Cape Horners

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1 Originally the American square-rigged ships which during the 19th century ran regularly from the east to the west coast of America around Cape Horn. Comparatively few ships made this passage before 1847, but the discovery of gold in California in that year gave rise to the famous Californian clipper ships which instituted a regular service. Commanded for the most part by hard-case captains and ‘bucko’ mates, they set many records and were driven unmercifully through the huge seas south of the Horn, frequently with loss of lives and spars. This merciless driving quickly ‘broke the heart’ of these magnificent ships and few survived for more than five years at the most. The building of a railway across the Isthmus of Panama in 1857 was the signal for their decline and ultimate withdrawal from this trade.

By extension, the term Cape Horner has also been applied to all big sailing ships which regularly used the Cape Horn route, particularly those carrying cargo from Europe or Africa westwards to South American ports around the Horn and returning eastwards with grain, nitrates, guano, or hides. This was a regular trade until well into the first decades of the 20th century, but was virtually killed off by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

2 Those who belonged to an association, Amicale Internationale des Captaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers (AICH), and who now belong to its latter-day equivalent, the International Association of Cape Horners (IACH). The AICH was founded at Saint-Malo, France, in 1937 for men who had sailed round Cape Horn in commercial square-riggers, as the founders wished to honour Professor Georges Delarney, who had held the Chair of Navigation at Saint-Malo, 1895–1910, under whom they had all studied. After the Second World War (1939–45) membership was extended to other countries and the association became an international one with affiliated national sections. The British one, which included Alan Villiers, was formed in 1957, though the last commercial square-rigger to round the Horn had been the Pamir in July 1949. However, with the introduction of round-the-world yacht races (see yachting: round-the-world competitions), the British section decided in 1973 to introduce a new category of membership, yacht members. In 1996 AICH decided not to accept this category and the British section therefore founded the IACH, which incorporated its original British AICH members. With the gradual passing of its original members, the AICH decided in May 2003 to lower its flag, but the IACH continues the traditions of the original association.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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