by Oliver Dewar
Leg 3 of the Global Ocean Race will have the fleet rounding Cape Horn, Chile as the make their exit from the Southern Ocean and enter the South Atlantic en route to the finish line in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Class40 Desfaio de Hornos at Cape Horn during the GOR 2008-09
At the longitude of Cape Horn, the boats will pass through the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate. Named after the late Chilean yachtsman and competitor in the inaugural 2008-09 GOR, the first GOR Class40 to round Cape Horn will receive a trophy presented by Felipe’s family and the Chilean skipper’s yacht club, the Cofradía Náutica del Pacífico. The trophy is a replica of the albatross statue installed on Horn Island west of the eastern lighthouse.
Thursday 19 March 2009 was a landmark day for Chilean yachtsmen. At 00:50 UTC, two of the country’s offshore sailors, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz, raced around Cape Horn leading the fleet in the 2008-09 Global Ocean Race on their Class40, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, during Leg 3 from Wellington, New Zealand, to Brazil. Cubillos and Muñoz sailed straight into the record books as the first Chileans to race around their country’s southernmost outpost during a circumnavigation; the first modern, 40ft yacht to race around the bottom of the globe and the first Class40 to take on the Southern Ocean and reach 56°S, gaining the duo a sporting status in Chile usually reserved for football stars.
Following the GOR 2008-09, 49 year-old Felipe Cubillos became a driving force behind Desafío Levantemos Chile (Rise up Chile) – a charity involved with the reconstruction of Chile following the tsunami and earthquake in February 2010. On Friday 2 September last year, the sailor, entrepreneur and philanthropist was part of group of 21 passengers and crew on a CASA C-212 Chilean Air Force (FACH) plane heading from Santiago to Robinson Crusoe island, 365 miles off the Chilean coast, for an official ceremony to celebrate the completion of reconstruction following the national disaster.
On its final approach, the plane disappeared off the radar. Strong winds were reported in the area and may have been the cause for the plane’s disappearance.
The Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate Trophy - a replica of the albatross statue located at Cape Horn
Rescue teams including a Hercules C-130 and various Chilean Navy ships were sent to the missing plane’s last known position immediately, but as bodies were recovered by the island’s fishermen and the rescue force, it soon became clear that there would be no survivors from the flight. The Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, described the tragedy as ‘a very hard blow for our country’ and subsequently declared two days of national mourning in Chile.
Felipe Cubillos Sigall (1962-2011) epitomised the spirit of offshore racing. Shortly before rounding Cape Horn in 2009, Desafio Cabo de Hornos passed three miles south of the Islas Ildefonso: nine jagged, uninhabited and unlit stacks of rock at the western entrance to Drake Passage.
Immediately, Cubillos fired off an email to the rest of the GOR fleet: 'Please take care of these rocks,' he warned. 'They are north of our current position, but my impression is that they are a little bit south of the position marked on the chart and they’re unlit.'
Three hours later, a Chilean Navy P-111 spotter-plane buzzed Desafio Cabo de Hornos and with the light beginning to fade at 56°S, Felipe Cubillos sent a final message before rounding the cape: 'I have an important message to deliver,' he wrote. 'Everyone can fulfill their dreams if they apply passion and determination. If you can overcome pessimism, self-doubt and triumph over the fear of failure, it is worth it as the prize at the end is immense,' explained Cubillos.
'For me – and possibly many of you – it is our reason for living. Each of us has a personal Cape Horn: it’s a matter of locating this goal and then heading straight for it. In a few hours we will be at the cape and we can hoist our country’s flag and shout viva Chile!'
Cape Horn's eastern lighthouse
The non-points scoring gate at Cape Horn will be a perpetual memorial to Felipe Cubillos in future GORs and was an initiative by the GOR Race Organisation and Felipe’s yacht club, the Cofradía Náutica del Pacífico in Algarrobo, Chile; a club founded in the late 1970s by a group of Chilean yachtsmen including Felipe’s father, Hernan Cubillos Sallato; a former Chilean Navy officer, businessman, politician, Chile’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the son of a Chilean Admiral. The trophy will be presented to the winning GOR team during the Leg 3 stopover in Punta del Este, Uruguay, and is a replica of the steel albatross statue installed on Horn Island.
The installation of the statue at Cape Horn was driven by the international group of sailors, the Chilean Section (1987) of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood, the 'Cape Horniers', originally formed in France in the early 1937, as a memorial to sailors who have lost their lives fighting the elements in the Southern Ocean.
With the full support of the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Navy and funded through donations from Chilean businesses, 120 tons of material were transported to Cape Horn by the navy and on a 6 X 6 metre concrete base, the steel statue by the Chilean sculptor, José Balcells, was erected in the soggy peat bog between the two lighthouses on the island, near to the small Stella Maris chapel and a monument to The Unknown Sailor.
The first GOR Class40 through the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate will be presented with a stunning replica of the albatross statue sculpted by Antonio Balcells Aguirre, the son of the original statue’s sculptor. The winning team will also receive a copy of Pasión de Navegantes ; the exquisite book written by Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz describing the momentous adventures and experiences of the GOR 2008-09.
Josh Hall, Race Director of the GOR, has lasting memories of the popular and charismatic Chilean sailor: 'Felipe made an impact on everyone he met and it was our great privilege to spend nine months with him as he lapped the planet, chasing and catching his dreams, during the last GOR,' says Hall. 'We miss him hugely,' he adds.
'His massive sailing achievements were to be dwarfed by his passion, leadership and drive to rebuild a Chile devastated by natural disaster and his untimely, tragic passing is a keenly felt loss to us, his colleagues, his friends, his family and his country,' confirms Hall. 'From every generation rises a character of exceptional quality and true grit – cometh the hour, cometh the man. Felipe was such a character. It is our honour to host this trophy on behalf of his nation – it will be an inspiration to all, as the man himself was. Thank you Felipe.'
Close to the albatross statue is text by the Chilean poet, Sarah Vial:
I am the albatross that awaits at the end of the world. I am the forgotten soul of the sailors lost, rounding Cape Horn from all the seas of the world. But die they did not in the fierce waves, for today towards eternity, in my wings they soar, in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds.
Global Ocean Race website