In the early days of January, Francisco, the Master of the Nautical Club Micalvi in Puerto Williams presented to an envelope with the letterhead of the Armada de Chile, the Chilean Navy.
The sender was the First Class Lieutenant, Eduardo Moreno Letelier, Commander of the patrol boat Alacalufe, inviting on January 29th to the festivities organized by the Armada for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Cape Horn.
In fact, the discovery of Cape Horn dates January 29, 1616 when Willem Cornelisz Schouten of the Horn (his hometown in the Netherlands), a veteran Dutch captain, rounded the Cape with an expedition left one year before (Unity - 360 tons and 65 men - and the Horn - 110 tons and 22 men) in an attempt to find a way to the Indies alternative to the Strait of Magellan, which was under the exclusive control of the Dutch East India Company, having the monopoly of all trade to and from the Asian continent.
The event was presented in the elegant saloon of Micalvi Club and was attended by the skippers of the other boats, moored at the Micalvi, specifically Manta from Finland; Patagonia from Chile; Pelagic Australis, from Australia; Polar Wind from Chile; Sonabia from France; Tokerau from Chile.
The program Foresee to set sails from Puerto William on the 26 of January to gather again in Caleta Martial on Isla Hershel, 20 miles away from Cape Horn on the 27th. The 28 is conceived as a free day, where the participating yachts could sail around the Cape and returned to Caleta Martial for the night.
On the 29 all participating yachts must be by 08:00h in front of the Cape Horn Light House to attend a celebration at sea.
The Event will end on Sunday 31 with a cocktail at the "Officer Launge" of the Armada in Puerto Williams.
We are in the middle of the preparations for the expedition to Antarctica, so we managed to set sails only by 22h of the 26, heading directly to the Cape.
Unusually a light breeze from the west blowed all night, shifting from downwind to abeam as we advanced along the east coast of Isla Navarino.
After having left Lennox Island to our right, we crossed the 26 miles of Bahia Nassau, passing Cabo Austin and Paso Mar del Sur and finally arriving by 10:00h on February 27 under the lighthouse of Cabo de Horno.
Having excluded the possibility to anchor we put the dinghy in the water and while I kept Angelique II at a distance of about half a mile from Caleta Leon, half the crew landed on the island to get to the lighthouse.
An hour later Valentina called me on the radio to ask to send the dinghy to Caleta Leon to bring them back on board.
Completed the recovery of the crew, I left the command to Valentina to go myself ashore accompanied by Matteo and Luis who had remained on board with me during the first landing.
Once at the top of the cliff through the steep staircase that connects it to the landing area of Caleta Leon, we set off along a wooden walkway leading up to the lighthouse where we were met the Lighthouse man who lives there with his family.
As well as the family met last October in Faro Fairway in Strait of Magellan, he had applied to be assigned to one of the lighthouse in the Magellanic region where the Armada foreseen the presence of families.
Their wait was rewarded by being assigned to the prestigious Faro del Cabo de Horno in the very year of its 400th anniversary.
Visited the lighthouse and signed the register of visits, we set off towards the monument that stands on the Cape, just overlooking the Drake.
Despite the gray sky and an annoying drizzle, I might have stay hours watching the Drake crashing on the cliffs of the Cape in a state of trance; inevitable if like me you grew up on “bread and seawater”, you have come all the way from your home on board of your floating shell sailing for 30,000 miles.
But the sense of responsibility prevailed on emotions, reminding me that Valentina and the rest of the crew were right there under the Cape, awaiting our return.
Once on board we set off towards Caleta Martial, just 10 miles north, a meeting point with other participants yachts and the patrol ship Alacalufe.
As soon as we completed the anchoring operations, we were contacted by radio by the ship Alacalufe welcoming us and inviting us, along with all the other crews to a Asado (barbecue) on board for dinner.
Regardless the 25+ knots of wind, at 19h by dinghy we boarded the Alacalufe that, unlike all the other boats had anchored well away from the beach.
Waiting for us on the bridge we found Lieutenant Moreno, his second officer and virtually the entire crew, with the exception of those in charge of the asado.
With the usual kindness and hospitality they offered us to visit the boat, the bridge, the officers' quarters, the canteen, the kitchens and above all the second deck where the sailors missing at our welcome were working around a huge barbecue.
Launched in 1989, the patrol ship Alacalufe with its 107 tons and its 33 meters in length is assigned to the department of Puerto Williams with Maritime Police and Rescue tasks.
While the other crews were joining the party, overflowing trays of good meat were running between the "barbacoa" and the dining tables and in particular the one jus in front of the kitchens where our crew was accommodated.
Given the amount of meat that my kids gobbled that night, it seemed clear that Angelique II diet had to be revised, thereby significantly increasing the proportion of red meat if I wanted to remove any risk of mutiny once set sail for Antarctica.
The evening passed absolutely pleasant and informal, especially considering the location, with Captain Moreno great landlord.
The next day many of the other yachts sailed to the Cape while we continue to work for the preparation of our upcoming expedition.
In late morning we greeted by radio the departure of the Alacalufe and welcoming the larger Patrol Ship Cabral under the command of the Corvette Captain Jorge Minuetti Leon.
With its 532 tons and 43 meters in length, the Cabral was built in the Armada de Chile shipyard in Talcahuano and entered in service in 1996 as a patrol boat. In 2000 it was implemented on board a modern hydrographic equipment, thus turning the Cabral into a hydrographic research unit.
Once complete their anchoring maneuvering the Cabral contacted us by radio to invite us to a cocktail on board and offering as well the transportation service from our boat to the Cabral with their auxiliary boats.
So by 19:00h we were deck when a beautiful Zodiac Milpro (the line of Zodiac boats dedicated to military use) led us comfortably and dry aboard the Cabral, where we were pampered with the usual 5 stars hospitality, perhaps a little more formal the one offered by Alacalufe, but certainly outstanding.
We left the party relatively early because the next day we were expecting an early wake up to reach Cape Horn by 07:00h.
In fact, at around 5 am we were ready to set sail together with all the other yachts.
With just the mainsail the 20 knots of wind from the West pushed us on a broad reach to over 9 knots, thus losing immediately contact with the flotilla.
Passed the Isolote Carrasco, the wind shifted to a close reach forcing us to give one reef to the main and to open just a bit of Genoa, enough to keep our speed.
Arrived to the Cape, ibesides the Cabral and the Alacalufe, 3 others Armada units were at anchor:
The Patrol Ship Hallef of 107 tons and 33 meters long, under the command of First Class Lieutenant Litoral Marcelo González González;
the modern patrol boat Marinero Fuentalba, of 1,800 gross tonnage and 81 meters long, under the command the Frigate Captain Jorge Castillo Fuentes;
the Transporter Aquiles of 4,760 tons and 103 meters long, under the command of Frigate Captain Gonzalo Rodríguez Vicent, on which the Chilean authorities sailed and on board of which was to be held the ceremony at sea.
The sky was still leaden, the rain had stopped and the other yachts, bare poles, were sailing around the Aquiles. We on board of Angelique II, we decided to enjoy that unforgettable moment hoisting all the canvas we had and launching us in a slalom at 12 knots among the Chilean Navy units.
Around 9h an helicopter of the Navy began shuttling between the island and the Aquiles, a clear sign that the ceremony ashore had ended and that the authorities were returning on board for the celebration at sea.
In fact, after just half an hour, we were contacted by radio by the Cabral who invited us and other yachts to move to the stern of the Aquiles.
Meanwhile the wind had swept away the clouds and a clear skies welcomed the highlight of this celebration.
And so, as a silence fell around the Cape, from the Aquiles’s top deck a Chilean flag made of flower petals were tossed into the sea, followed by a few cannon shots that officially closed the Celebration of 400th Anniversary of the Discovery of Cape Horn.
It was now 11, and while the crews of the other yachts reached the Cape with Armada dinghies, we decided to set sails to Puerto Toro, where we would spend the night before heading to Puerto Williams; we had already visited the Cape and the preparations for our departure to Antarctica recalled us to our mai due.
The celebrations ended Sunday, January 31 when the Capitán de Navio Patricio Espinoza Sapuna, Governator Maritimo of Puerto Williams, in the context of a farewell cocktail offered in the premises of the Armada in Puerto Williams, rewarded the skippers of the participating yachts with a beautiful memorial medal which was coupled by a second medal offered by the local Club Nautico Puerto Williams.
Many of the sailors met in Patagonia deride and snub those who fly to Puerto Williams to board charter boats offering cruises to Cape Horn.
They say that to pretend to have sailed the Cape you have to sail it in the context of a real journey and in fact there is an association called The International Association of Cape Horners “for sailors who have rounded Cape Horn. The rounding of the Horn will have been part of a non-stop passage under sail of at least 3000 nautical miles. Their course must have passed through the latitude of fifty degrees south both west and east of Cape Horn”
I have no idea how many people in the world really have the requirements to get into that special ranking; not many and certainly none of detractors.
However I think that the emotions the Cape provide are worth a trip, even if flying to Puerto Williams and then chartering a boat to the Cape.
Take it from someone who reached the Cape on board of his own boat, starting from his home and that by now doubled the Cape three times, including one in the context of a 3,000 miles passage that touched 65° South of Latitude.
This is a link to the Official Video of the Event, made by the Armada de Chile