Yachtsmen's blood tingles with the short word "Cape Horn." The legendary cape rises on the water at the end of the world, southernmost of South America, linking the Pacific and Atlantic together.
Since the Age of Discovery, which began in the 15th century, many ships wrecked there. Many lives of sailors lost around Cape Horn. People had called it "cape of fear" or "ship graveyard" for centuries.
Even today, sailing toward Cape Horn in a small yacht must be an adventure at the cost of one's life. The success would be a great joy for yachtsmen, and many challengers headed for the cape one after another. Some wrecked, and others were missing. Cape Horn has been a dangerous but desired place for ambitious yachtsmen.
I heartily wished to land on the cape and feel it with my feet directly, instead of just sailing around it.
At the beginning of April, after sailing down the Chilean Archipelago for four months, Aomi arrived at the southernmost town in South America named Puerto Williams.
On stepping on the pier, A soldier told me that photography was prohibited. There were some battleships and torpedo boats in the port, and big antenna towers painted red and white standing up on the hill behind. My target, Cape Horn, was about 150 km south of this naval base.
I visited the headquarters of the base to get the information for the Cape Horn landing. I spoke to a guard standing at the gate, and he guided me in a room of the office. The supreme commander of the base, Commandante, was there!
The elderly gentleman in navy-blue offered me his hand with a warm smile. After introducing myself, I drew the course to Cape Horn with my index finger on a chart on the wall.
"No, you can't. We prohibit taking the course for military reasons," said the Commandante.
He showed me alternative routes, explained dangerous rocks on the way and refuge sites in case of a storm. He spoke surprisingly friendly. If possible, I would have asked him about a safe landing place at Cape Horn as well.
However, the dream of the landing on Cape Horm would have ended as just a dream, if I had told him and he had stopped such a dangerous action.
"When passing in front of Cape Horn, if the weather is OK, I would like to land on it," I muttered as if talking to myself.
His face suddenly became severe. I bit my lip, thinking that I made a mistake. After a little while of silence, he began to talk.
"Strong winds blow almost every day around Cape Horn. A few months ago, a German yacht had been sailing near Cape Horn for four days but was unable to approach the cape because of strong winds. In the end, the yacht capsized with huge waves, and we, Chilean Navy, rescued them and brought them to the base."
He picked up a weather chart of the day from his desk and said,
"Look! Depressions pass by almost every day."
" But, after a depression, a high pressure comes," I replied.
"No, you are wrong. Just depressions pass by, one after another. You have a little more chance in the summer, but it's already April. Winter is right around the corner in the southern hemisphere, and we have hopelessly bad climate here. Chilean Navy can do anything for you, but the weather. We have to pray to God."
He continued seriously,
"You have sailed almost half of the Earth since leaving Japan. You have experienced many storms, but the storm around Cape Horn is different from ordinary storms because...."
I interrupted him and said,
"Around Cape Horn, the seabed shallows steeply from 4,000 m to 100 m. That causes wild triangle waves and puts ships in danger."
"You are completely right. If a sailboat loses the mast or sail after an attack of nasty triangle waves, you will be adrift in the ocean forever."
His strict words reminded me of the unwanted memory, fears in the sea, engraved on my mind and body. He, however, said nothing to prohibit the landing. He probably thought it impossible to land alone.
In the evening, Commandante came up to the port in a Japane four-wheel drive car. Looking down Aomi from the pier, he said,
"How have you sailed down here in such a tiny boat? Please be careful when rounding Cape Horn."
The next morning, after getting drinking water, Aomi left the base.
Four days after leaving the base, Aomi reached about 10 km north of Cape Horn. Under the unlikely clear morning sky, the cape of legend I saw for the first time rose on the blue water with the triangle peak, 406 m high, lit by the sun.
Though having dreamt of the scenery, I felt no excitement nor satisfaction at all. I was just afraid of unknown rocks and strong currents. Watching the water forward and straining my nerves, I let Aomi going. Around Cape Horn, only a small mistake leads you to a catastrophic result.
Just past noon, Aomi arrived at the south of the cape, which became a big pyramidical silhouette against the sun. I looked up the steep slopes having numerous projections with binoculars.
Aomi proceeded along the cliff for a while. The coastline suddenly curved inland, and a small bay appeared before my eyes. It was the landing-place I considered on the chart. The bay, however, had numerous black stones like human heads on the beach and waves were breaking wildly on them. If I had tried to land on, the waves would have instantly turned over the small rowing boat of Aomi.
I gave up the point, proceeded to the east side of the cape, and another probable site appeared. Approaching the small bay, I checked it with binoculars. The bay was full of kelp (giant seaweed). Though dangerous to get into the bay, anchoring outside the bay and rowing a small boat over the kelp, I would be able to approach the coast.
I dropped a CQR-anchor at once and pulled the rope by moving Aomi with the engine, but the anchor ran on the seabed when the engine's power went up.
"The weather is beautiful today, and the anchor probably won't drag with the wind. It's time for landing. An opportunity like today will never come again until next summer. The moment to realize my dream has finally come. If I lower the rowing boat on the water and aim for the coast, in a few minutes, I will be on the cape I have been longing for. "
I grasp the side of the rowing boat on Aomi's deck and try putting it down to the water. However, as long as the anchor doesn't work, if the wind got stronger, Aomi would be blown into the ocean, leaving me onshore while landing. I have no time to try other anchors because the sunset on an autumn day is not far away.
Watching the coast ahead, I have hesitated. It is only 150 m, very short a distance compared to the voyage of two years from Japan. The weather is excellent, and I see only tiny waves on the water so far. Storms will not come anyway. Even in case of a storm, the anchor probably won't run. If I missed the chance, I would never be able to do it again in my life.
Do it now. I can realize my dream soon. I want to do that. Just after a few minutes of rowing a boat, I will be on Cape Horn!
However, I can't do that anyway as long as I have any risk of my life. If you didn't have any solution to the worst case, the attempt would be thoughtless.
Watching the landing-place just 150 m ahead, I made a painful decision, checked the shape of the seabed with depth sounder, sketched the bay and left there quickly in the wind getting the strength rapidly.
The fine weather had been just like a miracle or an illusion. The beautiful day had ended already, and a storm was just around the corner.
In a protected bay between mountains, I was making a detailed plan for the landing.
The severe storm lasted for four days. Aomi had stayed silently in a small bay about 30 km north of Cape Horn. I was carefully making a plan for the next try.
The success of the landing depends on the anchoring skill. Without a proper choice and handling of anchors, Aomi would be blown away while I'm on the coast.
The CQR anchor ran on the seabed when it was pulled forcefully with the engine. CQR wasn't suitable for the quality of the seabed in the bay. According to the reflection of the depth sounder, the seabed was hard sand or mud, or rock with some seaweed. Then, a Fisherman anchor will be appropriate.
I had rehearsals for the landing many times on the sketch of the bay. I also prepared a hammer, a folding shovel, smoke candles, a flashlight, and emergency food as well. I put them in a backpack together with a wetsuit which would protect my body from icy water in case the rowing boat capsizes.
By the way, can I land on Cape Horn alone? Everyone I met in town or navy bases said it was thoughtless. I often thought it impossible too. However, the more difficult it is, the more strong passion comes out.
I want to do it anyway. I want to stand on the cape of legend, the cape of fear, which has frightened many sailors for centuries. Even if what you have to do seemed very difficult, a good chance would surely come, as long as you don't give up, make efforts, and keep seeking the way. Even when you knew it impossible, there would be what a man has to try.
During these four months in the Chilean Archipelago, Aomi anchored behind islands again and again. I spent nights in typhoon-like storms and landed on many islands with a rowing boat. Wasn't that training to land on Cape Horn? I must have mastered the skill in anchoring and landing already. The Cape Horn landing has become an utterly realizable attempt, a mere dream no longer.
Since passing through the Strait of Magellan three weeks ago, I have been plotting the wind direction, wind force, atmospheric pressure, and cloud amount on graph paper, and trying to find the characteristics of the weather here. The pressure has become stable, the wind force is decreasing, and the wind direction has begun to change.
OK, tomorrow, April 15th, will be the day of a triumph!
Rowing a boat over seaweed, I finally landed on Cape Horn.
At 5:00 am, I woke up in complete darkness. I was listening to the roar of wind in bed for a while. I got up, opened the sliding hatch, and the cold wind of 55°S pierced my face. I trembled and closed the hatch.
"Still unable?" I muttered.
I saw breaking waves and columns of water around the entrance of the bay, but they are gone. The wind has undoubtedly decreased the power and is blowing from the west, a favorable direction for the landing.
There is no guarantee that the weather gets better. A storm may come soon again.
Even so, I will go anyway. If the wind gets stronger on the way, I will be back immediately.
Raindrops in the gusts started to hit on the windows of Aomi. Though hesitated for a while, I made up my mind and put yellow oilskin on. Getting out of the cabin, I breathed in and out the chilly air of 55°S in the full blue before sunrise. A departure in the morning is always refreshing anyway.
On the water of dawn, making a rhythmical sound of the single-cylinder engine, Aomi goes out of the small bay. Holding the action plan with a hand and passing by rocks and islands as scheduled, I proceed precisely like the needles of a clock. Everything must be done as planned, and I have to be back to Lientur bay before dark, or Aomi will go on the rocks. There is significant stress when you sail in the Cape Horn region. A mistake may lead you to the end of everything.
Gusts like compressed air often attack the sails, and Aomi's mast leans toward the water considerably. There is a dark blue cloud in the front sky. What are those looking like hands or socks hanging down from the cloud?
Two hours after the departure, Cape Horn has appeared on the water ahead, sticking up the dark gray sky with its peek. The outline of the cape is, however, very different from the sharp line I saw the other day, and even looks hazy in light rain. Is the landing impossible after all?
Hit by steep triangle waves, shaken very much and nearly throwing me out of the deck, Aomi sails toward Cape Horn. A small hole suddenly opens in the cloud, and a spotlight of the sun comes through it. What lighted up is the triangle peak of Cape Horn. I have held my breath.
Three hours and fifteen minutes after leaving the bay, Aomi arrives in front of the landing point and lowers the sails. The small bay is on the lee side of Cape Horn as I have expected, and there are only small waves and no swells. I can land on the cape now!
There are some landing plans made for each situation. I check the wind direction, the shape of the land, and start the third plan.
At first, I reach the forest of kelp (giant seaweed), drop a fisherman anchor at the point No.1 of the plan. Next, I pull the anchor rope by moving Aomi with the engine at full power.
It is just as I thought. The anchor doesn't run on the seabed, even though the rope is pulled as tight as you can do rope walking. The anchor has caught the bottom securely. I immediately put another anchor at the point No.2 as well.
No problem at all, this is perfect! It would withstand a force-eight wind in my experience. There is no chance of Aomi blown into the ocean. I am dancing for joy. The landing on Cape Horn has almost succeeded.
Putting a small boat down to the water and rowing it with all my strength, I aim for the shore 150 m ahead. The wind sometimes increases its power, small waves are breaking white on the rocks, but there is nothing to worry. Passing over the kelp forest, I arrive at the coast of black rocks.
"I did it! Finally I made it! I have stepped on the cape of legend."
My knees are shaking with the excitement. I have now come to the end of the world like here. Aomi has anchored at Cape Horn, and I am feeling the land with my own feet. That has been my dream for years. Is there anything more exciting or satisfactory? All the effort and patience has been just for today.
While I'm taking pictures and picking up rocks as memories, scheduled one hour has passed. I don't feel like going back. I want to spend a night on the cape of my longing, climb up the cliff and stand on the summit of the cape 406 m high. Now, I can do that. If I try, my wishes will come true. No chance will come again in my life. I want to do that at any cost.
However, I can't do that anyway. Even if it were 99% safe, as long as you aren't ready for the remaining 1%, it would be a thoughtless attempt. No one can tell when the next storm will come and how strong it will be. If I didn't go back to Lientur bay at once, Aomi wouldn't be able to go back to any port forever.
I row back to Aomi 150 m off the coast and try pulling up the anchors. There is, however, something wrong with it. The anchors are too heavy, or rather I can't put my strength into the arms.
Then, I find that the bandage on my left hand has turned red, and see drops of blood on the deck. When clearing the table after a meal, I have cut my index finger on the top of a food can. The wound is as deep as you can see something white at the bottom. Can I pull up the ropes totaled 100 m with heavy anchors?
Hard hail has begun to fall from the dark gray sky. The wind is getting its force, and the next storm is undoubtedly approaching. I have to leave the cape even one minute sooner.
Feeling pain in the left hand, I try to pull the rope as quickly as possible. Each time my finger bleeds more, I take a short rest and pull the rope again, feeling the cold sweat on my back. Then, the iron mass of about 20 kg has come on the water.
However, not tens of kilograms but probably more than a hundred kilograms of seaweed like brown plastic is wrapping around the anchor. "No way! I can't pull it up to the deck by myself."
In the wind getting stronger and stronger, I open the stern locker and take out the sword with a 45 cm blade, which I have bought in San Francisco for the use on such cases. Lying on the deck, I stretch a hand with the sword to the sea and chop off the seaweed around the anchor.
"Phew, I have finally recovered the anchor."
I put sails up at once, and begin to head back for Lientur bay. When I look back in the hail, Cape Horn is sticking up the dark sky with its far darker peak. The water is full of white waves, and the spray hits my face, but everything is OK for me now.
As if chased by the storm, sailing for three and a half hours, Aomi has got back to Lientur bay. I check my watch, and It's about nine hours from the morning departure, one hour shorter than scheduled.
The landing on Cape Horn has been completed successfully.