"Behind the Lens" Part 36 Cape Horn

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Published 13:09 on 15 May 2020

I have been fortunate to sail around Cape Horn a few times on various Whitbread yachts but one of the most interesting and challenging gigs has been photographing the Whitbread/Volvo boats rounding Cape Horn.

In the 97/98 race it was still the Whitbread and I worked alongside Andrew Preece, Richard Simonds, and Eric, we worked from a Chillean Navy aircraft out of Puerto Williams. Nikon lent me a very early prototype Nikon/Kodak digital camera and we carried a full size Satcom A terminal all the way to Puerto Williams.In 2002 with George Johns and Steve Ancsell we worked again with chartered aircraft. Filming and shooting from fixed wing aircraft is always a compromise but in those days there were no civilian helicopters in the area.

By 2015 that had changed, working alongside Matt Conner and Ricky Deppe we had the Volvo resources and budget to charter a newly operating helicopter out of Punta Arenas in the Magellan Straits and it fly over the mountain divide into the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams. In Puerto Williams we waited for the boats to get in range, then flew to the Cape. Sounds simple but the weather and darkness are big factors to work around.If the boats rounded in the dark we would get nothing, if it was too windy to fly we would get nothing.Fuel is also the constant issue in a helicopter, they can only fly about three hours before they need to land and refuel, but down south there are no refuelling places so we carried drums of Jet A1 fuel in the cabin and in the hold of the heli. Matt and I were literally sitting with a drum each side of use!Researching the pictures for this set I found most shots were of us refuelling the heli!

We had permission to land on Cape Horn which was a great privilege, we removed the drums and sent the helicopter back for more fuel while we met the lighthouse keeper and his family.There is a small chapel next to the lighthouse and I left a Remembrance book to Magnus Olsson there.It was quiet a moving experience.

The heli returned and we refuelled ourselves as a rain squall passed but the timing was perfect; Alvi Medica rounded first then Abu Dhabi, we landed and while the others refuelled I sent the first photographs back to Race HQ via an Inmarsat BGAN portable transmitter. Technology had really changed. On the next sortie we picked up Brunel and Mapfre racing neck and neck after 6000 miles of sailing.It was only around 20 knots but there was a steep swell and just as we rounded the stern of Brunel she picked up on a wave and stated surfing down it, with a triple head rig she was fully loaded up and created a massive amount of spray over the deck.We landed again on the Cape and again refuelled, I sent the pictures and we said our thanks and goodbyes to the Lighthouse Keeper and his family and returned to Puerto Williams.

In the end it all aligned, the boats rounded in daylight in good conditions, if they had been an hour earlier then we cold not of flown, too dark.If they rounded 6 hours later we could have not flown, too wet and windy, it was that tight.The weather shut down that evening and there was snow on the ground the next day!We had a bumpy, slightly stressful ride back to Punta Arenas in low viz with rain and snow.Due to the altitude there is only one place the helicopter can cross the mountain range and its called Valle de la Muerte, "the Valley of Death".

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Last updated 18:52 on 2 October 2023

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