In the third installment of our exclusive serialisation of Ken Gourlay's book chronicling his record circumnavigation of the globe in his 12m yacht Spirit Silver Edition, Ken has a last chat with home before heading out of radio range and turning southwa

The horn

The weather worsens and cools, more icebergs, and Ken's mind starts to play tricks on him as he heads towards one of the world's most notorious shipping straits, Drake Passage, which splits the Horn from Antarctica.

I was still having trouble with my auto pilots. I needed to get my spare one going.  The day of November 28 I spent working on the auto-pilot while laying ahull. I repositioned and re-powered it but all to no avail. How frustrating.

The weather grib files were good for ideal sailing weather and I cooked steak, chips and carrots for tea. I had a very clear and good radio communication via the HF radio back to Tasmania talking to Coast Radio Hobart and my brother Tim. At 1900hrs a fresh west-northwesterly came in and Spirit lit up doing 8, 9 and 10kts. This lasted till midday on November 29 before going back to the west and lightening.

Day 26, I saw my first ship. She was the Monte Pelmo. I called her up and chatted with Captain Aung. She had 70,000 tonnes of coal from McKay and was heading around Cape Horn to a port on the east coast of Brazil. He was very nice and asked if I required anything. I thanked him very much and explained how my trip was to be without assistance. Can you imagine a 70,000 tonnes ship pulling up alongside to drop off some fresh produce?  He had some difficulty understanding I was out of Tasmania, bound for Tasmania with only one person on board. It was great to have a chat with someone other than myself.

I started the engine for the first time since leaving. It was time to bake a loaf of bread and the motor needed a run. I used the engine room as a proving oven to raise the dough. All was successful and it was good to have bread again. I had bought 12 dozen eggs, 10 Scotch fillet steaks (vacuum bagged) and 10 packets of bacon. The meat would last around two months and the eggs about five. Each meal of fresh meat was a treat and very much enjoyed.

My second eldest sister, Robyn, makes a beautiful, very nutty fruit cake. I had suggested to her that I would be disappointed if I sailed without one. She then presented me with 26 of them. One for each week and a couple of spares. Each cake had a little saying wrapped up in it. I opened one on that day and found the saying very appropriate - We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails. These cakes were great. Not only were they very nice but also had a lot of nutrition. I decided to start the motor for battery charging, and steak, eggs, carrots and potatoes for tea.

I was able to just make contact with Coast Radio Hobart on the 12MHz range.

At 1800hrs the wind filled in from the northwest and by 0200 I was reefed down and making good speed. The noon run was 169nm on day 30 and saw me 901nm from my next way point of 47 deg south 110 deg west. This was the point that I would turn and head down towards Cape Horn at 56 deg south.

On day 32 my noon email home reflected that everything was grey except my mood. Full grey cloud cover which almost touched my mast. Even the water had a steely grey colour. My distance covered in 23 hours was 154nm and I had to put the clocks forward another hour due to the progress east. The barometer has been falling for four days and has gone from 1028hPa on day 28 to 1009hPa now on day 32. Was I in for a storm? Visibility was now down to only 100m.

As I was now approaching longitude 131 W it was time to notify the Chilean authorities of my presence, position and intended route. My eldest son, Adam, took care of this in his normal efficient way and I received a very courteous reply from them requesting a position report each day so that they could track my progress.

After five weeks I was only 20nm short of covering 5000nm. I know it's not a race but the next nutty fruit cake saying came into its own again - The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep running.

Day 37 saw a large low developing in front of me and I hoved to letting the pattern develop so I could form a strategy to avoid it. By midday on day 38 I was in very strong southwest winds that were gusting up to 50kts. I tried deploying loops of line as a drogue but could see little benefit. I really wanted to slow the boat down and let the low 'do its thing' in front of me. I deployed my canvas drogue which had the immediate effect of bringing the boat back to about two knots of speed.    

It wasn't long before the low escaped to the east, the winds backed to the west and I was sailing again. It was my first time using a drogue and I was impressed by its effectiveness. Progress continued to be good heading down to the Horn.

At 51 deg south it was gales again and a huge sea of solid green water washed over the cabin top breaking the boom vang. I took it off and went to a rope one, putting the aluminum pieces in the cockpit locker to repair later down the track. Winds continued from the west, southwest and northwest as I sailed farther south to Cape Horn rarely dropping below gale force.

On December 14, I received an iceberg alert from the Chilean Rescue Centre.
1: Lat. 53 38S  Long. 102 24W
(height 20m - length 100m)
2: Lat. 53 42S Long 102 23W
( height 14m - length 85m).

I was still more than 150nm above this latitude, so I would stay up here and sail farther south only when I was well clear. I still had a long way to sail south and this only added to the mental tension of sailing at these latitudes.

By day 46, I was at 56 deg south. It's an awesome feeling to be sailing into the world's most dangerous shipping strait, Drake Passage. It was too late to want out now. I was committed. The expression of getting cold feet, I'm sure, came from here. I certainly had cold feet but that was literally. I sent a photo home of the ice on the windows. Water temperature was about 6ºC and outside around 8ºC.

I was still bailing out the stern twice a day in these conditions and learning to hate it. Deck work down at this latitude was as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. I found, when I was at the navigation station in my comfortable leather chair, that to make a move to do a task was a real mental challenge. I would see something that needed to be done and know that I should get up and do it. My mind would look for an excuse to delay or put off the job. I found myself physically taking control by just getting up and starting to dress in my wet weather gear to go outside and do what had to be done. My mind had had the job taken away from it, and would catch up and join in. I'm told now that it was my physical side taking over to ensure my survival.

Christmas Eve saw me 96nm from Cape Horn. The night before was pretty rough with the wind reaching 50kts with rain squalls. There was still 30 to 40kts blowing with northwesterlies due to come in. This would be a good wind for rounding the Horn. I had been advised not to cross onto the continental shelf if the weather was at all rough. While the water was around 4km deep, the swells and big waves stay just as that, but when they cross onto the continental shelf, the shallow water causes them to stand up and become confused in shape. The continental shelf extends up to 70nm off Cape Horn and a gale or storm makes this a very dangerous place to sail, whether on a yacht or a big ship. With the wind forecast to be out of the northwest, this would give me an offshore breeze and relatively sheltered water at Cape Horn. I really wanted to see Cape Horn. 

This to me was a sailor's Mount Everest. I didn't care if I never saw any other cape. I crossed onto the continental shelf and the water depth went from more than 4000m deep to registering 44m deep on the boat's sounder. The swells went from being large to a very confused pattern, quite rough and hard on the boat at times. I was lucky with a forecast like this as it meant my course could take me within 5nm of Cape Horn itself. I was 40nm off the Chilean Coast and was due at the Horn very early in the morning. Do I trust myself to get some sleep? I certainly needed sleep after the strong winds that I had just been through, so I decided to set the alarm and get a few hours. Down in latitudes this low there was only about two to three hours of darkness each night. I was up again about 0200 hours and as daylight came, the coastline of Chile was just visible on the horizon. The fog and mist came and went but as I got closer, I could see the snow capped mountains back inland from the coast. It was so exciting seeing the high rugged peaks of Cape Horn come into view.

At 0500 hours on day 50, Christmas Day, I was abeam Cape Horn - I sailed past the third of the five great capes that I had to round. What a Christmas present. I sailed within 5nm of the cape and took heaps of photos. The first thing to strike me was how green the island was. It is an amazing part of the coastline with its rugged islands and sheer cliffs. This was a great personal achievement and, really, if the trip was to stop now, I could live with that. I was very happy, on my own boat, on my own, sailing past Cape Horn, an ocean sailor's dream and all on Christmas day. I had a big bag of Christmas presents from home and Wendy had sent some decorations for the boat. I had put the decorations up about a week earlier and it was now time to bring out the presents. I dragged them out of the locker and started to open them.

All the time I kept going back outside and gazing at the cape. Hang the presents, they can wait. I bundled them all up and back in the cupboard they went. I could work through them later. This was a moment to savour. The farther I sailed, the smoother the water got. I had certainly been lucky with the weather on my rounding. All the appropriate emails went home and later in the day, I rang through to our family Christmas gathering at my sister Gabrielle's house and spoke to my family. What a wonderful day. That will stay with me as a peak in my sailing career. By noon, I was off the continental shelf on the eastern side where the coastline is extremely graphic and spectacular.

Ken Gourlay's book One Man's Journey is now available for $29.95 plus $8 for package and handling.

The book can be purchased by visiting Ken's new website or by phone on 0417 366 612.

Gourlay, whose circumnavigation has raised $130,000 for the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust, which has been established to facilitate the creation of a 'world class' medical research institution in Northern Tasmania, has been nominated for Australian of the Year and is a finalist in the Tasmanian section.

His other website is with all the details of his 2006-07 trip.

To read more on the Ken Gourlay adventure, follow the links below:
» Ken Gourlay Pt 1
» Ken Gourlay Pt 2
» Ken Gourlay Pt 4
» Ken Gourlay Pt 5
» Ken Gourlay Pt 6
» Ken Gourlay Pt 7
» Ken Gourlay Pt 8
» Ken Gourlay Pt 9
» Ken Gourlay Pt 10




Published : Friday, 9 November 2007

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