Posted by Joe Raine at 02/08/2021 09:43:32
(I)t was come. Cape Horn, that tramples beauty into wreck, And crumples steel and smites the strong man dumb.
John Masefield, Rounding the Horn (from the Dauber), 1913
Before the Panama Canal was finished in 1914 ships were forced into a difficult decision if they want to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Would they go North and brave the ice and cold of the Artic Archipelago and the Bering Straits or South and challenge the vicious wind and waves off Cape Horn? Most went South, and as business boomed after the discovery of gold in California in 1847, one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world was born. Captains and their crews would have to brave some of the fiercest winds in the world, huge waves that could roll across the sea unimpeded by land, rogue waves that could reach heights of 30 metres and even icebergs during the freezing Winter months.
New, big, tough square rigged sailing ships were built specially for the route. Ships like Balclutha which carried coal to San Francisco and brought back Californian wheat to Liverpool. Running such a difficult route took its toll, however. Ships wore out quickly and many lives were lost. By 1857 a railway had been built across Panama and the completion of the famous canal pretty much ended to the need to battle round the Horn. The last commercial sailing vessel to do so was the Pamir, carrying Barley for Scotland, in July 1949.
To bring together the few who could say they had performed this perilous endeavour the Amicale Internationale des Captaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers (AICH) was founded by French master mariners in 1937. In order to become a member, you must have rounded Cape Horn under sail as part of a long ocean voyage. Increasingly new members of this exclusive club were recreational sailors taking on the challenge of ‘sailing’s Mount Everest’. Even with modern technology it remains an arduous task and the modern Association of Cape Horners estimates that since Everest was first climbed in 1954, more people have successful climbed the world’s tallest mountain than have qualified for membership.
We believe this plaque, bearing the logo of the original AICH, belonged to Commander Claude Lombard Aubrey Woollard. A highly decorated Royal Navy Officer who ran the girls sailing training ship ‘English Rose’ from Poole and founded the British branch of the AICH in 1957 before later writing a book, ‘The Last of the Cape Horners’.