Tales of rounding the Horn

Eight years ago David Grant rounded the dangerous Cape Horn in a yacht, and the experience awed him. Sailors sometimes report waves of 50- to 60-feet in the area, which is known as one of the windiest spots on earth, Grant said.

"The waves down there are so huge," Grant said. "They break like the sound of an avalanche, like an avalanche of water.

"It is unlike any other place on earth."

But even though Grant has his own compelling account of Cape Horn, he still researched the cape from many other sources for his latest presentation at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum. His lecture on the history and science of the territory that has long menaced sailors opens a biannual series offered by the museum each fall and spring.

Beginning Thursday with Grant's look at the cape, the Nautical Notable series will explore numerous oceanic topics, museum event coordinator Suzanne Lockhart said.

Grant, the former president of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, has become a beloved orator at the museum, Lockhart said.

"His lectures are more like storytelling," Lockhart said. "He'll do months and months of research. We really look forward to this."

Grant often has repeat appearances for his talks, Lockhart said. Seating for his talks filled up immediately, she said.

But now with the museum's move at the end of 2006 from the riverboat off West Coast Highway to the Balboa Fun Zone on the peninsula, seating has nearly doubled, offering 100 seats.

In his 45-minute presentation, Grant will cover topics such as the Drake Passage between the cape and Antarctica.

"From the 1500s to 1913 that was the only way from the Atlantic to the Pacific unless you went the other way around" the globe, and that took much longer, Grant said.

Now, of course, the Panama Canal makes the treacherous trip around the cape unnecessary.

"They did not have the Global Positioning System or radar or radio or anything else," Grant said, adding that sailors were at the mercy of having a visual of either the sun or the moon to navigate. Any cloud cover, or a "lead sky" could send sailors into the rocks, or worse, overboard, he said.

"Everything about the cape is difficult," Grant said. "There is a saying about Cape Horn when they refer to latitudes south of the equator: South of latitude 40, there is no law; south of latitude 50, there is no God."

The cape lies at the 55th parallel.

Cape Horn may be far away from Newport Beach, but it should hold the interest of local sailing enthusiasts, Grant said.

"We're such a water-oriented community. It's a shame not to have some sense of the past — what was and what might be," he said.

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