Quetzal - Kaufman 47 "... Never lost, just hard to find ..."

John Kretschmer Sailing

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A Serious Ocean

You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by the salt-worried faces,
by an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It's a serious ocean.

North Sea off Carnoustie by Anne Stevenson

Tomorrow will have an island
by William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island,
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

More Poetry...

Cape Horn to Starboard

reprinted with permission of SAILING Magazine June 1998

by John Kretschmer


SAILING Contributing Editor John Kretschmer first saw Cape Horn on January 31, 1984, lying three miles north of his Contessa 32 Gigi. Although the 9,500-pound Gigi may have been the smallest yacht to "double the Horn," this dismal, windswept headland means far more than sailing records and physical accomplishment. Now, almost 15 years after Cape Horn appeared to starboard, John reflects on his determined search for a sailor's grail.


     Almost 15 years ago I sailed from New York to San Francisco, leaving the brazen headland at the bottom of the world to starboard. We may have been the first American sailors to do this, and our winsome Contessa sloop might have been the smallest boat to do that. The first this and the smallest that--in the end, we didn't establish any records that I know of worth mentioning without asterisks. But Cape Horn and records don't mix. Cape Horn is a private headland, a personal grail. Anybody can appropriate it for his own needs, even the short, pudgy guy from Philly wedged in the middle seat.


     Some years ago, I was flying to Baltimore to give a talk about the voyage. My book had just been published and I was bursting with pride. I was fondling it more than reading it when the guy from Philiy said, "Hey, wow, Cape Horn. I was there a couple of years ago."


     Lowering the book, I politely but condescendingly corrected him. "The Horn is one of those things in life that you round," I said. "You don't actually go there."


     "Oh, yeah, we rounded it later, but first we parked right next to it, you know, in the Lindblad Explorer. I never realized that Cape Horn was an island, and kind of a scrawny little thing at that."


     Bewildered, I realized this guy knew what he was talking about.


     "We took the Zodiacs ashore and climbed right up to the top of the rock," he said. "They made it easy, set up a rope railing. There wasn't much to see; it was kind of gray, just a bunch of water really. We were all anxious to get down to Antarctica, so we didn't stay long."


     I was shattered. I had been on TV with Dan Rather claiming to be the first American to do something monumental--hell, I was supposed to be famous--but now this pleasant guy sitting next to me, who looked more like a pastry chef than a sailor, had also "been to" and "around" Cape Horn. He noticed that my now-desolate face matched the not-so-desolate face on the book's cover. He nudged me with his elbow and smiled.


     "Hey, you wrote that book. Cool. Rounding Cape Horn in a sailboat must have been some ride. It sure was windy up there on the rock, it nearly blew my hairpiece off."


     I spent a decade dreaming about it. I'll never forget the day when Gypsy Moth Circles the World turned up in the mail. I studied the picture of Gypsy Moth IV, dressed down to a storm jib, charging toward Cape Horn. If an old bugger like Francis Chichester could round the Horn, then so could I. I became steeped in the history of the place. From Drake and Schouten to Dumas and Moitessier, I devoured everything ever written about Cape Horn. The more I read, the more determined I became, and I resolved that when I rounded the Horn I would do it the right way, the only way that counted: from east to west against the prevailing winds and currents. Author and sailing ship master Alan Villiers became my guru. He laid down the gauntlet in his classic book The Way of a Ship: "Sailors in the sailing ship era, when they spoke of rounding the Horn, meant to sail westwards, from the latitude of 50 south in the Atlantic, down past the Horn, and then to fight up to 50 South latitude in the Pacific; nothing else was counted... for the eastward passage before the westerly gales was reckoned no rounding at all."


     First I had to learn how to sail, then I crossed the Atlantic. In the fall of 1983, having just turned 25, I set off from New York bound for Cape Horn. According to my dead reckoning, we crossed the 50th parallel in the Atlantic at 10 a.m. on January 25, 1984. There should have been a bold line of demarcation, but in those pre-GPS days we were still primarily guided by an audacious trust in fate and scribbled lines on coffee-stained plotting sheets. We were two: Ty Techera, running away from a land life gone all wrong, and me, a young captain from the suburbs masquerading as an old salt, chasing a long-incubated dream. Cape Horn loomed ahead.


     The ghosts of Cape Horn tested my mettle, first by turning us back with a vicious gale and foul currents in the Le Maire Strait, and then, as we approached the Horn, by sending the barometer on a free fall, from 1005 rnillibars to 973 millibars 12 hours later. I expected to be swallowed up in a monumental Cape Horn tempest, a "snorter" like the one that drove Drake's sistership Marigold to the bottom of the sea. Sometimes you can read too much. Drake survived and so did I.


     At 3 p.m. on January 31, Cape Horn was clearly in view, two miles due north. I studied the storied headland with the binoculars; fortunately, there were no tourists waving back at me. I didn't whoop and yell, I didn't thrust my fist into the air, I didn't feel like I had won anything. But I did understand a few things. Adjusting the focus of the glasses, I understood that Cape Horn is not something that you conquer--you conquer yourself. I understood that rounding Cape Horn was not as important as dreaming about it. The winning was in casting off the dock lines. Ursula Le Gum writes, "It is good to have an end to journey toward but it is the journey that matters in the end."


     For the record, we doubled the Horn in 11-1/2 days, crossing the 50th parallel in the Pacific around midnight on February 11, 1984. This is one of the fastest sailing passages ever around the Horn. We had enough sense to arrive in San Francisco on a slow news day. Our trip was big news for a week or so and I made the rounds of all the talk shows. After the euphoria faded and I finished my book, I put Cape Horn in the closet, filed under dreams accomplished. For years I downplayed the voyage. The guy from Philly had put things in perspective for me. Today, however, almost 15 years, 200,000 bluewater miles and probably a million waves later, I find myself recalling the voyage more often and more fondly.


     I have spent the ensuing years delivering boats, large and small, all over the world. I have crossed the Atlantic a dozen times, the Pacific twice, the Indian Ocean once and have lost track of all the coastal voyages. I have dealt with near sinkings, hurricanes and pirates. Hal Roth wrote, "A voyage around Cape Horn is a trip to the ultimate classroom of the sea." I know now that my pursuit of Cape Horn was my MBA. The rounding was simply the diploma. The course program consisted of surviving a capsize off Bermuda and jury-rigging a headsail with tears streaming down my face; pounding south, hard on the wind for days on end, in a tiny boat that weighed less than 10,000 pounds, had 28 inches of freeboard and standing headroom for midgets; scrambling to take sextant sights at a moment's notice and being unable to feel the pencil as my frozen fingers calculated our position. In Cape Horn 101, you learn just how much you can endure and just how resourceful you can be. This knowledge, above all else, has served me well over the years.

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