It’s 27 degrees outside, and although I yearn to go sailing, it doesn’t seem like the wisest idea. But maybe I should reconsider. After all, on at least one of the occasions Bill and I rounded Cape Horn together, the waterfalls were frozen; so it must have been pretty cold then, too. That day, like many others, we were driven by unknowable forces to leave the couch, break away from our electronics and experience the raw elements.
Several months must pass before the arrival of more pleasant sailing weather. While I wait, I wonder why it is that Washington state features three different Cape Horns, and how it happened that Bill and I sailed around them together.
The first was a cool, foggy morning just east of Cathlamet. My friend Kim and I had endured a windy night at anchor in a nearby slough. We were hoping Bill would join our expedition, but when we couldn’t reach him by VHF or phone, we assumed he had decided not to come. But then, emerging from the morning gloom hovering over the Columbia River, we saw a tiny square sail in the distance. We hooted and hollered when we realized Bill had been hiding in a slough all night too, just farther downstream. As the wind filled in, all three of us bucked the current and rounded the Horn into what became a beautiful, sunny afternoon.
The next time I rounded Cape Horn with Bill was a on blustery December day at the western edge of the Columbia River Gorge. Why didn’t we turn away when we saw the ice on the launch ramp, or the frozen surface of the channel below? No matter the reason, I remember the hide-and-seek fog that finally opened when we reached the Washington shore, revealing Cape Horn’s sheer cliffs rising from the river, a view so grand that we initially failed to notice the turbulent waters suddenly surrounding us. I’ll never be sure whether or not we were in actual danger of capsizing, but I won’t soon forget the jolt of energy required to escape that current.
The last time we rounded the Horn seems ages ago, but it was only last spring. Bill and I were warned to watch for commercial traffic as we rode the tidal current of the “Shelton Shuttle” past the only Cape Horn I’ve heard of in the South Salish Sea. On this day though, the only traffic was us, and the currents produced more of a lazy river than a raging one; we drifted along, rowing and sailing occasionally, but mostly enjoying drifting with the tide through the sedate waters of Hammersley Inlet. I recall shedding layers as the day warmed up pleasantly. Gone were the hats and gloves of the dawn as we rounded that Horn.
Are there more Cape Horns out there? Doubtless there are. The act of rounding of Cape Horn—whether it’s real or a metaphor—represents our will to act and dream, our fears, and the pleasures of a life on the water. Whether we can name those feelings or not, I hope Bill and I round more Cape Horns together in 2017.