A Hurricane Off Cape Horn – December 2008
For years I’d read sea stories about the legendary Cape Horn rollers, the Southern Ocean “Graybeards,” seas so great they circle the globe several times, unhindered by any land. On a passage to Antarctica, Kyoko and I crossed the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica on a surplus Russian naval vessel. I was looking forward to finally seeing the real thing. That is, until I saw the weather report.
I felt the wind increase at a truly alarming rate as our aging Russian polar “acoustic research” (read surveillance) vessel left port and headed into the protected Beagle Channel. Just before we entered the Drake Passage and the open sea, the expedition leader announced to the massed passengers that our salty Russian captain had decided to cower in the lee of Cape Horn overnight.
There were murmurs of discontent. This would cut into our time in Antarctica. I actually got up and applauded. There is a time for cowering. Everyone looked at me like I was deranged, since was the only one clapping, but I’m sure some of them understood soon enough. The next morning, when we got out into the left-over seas (see photos below), the wind was still blowing over 60 knots steadily.
Our sailboat would have been fun in that sea. I mean “fun,” in the spewing-over-the-rail, freezing-your-ass, this-really-sucks sense of “fun.”
At the end of the voyage there was a formal “Captain’s Dinner.” I presented the captain with a signed print of one of my photos (Kyoko and her girlfriend swimming in warm, clear blue waters off Oahu). I stood before the captain and his crew and haltingly recited in Russian: “Thank you for your excellent seamanship.”