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Rounding the Horn
Rounding the Horn: Being the Story of Williwaws and Windjammers, Drake, Darwin, Murdered Missionaries and Naked Natives, a Deck's Eye View of Cape Horn

(Dallas Murphy)

Heave away, my hearties!

In 1905 the square-rigged windjammer British Isles spent 72 days trying to pass Cape Horn. She went every way but west. The wind snapped her steel masts, six feet in diameter. Men were maimed; men were flung overboard. It was a wrecked ship and a demoralized crew that finally reached port in Chile, only to find that luckier crews had been there before them and scooped up all the nitrate they'd hoped to load for the voyage home.

In March 2000, Dallas Murphy and a few buddies had a happier cruise aboard a 53-foot sailboat, also made of steel and designed for Antarctic passages. In a day of sunshine and near calm, they dropped anchor off the Horn (which is really a small island, not a cape at all) and got their passports stamped by the obliging navy officer who manned the outpost with his wife and small children.

Murphy went south intending to write a book, and he spun a wonderful story out of his voyage and those who went before. The sentences roll on like a Cape Horn Snorter, one of those weather fronts that literally blow around the world, without land to moderate them. More than once I found myself grinning with pleasure at the wild glory of his prose.

He also takes time to mourn the vanished and once-despised Yahgan, the natives who accommodated themselves to a land so cold and wet that the only way to survive was to go naked. (Clothes would never have dried.) The Yahgan became short of stature and thick of waist; they had no homes but their bark canoes; and they carried a campfire with them wherever they went. Thus the name of their inhospitable home--Tierra del Fuego, Land of Fire--as it was called by the sailors who passed it.

I have a particular interest in this book, because my daughter was the mate and my son-in-law the skipper on Murphy's voyage. But I have no hesitation in recommending it. It's a great read and a wonderful romp through the literature of Rounding the Horn.

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