern about the storm

Will Cessna succeed to roun Cape Horn before the worst comes, but for us the risk is too great. Going on would have meant jeopardizing our safety and the whole project. I had to preserve the boat, we had to choose prudence, I was now convinced of that.

Cape Horn - Preparations for the storm
Cape Horn – Preparations for the storm

“Hugo, we have to earn miles south, wait for the worst to pass, so that we can get to Cape Horn in relatively calm conditions.”

“Marco, you are the captain, and in any case I agree with you”.

Avoid the worst so as not to suffer from it

Towards evening we had already prepared everything for the storm. We rigged the storm jib in advance and for the first time in the whole regatta we used the 4th reef. This left only the square head sail painted organge exposed. To slow down we heave to, the wind has already over 40 knots and the sky is darkening.

Cape Horn - Before the storm comes
Cape Horn – Before the storm comes

We wait like this all night, up and down between huge waves. The wind whistled violently creating an unnerving noise. But even if the waves grew in size, I had the impression that in such deep waters they would not become dangerous. In fact the boat remained relatively stable and comfortable.

We heard the first signs of the arrival of the front: a little rain, more violent gusts, lower and darker clouds, confused and crossed sea. It looked like an apocalyptic scene and I kept wondering what we would have encountered if we had carried on. A cloud even brings hail, we decide to hole up again below deck to wait.

Cape Horn - The cold front hits us
Cape Horn – The cold front hits us

The hailstorm ends, the hours pass, the wind rotates, a sign that the front has passed us and we can start again.

Let’s go back racing: heading for Cape Horn

“Shall we go?” I said to Hugo.

Cape Horn - The boat surfs with very little sail in the storm
Cape Horn – The boat surfs with very little sail in the storm


The center of the depression is now further east than us, the wind has reached fifty-five knots and is not expected to get any worse. As soon as we released the sheets and get out of the hove-to position, the boat started planing despite the very small amount of canvas. We go on like this all night, and in the morning cloud cover breaks.

Behind the metal coloured clouds you could see a few tiles of blue sky. The low sun on the horizon is the first direct sunlight we see in days. It’s not over yet, the wind continues to howl furiously, but morale is starting to rise.

Cape Horn - We decide to set off after the cold front
Cape Horn – We decide to set off after the cold front 

And in fact the gusts started to be less violent each time round. Towards midday we shake the fourth reef and change up from storm jib to staysail. Then, the wind drops abruptly, and allows us to reach the longitude of Cape Horn. We have reached the longitute of Cape Horn with full mainsail and the Solent in about twenty-five knots of wind. We had avoided the worst and above all we had not suffered any damage.

Unfortunately, out of prudence, we passed quite far awayfrom Cape Horn and we can’t see it behind the clouds on the horizon.

Cape Horn decides to let us pass

Hugo and I take turns taking lots of photos holding an improvised “Cape Horn” sign, but there’s nothing in the background, we could be anywhere!

A lot of e-mails arrive on board immediately with everyone’s compliments. They should have helped us realise where we were and what we had just achieved. Having not yet seen land, the situation is a bit surreal.

It’s February 24, 2012, I was thirty-three, I thought, and I had just rounded Cape Horn. I tried to collect the sensations and emotions. I had been dreaming and imagining this moment for so long, maybe I was expecting something more epic. I hid a tear, I felt very emotional.

Cape Horn - The celebrations
Cape Horn – The celebrations 

Hugo calls my attention: it’s time to decide which route to follow. The Situation was quiet and the wind was continuing to drop. We therefore choose to head towards the strait of Le Maire. The route is short, passing between Tierra del Fuego and the Island of States. We have only a succinct description of the pilot book. “Strong tidal currents up to five knots in intensity alternate on the North-South channel every six hours. The sea breaks violently with in wind against current situations. Transit in strong winds is not recommended “We have no local tide tables and we have no way of knowing if we will arrive with favorable or unfavourable currents”.

Tierra del Fuego

Finally we spot land: the Tierra del Fuego with its mountains overlooking the sea and snow-capped peaks. I got excited again, it had been twenty-seven days since New Zealand disappeared into the haze behind us, and then the first glimpse of Argentina made it all the more real. We had really rounded Cape Horn!

Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego

How many times had I picked up a globe and, looking at the immense Pacific Ocean, have I imagined crossing it. How many times had I feared the its desolation. My eyes swelled again, it was stronger than me.

The strait of Le Maire

We were surrounded by a myriad of birds. Around these lands there is a lot of marine life and you could breathe different smells from those of the open ocean. We were immersed in a spectacular nature. The dark, wild, uninhabited coast, the clouds, the snow. Our eyes make a feast of all this beauty.

Cape Horn - Tierra del Fuego
Cape Horn – Tierra del Fuego 

We arrive at the mouth of the strait with very little wind and we are lucky enough to get there with a favourable current and accelerate sucked between the two islands. The water boils and large eddies form. We can only hope that there are no obstacles or algae to get trapped in. The water drags us very fast, at the narrowest point the current touches seven knots. For a while we look like a paper ship in a swollen river. Then with a certain sense of relief, we were literally spat out on the other side.

Cape Horn: facing it during a storm and rounding it

Rounding Cape Horn was a unique, impressive experience, a place I feared that fascinated me, even more with a storm to deal with. By Marco Nannini.

The Atlantic Sea

A flat, calm sea now stretched before us, painted in warm colours by a serene sunset. We had emerged from the great South, from its gigantic waves from its constant threat. We felt a sense of security knowing that we were back in the Atlantic.

Cape Horn - finally in the Atlantic
Cape Horn – finally in the Atlantic 

The great mystery of the Pacific, of the great South, had somehow closed behind us. A chapter made up of years spent imagining it, reading about it in books, fearing it, desiring it. We finally turned the corner, Cape Horn was behind us.

Atlantic - The sky is tinged with warm colors
Atlantic – The sky is tinged with warm colors 

Translated from “Dalla Banca all’Oceano”, Longanesi editions, by Marco Nannini. The story of participation in the Global Ocean Race 2011/2012. Race for double-handed crews, in five stages, on Class40s, boats of 12 meters.

Cape Horn - The first sunset in the Atlantic
Cape Horn – The first sunset in the Atlantic
Route to Cape Horn with the waiting period before the cape
Route to Cape Horn with the waiting period before the cape