Across the Cape Horn by Sail

Rear Admiral Roberto BENAVENTE

"With the only exception of a young and beautiful woman
nothing is most beautiful than to see a vessel
navigating by sail"


The story that is written as follows deals with an experience lived on board The Frigate Khersones, a floating school of the Technological Sea Institute of Kerch, Ukraine, rented by a Maritime Agency called INMARIS PERESTRIKA SAILING from Hamburg, Germany to perform a voyage from Europe to South America, including the navigation through the oceanic route from Valparaíso to Buenos Aires through the Cape Horn.

The Khersones, was built in Gdansk, Poland in 1989 the last from a series of six twin ships that are kept as floating schools, sailing with around a hundred passengers called on board trainees who financed the trips and allowed to keep the ships in service and their crew members in their work.

I was invited to participate in this voyage because I worked in the planning of this trip to Cape Horn, being asked to serve as Minister of Faith, certifying the legs that the ship had navigated exclusively by sail.


The trip from Valparaíso to Buenos Aires had been programmed considering the navigation from Latitude 50° South in the Pacific at the altitude to Trinidad Channel, until Latitude 50° South in the Atlantic at the altitude of Santa Cruz Port will be done exclusively by sail via Cape Horn. With her 108.6 meters length, 14 meters width, 6.5 meters of draft and a height of 49.5 meters and a sailing surface of 2770 square meters with 26 sails, the frigate Khersones under the command of Captain Mikhail Sukhina with 42 crew members, 64 cadets and 79 trainees, got underway at the dawn of the 17th January 1997 heading towards the WSW in the search of favourable winds reaching Long. 80° West around 300 miles from the coast.

At the altitude of Chiloe, the ship had to face severe bad weather, that took place with much violence through Cape Pilar with winds from the NW with force 8 and 9 and rough sea experiencing tilts up to 35°, with periods of less than 8 seconds.

At sun set of the 26th of January the Khersones sailed South of the Fuegian archipelago, heading towards the Atlantic with long winds of the NW force 7, rough sea from the port side with a speed over 12 knots.

Little after midday we saw from our port side the Ildefonso Islands and there was great expectation on board because we were expected to cross Cape Horn meridian just before the austral sunset.

The distance to the nearest insular coast was about 10 miles. The typical and changing visibility in that area allowed to see once in a while the steep and terrifying cliffs of Hoste Island. In spite of this situation we all trusted that we would be lucky to see the mythical Cape Horn, the principal aim of this part of this trip.

At 18.30 hrs. we heard in the speakers the announcement " Cape Horn at sight" which `produced the running of crew members, cadets and passengers to the upper decks, due to the fact that the traffic for the principal deck had been transitorily prohibited because of the intensity of the waves, which swept this deck, keeping it wet and slippery and to the violent balances of the Khersones.

An improving of the visibility allowed to clear out that the piece of land that we had in front of us was the False Cape Horn, the same that in the old times had caused great loses by making this mistake.


When this situation was cleared we started the preparation to solemnise the crossing , because according with the statistics available, no ship had ever navigated by sail in 40 years from Lat. 50° in the Pacific up to Lat. 50° in the Atlantic and the Khersones had accomplished it from the 24th of January at 0800 hrs. when she crossed the first parallel in longitude 78 07 W.

One officer hoisted at the top of the mast the flag from Ukraine, an horizontal blue strip over a yellow one, which represents the blue of the sky and the important production of wheat in that country, while I hoisted the Chilean flag and the flag of the Chilean Brotherhood of the Captains of Cape Horn at the top of the foremast and Captain Uwe Koch - the representative of INMARIS - hoisted the flag of his company in a halliard of the mainmast. It was 7.15 PM when, from the mist that nearly shadowed the coast, suddenly appeared the impressive silhouette of Cape Horn, still lighted by the afternoon sun. There it was, "loud and clear", the main objective of our trip. We were seeing it - thanks be to God - after travelling almost 1.600 miles to admire its impressive magnitude.

It was 7.40 PM when a radio call to the bridge from a naval plane was heard :" Khersones, Khersones. This is naval 146. My position over Wollaston Islands. Report your current position, course and speed". The answer was immediate and minutes later the Captain of the aircraft reported: " We will overflight you in ten minutes more". This announcement was executed exactly and the CASA 146 overflow the vessel from all imaginable directions.

On board the aeroplane a team of photographers and reporters existed and were contracted by the ship. The flight had been authorised by the superiority of the Chilean Navy and was planned by the Commander in Chief of the 3rd Naval Zone, placed in Punta Arenas.

Half an hour later the pilot of the plane informed that having accomplished his mission he would return to his base. Upon his departure to his base I expressed my gratefulness from Khersones for his mission accomplished and the pilot answered : " We are the ones that we should give thanks to you for the spectacular scenery that we observed. The vessel looks splendid sailing with all her sails to the wind". The distance to Cape Horn was decreasing very rapidly and the cameras consumed rolls and rolls. During that instant something incredible happened: A double rainbow with its left side illuminated the Cape from the port side, extended over the top of the ship crossing her over the masts to the starboard side, leaving the ship in the centre.

It was something extraordinary... incredible... unreal ...something that only the Creator could do in that precise instant.

The happiness, the fortune and the joy to see a so spectacular scenery touched everybody on board driving themselves – in spite of the European moderation – to hug one to each other and there were no few persons that even cried.

Everybody took a picture with the rainbow at the back, with its colourful shape illuminated the Cape. The Captain Koch, after handing his camera to one of the passengers to be taken a photograph insisted " shoot, shoot all the roll, this will never will be seen again!!"

At 21.09 hrs. with the sun still over the horizon, a long whistle was heard, indicating that the ship was crossing exactly the meridian of Cape Horn, with its longitude of 67°16’W. Following this, the Captain of the ship pronounced through the speakers a short speech in his own language, outlining the importance of the mission accomplished, finishing his words with three hoorays for Khersones, which were repeated by the crew members. Immediately afterwards an old Russian song was heard in the speakers from the author Vladimir Vysotskiy who states that the sailing vessels will never disappear and will never be replaced by motor ships. The letter of this song also remembers to the youngsters that when they will be Captains they should never forget that one day they were "sailors of sailing vessels".

After hearing the song, the ship sounded her horn with three long whistles in memory of the 10,000 seamen died in 800 lost ships in their struggle against the elements of Cape Horn and in homage to the all Cap Horniers around the world , keeping respectfully a minute of silence for the people who died, finishing with a short whistle to announce that the honours had concluded.

The ceremony finished when the Captain – along with representative of INMARIS and myself – threw to the sea a beautiful wreath made of manila, made on board by a trainee and a group of cadets, in which in its upper part contained miniatures of the flags of Chile, Ukraine, and Germany 

When the ceremony was over, all the passengers – in its vast majority German- gathered in the superior deck to celebrate their own ritual.

The German tradition establishes that all participants must begin the celebration having a toast in the same glass, and the first drink must be thrown into the water, in memory of RASMUS, a spirit of legend of the sea and the wind, in the gratefulness of all the favours received, imploring favourable winds and a secure navigation, but the second, third and fourth toast with the famous "Stolytchnaya" vodka were drank with no restrictions.

The doctor of the passengers went down to his cabin to bring a bottle of "Proseco", a foamy Italian wine that kept as a "holy bone" for this occasion, a delicious taste that we shared together.

Our course changed NE. We clearly saw the flashing of the Monumental light house of the Cape Horn and by radio we saluted with affect the people of the light house – the guards of our sovereignty in that island – and to the people at PVS (look out men) Wollaston.

The night which was just starting invited to celebrate when we were away from the Cape the weather conditions improved and the heavy sea was reduced and so as the balances.

The Captain Sukhina invited Captain Koch and myself to have supper in his cabin to memorize the unforgettable moments lived in that day and to drink Chilean wine of the best quality for this mission accomplished.

In their flourishing enthusiasm, during the celebration, the trainees modified slightly the old and popular melody of the German Cap Horniers as follow:

Und wir segeln unter’m
regenbogen durch ) it is sang three times
Und wer weiss denn schon
es was doch Kap Hoorn! ) it is sang three times

Its translation would be :
"And we navigated by sail
through a rainbow.
¡And who could believe
that that happened in the Cape Horn!


This and other sea songs of the "old Guard" were heard on board until dawn , when the Khersones – navigating at full sail – sailed towards the Le Maire Straight .

The ship arrived to Buenos Aires the 5th of February at 08.00 hrs., as scheduled.As Minister of Faith, I informed the Chilean Naval Authorities the navigation by sail from the Pacific to the Atlantic. This meritorious voyage was also informed to the Grand Mât, President of the Amicale Internationale Cap-Horniers, A.I.C.H.

The permanent contact of myself as the only Cap Hornier on board with the crew members, cadets and trainees allowed us to show the dynamism and the presence of our brotherhood in all which concerns with the Cape Horn, stating our sovereignty of Chile over that mythical and imposing wall of rock which captures the attention of all seamen around the world.




Valparaíso, October 2001.