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Solo Sailing around Cape horn – history

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The lonely rock which is at the tip of South America was given its name when Sir Francis Drake rounded it for the first time in 1578. It is the 550 miles wide passage which is between Tierre del Fuego and Antartica which is actually named after Drake, but this southerly route was, for a long time, kept secret.




Because the Magellan Straits were controlled by the East India Company who maintained a complete monopoly there, it was the Dutch who launched two ships to seek a passage to the south, the Eendracht and the Hoorn. Ironically the Hoorn was lost in a fire but it was the Eendracht which doubled the Cape for the first time in January 1616, some seven months after leaving from Texel, Holland.

It was during the Gold Rush in the late 1840’s and 1850’s that shipping traffic round the Horn really grew. It was quicker to get from the US East Coast to the West by sea.

At this time then, most of the voyages were from East to West, against the prevailing winds. During the 19th century it could take days, or even weeks to get around the Horn. The most renowned passage was that of the Edward Sewall which took 67 days in 1914, twice being blasted back to a position that they had passed weeks earlier. And the Garthway could not get through east to west and so sailed all the way to Chile eastabouts.

Winds are funnelled and accelerated by the Andes in the north and by the Antarctic in the south, with the low pressure systems funnelled through the narrow channel building huge waves over the shelving waters. It is without question one of the most feared stretches of water on the planet. During Bruno Peyron’s 1993 Jules Verne attempt the crew had to lower all their sails and do all they could to avoid be smashed up in the islands which border the south of the passage.

There are still probably not many more than 120 sailors who can lay claim to having sailed solo past the notorious black rock, and hopefully by the end of this Vendée Globe there will be four more, Gabart, Alex Thomson, Javier Sanso and Tanguy De Lamotte.

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