Back in the days when sailing ships sailed the old trade routes, Cape Horn was an infamous part of every sailor’s life. Many sailors reached rock-bottom in the harsh weather conditions that prevailed either side of the Drake Passage. Nonetheless sailing around Cape Horn was considered quite an achievement.
In 1933 a group of French sea captains that had all sailed Cape Horn established the Amicale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers (AICH). Their aims remain the same today:
“To promote and strengthen the ties of comradeship which bind together in a unique body of men and women who embody the distinction of having sailed round Cape Horn in a commercial sailing vessel, and to keep alive in various ways memories of the stout ships that regularly sailed on voyages of exceptional difficulty and peril, and of the endurance, courage and skill of the sailors who manned them.”
The Dutch section of AICH welcomes new Cape Horn sailors and honours them with a token certificate of achievement. To be eligible for this certificate one must show perseverance and actively participate in the ship’s watch system for an extended period of time on a sailing ship rounding Cape Horn by sail from 50° South in the Pacific Ocean to 50° South in the Atlantic Ocean (or vice versa). The length of the voyage should be at least 3000 miles under sail alone.
Between October and December 2013 we achieved this minimum. Indeed we achieved a lot more, having sailed all the way from Australia to the Falkland Islands under sail alone. As such we became eligible to join this elusive and exclusive club of Cape Horn sailors.
A sailor that rounds the Horn is entitled to wear a gold loop earring. Tradition has it that this should be worn in the ear that faced the Horn as it was rounded. As such in the typical eastbound passage, like I’ve just completed, the earring should be worn in the left ear. As it happens I’ve already got two earrings in the left ear. Prescient of me one might say!
There are immense privileges to sailors who have rounded the horn. They include being allowed to dine with one foot on the table. If one has rounded the Cape of Good Hope as well then such a sailor would be permitted to put both feet on the table.
In terms of tattoos, one may obtain a tattoo of a fully rigged ship once a true rounding of Cape Horn has been achieved.
And finally, in order to be able to “spit into the wind” one would need to have made three true Cape Horn roundings (NB: I tried with just one rounding under my seaman’s belt; it failed dismally!).
One of the true Cape Horners was Captain James Cook, master of the Endeavour 1766-71 who sailed around the Horn in both directions. Not only could he spit into the wind, rumour has it that he could piss into the wind too!
Returning now to the certificate of achievement; there is one logistical issue to reckon with – one has to collect one’s certificate in the Dutch city of Hoorn in person.
My Cape Horn Certificate awaits my collection. And I can feel another adventure brewing.