True Cape Horn Sailors

It is almost this time a year ago that 9 individuals from all over the world were packing their bags for the trip of a lifetime…stuffing the very last pair of pants into the smallest corners, folding and refolding waterproofs to make them fit and last minute panic buying wooly hats. It is around exactly these dates that they checked all their paperwork, put the last touches on birthday and Christmas presents bought way in advance, made sure they had their passports and said their goodbyes to their families and friends. (Note: I must add here that actually 2 of our crazy crew had already done these things and were currently throwing themselves out of aeroplanes in New Zealand…each to their own!)

In short – This time last year nine ordinary people (in the nicest way!) made their way to four very extraordinary people and one, even more fantastically extraordinary, ship to sail over 5000miles across the cold and wild Southern Pacific and round the legendary Cape Horn. And last weekend, a whole year later, 11 out of the 13 of these Cape Horners reunited on the Tecla to be accepted into the Dutch Cape Horners Assocation in a ceremony in the Dutch town of Hoorn and awarded medals and certificates for our achievement.
What a feeling to be back on the ship! We arrived on Saturday 11th to friends, smiles and warm hugs, catching up conversations, old jokes and an amazing atmosphere, it really felt like coming home! We were treated to Jet’s excellent cooking (11 months without it is too long) and immediately fell comfortably back into our old home…with a few exceptions of course (‘look Steph, we’re sleeping in Emmanuels bedroom!!!’)

The official ceremony took place on the Sunday in a very old church of Hoorn and was even attended by the Ambassador of Chile (Chile, it appears, makes some splendid wine!). Each of the three captains of the Europa, Oosterschelde and Tecla gave speeches on their experience of the crossing, accompanied by some excellent pictures and video footage just to remind ourselves of our achievement…or to demonstrate to everyone else how crazy we all really are! Then after more speeches by the association and the major of Hoorn each boat went up in turn to receive their medals. It was great to see such a turnout of the crews of the other ships and we all shared a glass of wine and chatted for hours after a little shanty singing.
It was an amazing day but the standout moment was when 11 Tecla people (with Richard and Sam in our hearts) stood shoulder to shoulder, arms linked round one another and faced the church, the congregation (including loved ones), the town of Hoorn and indeed the rest of the world and felt united in the feeling that only us, these very special people on the stage knew what it was we did, what we saw, how we felt, what it meant for each of us and how, now, we all share an experience which was very unique and which we’ll never forget.

That night we lost a few original crew members but gained a few more from the Europa and the Oosterschelde and set sail for Rotterdam. We had a lovely sail through the IJsselmeer but were held up at a bridge in Amsterdam where we had to stop for the rest of the night. We carried on in the morning, now unfortunately with the wind on the nose in the North Sea and arrived at Rotterdam in the evening to the amazing spectacle that is the Race of the Classics fleet! The feel and movement of the ship with her sails set, three strand rope in our hands, grinding the winches and sitting on top of the wheel box came back to everyone like it was yesterday. At one point the second jib was being expertly folded on deck whilst Gjis and Jan could only look on and conclude ‘they’re doing fine by themselves!’ – it turns out things are a lot easier to do in very calm seas then in the rolling swell of the South!! It was lovely to welcome new people onto the ship and into our little group but we missed the others a lot!

The weekend and Monday went too fast. Already it was Tuesday morning and we had to say goodbye and head back to our lives which have all changed since we did the trip – some in big ways and most in small but significant ways. It was wonderful to receive our medals and certificates in such a ceremony but the real reward that weekend was the opportunity to see everybody and the ship and its wonderful crew again; to be offered a bleary-eyed cup of coffee at breakfast, to laugh around the table at dinner, to encourage each other at the winches, working together on the halyards to hoist the sails, hugs in the cold, gossip over the kitchen radiator, stories at the aft, whispers at bedtime, cold beers making us giggle like it was a Sunday again, memories and stories and more memories and most of all…to see everybody’s smiling face across the deck and feel the ship take us safely away from the land and back to the sea.

So for now, thank you to the Dutch Cape Horners Assocation (Nederlandse Kaap Hoorn Vaarders), the town of Hoorn and the Tecla for a wonderful and memorable weekend and don’t worry-another reunion is in the planning!

Emily Dobson – True Cape Horn Sailor


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