February 4, 2010

Goodbye Everest

I’M SORRY TO HAVE TO USE a limp and fatigued cliché, but rounding Cape Horn used to be the Mount Everest of sailing. No longer, I’m afraid. Kids of 16 are doing it now. Kids on their own. Girl kids, for Pete’s sake.

I guess most of us who have sailed for any amount of time have fantasized about sailing around Cape Horn. We’ve seen ourselves all grim and bucko, with our ice-frosted beards and squinched-up steely eyes, straining at the helm as we surf down the faces of monster waves in a 50-knot gale while the gray outline of Cape Horn slides by in the murk. And once around the Horn, we could look forward to basking in the admiration of fellow sailors. We'd won the right to wear a gold ring in our ear, and we were accorded the singular privilege of peeing to windward.

Oh, how we are undone. I have just watched the sweet little video that 16-year-old Jessica Watson took of herself as she rounded Cape Horn. She’s down below looking out of a port, happy and snug in 40-knot winds as the boat steers itself, and palpably excited. “Wow!” she says with an impish grin, “Cape Horn!” Wow indeed.

Jessica, an Australian, is now halfway through her quest to be the youngest person to sail around the world alone and non-stop. She’s between South America and the toe of Africa, on her way back to Sydney, Australia, where she started about three months ago.

And behind her there’s another 16-year-old girl, also aiming for Cape Horn and the same title, an American called Abby Sunderland. Like Jessica, Abby had trouble right at the start of her voyage from California, and has had to pull in to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, Mexico. But I expect she’ll be hightailing it south for the Horn in a couple of days.

And who knows who might be next? How young can you be and still shatter the dreams and illusions of us oldtimers?

When I think of the tales of hardship, derring-do, and heroics concerning Cape Horn — including that iconic 1929 film by Irving Johnson of the barque Peking’s wild ride in ferocious seas — I am simply amazed at how easy the kids make it seem. Hell, it took the Pardeys nearly all their cruising lives to get up the nerve to round the Horn. It took the Smeetons, one of the savviest and most experienced cruising couples, three tries and two capsizes to get around the Horn. Slocum didn’t even try. He ducked through the Magellan Strait.

So what’s changed, the kids or the boats? I can’t believe the sea has changed but something has definitely happened. A myth has been shattered. The Horn is no longer the Mount Everest of sailing. But then, of course, climbing Mount Everest is no longer the Everest of climbing, either. Nothing makes sense any more.

► Jessica Watson — http://youngestround.blogspot.com/
► Abby Sunderland — http://soloround.blogspot.com/

Today’s Thought
Sooner or later … you are going to be looking at God saying, “We’re going to be lucky if we get out of here.” Your life is going to be in front of you and then you are going to realize that you’d rather be grocery shopping.
— Ed Barry, rock climber

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #10
Estimating angles. Hold one hand up at full arm’s length.
► 20 degrees: Full handspan thumb tip to little finher.
► 15 degrees: Closed fist with extended thumb.
► 10 degrees: Closed fist.
► 3 degrees: Thumb’s width.
► 2 degrees: Little finger’s width.

An amoeba called George and his brother
Were sharing a joke with each other.
They laughed till they cried
And both split a side;
Now each of the boys is a mother.


Aaron Headly said...

Here's one more link you could add to the Cape Horn post. The Mystic Seaport Museum still sells the Captain Johnson movie:

Around Cape Horn DVD

PS - Just finished "Small Boat to Freedom" last night. It was nice to read about a voyage that was calamity-free; it left room for you to cover the smaller highs and lows that usually get skipped. Was that a Lavac head that had its pump clog up? Thanks -ah

John Vigor said...

Hi Aaron: Yes, it was a Lavac. But the pump was separate from the toilet and it was a Henderson pump. It wasn't the pump's fault, of course. It just filled with the saltwater encrustation from the exit pipe.


John V.

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

I followed the link from Abby Sunderland's blog to find you here ...enjoyed your observations about the "prize" falling to the kids.

Isn't there a saying something like , "God protects children and fools" ?

Happy to have them safe...but who knows what it all means?

Steve in California