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What we're reading: July 2017

The Cape Horners' Club reveals the pioneers who've taken on 'the sailing world's Everest', from the first recorded single-hander in 1934 to the near-fatal voyage by its author, Adrian Flanagan. He tells us how he survived its terrifying swells

Published 3 Jul 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 15:43 BST
Black Browed Albatross, Cape Horn, South America

Black Browed Albatross, Cape Horn, South America

Photograph by Getty

I was intimidated by the entire prospect of sailing around Cape Horn. As a 15-year-old boy, I'd been captivated by Sir Francis Chichester's account of his 1967 sailing, which I included in the book. He'd admitted he was 'terrified', and this described my feelings facing such a monumental objective. Chichester sailed eastward, wind and current with him. My aim was westward, against wind and current; a bit like going uphill. 

I was very aware that death was a possibility. Of course, I'd done as much research as possible but with my steel-hulled boat (essential when dealing with Arctic ice), I knew I wouldn't be fast. I'd be in the Cape Horn area for at least three weeks. Given the storm frequency, I was guaranteed hurricane force winds and massive seas. 

What surprised me was the rapidity with which conditions change in the Cape. One minute, I was sailing calmly and literally the next minute I'd be in a full force gale. But in that time, everything can change. My boat's width was 11ft, so it didn't take big waves to roll her (in storm conditions, waves reach 25-30ft). At one point I'd been awake for more than 50 hours. Exhaustion set in; I was hallucinating and I got rolled, twice.

When a breaking wave approaches, it hisses like a buzz bomb. There was a buzz, silence and then an explosion as a wall of water hit the boat. I was halfway out of the companionway and the hatch was open. I didn't have time to get below. Some 20-30 gallons got past me and the entire electric panel went under. The boat came up, I managed to close the hatch, and then she went over again. Smoke was billowing out of the electrics, and sewage had spilled out on the deck.

Suddenly conditions calmed, like a tear in the storm. It was almost a gift from heaven. The boat not only came up, but was also self-steering; somehow back on the right line. Unbelievably, I didn't lose any of the electrics besides the heating system's control panel.

All those pre-GPS era sailors are my heroes. The great pioneering voyages in the 1960s and '70s saw people like Sir Alec Rose, Chay Blyth, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Bernard Moitessier sail the Cape without a GPS. But, my ultimate hero predates them: Marcel Bardiaux, a former weedy kid who built his own boat and took it on an eight-year round-the-world trip in the '50s, almost killing himself in the process. I think he was the greatest.

Adrian Flanagan became the first solo yachtsman to sail 'vertically' around the world (via Cape Horn and the Russian Arctic) in 2008. His new book, The Cape Horners' Club, is out now. RRP: £18.99. (Bloomsbury)

Wise words

The map

We think these abstract,  cubist-style city maps from artist Jazzberry Blue make mesmerising wallpaper. RRP: $21 (£16)

The guidebook
Film and TV buffs will love A Spotter's Guide to Film and TV Locations, by Laurence Phelan. RRP: £7.99 (Lonely Planet)

The novel
Award-winning debut novel from South American Miguel Bonnefoy. Octavio's Journey follows the magic realist trip of a lonely illiterate giant. RRP: £7.99 (Gallic Books)

Published in the Jul/Aug 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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