Rounding the Horn is more than a sea passage. It is one of life’s passages, venturing out onto the Drake Passage — 650 kilometers of cold, gray, unforgiving seascape — and sailing around legendary Cape Horn, the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.
Hamish and Kate Laird and their daughters — Helen, 11, and Anna, 9 — are veteran Cape Horners, having rounded it many times while voyaging to Antarctica with venturesome guests aboard their Chuck Paine-designed 56-foot aluminum cutter, Seal. The Lairds, now cruising the South Pacific, have dodged icebergs and hunkered down in 60-knot gales and 30-foot seas while sailing to the earth’s end, the south end — the Beagle Channel, South Georgia Island and Antarctic Peninsula.
“The scariest times are usually just before the bad weather hits, watching a system march through on the GRIBs or the SkyEye satellite photos and figuring out the strategy,” Kate says via e-mail from Seal. “During storms at sea, we have the sails reduced, and one of us is hand-steering, and the other is having a nap on the galley sole in full foul-weather gear. The children are listening to Harry Potter books on the iPod, and it doesn’t seem quite so bad.”
Cape Horn rises dark, craggy and gloomy out of the gray sea, but on closer examination it is alive with mosses, lichens and ground-hugging shrubs. North of the Horn in the Beagle Channel, more life braves the icy cold: albatrosses and fulmars cruising above flightless steamer ducks, beech trees splayed and bent over by the wind, condors soaring over the mountains, green parrots screeching in the forests, basking sea lions, and humpback whales and orcas cavorting in the channel. These high latitudes are a refuge, a place of solitude.
Kate likes that — and the other Horners she meets who are drawn to its extremes.
You can follow the Lairds at www.expeditionsail.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.