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Jeff Hartjoy's Solo Circumnavigation: Cape Horn—part 2

Cape Horn

You are never short of wind and waves near Cape Horn

In Part 2 of our series, JEFF HARTJOY continues his quest to become the oldest American to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. On board his 40 Baba 40 ketch Sailors Run, the intrepid 69-year-old sailor is now approaching Cape Horn…

Day 20 — Dodging Squalls

24hr run: 151nm. Position: 32°00’S, 115°47’W. Wind: SE 8-15kts. Seas: 2-4ft. Cabin temperature: 68°-72°. Barometer: 1022mb.

My fresh produce and fruit are almost gone; I ate my last orange this morning. I still have lots of apples, cabbage, potatoes, onions and carrots, not to mention two very large squash.

I’m not the greatest cook, and I’m sure once the last couple of bags of chips are gone my weight-loss program will kick in. I just hope that hunger doesn’t become a greater challenge than my impending battle against nature to achieve my objective. It’s funny how out here, over 1,200 miles off the South American coast, things like changes in the weather happen more slowly, and food stores gradually dwindle away, much like water, a cup here, a gallon there.

The temperatures are beginning to fall, especially at night, and the cool current that comes all the way up from the frigid Antarctic waters is even cooler than one might expect. I put another blanket on my berth last night and suddenly realized I had forgotten to bring along a couple of hot water bottles to knock the chill off. It is really hard to sleep if you are shaking all night, and with the ever-present moisture, things tend to get damp and suck your body heat away as you try to get some much-needed sleep.


By morning I have found the answer to the missing hot water bottles: a large tequila bottle, filled with hot water and taped inside a nice soft fender cover. The bottle gives off heat for up to five hours, by which time both the bunk and I are adequately warmed up. As a bonus, after a trip topside during the night in strengthening winds and spray, it gave me something to look forward to as I jumped back into my berth and pulled that warm bottle up close to my stomach where I felt its heat warming me from head to toe.

I must admit that so far my spirits are up and all seems to be going very well. One of the highlights is logging the 0700 position on my paper chart daily and being able to see the progress we have made over the last 24 hours.

The AIS is great and the extra-loud alarm I purchased guarantees I will be awakened if we are ever on a collision course with another vessel or at least one equipped with AIS. That said,it is no substitute for radar, which shows everything that comes within 16 miles. The latter also lets you see approaching squalls and shows the size of them.

After many years of experience, I have learned a couple of simple rules. First, you can almost bet that the wind strength you are experiencing will most likely double as the squall comes upon you. If winds are light this is no big deal, but if you are sailing in 25-knot trade winds, you could suddenly see 50 knots—a potentially damaging wind strength if you don’t shorten sail in time or take them down completely.

The other thing I watch for is the odd exceptionally large squall that is 6 to 8 miles across; these can be true gear-busters, possibly packing 60-plus knots, and I know people who have had all their sails destroyed by one of these that came on a day of relatively light winds. The beauty of radar is that it sees these squalls day or night. I always opt for a small radar that uses little power, so I can keep it on most of the time, especially when singlehanding.

I’ve been debating whether to take the solar panels off the 1in rail they are bolted onto in the cockpit. This is a hard decision. Since I lost the wind generator their power production has become essential to meet my energy demands. In the end, I decide to risk them and hope somehow they might survive the breaking waves that we are sure to encounter.

After passing west of Easter Island I struggle to “turn the corner” so that I can sail east toward Cape Horn, the most dreaded of the five capes I must round. The Horn is much farther south than any of the other capes, which means the water is colder. It is also where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans come together. Almost every low-pressure system that develops in the area is forced down around the Horn, causing gales here over 300 days a year. I’m just hoping that my early arrival in December will coincide with a window of opportunity to round safely.


Day 28 — Steering Problems

24hr run: 125nm. Position: 40°29’S, 116°18’W.

Wind: SSW 10-30kts. Seas: 8-10ft. Cabin Temperature: 56°-61°. Barometer: 1006mb.

We are indeed starting to make some progress toward the Horn, but a large low has formed to the north of our position and is coming our way. The problem with this is that down here in the Southern Hemisphere lows rotate clockwise, meaning we will most likely see headwinds. A quick check of the barometer shows a reading of 994mb, telling me the low is moving toward us, and soon we are snugged down with just the reefed staysail and double-reefed main up, pounding into steep 10 to12 ft waves out of the southeast.

In the midst of all this, the rope drum on the wheel that allows the Monitor windvane gear to steer the boat comes loose as two of the three hose clamps that hold it on have broken. Fortunately, I also have an electronic autopilot belowdecks and am able to pull the wheel off to change out the clamps. Once the wheel is back on, I turn the helm back over to the vane gear, since it keeps us as close to the wind as possible as we attempt to make very slow progress toward our first cape.

Unfortunately, soon afterward another problem makes itself known. After 24 hours and 125 miles of sailing we are only 25 miles closer to the Horn, and now the main steering cables have failed as a result of the boat having been repeatedly knocked backward down steep waves slamming over the rudder. These cables are less than a year old, and I have never before seen them fail. Fortunately, the belowdecks autopilot, which is hooked up to the quadrant, is once again able to take charge of the steering, allowing me to wait until the storm has passed to attempt repairs.

Several days later, after such horrendous weather that it blew the wind indicator off the top of the mast, there comes a lull, and I jump onto the repair of the steering cables. I am able to do so by using the extra cable on the quadrant end to remake the end on the chain with a couple of small U-bolt connectors. After about five hours we are whole again and headed for the Horn.

As we do so, there is more bad news. The low that had passed over us has intensified and altered course. Instead of heading southwest it is now coming east and will soon be on us once again. This time, though, it will be below us, and I hope to ride on its upper shoulder with the wind at our back, where at least we can hope to make decent progress along our course line.

The author replaces broken steering cables under way

The author replaces broken steering cables under way

Day 34 — The Storm

24hr run: 151nm. Position: 45°21’S, 106°28’W. Wind: NW 15-35kts. Seas: 10-15ft. Cabin temperature: 57°-60°. Barometer: 999mb.

Today I’m awakened by the sound of water rushing by the hull. The wind is increasing as the low comes upon us, and I can see the barometer falling rapidly—it’s now at 999mb. I decide to cook up some coffee while I still can and find myself looking at the stove in disbelief, as the burner will not light. I check the propane tank, and it definitely has gas in it. I flick the electro-magnetic switch on and off in the galley a couple of times to see if maybe it is somehow malfunctioning, then try lighting the stove once again, but no luck.

I go to shut the solenoid switch off, and it is then that I actually smell the propane and realize something is terribly wrong. I gimbal the stove forward to look behind it and discover that the copper supply line has snapped off right at the stove, just a couple of inches from where it connects to the flexible line that lets the stove gimbal. Now I suddenly realize how fortunate I am that I haven’t blown up the whole damn boat! I find a piece of flexible propane line to make temporary repairs, and at last get the coffee back on.

The wind is now coming in from the southwest, and the waves rapidly increase to 20-plus feet. Before long we are seeing 50 knots, and it is time to take down all the sails and run under bare poles, which seems to suit Sailors Run just fine.

The cockpit is now filling regularly with water, and small amounts squirt belowdecks when huge breaking waves come in on the beam and slam us down hard. I shudder each time, as it sounds and feels like we have just been involved in a car wreck. The safest place in a storm is in my bunk, where I can avoid being tossed about the cabin, like this morning when we were slammed by a breaking wave while I was trying to prepare breakfast. I flew away from the galley stove and was tossed into the aft cabin, striking one side of the doorway and nearly breaking my right shoulder. My breakfast ended up all over the galley floor, and the coffee on the stove. Fortunately, it was not yet hot, but it still managed to dump all over the cabin floor even though the stove was gimbaled and I had fiddles on each side of the pot and a bungee cord over its top to hold it in place. All of this was not enough to hold back nature when she decided to rock my world.

After breakfast, I film the treacherous seas that are bearing down on us from several different directions. I am soon caught up in the magnificence of such an awe-inspiring situation—the beauty of the breaking waves and the brilliant white of the cascading breaking tops that plummet down the face of these marching giants as Sailors Run continues to ride up and over them on our march to the Horn and whatever might lay ahead.

I have now used up the contents of one of my 75gal water tanks and decide to run the watermaker to refill it. The watermaker is 15 years old and has operated flawlessly since it was installed back in 2001. I run it about three hours a day, and it produces 7gal an hour. It was on the third day of running that it failed to start when I turned it on. After dismantling it and checking it thoroughly I had to come to grips with the fact that I now have a real problem: the watermaker is useless and I’m just 20 percent of the way into this voyage. I will now have to conserve water and catch rainwater whenever possible, not an easy thing in high winds and big seas. I draw some comfort from the knowledge that I have a hand-operated watermaker in my ditch bag.

With this red flag popping up on my approach to Cape Horn, I can’t help but think that my last chance to abort is close at hand. Now, just 500 miles from the Horn, it would be possible to turn north and ride the Humboldt Current up the coast of Chile. This option is soon outweighed, though, by my optimistic view of completing this voyage no matter what. I have also never been good at quitting and decide this is no time to start.

Seas try to climb aboard as Sailors Run approaches the Horn

Seas try to climb aboard as Sailors Run approaches the Horn

Day 45 — Light Air

24hr run: 71nm. Position: 56°17’, 7°33’W. Wind: W 0-12kts. Seas: 2-4ft.

Cabin Temperature: 44°-51°. Barometer: 996mb.

Today I hoist the spinnaker in dying winds, as I draw much closer to the coast of Chile than I like. It’s a lee shore that I truly do not feel good about. Typically you only have to wait a few hours for a major wind change down here. But this time I’m coming through right behind a big storm that has sucked much of the energy out of the area.

After 12 hours under spinnaker, the light winds just go away and I sit becalmed until 0200, when a southeasterly breeze starts to fill in, right on the nose.

The sun comes up, and with the light winds, I spend the day lounging in the cockpit. I’m not only taking in the breathtaking beauty of the snow-capped mountains that jut right up out of the sea but am equally impressed with the abundant sea life here. I see penguins swimming near the boat and am startled by the blast from a huge blue whale that passes close alongside, diving deep, never to be seen again.

After several tacks in toward the coast, I head offshore as night approaches and pray that the winds will shift and allow me to sail in close to the Horn tomorrow.

Day 49 — Around the Horn

24hr run: 165nm. Position: 55°38’’S, 63°12’W. Wind: N 20-50kts. Seas 8-16 ft. Cabin temperature: 44°-46°. Barometer: 1010mb.

Sailors Run arrives off Cape Horn in a pleasant 15 knots of breeze and I’m able to sail within five miles of the Cape, which is actually located on an island that sits just off the coast of Chili. Once abeam of the island I drink a toast and can barely see the cape as tears fill my eyes on this most amazing day, my second time to be gifted with good conditions at the Horn, a true rarity down here.

As we blast away from the Horn in building winds out of the north, I see two small cruise ships that appear to come up from the Antarctic, and they take their guests up close to Cape Horn Island on this most pleasant day. Today we do 165 nautical miles, and I can only hope that we can get back on the fast track to our next cape, the Cape of Good Hope some 3,000-plus miles off in the distance across the mighty Atlantic. 

Miss the first installment? Read Circumnavigation: Alone Around the World— part 1 here.

 Follow part 3, Jeff Hartjoy’s iceberg-plagued voyage across the South Atlantic coming soon.

December 2016



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