International Association Of Cape Horners

International Association Of Cape Horners

I had no knowledge of this fascinating organisation until my husband circumnavigated the world in the last Global Challenge RoundTheWorld Yacht Race of 2004/5. It is a very exclusive association. Only sailors who have rounded Cape Horn as part of a nonstop passage under sail of at least 3000 nautical miles are eligible and their course must have passed through latitude fifty degrees south in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Cape Horn

The rounding of Cape Horn is sometimes referred to as the Mount Everest of sailing and it is believed that fewer people now qualify for full membership of the IACH than climb to the top of Everest. The Cape is located at 055 067 and is named after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands, although English speaking sailors refer to it as The Horn. It is the southernmost headland of the Tierra Del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile and is located on the small island named Hornos in the Hermite Islands group. It marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage, the strait between South America and Antarctica, which for many years was used on the clipper route by sailing ships trading around the world. These carried grain, wool and gold from Australia to Europe, traded between Europe and the Far East and travelled between the coasts of the United States via the Horn. The area, however, is a particularly hazardous one, due to strong winds and currents, large waves and even icebergs which are prevalent, making it notoriously dangerous for sailors. In 1914 the opening of the Panama Canal greatly reduced the need for vessels to round the Horn but by the late 1960s it had become one of the major challenges in yachting. Recreational sailors continue to use this route, often as part of a circumnavigation of the globe.

The climate in the area is generally cool with an average annual temperature of around 5.2 an annual rainfall of 1356.9mm, winds averaging 30 kilometres per hour and squalls of over 100 kilometres per hour. There is no dry season, just 278 days of rain and 70 days of snow. Wind conditions are generally severe, particularly in winter and even in summer months the wind can be gale force for up to 5% of the time with very poor visibility. If you compare it with other well known capes, Cape Agulhas on the southern tip of Africa is 35 and Stewart Island at the south tip of New Zealand is 47 In latitudes below 40 the prevailing winds blowing from west to east are almost uninterrupted by land, giving rise to the roaring forties, furious fifties and screaming sixties. Rounding the Horn requires yachts to sail through the path of these fierce winds which are further exacerbated at the Horn by the funnelling effect of the Andes and the Antarctic Peninsula which channel the winds into the Drake Passage.

The strong winds give rise to huge waves, attaining enormous size in the Southern Ocean, uninterrupted as they are by land. At the Horn they encounter an area of relatively shallow water to the south, which makes the waves shorter and steeper, increasing the danger for yachts. A further increase of height can be caused if an easterly wind encounters the strong eastward current through the Drake Passage and on top of this there is always the danger of frequent rogue waves which sometimes reach heights of 30 metres, about the height of a 10 story building. The winds and currents create particular problems for vessels attempting an east to west passage. It was particularly difficult for traditional sailing ships, which had problems making headway against the wind. Modern sailing boats are more efficient to windward and can reliably make a westward passage of the Horn, as competitors in the Global Challenge Race have proved.

Ice is always a potential hazard below 40 and icebergs are always a risk in the area especially in August.


This was the precursor of the IACH, set up in 1936 by a group of French sailing ship Master Mariners. They had all commanded square rigged sailing ships round the Horn or had been members of the crew and had later attained command and their aims were to promote and strengthen the ties of comradeship which bonded these unique sailors and to recognise their skill and courage. They called their organisation the Amic