The Blog

Cape Horn, 56°South

11 December 2016
By: Lewis Pugh
Category: Antarctica, Cape Horn, Conservation, Expeditions, Oceans, Swimming
Comments: 6

Your Comments:

  1. Robin brooks marine painter
    December 11, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    This is an amazing thing to have done.what courage and endurance,very well done I never thourt I should live to see such an astonishing thing to swim around the most famous and natoreas cape in the history of the sea. I have read so much in the extant record of the sailing ship pereord of the seas and dangers of this place and you just same around it

  2. Marilyn Barry
    December 12, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Well done Lewis Pugh and support team. Mission accomplished in heroic style!!

  3. Ferit Karaerkek
    December 14, 2016 at 7:24 am

    What a wonderfull struggle I have ever seen. This is a interesting story!!! Good luck for evey single day.

  4. Tomonori
    February 12, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Nice to meet you from Japan!
    I thought this swimming like fiction.
    I read article about canal swimming .
    I felt some passion.
    But this swimming is terrible for me.
    I want to feel you courageous .

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Yesterday I wrote about failure. Today we experienced it. And yes, there were lessons learned.

Lesson one: avoid multiple mission objectives.

That’s not always easy, when you find yourself in a spectacular part of the world, with an ace photographer and the kind of weather conditions that come about less than once in a blue moon.

Today we found ourselves at Cape Horn, infamous site of shipwrecks that claimed so many brave sailors as they tried to round South America’s tip. There is a church at the top of the promontory where sailors can still petition their protectors to send favourable conditions.

And today our prayers were answered.

The wind was light, the swell was gentle, the air and water temperature both a comfortable 7°C. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions in which to swim around Cape Horn.1

The plan was to complete a one kilometre swim around the famous landmark, and take photographs at the same time. Two mission objectives that should have both been achievable.

The conditions may have been about as benign as you get at Cape Horn, but that didn’t mean there weren’t challenges. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet here, so the sea churns with competing currents. That makes it hard for me to see where I’m going.

It also creates an upwelling of nutrients, which makes the sea life incredibly rich. This is a wonderful thing. When you’re in the water it’s literally bubbling with life.3

We could also hear some large sea lions barking from the rocks. I had a close call some years ago with a sea lion at Campbell Island, and I’m not keen to repeat the experience. So photographer Kelvin Trautman, who was in the water with me, kept an eye out for hungry seals – joking that at least he had a drysuit on, and a camera to ward them off with if needs be!

As always, he got the great shots. I swam back to the support boat, and returned to the ship to warm up.6

It was only after I was back on board and in dry clothes that I was told we had only done an 850m swim. In all the excitement, we’d measured the distance wrong.

I could have shrugged it off and left it at that. The last thing I wanted was to get back into that water. But it’s a matter of integrity. The chance to do a long-distance swim around Cape Horn is a rare privilege, and 850 metres would certainly not qualify.

There was only one thing for it. I had to go out and do the swim again.
We finished the second swim, and regrouped.

Here’s our take-out from today: The bigger the danger, the simpler the operations need to be, and the fewer the mission objectives.

As we head further south, the layers of risk add up. If there had to be a do-over, I’m grateful that it was here at Cape Horn, and in such rare favourable conditions.

And I suppose that when I am an old man it will be fun to say that I once swum around Cape Horn twice – in one day.2

Pics via Kelvin Trautman

Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans