Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Heading for Cape Horn
It sounded like an express train - roaring as it came. I couldn't warn anybody, couldn't do anything. I just wrapped my arms and legs around the wheel and hung on and the wave broke over me. The force of it avalanched the boat on her beam ends down the face of the wave. We must have fallen 50 or 60 feet I suppose. An incredible amount of water poured over me. I was under water I would think more than six feet.
So reads one of the fascinating stories in a new book. Sydney and Australian dive identity, Peter Fields, is no stranger to keen readers of Australian dive publications. As well as having many articles published over the years in dive publications, Peter has already had at least one book published. This was a co-production with John Riley on their discovery of the wreck of the SS Myola, the most recent shipwreck found in Sydney waters.
Peter had the misfortune of being born in New Zealand (something we never let him forget) and as such, all his early and not so early years were spent in the land of the long white cloud. In 1977 he was a part owner of a properous commercial diving company but he harboured an ambition. This ambition was to sail to the southern-most tip of South America and once there, scuba dive Cape Horn. After selling his share of the business, he set about with two friends, Ron and Bruce, in preparing for a trip across the Pacific. The vessel they planned to use for the voyage was a 47 foot sloop owned by Ron but they all contributed to the setting up of the boat. Peter has now written a book about their experiences on the voyage, Heading for Cape Horn - Sailing - Diving - Discovery.
In late December 1977, the trio set out from Auckland. Of course, this was well before things like GPS and satellite phones were something we all take for granted when out in our boats. The navigating was to be by sextant and dead reckoning, a skill that is now being lost as most switch to using multiple GPS units. While Ron offered to let Peter take responsibility for navigation before the voyage started, he declined as he thought the skipper should navigate and he was not confident that his own navigation skills were up to it. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the owner and skipper of the vessel was not very good at understanding the skill of navigating by sextant. He failed to come to grips with the fact that there are multiple time zones across the World and as you move from one to another, the relative time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT - now called UTC) also changes. The problem was that when he tested this all out in NZ it worked, mainly because NZ is 12 hours different to GMT and he was using NZ time instead of GMT. This, of course, affected the use of the tables used to calculate their location. Even after the skipper recognised he had a problem, he would not accept Peter's advice on what he was doing wrong. This problem was to be the cause of much frustration for Peter and to cause numerous frictions between the skipper and the crew members, not to be resolved till very late on the trip.
The plan was to sail from Auckland to the far southern coast of South America and then down the coast, partly within the protected waters of the system of "canals" and arrive at Cape Horn. As can be imagined, the weather across the Pacific ranged from one extreme to the other. Days of becalment interspersed with days of terror as huge seas pounded the small yacht. Equipment failures were common, with many dangerous feats of heroism carried out to make running repairs in the very rough seas.
This book not only presents Peter's memories of the trip written from the present, it has direct quotes of Peter's thoughts tape recorded while he was on the boat. Some of these were recorded in the quiet of the night while he was the sole person on watch and yet others were recorded immediately after periods of extreme terror. They present a fascinating memoir of the trip, recorded in detail at the time of the event.
The experiences of the trio as they explore the shoreline of Cape Horn and, eventually, arrive at the Cape is something that will amaze readers. I wounder how much of this area has changed over the 25 years since that trip? Does Peter achieve his ambition of diving at the Cape? Yes, but to find out what it was like you will need to get a copy of the book
Heading for Cape Horn is 186 pages with four pages of colour maps and photographs. I can recommend this book for all people interested in adventure.
The book may still be available from Peter. Contact me for his details.
Reviewed by Michael McFadyen. Michael regularly dives with Peter and was responsible for an early edit of the book.