January 11, 2008
Cape Horn Is “Not at All a Spiritual Place”
I can’t resist commenting on this remark from one of the yachtsmen in the Barcelona World Race as they approach Cape Horn at the tip of South America. As I write, they are beginning their 60th day of a two-person-crew sailing race around the world, from Barcelona and back again. Here is what Andrew Cape (aka Capey) says (See under “Breaking News” Capey on the Cape...Updated: 10/1/2008 15:37 GMT):
We have about 880 miles to go to Cape Horn which should take a little more than two days, we are making good progress. It’s not at all a spiritual place, and I don’t look forward to it with any meaning but it’s a huge relief just to get the boat heading north.
Cape Horn is the “Everest of Sailing,” capable of serving up the most furious of winds and waves the southern ocean can offer. I suppose if I were within two days of rounding the Cape, deprived of sleep and sailing at the edge of a squally front in 25 to 30 knots of wind, I’d not be in the mental frame to call it a “spiritual place” either. Demonic perhaps. The playground of Tiamat maybe. I have a sense of this. I’ve had epiphanies during mountaineering experiences in which the recliner and the Discovery Channel seemed the more sensible, if not the more "spiritual," choice.
But that’s all a matter of perspective. You can tell a true adventurer. After the night of terror, all he or she remembers is the glory! Read what our friend Jean-Pierre Dick, on the lead boat in the race says after rounding the Cape on January 10:
It was very bumpy and uncomfortable all night along the coast of Chile. There was a lot of wind and a huge sea. The waves were so big that we had the impression of dropping into a big hole every time we went over the peak of a wave.
We are exhausted because we manoeuvred [sic] a lot to get to Cape Horn. Last night, Damian was very excited by the passage of the Horn. This morning, he fell down in his bunk and he’s sleeping very deeply now. I am very tired too but we are both very happy!
It is really nice to cross Cape Horn this morning. It was dark but we saw the Cape and its lights - massive shadow in the dark, a huge Cape. We can see the way back home now, and that is a great feeling. We are going to celebrate this with a taste of some French Champagne for me and some Irish Whiskey for Damian. We have closed the door on the southern ocean.
Good, straightforward writing from a man blogging on the edge.
It fascinates—but doesn’t really surprise—me that Cape is thinking about what is and is not a “spiritual place.” All kinds of questions crowd my mind. Are only favorable conditions “spiritual”? How do you define “spiritual”? Tell me about your experiences of spiritual places in sailing. Will you not call it a “spiritual place” if in two days you have escaped catastrophe? And then there are all sorts of analogies with Christian spirituality that we might explore—the wilderness, the dark night of the soul, and the inescapable presence of God. If you’ve read Endurance, you will recall Shackleton’s palpable sense of a Presence as he sailed with some of his men in a small boat for South Georgia Island.
Finally, why is it that I would like to round the Cape (if I could go with you, Jean-Pierre, an expert sailor, in your state-of-the-art boat)? Perhaps it’s a delusion induced by the fever I’ve been wrestling with today.
I’ve sometimes thought that a book exploring the spiritual dimensions of outdoor adventure (particularly the mountain and sea varieties) would be fascinating. Perhaps we could explore the depths of poetic rhapsody I once heard from a young woman upon summiting The Tooth in the Cascades. On surveying the panorama of snowy peaks, she exclaimed, “This kicks so-o-o-o much butt!” Really. More seriously, to get a sense of the possibilities, read the chapters by Plantinga and Suppe in Philosophers Who Believe.
I do think that if I could get this book past our publishing committee, I would have rounded the “Cape Horn of Editorial Persuasion”! What do you say? Shall I give it a try?