Conquering the Cape: Local man breaks solo record around Cape Horn

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 9:37 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After overcoming serious health challenges, one New Orleans man set his sights on a voyage many would call impossible.

Ryan Finn just wrapped up a historic 14,000-mile sailing trek which took him through some of the most dangerous seas on earth, while “Conquering the cape.”

It is an idea inconceivable to most; sailing solo across thousands of miles of open ocean, but it’s a lure that a rare few, can’t resist.

Most local sailors are comfortable within the confines of Lake Pontchartrain but others yearn for more like Ryan Finn.

Three months ago he set out on the voyage of a lifetime with one goal in mind.

“It’s funny when you accomplish something that people have doubted and they only tell you about how much they doubted it before you’ve done it,” said Finn.

We caught up with Finn on a friend’s sailboat out of Mandeville, where he was right at home.

Sailing’s in Finn’s blood.

“I grew up sailing all over Lake Pontchartrain. My parents had a cruising boat,” said Finn.

But the lake pales in comparison to the mission he was determined to conquer; a trip from New York to San Francisco...the hard navigating what’s considered the most dangerous passage on earth.

On January 19, the 43-year-old loaded up a light 36-foot sailboat named JZerro. It’s a unique canoe-shaped outrigger, inspired, by South Pacific islanders.

With limited food and supplies, he left New York alone on a voyage many aren’t brave enough to take.

“When I left, it was windy, it was bouncy. The sea state isn’t good in New York.”

First up, he’d have to sail the Atlantic.

“The amount of slamming that the boat was undergoing... it found every weakness in my electrical system possible just from shaking,” said Finn.

Finn ripped a sail too, and had to stop twice for repairs, as he began fielding calls from concerned friends. Continuing the trip meant sailing the notoriously dangerous Cape Horn, on the southern tip of South America.

It’s claimed hundreds of lives, over the centuries.

Finn admits he was apprehensive, but two months ago he decided to commit to rounding the unforgiving Cape Horn passing through the frigid turbulence where two great oceans, the Atlantic, and Pacific, collide just north of Antarctica.

The current, and the winds often created waves in excess of 20 feet... a tall order for Finn, and J Zerro.

“That’s the biggest thing about sailing around Cape Horn, you’re basically bobbing around waiting for storms and escaping the next storm because they’re not far away,” said Finn.

Finn and his extremely light 3000-pound boat were often tossed like a cork.

“You really have the feeling that you’re in the dragon’s den. You’re just a little thing and there’s a big beast in there. You were in their lair and you’ve got to get out,” said Finn.

He went weeks without seeing another vessel, but finally... in the dark of night... he rounded the horn, not far from the lighthouse of a Chilean navy station, marking Cape Horn.

That began the final leg of a 14,000-mile voyage up the west coast of South, Central, and North America to San Francisco bay.

He did it in record time.

“This was definitely the fastest boat under 40 feet to sail from New York to San Francisco and the fastest one single-handed.’

Food supplies wearing thin, Finn couldn‘t wait to celebrate.

“I definitely wanted a cheeseburger and some french fries,” said Finn.

Though the 74-day mission was grueling, it wasn’t the worst ordeal Finn’s ever endured. There was another ordeal... that pressed him to take on such a dangerous voyage.

“When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s what got me to where I am now with sailing,” Finn said.

Finn‘s cancer treatments took him from New Orleans to Stanford University in California.

For him... the completion of his journey on his sailboat... was symbolic.

“The biggest part of it was closing a circle for me,” said Finn, who says he learned a lot on this epic trip, about sailing and himself.

“Life is short, don’t take any of it for granted...I can assure you everyone says you’re gonna die sailing the wrong way east to west and I said it’s not scarier than waiting for cancer results,” Finn said.

In fact, Finn says he’s now planning to do it again, in search of the overall solo sailing speed record, in a journey he calls ‘Two oceans, one rock.’

“I have now experienced it so if I did it again, I would be much more prepared for the unexpected,” said Finn.

Sailing a journey in a battle to squeeze all he can, out of a life, that cancer almost took away.

Ryan Finn is now looking for sponsors for his next attempt at breaking the overall New York to San Francisco solo record. Next time around he would like to sail a larger, more traditional boat, which he says won’t be tossed around like the one he just broke the solo record with, for a boat under 40 feet long.

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