Day 851 [Jan.31/11 JST] -- Looking Back on Cape Horn

Today's Report
January 31/11 JST

Position:  21°17'N, 157°53'W (Honolulu) 

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  13.4%

Looking Back on Cape Horn -- One Year Ago Today

Exactly one year ago Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III slipped her lines in Punta Arenas, Chile, as Saito-san made one last stab at departing the clutches of Cape Horn.

We had already been informed by the Chilean Coast Guard that an ominous "three strikes rule" was in effect. The skipper would be given this one last chance to leave, having already made two aborted Horn transits, and this time if he again had to be rescued (with or without his blessing) his battered vessel would be made to join the thousands of others scattered across the floor of the Chilean coastal shallows and deeps.

We had written this at the time and will now revisit what Saito-san well knew as he left on a vessel he had already plaintively declared to us by sat phone had been badly beaten up, and nearly destroyed. Beaten not only by the seas, but by the treatment she had been given during the original tow, and then later from the steel-sided larger fishing vessels sharing space with NBSDIII in the crowded fishing harbor at Punta Arenas.

"Hunter, you don't understand. I HAVE to leave. I HAVE to leave. The boat can't take any more of this!" Never had we heard him so discouraged or upset.

A week later, after 9 months of over-wintering, surgery to repair a herniated rip in his abdomen, a second departure, a second tow, and still more repairs, he finally did leave The Horn behind -- one last time.

For Saito-san the trip from Japan to the Galápagos Islands is almost exactly 20,000 nm, and for Darwin, it was 12,000 nm from England by way of the Atlantic Ocean. For both it entailed a highly dangerous westward Cape Horn crossing, which Peter Nichols, in Evolution's Captain, describes this way:

As the Beagle and Adventure [a smaller companion ship] neared the western shores of Tierra del Fuego, ready to sail out onto the Pacific, poor weather and visibility kept them pinned inside the Furies, a rock-studded constellation of small islets that posed a death trap for ships.... The Furies have always made strong men quail. Sixty-two years later, in March 1896, Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail alone around the world, found himself trapped among them in his 37-foot sloop, at night in a roaring gale.

[Slocum wrote:]
Night closed in before the sloop reached land, leaving her feeling the way in pitchy darkness.... I was immediately startled by the tremendous roaring of breakers again ahead and on the lee bow.... In this way, among dangers, I spent the rest of the night. Hail and sleet in the fierce squalls cut my flesh till the blood trickled over my face; but what of that? It was daylight, and the sloop was in the midst of the Milky Way of the sea, which is northwest of Cape Horn... It was not time to complain of broken skin... This was the greatest sea adventure of my life. God knows how my vessel escaped... The great naturalist Darwin looked over this seascape from the deck of the Beagle, and wrote in his journal "Any landsman seeing the Milky Way would have nightmares for a week." He might have added "or seaman" as well.

The Furies are at the location shown below. (Click to enlarge.)

 The meandering red line is where, in April 2009 112 years later, Minoru Saito encountered his own sleeting gale, hoved to throughout the night, completely lost the use of his rudder (and engine), and drifted helplessly for more than 12 hours in 10-meter seas and 40-knot winds toward a lee shore.

Help finally arrived in the form of a rust-streaked Chilean fish factory ship, the only vessel close enough and large enough to reach him in gale conditions.  

It was, we guess, another proof of Darwin's theory of evolution. This time there was an Iridium satellite phone on board.