- Ellis, John
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On Saturday 12 April, the frustratingly light but favourable winds continued and it was party time at the end of the world. John Highmore, cook’s mate, at a few days notice presented a wonderful evening of song, poetry and music to accompany an 18th century dinner on the 18th century messdeck. The menu included the cook’s (Jo Mannington) interpretation of salt beef and potatoes, sauerkraut, ship’s biscuit and plum duff, all washed down with two cans of beer and a little (very little) red wine.
The following Monday saw us making 6 -7 knots, allowing a forecast schedule with Cape Horn on the morrow. In the afternoon we reached the islands of Diego Ramirez, our first landfall since the Antipodes Islands. We passed between the two main islands, Bartolemeo and Gonzalez, that lie 60 miles from Cape Horn and 30 miles further south. Although very rocky, they did have some scrubby bush covering.
On Tuesday 16 April, all hands and all cameras were on deck at 0500 to witness a spectacular sunrise silhouetting Cape Horn. There it was, in sight at last, the goal we never seemed to be achieving, like the Golden Fleece. As we drew closer, at 2 knots, the cameras clicked, the videos whirred and the festivities started. The Bosun (Dougal Herd) led a party left over from New Year’s Eve, blowing hooters and wearing funny hats; Joe McLaughlin wore his tails and bow tie with shorts and sea boots. Everyone wanted his picture taken with Cape Horn in the background.
By 0800 some bubbly (fizz) appeared (and disappeared) and the Captain opened a box of commemorative T-shirts. And yes, the Cape Horn signal station, manned by the Chilean Navy, noticed an unusual vessel to their south. By voice radio we had a laconic call, ‘What ship, call sign, where bound, last port, how many aboard, next port.’ Gerald Collins, OOW, responded and received a very friendly, ‘Fair winds, good sailing.’ We passed about four miles due south of Cape Horn at 0920. Later in the day, we loaded No 1 cannon with a wooden ball and fired it for the camera of Paul Atkins. The range was about 500m.
Cape Horn is on an island of the same name and is at 55º 58’ S, 67º 17’ W. Two Dutchmen, Schouten and Le Maire, named Hoorn Island in 1615 on their voyage seeking an alternative route to the Spice Islands ((Spice Islands – present day Indonesia)). Some references say the name came from their home town, den Hoorn, on the island of Texel and others say it was from one of their ships that was burned out, further north. The island is one of the Hermite Group that, together with the Wollasten Group, forms the Cape Horn National Park, or Parque Nacionales Cabo de Horno to the Chileans. Captain Philip Parker King, RN, an Australian, made the first detailed survey of this coast in HMS Beagle in the 1820s.
The Captain set a course for the Strait of Le Maire between Staten Island and Terra del Fuego. Such a course would have allowed us to pass the Bay of Good Success near the eastern tip of Terra del Fuego. It was here that Captain Cook anchored Endeavour in January 1769 to allow Joseph Banks ashore on a botany expedition and to prepare the ship for the final rounding of Cape Horn on 25 Jan 1769. Coincidentally Cook had fair weather and spread all three masts of sail, and even set the studding sails ((Studding sails (pronounced ‘stuns’ls’) extra sails set outside the square sails of a ship in a fair wind, from spar extensions to the yards (Ibid))).
For the Endeavour replica, the Straits of Le Maire were elusive, as strong westerlies drove the ship eastwards to the south of Staten Island at speeds up to 10 knots. During the passage to Stanley (Falkland Islands) we experienced high winds and sleet and the ship exceeded the previous record for a 24 hours run when we recorded 202 miles. Indeed, we shortened sail to slow down for an early morning arrival in Stanley. Now what happened in Stanley is another story. Just visualize, 56 people in a vessel 30m long stepping ashore for the first time in seven weeks with the bar at the Globe Hotel in Stanley open on National Geographic’s account – for two hours.
A plate at Cape Horn carries this poem:
I am the albatross that awaits you at the end of the Earth,
I am the forgotten soul of the dead sailor who crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world,
But they did not die in the furious waves,
Today they fly on my wings to eternity in the last trough of the Antarctic wind.
We carried Paul Atkins and John Anderson, contracted to film producer, Peter Weir, to shoot footage of the sea that was subsequently used for the storm sequence in Master and Commander. They were also contracted to National Geographic to make a video story of life for us in Endeavour replica.