We are in the grips of a real southern ocean storm. The wind is shrieking and the sea is awash in streaks of foam; 25 to 35 foot seas are angry and confused. Seawater is filling the deck when waves break, and tons of water are pouring out through the scuppers, holes in side of the boat designed for this purpose. A couple of crewmembers have almost been washed out into the sea, some having their legs pulled back through the scuppers just in time. This is what we have all come to see and what we have all feared. Storms aren’t fun – things break, boats get overwhelmed and sink, people get hurt and die. As Seth the First Mate said earlier: "Storms are only fun when you talk about them afterwards in the bar." We are near 54 degrees south latitude in the Furious Fifties, a couple of degrees north of where Cape Horn is, and it is right here that most people get into trouble.
For the last 12 hours, we have had all the doors, windows and hatches "dogged-down" which means that thick metal plates have been bolted over them so that breaking seas can’t smash them out and fill the boat. There is only one way up on deck from our racks below, and that is through a tortuous set of metal stairs leading up into the bridge on the raised rear deck. Having just one way in and out of down below does 2 things: it limits the access the sea has to the interior of the boat, and provides a way of accounting for everybody by having us all pass through the same place. The rules have been modified again. Two people on the helm at all times, rotating as often as possible. The lookouts are to be stationed near the helm. Nobody goes forward of the rear deck. Everybody else just stands by and waits for instructions, while staying out of danger.
A saying from an offshore sailing instructor of mine comes back to me: "The thing with storms is that no matter how bad they are, they are almost always gone within 36 hours or so." We are a third of the way through. Even better, I’m on holiday next shift!
In 2002, management consultant and college instructor Rob Duncan sailed as a deckhand on the tall ship Europa on an 8,000 mile voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn. In doing so, Rob joined an exclusive group of fewer than 500 living people to have rounded the Horn on a square-rigged sailing ship. An account of the voyage appeared in Pacific Yachting magazine in 2003. Rob Duncan holds a BA in Economics, an MBA and is a Certified Management Consultant. Through his company, Great Capes Consulting (www.greatcapes.com), Rob offers motivational teambuilding seminars and keynote addresses. When he is not consulting or teaching, Rob can often be found on his own sailboat in the Pacific Northwest.