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Celebrating sailing's exclusive clubs and latest Caribbean 600 news

by David Schmidt 1 Mar 08:00 PST March 1, 2023
Mount Everest © anon

Rarified clubs can be a cool thing, especially if the only way in is to earn it. Just ask Reinhold Messner, the famed Italian (he's from the South Tyrol region) mountaineer, who became the first person to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen over the span of 16 years.

Impressively, Messner also made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest (29,031 feet; 8,848 meters), and became the first person to cross Antarctica and Greenland without dogsleds or snowmobiles. To say Messner is an absolute machine is a little bit like saying that Dennis Conner or Russell Coutts know a thing or two about winning the America's Cup.

But while Messner inspired generations of climbers and wannabe mountaineers (your humble scribe counts himself amongst the latter category), the reality is that others have continued to push this envelope.

Case in point: Nirmal Purja's stunning ascents of all 8,000 meter peaks in under seven months. (There's a great movie about Purja's ascent's called "14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible" on Netflix.)

Granted, Purja is no ordinary Western bumbler, the likes of which can be found by the dozen in Kathmandu's Thamel District. The Nepali national served with honor in Nepal's elite Gurkha forces (think Navy SEALs), and he had climbed several 8,000-meter peaks before commencing his jaw-dropping rampage across the Himalaya.

If you happened to see Purja's now-infamous summit photo of Everest, taken in May of 2019, with a long line of climbers waiting to summit, you'll see what I'm getting at. While climbing Mount Everest (or any 8,000-meter peak) is a seriously hard and high-stakes endeavor, many boots have left their prints on the roof of the world. In fact, it's now estimated that over 10,000 climbers have summited Sagarmatha (this being the Nepali name for Mount Everest).

That's a lot of footprints in the snow. Decidedly fewer have painted their wake around the planet.

This is where The International Association of Cape Horners (IACH) is quite unique. In 2020, the organization created a comprehensive list of all solo sailors who have circumnavigated the planet in organized races (such as the Vendee Globe).

To date, only 180 sailors have circumnavigated the planet nonstop via the three great capes (while I didn't count, there could have been that many down jackets in Purja's Mount Everest photo alone).

More recently, the organization created a list of all known circumnavigations involving multiple crewmembers during organized round-the-world races (e.g. the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race), however even this list is limited to some 1,848 brave souls.

While these lists are relatively short compared to Mount Everest's honor roll (I use this term lightly, especially considering Purja's less-than-inspiring image of high-altitude queues), the effort reflects a serious adventure on one side and a serious research project on the other.

"The International Association of Cape Horners applaud the continuing interest in sailing around the world, particularly among Corinthian sailors excited by the opportunities that now arise from events like the 2022 Golden Globe Race, the Global Solo Challenge and Ocean Globe Race for fully crewed yachts starting in 2023," said Ashley Manton, chairman of the IACH, in an official media release.

"These competitors and their professional counterparts taking on the challenge of the 2022 Ocean Race and future Jules Verne record attempts, along with those who choose to cruise around the Globe via Cape Horn, have become the life-blood of our Association, so it is only right that we should honor these achievements with solo and multi-crewed registers."

So, if you're seeking some inspiration for a future adventure, or just share my interest in learning more about the sailors and teams who have pushed sailing's high-adventure envelope, navigate your way to The International Association of Cape Horners' website. You'll see the names of modern heroes, as well as those who engaged this lifestyle long before the days of sat phones, COSPAS-SARSAT, and any real expectation (or hope) of rescue, should things go pear-shaped.

(While I haven't been fortunate enough to have ever spoken with Messner or Purja, I'm positive that both men know something about that particular inner dialog.)

Racing (ballpark) 600 nautical miles across Caribbean brine might not be the same kind of adventure as summiting K2 sans supplemental oxygen or sailing solo around the world in an Ultim trimaran, the RORC's annual Caribbean 600 has entered the ranks as one of the world's great middle-distance races, and it comes with a lot of serious on-the-water competition.

The 2022 edition of this race saw Swan's newest and mightiest supermaxi take line honors, followed by VPLP's most famous monohull design, however the corrected time winner has also been on a bit of a rampage.

Skipper and owner Christopher Sheehan first made international sailing headlines in 2016 when his Warrior Won team won the Newport-Bermuda Race's St. David's Lighthouse Trophy aboard his Xp44.

Since then, Sheehan upgraded to a Pac52, also called Warrior Won, which is sailed by a star-studded crew including Richard Clarke (CAN) and Stu Bannatyne (NZL), both of whom have won the Volvo Ocean Race, and Sheehan's investment in his team has paid off. In 2021, Warrior One took the overall win in the Transpacific Yacht Race, and last the team was announced as the overall winners of the 2022 Caribbean 600.

"It is very humbling when I think about all of the competitors that have worked so hard in this race; I am overwhelmed," said Sheehan in an official race report. "We have been preparing for this race for the last eight months and when I think of the great teams that have won this race, it is just extraordinary."

Sail-World tips our hats to all of these accomplishments, both on the Caribbean 600's short but tactically complex racecourse, and on the greater circumnavigation stage.

As for Messner and Purja, it's fair to say that their accomplishments fall in similar categories of achievement as Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who won the 1968/1969 Golden Globe Race and became the first person to circumnavigate nonstop and unassisted (this took some 312 days), and François Gabart, the winner of the 2012/2013 Vendee Globe and the current record-holder for the fastest solo and nonstop circumnavigation (42 days 16 hours 40 minutes and 35 seconds aboard an Ultim trimaran).

While their accomplishments represent the absolute pinnacle of their respective sports - and of adventure itself - they also serve as inspiration (in the paraphrased words of the great Mark Twain) for the rest of us to occasionally throw off life's bowlines and sail away from life's safe harbors. (Ideally without long, cold, and oxygen-starved queues.)

May the four winds blow you safely home,
David Schmidt

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