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

In 1936 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.

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

“Up Spinnaker!” – A New Generation on Deck

At the mid point of the last century the great days of the commercial square rigged ship, passaging the oceans in trade without auxiliary power, came to an end. The last ship carrying a potential UK member of AICH was Pamir in 1949. Some of the great ships converted to training ships, Passat and Pamir converted by Germany in 1950, Padua, which became the Russian training ship Kruzenshtern, being another. In 1957 the Pamir was overwhelmed by a mid Atlantic hurricane. This tragic loss serves to remind us that the power of wind and wave cannot always be endured … even by a great square-rigged ship. This was the end of an era – but we still had young men and women with the salt of the ocean in their blood and the spirit of adventure in their genes and a new age of Cape Horn began.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s non-stop single handed 1968/9 circumnavigation in Suhaili had all the elements, which make up the spirit of Cape Horners and he was invited to join the UK section. As he was also a master mariner, he became a full member. Others like Sir Alec Rose were to follow him. The President at that time was Captain Malcolm Glazier. Malcolm had run away to sea at the age of thirteen and, in later life, was a frequent crew/guest aboard a racing yacht owned by a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. This dual experience put him in a position to be able to evaluate the credentials of yachtsmen who raced across the Southern Ocean. It was his firm view that although the skills and demands (particularly of work aloft) might be different, the courage and determination required of the individual were very similar.

In 1971 two yachting journalists proposed a yacht race around the world; the race to be fully crewed under Royal Ocean Racing Club handicap rules. The brewing company Whitbread became the event sponsor and the race was organised by the Royal Naval Sailing Association (RNSA). Thus was born the first race around the world for fully crewed yachts, the ‘Whitbread Round The World Race’. The race started on 8th September, 1973 from Portsmouth, England with a fleet of 17 yachts from France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland and the UK. The race instructions simply required the yachts to pass the 3 Capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) to port and stop at Cape Town, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro.

The potential dangers of the race were emphasised when three crew members drowned in the southern oceans. The great ships which had rounded Cape Horn in trade, of course, had no engines and it was an appropriate link with the past that although the yachts could be fitted with engines, under RORC rules those engines could not be used for propulsion during a race. A total of 19 yachts participated in one or more legs of the race, 14 completed all 4 legs.

The AICH (UK) section met to consider what should be done; could these new generation sailors be considered to be Cape Horners? The answer was no – not in the square rig sense – but in another, and new way, they were. A new category of ‘Yacht Member’ was added to the rules and as the yachts in that first Whitbread Race rounded the Horn, the crews were invited to apply for membership. A new category of ‘Friend of Cape Horners’ was added to the rules at the same time. Two years later (1975/76) the original architects of the first round the world race gained a sponsor and a second race with only one stop, Sydney, sponsored by the Financial Times was managed by the RORC. A by-product of this race, The Clipper Race as it came to be known, was to see if the record time for a circumnavigation London – Sydney – London, set by the three masted square-rigger Patriarch in 1872, could be beaten by a modern yacht. Great Britain II won the race beating the 1872 record by some five days. Two years later again (1977/78) the second RNSA/Whitbread was staged and a regular pattern of races around the world was established. The ‘Yacht Member’ and ‘Friend’ categories were not adopted by AICH and remained unique to AICH (UK), other nationalities crewing in the yacht races being able to join the UK section. Yacht Members did not have voting rights at Congress although part of each subscription was forwarded to AICH annually.

‘The Way Forward.’
We move forward to 1996. By this time, the natural passing of the square-rigger men and the increasing number of new-age events led to a preponderance of Yacht Members in the AICH (UK) Section and the Presidents of the other AICH Sections were approached by UK as to the possibility of changing the rules so as to make the Yacht Member category part of the ‘Amicale’ constitution. The Presidents debated the issue at the 1996 Congress and concluded that … the rules should remain unchanged. There was logic to this; the 1937 constitution of AICH was based upon an inherent agreement that when Congress anticipated it could no longer (so to speak) muster a crew of square-rig Cape Horners to hoist the flag, the flag would be lowered for the last time.

It was also agreed in correspondence after the 1996 congress that if the UK section wished to continue beyond the final flag lowering, it could do so … but not as AICH (UK). The name “Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers” would be laid to rest with the flag.

A committee meeting of AICH (UK) was convened in 1996 at Faversham and a ‘Way Forward’ proposal was drafted. The first step in the way forward was to canvas and collect the views of the UK membership. One hundred and twenty members responded to the questionnaire and unanimously agreed that the UK section of Cape Horners should continue beyond the passing of square-rigged ships and those that sailed in them. This became Rule (b) of the new IACH constitution and the answers to other questions became a manifesto for the committee.

At the founding of the AICH (UK) section back in 1957 it was agreed that it should be known as ‘The International Association of Cape Horners (UK Section)’ abbreviated to (IACH UK), rather than the French ‘Amicale’ and the 1996 ‘Way Forward’ meeting, supported by the questionnaire, decided that there was no reason to change the name. The only minor alteration was to drop the ‘UK Section’ and add ‘Incorporates AICH (UK)’. It was agreed that rounding Cape Horn, as a Cape Horner, should continue to be a sailing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. The IACH rules were framed so that stunts and commercial ventures should not diminish or lower the value of past or future achievements.

Out of respect for the AICH Congress wish to one day finally lower the Amicale flag (which happened in St Malo in May 2003 when the flag was lowered at the end of the final AICH Congress) a new flag and associated regalia was commissioned for IACH. Mark Myers, a past President of the British Society of Marine Artists, designed a logo to an IACH requirement which specified that it should included three primary elements: ‘the past, the present, and the unchanging’. Mark produced a design that depicts: a square-rigged ship, an ocean going yacht … and an albatross. Those elements form the insignia of IACH.

It was agreed, as part of the way-forward concept, that one of the most useful functions of IACH would be to look toward the future … a future when, perhaps, middle-aged one-time shipmates would begin to wonder where their contemporaries had got to and might want to stage a reunion. To this end it was agreed to revitalise the membership list. Questionnaire responses showed that it should include telephone numbers. Keeping this up-to-date is just one of the tasks assigned to the Membership Secretary. It is worth paying the subscription just to have, and be part of, such a ‘who’s who’ of yachting.

The annual supper party (usually) aboard Cutty Sark at Greenwich has become a popular crew reunion venue.

The IACH expects that during the next few years the membership will increase as the IACH attracts new members from all over the world. The IACH inherits the aims of the “Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers”, they are the same as they were back in 1937, except now they apply to yachts and their equally skilled and adventurous crews. The chivalry of Cape Horners should continue far into the future.

Webmaster Note: this account of the second phase of our history was sealed on the uploading of the first edition of this website on 30 June 2003. In that year, our President and two of our Vice President’s had all been members of the original AICH (UK) and had qualified during voyages around Cape Horn in P Line squareriggers. Our 3rd Vice President was a representative of the new yachting generation and had skippered an entry in the first Whitbread race. This section was written by them.

President & Chairman Captain Martin Lee (PASSAT – 3 Jul 1948)
Vice Presidents Earl of Balfour (PAMIR – 20 Oct 1947)
Captain John Hume (PASSAT – Jun 1933 & Mar 1934)
Sir George Vallings (ADVENTURE – 28 Jan 1974)

Should it be deemed appropriate to write a history of the Association since 2003, it would probably be appropriate to add it in the form of a third section to our history rather than amend this section.

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