Rounding the Horn

As I write this Brad Van Liew, sailing in the Velux 5 Oceans race, is about 100 miles from rounding Cape Horn. I don’t know if there is a delay on the raceviewer so he might have done it by now. This will be his third time. Last week I read William Pinkney’s account of his solo circumnavigation in his book As Long as It Takes. Mr. Pinkney was the first African-American to sail solo around the world. His trip took him past Cape Horn as well. Numerous other sailors have also made the treacherous journey from 16-year old Abby Sunderland to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to Bernard Moitessier. The famous and not famous braved the winds, currents and icebergs to earn the right to wear the gold earring.

Cape Horn (“The Horn”), at the tip of southern Chile, was once part of the clipper trade route until the Panama Canal was completed in 1914. It is one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world and many ships have been lost. Southern Ocean winds generally blow uninterrupted from west to east for most of the trip making it a difficult course for sailboats. These days the route around Cape Horn is mostly used by sailors who want the mental and physical challenge.

Kent Island Narrows is no Cape Horn but for all our trepidation and planning for our first sail through the narrow channel on the Chesapeake Bay, it might as well be. I have sailed through it once, but on someone else’s sailboat. The Kent Island Narrows area to the north begins with a narrow channel leading from the Chester River. The channel is only about 60 feet across and is known to silt just where your boat needs to sail. The water depth on either side of the channel averages about 3 feet. Halcyon’s draft is 5’3” so moving out of the channel to avoid another boat or obstacle is not an option. That is the first challenge.

The next challenge is the bascule bridge on old Route 50. The bridge only opens at certain times. If a boat arrives too early it has to wait in a relatively small area that may be crowded depending on the time of year and the amount of traffic. If you miss the last opening of the day, well, you’re screwed. When fully opened, the bridge leaves just enough space for a single mast to travel through. Traffic in each direction must travel single file. Boats moving with the current have the right of way but probably only about one in four people know this. The current is swift and so are the knuckleheads who don’t care about anything but their own boat.

We can only plan carefully and hope for the best. We’ll leave Rock Hall so that we travel through at the beginning of the outgoing tide. This should give us a little more than one foot more under our keel and also get us there way before the lunchtime crowds start heading to the numerous marina restaurants and bars on the south side. We read the cruising guides, studied the chart, checked the tide schedule, and talked to our slip neighbors who have made the trip (and grounded in the channel) numerous times.

Alternatively we could take the “Panama Canal” route out into the Bay and around the outside of Kent Island. The route is longer and safer…and less challenging. If there is a Kent Island Narrows gold earring, we want it.

Kent Island Narrows Chart


One Response to “Rounding the Horn”

  1. Mel Mason Says:

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    Mel Mason

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