Virginia Davis

Sailing the Southern Seas

virginiaOn Tuesday 29th October, my childhood friend Steph and I joined the Tecla, a 100 years old Dutch gaff ketch, in Auckland, New Zealand to fulfil an old dream : sailing round the mighty Cape Horn! Gentle sailing weather took us to the Chatham Islands, 700 miles to the south, where we spent two nights at anchor getting ready for our next passage, along with two other Dutch Tall Ships, The Europa and the Oosterschelde. On 8th November, we set off on the voyage of a lifetime. We were in the White Watch from 04.00-08.00 and 16.00-20.00 every day, helping steer the boat and man the heavy sails. The highlight of our day was usually the 6am bowl of warm porridge on deck, it was that cold!

Albatrosses became our friends, swooping around the boat and landing in our wake before taking off again. Beautiful hourglass dolphins came and played in the bow wave, pilot whales swam astern, we spotted a sperm whale and even a pod of killer whales. We sailed mostly downwind in strong NW to SW winds, climbing up then surfing down liquid mountains. Tecla rode big waves beautifully, much to our relief. On 3rd December at 03.30, everyone came on deck, battered by rain and heavy wind, as we rounded the Horn flying at 9 knots under storm jib alone. A bottle of rum and a bar of Toblerone made the rounds!

Once into the South Atlantic, the weather deteriorated and we had to hove to for the next 36hrs before heading North to the 50° South meridian and then gybing on a course to the Falkland Islands. To qualify for our Cape Horn medals, we had to sail from 50° South in the Pacific to 50° South in the Atlantic, 3,000 miles without using the engine. On 8th December at midnight, we finally entered Stanley harbour in a fitting hail shower after 31 days at sea! We had big celebrations down below well into the night. As daylight broke, we could see Europa swinging at anchor further up the bay against the background of Mount Tumbledown. Oosterschelde caught up with a day later.

We had a fantastic week sailing around the very windy Falkland Islands, picking fresh mussels off the beach and visiting penguin colonies. After an amazing six weeks, it was time to leave our little floating home and rejoin the real world!

Virginia Davis