The Cape Horner’s Club
The Southern Ocean and Cape Horn beckon mariners from afar, evoking a dual sense of wonder, admiration, and fear. In the introduction to his new book, The Cape Horners’ Club, Adrian Flanagan writes the following of the 500-mile stretch of water that funnels the oceans between South America and Antarctica at the Drake Passage:
“For mariners, Cape Horn was once a necessary trial, lying as it does on the shortest and therefore most profitable commercial shipping route between Europe and the Far East. For yachtsmen, though, Cape Horn represents the ultimate challenge. Stormlashed for 300 days of the year, it is a place of unremitting fury, a place that tests seamanship in the hardest school of all.”
Flanagan’s book is many things, but it is primarily an homage to the place that is a wild and woolly convergence of wind and sea, and consequently one of the deadliest bodies of open water on the planet. The book is also a shout-out to a few of the hardiest souls who have braved these waters over the centuries—pioneers who have subjected themselves to the Southern Ocean’s capricious violence.
Of course, the best stories are written from firsthand experience, imbued with the complex emotions involved in traversing such a notorious body of water. Over a decade ago, Flanagan and his wife at the time, Louise, sailed around Cape Horn during a 2005 circumnavigation that started in Southampton, England. By the time they reached the Cape in February 2006, they were greeted by Force 10 winds and 9-knot inshore currents, as Flanagan describes in vivid detail. Unlike many who had voyaged these same waters before them, they did have the modern security blanket of advanced GRIB weather forecast models and state-of-the-art safety equipment. And they made it home to tell the tale.
Having successfully rounded the Cape, Flanagan began thinking about all those who had ventured before him. He wondered if they, too, had imagined their own death on a mountain of waves or if the experience had altered their lives or outlook on life as it did his. The Cape Horners’ Club is a can’t-miss study of the mindset of the die-hard adventurer.