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The Corner that Had to Be Turned

Conditions off Cape Hom are awful, in the ancient meaning of the word- inspiring awe and fear beyond the bodily kind.

Howling gales, “Cape Hom snorters,” spring up at short notice from the westward, the direction the Atlantic sailor has to go to get around the Hom.

This makes the going extremely tough for sailing ships, which have to sail in zigzag tacks against a head wind, like a skier going up a steep mountain.

The suddenness of change in the weather adds to the diffi- nearby Antarctica, it is a lonely, treacherous and dangerous comer of the ocean world.

But it was a comer that had to be turned. Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914

(and the opening of the Arctic passage by the steel-armored tanker Manhattan in 1969),

it was the only way to get past the long continental barrier of the Americas into the Pacific world.

And the passage was accomplished by tall ships leaning on the wind,

The Corner that Had to Be Turned a long procession of them beginning with Drake’s Golden Hind and petering out only in recent times.

The conditions they met at Cape Hom became the stuff of overnight legend.

The loss of ships and people on this road was heavy, beginning with Drake’s Marigold in 1578,

which went down with all her people within hailing distance of Drake’s own ship, and ending with the loss of the well-found steel-hulled,

radio-equipped Admiral Karpfanger in 1938-also lost with all hands,

but without traceand a countless hostofves sels and people of many nations in between. Several high-tech multi-hulled sailing yachts

 (fortunately equipped with the latest in lifesaving devices) have been lost on this passage in recent years,

The Corner that Had to Be Turned simply overwhelmed by the assault of mountainous, unrelenting seas.

Choosing their weather to make the passage and relying on reports from satellites miles above the battlefield to dodge the worst of it and come through,

other advanced modern yachts have made that passage successfull y in recent years. One of these, the extraordinary French boat Ecureuil (Squirrel),

lowered to 62 days the old sailing ship record of89 days from New York to San Francisco, set by the clipper ship Flying Cloud in 1851 and again in 1854.

But the agile Ecureuil was not burdened with the 2,000-odd tons of cargo it was the Cloud’s mission to deliver.

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