Trust the Current: 15 Months & 12,000 Miles from Rhode Island to Cape Horn

Braving 70 knot winds, 20 foot swell, Chilean rachas, and mental boundaries to reach the tip of South America and the dreaded Drakes Passage

Trust the Current: 15 Months & 12,000 Miles from Rhode Island to Cape Horn


Hayden Childs


Hayden Childs


Nikonos V, Sony a7ii


Kodak Portra 400, Ilford HP5

Hayden Childs is a writer, photographer, and wanderer with an educational background in Environmental Science. Based out of Maine, Hayden is currently sailing around Southern Brazil, trying to make it to St. Lucia by June (but that's probably not going to happen).

Street lamps cast bands of yellow light through our blinds as smoke hangs in the air. The two of us laid on our backs in assigned twin beds.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” Eli said as we both stared at the dorm room ceiling, as if an answer was embedded deep in the concrete. “I just wish I could sail away.”

“That sounds pretty cliché, but let me know when you do,” I responded.

In time I finished college, getting the education I was expected to earn. Eli left after a few semesters and began working for a charter company out of Rhode Island. We’d both found ourselves in the steady stream of life, with work and a place to call home. But the question from that night still silently hung in the back of our minds as he turned wrenches and I shingled roofs: What are we doing here?

We hadn’t spoken for almost three years, other than a brief conversation on a chairlift organized by fate on a cold Vermont day. Then in the fall of 2021, I found myself pulled into the trap that plagues so many of us, doom scrolling Instagram for a microdose of dopamine. My thumb stopped suddenly on a picture of a sailboat, posted by my old college roommate.

After a DM and a phone call, a loose plan fell into place. Over the next few months, I squirreled away cash as my employment slowly came to an end, while enduring a painful break up from my partner of three years. Slowly, I shed parts of my life to begin another. It was time to sail away.



12,000 Miles to Go

We foolishly thought we could reach the southernmost tip of South America in a year. Having not yet learned that a schedule while sailing is almost worthless, with weather and mechanical issues having the ultimate say in when and where you stay, the eight-thousand miles between us and our goal seemed feasible. When we decided on Cape Horn, it felt as though our lives had finally found direction.

We left Rhode Island on January 7, 2022, dodging lobster pots in a midnight blizzard, lines frozen and the deck coated in ice. With each degree of latitude lost we began to shed layers. We dove the gin-clear waters of the Bahamas. We gorged on tropical fruit after long days of kiteboarding and surfing in the Dominican Republic.

After the relative breeze of our first leg, Panama threatened to put an end to the trip as time spent in such close quarters came to a head, resulting in a late night fist fight—a first and last for both of us. Our relationship healed as we passed through the Panama Canal and headed south toward Peru. A 20 day sail of monotonous conditions with the same wind, same clouds, and same sea state, then led us to the brink of insanity.

In Peru, Eli’s father Dirck came onboard, an experienced sailor and another helpful hand. We fought against the Humboldt current and the prevailing southerly winds as we zig zagged towards Chile. Now five months behind schedule with 12,000 miles of sailing already behind us, we found ourselves in Puerto Montt, the gateway to Patagonia.




Tierra del Fuego

Patagonia is a true test for sailors. Ever changing currents, constant rain, difficult anchorages, and rachas, intense gusts of wind accelerating over ice caps, are a constant threat to staying afloat. We spent two months passing through the canals with the wind on our stern. It rained nearly every day, rarely stopping for long enough for us to dry out our perpetually damp clothes.

Most sailors who do this passage have a heater onboard to help dry gear and improve life below deck—without that luxury we took the doors off the engine, drying what we could off the heat of the engine block. We were soaked, but content.

Each night we found a new anchorage, dropping the hook and tying three lines to shore, securing ourselves as best we could to combat the gusts which sometimes reached speeds of 70 knots.

We were mostly alone, though a few encounters with other boats left an impression. In a remote fjord, we befriended a scallop diver. Braving the iceberg filled waters, he dove in an inch thick wetsuit, carefully hand selecting each creature from the ocean floor. He asked for a trade—a bottle of pisco left us with a five gallon bucket of scallops. I sat in the cockpit shucking. As the rain pelted the canopy, my hands prying bits of flesh from each shell, I alternated between slurping one raw and saving one for cooking.



When we reached the waters of Tierra del Fuego, the charts became more familiar. The Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel, and the dreaded Drake Passage, all infamous and legendary, lay ahead of us.

Both the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel offer a route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, allowing for a passage free from the rough and perilous seas of the Drake. We headed east into the Strait of Magellan, Patagonia to the north of us and Tierra del Fuego to the south, watching our view of the Pacific shrink as we sailed deeper into the valleys of the strait.

Most days, winds of 30-40 knots propelled us to a new anchorage, each more remote than the last. We spent our free time wandering on land to shake out our sea legs. The thick, almost impenetrable rainforest slowed our momentum, forcing us to take a moment between each step to look around. Below our feet a diversity of mosses grew thick and vibrant, a cushion for each footprint. The lenga, cypress, and coigue trees that surrounded the waters edge, clinging to the steep faces of the fjord, remained silent observers to the explorers that came before. The Selk’Nam, the indigenous of Tierra del Fuego, Magellan, Darwin, and countless others have all passed by the same ancient fauna.

At the foot of glaciers, I felt pangs of guilt. Each turn of the throttle, every plane ride, and each burger, culminated before me in the form of a melting glacier. Each crack of ice released bits of air, untouched and undisturbed for centuries, only to be released into a changed world.



Yacht Club Micalvi

A faint yellow haze hung low in the night sky, growing brighter each night as we approached civilization for the first time in a long time. My excitement for contact with loved ones, telling them I was in fact still alive, was short lived. The person I’d morphed into over the past few weeks—calm, at peace, and present—was immediately disrupted by dings and vibrations in my pocket. Halfway through the Beagle Channel, the waterway is split in two with Ushuaia, Argentina on one side and Puerto Williams, Chile on the other. The Chilean side is less populated. We chose the latter.

Puerto Williams, a town mainly inhabited by members of the Chilean Navy, is home to the Yacht Club Micalvi, a yacht club unlike any other. Boats from all over the world raft up alongside a grounded munitions carrier, prepping for Cape Horn and Antarctic expeditions. Acting as a base camp, the space becomes a maritime United Nations conference. Sailors from various professional and cultural backgrounds help one another with repairs and advice, all in exchange for a few words of conversation, a welcomed payment method after months with the same people.

At that point, we had been running our engine for three weeks with only 3 out of 4 fuel injectors. From the clogged injector, we ran a hose to a bucket below deck, filling our galley with the aroma of diesel fumes. We still had an engine, but could only run it with faith for a few minutes at a time. We heard the navy had forced ships with compromised mechanics to stay in port, sometimes for months at a time, so when we arrived, we decided to keep quiet.

We told an Australian captain about our plan to round Cape Horn, including our mechanical secret. “Ah you’re fuckin’ nuts!” he replied. “Probably be alright though, just get around that rock and get the fuck out of Drakey! Not a place to mess around.”



Around Cape Horn and Through the Drake

When planning a route around Cape Horn and through the Drake Passage, the stretch of ocean between the end of South America and Antarctica, you are often left with two options, no wind or too much. We only had one choice. We were not going to let our engine hold us back. We already made it this far, almost entirely under the spell of wind and canvas, so when a weather forecast seemed to provide a secure passage, we began to prepare.

The passage around Cape Horn began like many others. A confused sea-state with 15 foot swells and 40 knot winds was now becoming a place of comfort. We weaved through tight channels, dodged poorly charted rocks and fields of kelp, and trimmed our sails as the wind changed direction through each valley. Hail pelted our sails, the heavy percussion resonating through the hull. Entering the Drake Passage, the sky began to clear and the wind direction settled into its prevailing westerly pattern, fierce and unimpeded by thousands of miles of open ocean. Somehow exactly what we needed.

"Maybe it’s best to embrace the mystery, understanding the absurdity of being alive..."

With the sun falling into the sea behind us, we passed Cape Horn. Its infamous coast line of jagged cliffs, covered in lichens strong enough to withstand the regular barrage of hurricane force winds, was cast in a golden light. I sat on the leeward side, mesmerized as the blue waves battered the shore, sending walls of white water up its face.

When I left Rhode Island a year and half earlier, I thought that this moment would bring about a revelation. As I sat staring, waiting for some truth to reveal itself, I felt only a great appreciation for the strange life I’ve found myself living. Rounding the sacred and feared rock, I felt a wave of memories: Learning to sail as a child with my mom holding my hand on the worn wood tiller, a feeling of contentment in realizing I was lost in the woods as a teenager, meeting my randomly assigned roommate on the first day of college, a sudden realization of my unwanted domesticity post college, all ran through my mind.

I still can’t answer the question of what I’m doing here. But maybe that’s the beauty of it all. Maybe it’s best to embrace the mystery, understanding the absurdity of being alive, while taking a moment to dip your hand in the water and feel where the current may be taking you.


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Trust the Current: 15 Months & 12,000 Miles from Rhode Island to Cape Horn

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Hayden Childs


Nikonos V, Sony a7ii


Kodak Portra 400, Ilford HP5

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