Thursday, April 01, 2010
Rounding The Horn
On April 14, 1916 six men climbed into a 22 1/2 ft long whaler named the James Caird and set out for South Georgia Island. South Georgia lay 800 miles or so to the northeast, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.
After being stranded on Elephant Island off the Antarctic coast for months, Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Worsley, Harry McNish, Tim McCarthy, and John Vincent decided (well, Shackleton decided) that the voyage must be attempted if the lives of the entire crew of the wrecked Endurance were to be saved.
Shackleton chose Crean because he was a rock, Worsley because he was a navigational wizard, McNish (ship's carpenter) because the Caird may have needed repair during the voyage, McCarthy and Vincent because they were the most able sailors. (Shackleton despised McNish because of repeated insubordination during the first part of the attempted Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and additional acts of near-mutiny during the months on Elephant Island. But Shackleton knew that McNish's skills may have been needed, and so he included the mouthy Scot.)
In studying the expedition, watching the above NOVA (which is excellent), and in reading Shackleton's book SOUTH! it became clear to me that among the greatest hardships faced by the crew of Endurance was the boat trip. The voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. It was an act of complete desperation. The odds of those 6 guys finding their way through 800 miles of open ocean were slim at best. Shackleton spared no praise for Worsley's navigation skills, such as using a sextant in 50 ft. rolling seas. If Worsley's calculations had been off by so much as a degree, they'd have blown right by South Georgia, and been lost for good.
If you notice on that map, the trip from Elephant Island to the tip of South America would have been shorter, and much more likely to have resulted in landfall of some sort. Either the Falkland Islands or Deception Island would have seemed more likely choices for Shackleton, but Sir Ernest knew that he'd have been sailing into the prevailing westerly winds that whip through the Drake Passage and around the southern tip of South America.
Sailors have long celebrated "Rounding The Horn" as it is seen as the "Mt. Everest of sailing." When approaching from the west, sailors must first take it far south of course, and that means cold. It also means stormy seas.
What lies ahead, and what confronted Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McNish, McCarthy and Vincent is the vast Southern Atlantic Ocean, which can be notoriously rugged depending on the time of year. Winter is the worst.
Back in January, Abby Sunderland set off from California aboard the 40 foot yacht Wild Eyes and headed south. After some mechanical difficulties halted her progress, she got back underway last month.
Now, Abby has the benefit of modern GPS technology, and as opposed to the 22 1/2 foot James Caird the Wild Eyes is about as nice as it gets when it comes to open ocean yachting. She's got a little kitchen, and a bed, and wireless internet so she can keep me updated on her progress (well, me and about 37,000 other people.)
It's worth noting however, that Abby is 16 years old, and she is attempting to become the youngest person to ever sail around the world solo.
The reason I'm boring you with all of this shit is that according to her blog, yesterday, March 31, 2010 Abby Rounded the Horn.