THE ORIGINS OF
THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CAPE HORNERS (IACH)

PART 1

A Short History of
The Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers (AICH),
UK Section

In 1937 a group of thirty Frenchmen were present at a banquet in St Malo, Brittany, to honour Professor Georges Delarney who held the Chair of Navigation at St Malo from 1895 to 1910. These men, many of whom were former students of the Professor, had either commanded sailing ships round Cape Horn, or had been members of the crew and who had subsequently attained command in steam.

They there and then formed the "Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers", AICH. Their aims are the same today, "to promote and strengthen the ties of comradeship which bind together in a unique body of men and women who embody the distinction of having sailed round Cape Horn in a commercial sailing vessel, and to keep alive in various ways memories of the stout ships that regularly sailed on voyages of exceptional difficulty and peril, and of the endurance, courage and skill of the sailors who manned them".

The French established various classes of membership, Albatross, who had commanded a sailing ship round Cape Horn; Mollyhawk or Mallamuck, who had served in a sailing ship round Cape Horn and who had subsequently commanded a more modern ship; Cape Pigeon, who had been in a sailing ship round Cape Horn but not directly connected with the handling of the ship, for example, cooks, stewards, stewardesses, tutors, passengers and children of the captain's family who sailed with him. A fourth category was formed to cover a favoured few who had not sailed round Cape Horn but who, in the opinion of the Amicale, had furthered the interests of the Association. These were known as Sympathisers. The president of the AICH was given the title Grand Mat, Main Mast.

In 1938 the first congress was held in St Malo with a greatly increased membership, which was still entirely French. After the Second World War those members who survived held another congress in 1948, again at St Malo. The membership was extended to other countries and the AICH became an international association with affiliated national sections. In 1949 Captain Marcel was the first president of the Belgian Section. A Swedish Section was formed in 1953 and this quickly attracted other Scandinavians. In 1955, after some men had joined the Amicale in France, a German Section was founded in Bremen with Captain Walter von Zatorski as its first Albatross President. This section always had a large membership.

In 1961 the Aland Islands and Finland formed two separate sections and they had the greatest number of Albatrosses, thirty in all. The Mariehamn Congress in 1976 was memorable for the large number of Cape Horners who attended. Also in 1961 the Dutch Section was started, very appropriately as Cape Horn was discovered and named by a Dutch captain. Because of Anno Domini the Norwegian and Dutch Sections became associations while the French and Belgian Sections amalgamated. Denmark formed a section in 1967 and there have been sections formed in North America, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.

But we must go back to August 1957 when Commander Claude Lombard Aubrey Woollard, a retired Royal Navy officer who lived in Poole, Dorset, where he ran the training ship “English Rose”, founded the British Section. He had strong links with St Malo through his training cruises. "It was on one Friday morning early in August 1957 that Commander Woollard formed the British Section of the Cape Horners at "Bealson's Cafe", in Commercial Road, Bournemouth. Commander Woollard was a member of the French Section and he made our rules on the lines of those of the French Section. Having decided to go ahead at this first meeting, which was attended by a small number of local Cape Horners, none of whom are alive today, the Commander “found the addresses of qualified men, wrote to them, and, if they were agreeable, enrolled them!” (1). Captain Alfred George Course who wrote this was member number 9. He was the first editor of our journal "The Cape Horner" from its first issue in 1964 until his death in 1976. "Since that first meeting, a meeting was held, except on public holidays, every Friday morning at 10.30am. When "Bealson's" was closed due to extensions to "Marks and Spencer" next door, the Section continued its meetings at the "Swiss Restaurant" not far away and still in the centre of Bournemouth." (1). Captain Course also wrote, in 1973, that if any member was "in Bournemouth, or near our town, you are welcome to join our Bournemouth members in a coffee meeting. No advance notice is necessary and your wives, relatives and friends will be welcome. Only one wife at a time, please!" (1).

Alan Villiers mentions visiting one of these coffee meetings where he met "eight wonderful old boys, most of them octogenarians except one aged ninety-two, all with the stamp of the sea still upon their open faces, the snap of command in the old blue eyes. The talk was of great ships long gone and ships and shipmates claimed by Davy Jones half a century earlier, the hardness of the brassbounders' life and the astonishing way it worked out. All had been apprentices (one was in hoys and brigantines before that): most had been second mates in sail: all had their master's certificates before they went to steam. They'd been Royal Mail, BI, Union Castle senior masters, Trinity House pilots, surveyors, London dock masters, insurance appraisers - the cream of the profession." (2). Alan Villiers wrote this in 1971 when the British Section was probably near its peak as far as surviving seamen from the early years of the last century are concerned.

The Bournemouth and District Cape Horners also held an "Annual Christmas Luncheon" in the "Spanish Room" of the Pavilion in Westover Road, Bournemouth. At one time twenty-five to thirty members attended with their wives, relatives and friends. By 1976 numbers were diminishing and only nineteen members attended.

There was at one time a Scottish group of Cape Horners who had headquarters in Glasgow but they never seemed to have joined the British Section. As numbers grew, the North West, centred on Liverpool, and the South West, based in Torquay, both had their own area secretaries and events. Captain A.E. Webster set up the Liverpool branch and they initially met in the Missions to Seamen. Later they moved to the palatial surroundings of the Director's dining room of the Ocean Group in India Buildings. Captain Malcolm Glasier arranged this in 1971 on his retirement from business and he was to become a very active president despite increasing ill health. Meetings took place over lunch with about twenty people attending at one time.

Let’s now go back yet again! On November 1st 1957 the first Annual General Meeting was held on board the Headquarters Ship Wellington, home to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. The minutes show that Commander Woollard opened the meeting by introducing Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill as a member and Deputy Master of the Honourable Company by whose courtesy the meeting was held in Wellington. It must be pointed out that the choice of venue was apt as many of the members were also members of the Honourable Company. By now the British Section was some twenty-seven strong and sixteen were present at the meeting. After explaining the aim of the Association the following officers were elected. Lieutenant Commander J.M. Francom, an Honorary Member was elected Honorary Secretary, Captain Treby Heal became our first Chairman and the Vice Chairman was Captain Gates. Commander Woollard took the post of Honorary Treasurer and three other members were elected to form the committee. These were Captains Milne, Cresswell and Martin Lee.

The meeting agreed that the first fifty members should be known as "Founder Members". The subscription was to be split and 70% would go to St Malo as the capitation fee to maintain the AICH Headquarters. It was also agreed that the Honourable Company be approached for permission for the British Section to hold meetings quarterly on Thursdays at 1700 hours. Before the meeting was closed details of the Annual Congress of the Association at St Malo between June 13th and 15th 1958 were given out. The Bournemouth branch was soon joined by one in Adelaide, Australia, and members were joining from all over the world. Within six months the British Section had over one hundred members including several ladies.

 

References:
1. The Cape Horner, vol 4/1 p.3.
2. Villiers, Alan. The war with Cape Horn, p.121-122.