After arriving in Cape Town, we had to review our track and actually convince ourselves that we had indeed completed a bona fide circumnavigation … and we had. Rounding of the Capes, however, required more review than we’d previously given it. It might be a question of semantics, but we’re embarrassed to say that we may not have rounded all of the five great capes after all. We have rounded four of them, but we sailed “around” Cape Horn like most yachties do. We were unaware of the “rules” regarding a rounding of the world’s southernmost cape.
Upon researching “rounding the Horn”, I found some conflicting information. Wikipedia, for instance indicates that a rounding of the Horn “is traditionally understood to involve sailing from 50 degrees south on one coast of South America to 50 degrees south on the other coast, the two benchmark latitudes of a Horn run…”. Though it’s not perfectly clear, we think this means crossing the latitudes at 50 degrees in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Well, we’d been at 50 south on the west coast (Gulfo de Trinidad, Chile in the Patagonian Archipelagos) and 50 south on the east coast (heading north up the Argentine coast from Ushuaia to Mar del Plata), perhaps we had rounded the Horn.
Then I stumbled upon the IACH website (International Association of Cape Horners) and their eligibility criteria. “The Horn rounding shall be part of a non-stop passage of at least 3000nm and shall pass through fifty degrees south in both Pacific (or Indian) and Atlantic Oceans … under sail.” They also added that that Cape Horners must “have rounded Cape Horn in a commercial sailing ship in trade.” Well, we definitely didn’t qualify in this regard. Obviously, these rules are not for yachties and we don’t qualify to be Cape Horners.
Looking at the websites of several commercial passenger boats that ply the Cape Horn waters, many mention “rounding the Horn”, but can you trust an advertisement for adventure seekers? Are they really “rounding the Horn”? Certainly, our trip around Cape Horn was a bit more dramatic than being on a cruise ship or a crewed passenger vessel, but the question remained … was it a round or around?
We think the true criteria for rounding Cape Horn is probably sailing from 50 degrees south from the Atlantic to 50 south in the Pacific (or vice versa) … non-stop and outside the protection of the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego archipelagos. With this criteria in mind, Joshua Slocum never rounded the Horn aboard “Spray” (though he did manage it twice sailing on a commercial vessel). Nor did Magellan in 1520 make it nor did Sir Francis Drake round the Horn in 1578, for that matter. They both took the shortcut through the Straits of Magellan … and still they named the Drake Passage after Sir Francis. Go figure. It wasn’t until 1616, when Dutch explorer and navigator Willem Schouten rounded and named Kaap Hoorn that the Cape was rounded for the first time. Our hero, Captain James Cook, managed it from both directions. What a guy! Nine of Cups and crew, however, did not.
So, readers and fellow sailors, we didn’t mean to lead you astray or boast about accomplishing something that we’d really not done. Nostra culpa … but sailing “around” Cape Horn will have to suffice.
A few notes about what we’re NOT entitled to…
A sailor that rounds the Horn can wear a gold loop earring. Tradition has it that the earring should be worn in the ear that faced the Horn as it was rounded. I actually bought a gold earring for David at the time which he never wore. Good thing, huh?
Another amenity offered to sailors who’ve rounded the Horn is being allowed to put one foot on the table. If they’d rounded the Cape of Good Hope, too, they were allowed to put both feet on the table. I don’t see this as a big privilege, but that’s just me.
We’re also missing out in the tattoo department because true Cape Horners can have a fully rigged ship tattooed somewhere on their body parts. Just as well we didn’t do this because at our ages, our tattoos would probably look like sinking ships.