Pamir, one of the last commercial sailing Cape Horners

Published in May, 1948, this photo-story about the Pamir, one of the last few sailing cargo ships to round Cape Horn on a regular basis, was written by Alan Villiers and accompanied by photographs taken by Norman McNeill is a remarkable document that describes what must often have been a miserable existence, made bearable, probably, by the camaraderie of the crew and the promise of a landfall.

It also provides a splendid example of how to write seriously salty copy.

I’m grateful to sailing pal, excellent chap and East Coast Pilot co-author Dick Holness for bringing it to my attention.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power this had over the minds of boys and young men of my father’s generation and before…

‘Alone in a world heading into the atomic age, the sailing ship made use of free winds of God without benefit of artifice; and the satisfactions of those who served were deep and real. Every voyage was a challenge; it’s safe achievement a triumph.

‘Beautiful as these ships were, they bred a tough race of men. Crews manhandling their ships across the face of the seas, lived close to Nature. They learned to fight not only for every inch the sailer (sic) made along the road, but for their own existence.

‘In those days men thought nothing of living in forecastles ankle deep in sea water. Intense cold cracked their hands and made tough callouses open, running sores.

‘Nothing could be done about such wounds save to daub them in Stockholm tar. No wonder old-timers boasted that their blood was Stockholm tar, their every hair a rope yarn, their fingers marlin spikes.’

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