National Geographic : 1948 Jan
'Round the Horn by Submarine BY COMDR. PAUL C. STIMSON, U.S.N. T HE CREW of the Sea Robin watched the sun rise over Cape Horn. "It was a beautiful sunrise," our patrol report notes. "Weather was clear, and Cape Horn was worth coming 5,000 miles to see. The wind was blowing with gale force."* About half the men aboard the submarine were amateur photographers. All were top side, and they went into action to record the event on film. For this moment-8:30 a. m. on June 1, 1947-meant more to us than the end of a 17-hour night. Sea Robin had just become the first U. S. submarine to round the Horn. As a matter of fact, she probably was the first underwater boat of any nation to do so. The few German U-boats that operated in Pacific waters in war years, and the few Jap submarines that appeared in the Atlantic, so far as is known, passed around Cape of Good Hope 21° 38' farther north, on less adventur ous voyages. Gale Sends Crew Below We were very fortunate to see the Cape so clearly. This southernmost point of the South American continent-a steep barren rock which rises 1,391 feet to a sharp summit-is cloaked in fog two days out of every three. Many voyagers around the Horn never see it. But despite our good fortune, most of the volunteer cameramen had their fill of histori cal photography in a few moments. The cold gale sent them scurrying below to the four coffeepots which steamed constantly during this 55-day, 12,500-mile cruise of ours from Balboa, Canal Zone, to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Navy Yard. They learned the reason for the old warning, "Don't spit to wind'ard at Cape Horn" (page 141). We had met with plenty of nasty weather on our way south, even though we were run ning with the storms, and a one-to-two knot current was with us. I have seen rougher weather over short periods of time in the Pa cific, but here it was consistently bad. As we lay to at the Horn and rolled with the strong swell, I recalled the heavy gales and dense fogs we had passed through in the last week. Almost subconsciously my mind turned to thoughts of those early Spanish, Portuguese, Iutch, and English navigators *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPIIIC MAGAZINE, by Alan J. Villiers, "Rounding the Horn in a Wind jammer," February, 1931, "Cape Horn Grain-Ship Race," January, 1933; and "Inside Cape Horn," by Amos Burg, December, 1937. who had sailed these stormy seas more than three centuries ago on their way to the Far East. In their tiny sailing vessels they had gallantly headed into the teeth of those gales, sailing from east to west. The Horn was discovered in 1616 by the Dutch explorer, Willem Schouten. It doesn't resemble a horn in any respect. He named it after his birthplace, Hoorn, in the Netherlands. I also was thinking of the old Nantucket and New Bedford whalers and sealers who came this way early in the 19th century in ships not much bigger than Schouten's, and of the daring skippers of the racing Clippers in the China trade (page 140). I acquired a new and healthier respect for their ability in navigating without charts and modern instruments. Submarine Travel Preferred Compared with theirs, my job was not so bad. To any spot in the world, and that in cludes Cape Horn, I would rather travel in a submarine than in any other vessel. A sub marine rides a storm much better than any other ship. It is true that bridge personnel take a beat ing in rough weather, but lookouts can be re lieved frequently. The crew, snug and warm, rests comfortably below in heaviest weather, and if a storm becomes terrific, you can al ways dive down to calmer waters. The only risk then is in surfacing before the storm abates, because a submarine always goes through a period of instability when it is surfacing. As the sun rose higher and only the hardiest members of the crew remained above deck, we set out again, passing Cape Horn four miles abeam to port. The crew was elated. Now, according to some unsupported legends of which I was un officially advised, it would not be necessary for the men to fasten the top buttons of their coats. Those who wore chin straps, so the story went, had earned the privilege of wear ing them tucked up over their caps. At least they had heard that such special distinctions were their due. Torpedoman John Harrington proudly pro claimed himself the first American submariner to round the Horn, since he was farther for ward in the ship than anyone else (page 142). Our journey had a twofold purpose-to carry out a training program in cold and rough weather, and to promote good will in the South American ports we touched.