February 2019 Nicholas Gray – Astronauts of Cape Horn


Chipping Norton Yacht Club –

In February author and sailor Nicholas Gray told us about the eleven extraordinary sailors who had rounded Cape Horn alone by the time twelve men had set foot on the moon. Why compare these? In both cases rescue was impossible, and getting home uncertain. When wondering where to look for potential astronauts NASA considered deep-sea divers, circus performers and sailors – before choosing Forces people already on the payroll.

Nicholas took us through pictures of iconic vessels, and steely-eyed men who’d completed this feat, from Al Hansen in 1936 through to Bill King in 1973. In between some of these intrepid heroes are household names (Francis Chichester, Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth) others, like Bernard Moitessier, are known to us sailors, and some even we would have struggled to name.

Nicholas knew many personally and had interviewed others, and had insights to share. Rounding the Horn is scary, with winds and seas creating what for many would be some kind of hell.

One famous astronaut spoke of “a small step for man, one great leap for mankind”. For those who go to sea, rather than space, there’s no greater step than rounding the Horn.