Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands Expedition 2009

by Marcus Demuth

Marcus completed the first solo circumnavigation of the Flakland Islands on January 26th 2009.

Trip Statistics:

Duration: 22 Days, with 4 days off (Jan 5th to Jan 26th, 2009)

Distance covered: 639 Miles

Average Mileage/Paddling Day: 35.5 Miles

Average Mileage/Day: 29.1 Miles

Capizes: One

Gelcoat Repairs: 4

Impenetrable Tussock Island

Impenetrable Tussock Island (c) Marcus Demuth

Here is Marcus’ account:

I am happy being back in Stanley, after paddling 22 days in strong winds and seas around the Falkland Islands. It was a very hard trip due to many challenges, such as constant high winds, large kelp fields, and some mine fields, which sometimes made landings impossible for many Miles. During some stages of the trip, I had to kayak with 2 charts: The nautical chart and the mine field chart supplied by the British Forces in order to avoid landing on beaches which are still full of mines, placed by the Argentiniens during the Falkland War.

Getting up daily before dawn in order to avoid the strongest winds during the day sometimes required launching through, or landing in, high surf in total darkness. Paddling 20 days into strong headwinds and thick kelp fields, left its toll. In addition to the strong winds, there were so-called ‘Wallies’, a certain kind of katabatic gusts which blow down steep cliffs, then wosh over the water and threw up masses of water up in the air. These Wallies look almost unreal, like an animation, but the gusts and the violence of these wallies were real and violent. Today, I am incredibly tired and feel like if a gang of Manchester United hooligans has beaten me up and then locked me for a week in the trunk of an Italian compact car.

The Capsize

The unhappy moment of the trip was my attempt to cross King George Bay, an appr. 20 Miles, 4-5 hours crossing. The swell from the previous night’s gale was still high on the morning I set out intending to cross King George Bay, but after looking for a good 30 minutes at the sea from 2 different angles and hilltops, I finally decided to attempt the crossing.

Unfortunately, 90 minutes into the crossing, the winds increased again to gale force strength (the wind was measured at 65 Miles/hr. at Roy Cove, appr. 20 Miles away), just like 5-6 hours before, and started to let the top of the waves of the swell break. Before I could decide what to do (turn around, change course, …) a larger wave (15 feet, 20 feet? No idea, it felt huge and very steep), almost vertical in its approach and shape appeared on my left side and made me capsize despite my attempt to brace and lean into it.

I capsized and tried to set up the paddle for a roll, but was unable to get the paddle ‘up’, to set up for my roll. I felt I was still ‘inside’ the wave, and after a few unsuccesful attempts to get the paddle up, I run out of air and wet-exited.

Since I was tethered to my boat as suggested by Nigel Dennis, and used a paddle leash for the first time on a trip, and also tied my spare paddles to the kayak (after my experience in Iceland where I lost my spare paddles in surf), I only lost everything which was stored inside my cockpit: All my water bags and water bottles. And I saw the foam seat flying away (the seat I epoxied in). I was able to get back first on, and then into the kayak, now sitting in the fully flooded cockpit. I was able to pump out the cockpit despite breaking waves going over me and hauling winds by protecting most of the cockpit with the loose sprayskirt. I felt that I had to pump for my life, and yes, the water level in the cockpit went down slowly. I then paddled sitting low in the kayak without a seat – with the luckily onshore blowing gale – towards the next island, Hammock Island, where I stayed for the next 24 hours without any water, which was quite a humbling experience. Until that day, I was never before really thirsty in my life, and unable to get drinking water.

The following early morning I was able to paddle, now sitting on my ThermaRest mattress as kayak seat replacement, to the closest settlement, Roy Cove, where I woke up Dan, the owner of the only remaining inhabited building. A sleepy, but very friendly and helpful Dan provided me with fresh water, filled in 2 empty whiskey bottles, an empty 3 liter cooking oil can, and 2 plastic Coke bottles, and I left with course NW to finally leave behind King George Bay.

The Settlements

The highlights of the trip was to see the amazing wildlife of the Falklands from close-up and to meet the friendly families in the ‘camps’, (farms) on the outer islands, which were usually 3-5 houses, but usually only inhabited by one remaining family. These families knew about my trip through the local paper ‘The Penguin News’ which covered the trip in several editions on its front page. Most families invited me in for tea, cookies, offered a bed to sleep (which I usually declined in order to make more mileage on that day), and offered valuable advice about the next section of coast.

Here an example about the hospitality I experienced in the camps: On my food drop stop on Saunders Island, the 2 local families took care of:

– my chafing (which became more and more a bloody and very painful affair under both arms) by supplying ointments and medication,

– the repair of the kayak’s skeg box with custom made wooden parts, machined on a router

– printed out and laminated more detailed nautical charts for the coast line lying still ahead,

– fed me with 2 dinners,

– offered me their guesthouse for free for 2 nights (I stayed a full day on Saunders Island),

– provided me with 1/2 a rack of lamp for the remainder of the trip,

– etc. … I will stop here, the list would be too long …

I will stay another 2 days here at Kay’s Bed & Breakfast in Stanley, and will then fly out to Saunders Island with a little twin engine FIGAS plane to Biffo, Anthony, Suzan and Dave, where I will stay for a week helping to sort & castrate sheep, something I did for a few hours on my day off on Saunders Island last week, and will then return to NYC mid February.

My thanks go to:

– Suzan and Dave Pole-Evans on Saunders Island

– Biffo and Anthony on Saunders Island

– Deirdre and Gavin Marsh in Fox Bay East

– Dan in Roy Cove

– Robert on Bleaker Island

– Jeanette on West Point Island

– Kay in Stanley

– Nigel Dennis for supplying and shipping the kayak down from Wales to Stanley, and last not least

– kayaker and sailor Leiv Poncet from Beaver Island. Without Leiv’s help and advice, the trip would not have been possible.

Thank you all for your kind help, support and enthusiasm about the trip around your beautiful islands!

As J.F. Kennedy would have said: “I am a Falklander!”


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