THE FALK­LANDS

WILD IS­LANDS, WON­DER­FUL PEO­PLE

Cruising World - - Front Page - STORY & PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY MIKE LIT­ZOW

The weather comes through this anchorage in waves. First it’s a scene of sum­mer idyll, the wa­ter and sky purest blue. Then dark clouds gather, mak­ing us won­der if there will be another hail­storm. The wind pauses here for an hour, or half a day, and then it comes again, scream­ing and run­ning from the west.

The two is­lands pro­tect­ing this spot are cov­ered in low heath. Even in De­cem­ber, the mid­dle of South­ern Hemi­sphere sum­mer, the veg­e­ta­tion is strangely the colors of Christ­mas — blood red and conifer green. No trees grow any­where. There are sheep ashore, and cat­tle that run at the sight of us, and pen­guins that bray like don­keys.

My wife, Alisa, mo­tions at the scene around Galac­tic, our 45-foot cut­ter — the thick beds of kelp, the ele­phant seals fight­ing on the beach with their weird moans and growls that carry so far. “Where are we?” she asks, with a kind of help­less amaze­ment.

Alisa knows where we are lit­er­ally, of course. We’re an­chored be­tween Bar­ren and Ge­orge is­lands, on the south side of the Falk­land Is­lands. She’s re­fer­ring to how un­bridge­ably dif­fer­ent this place is from any­where else we’ve been. And I un­der­stand just what she means. This kelp-in­fested, windy, lonely anchorage does a good im­pres­sion of the end of the world.

We’ve been stuck here for days, wait­ing for the west­erly wind to die. There are no other peo­ple around. And we — Alisa and I, and our sons Elias, 9, and Eric, 5 — are as happy as we can be. Be­fore this visit, the Falk­lands were just another place that was in­dis­tinct on my men­tal map of the world, vaguely re­mem­bered from the war be­tween Eng­land and Ar­gentina in the 1980s and in­con­ve­niently lo­cated for a visit by sail­boat. But now that we’re here, we’re dis­cov­er­ing that the Falk­lands are a place from an ear­lier era, when the cruis­ing scene was smaller, sailors vis­it­ing new places had the chance to dis­cover them on their own and lo­cals saw the ar­rival of a cruis­ing boat as an event worth not­ing.

When we first ar­rived at Stan­ley, the cap­i­tal and only town of any real size in the Falk­lands, we rafted up to three other sail­boats tied to the work­ing dock. Th­ese were all char­ter boats, mostly car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers from the Falk­lands to Antarctica or South Ge­or­gia. The Falk­lands have long been an af­ter­thought for vis­it­ing sail­boats — a place to stop af­ter round­ing Cape Horn, or a launch­ing-off place for the far south. Few boats have time, in the short south­ern sum­mer, to ex­plore the Falk­lands them­selves.

But when Galac­tic set out from Stan­ley, we had the month of De­cem­ber in hand to do noth­ing more than sail around the Falk­lands. We left on a day when the wind was ab­sent, and we took the chance to make easy miles to the west with the mo­tor, trav­el­ing along a flat and fea­ture­less coast­line. Look­ing at the chart that day gave me am­ple op­por­tu­nity to con­sider one of the great chal­lenges of Falk­lands sail­ing: the leg­endary kelp. The chart in­di­cated thick beds of kelp ex­tend­ing from ev­ery shore in a pro­fu­sion that seemed like some kind of a joke. A closer look at some of the bays made me won­der where we would even sail, the open wa­ter ap­pear­ing to be so scarce.

But as is the case with so many chal­lenges of the sail­ing life, the kelp turned out to be more trou­ble in the an­tic­i­pa­tion than in the ac­tual event. Kelp floats, af­ter all, and so is easy to avoid. Bet­ter, kelp grows from rocks, so sub­merged dan­gers in the Falk­lands are help­fully marked by fronds of kelp. As we ap­proached our first anchorage of the trip I be­gan think­ing of the kelp beds as a shadow shore­line that was more im­por­tant to nav­i­ga­tion than the ac­tual land, and ev­ery­thing went fine.

The other thing for sailors to get used to in the Falk­lands is the wind. Twenty-five knots of wind just seems like more in the Falk­lands than it does in other places. And the wind of­ten doesn’t sat­isfy it­self with only blow­ing 25. Even af­ter the year we had just spent in Patag­o­nia, the gale that vis­ited our first Falk­lands anchorage was an im­pres­sive thing. The muddy wa­ter of the in­let foamed and slapped around us. Galac­tic swung side to side and heeled over in the gusts. Not for the last time in the Falk­lands, we were quite happy with our large an­chor.

That first blow lasted only for a day. But af­ter we reached Ge­orge and Bar­ren is­lands, the west­er­lies set in as a part of those waves of weather that con­trib­uted to the end-of-the-world im­pres­sion. A half day of fine weather would in­evitably be fol­lowed by another blast of wind — wind that ac­cel­er­ated down the lee­ward slope of the An­des to ram­page across the sea to the Falk­lands.

We were stuck in that anchorage for a week. Th­ese were the Fu­ri­ous 50s of south­ern lat­i­tudes, af­ter all, and we weren’t sur­prised at per­sis­tent strong west­er­lies. Nor were we tempted to cross Falk­land Sound, be­tween East and West Falk­land is­lands, un­til the west wind stopped blow­ing. Our de­ter­mi­na­tion to wait out the weather was helped by the fact that three of

Galac­tic’s lower shrouds had bro­ken strands, cour­tesy of our time in Patag­o­nia and what was, in ret­ro­spect, undersize rig­ging. We had backed up the fail­ing wire with a jury rig to keep the mast in place un­til we could re­turn to Stan­ley to claim the re­place­ment rig­ging that was com­ing from Eng­land on a ship.

We didn’t see another soul for the week that we waited, and that soli­tude made the re­mark­able nat­u­ral his­tory of the place seem like a gift that had been given to our fam­ily alone. Sea lions took ev­ery ap­pear­ance of our dinghy as an in­vi­ta­tion to play and would come charg­ing out from the beach to see which of them could get clos­est to us. We watched ele­phant seals mock fight on the beach from only 30 yards away. Long walks on Bar­ren and Ge­orge is­lands showed us Mag­el­lanic pen­guins bray­ing from their bur­rows and oys­ter­catch­ers try­ing to dis­tract us from their nests. A Johnny rook, the fa­mously mis­chievous hawk of the Falk­lands, swooped down and grabbed Alisa’s hat right from her head.

Vis­i­tors in the Falk­lands should request per­mis­sion be­fore go­ing ashore on re­mote prop­er­ties, and we had been in email con­tact with the May fam­ily, the own­ers of the won­der­ful is­lands we were ram­bling around. When we shifted to Speed­well Is­land, their home is­land, we caught up with the Mays and had our first ex­pe­ri­ence of out-is­land hos­pi­tal­ity. We an­chored off the Speed­well set­tle­ment and went ashore to say hello, and found our­selves sud­denly in their com­fort­able house, hav­ing tea with the ex­tended fam­ily. The only ten­sion, or com­edy, in the mo­ment came with the sar­to­rial tran­si­tion from high-lat­i­tude cruis­ing to sip­ping tea in a stranger’s kitchen. Alisa apol­o­gized for her out­fit as she pulled off her boots and rain gear and found her­self hav­ing tea in her rain­bow-striped long un­der­wear — warm and com­fort­able, no doubt, but not quite the get-up for in­tro­duc­ing your­self.

When the weather turned good, it turned good with a vengeance. A flat-calm day saw Galac­tic mo­tor­ing across Falk­land Sound to Albe­marle, the 40,000acre farm run by the Mays’ son. Here we were again met with

THREE GALAC­TIC’SOF LOWER SHROUDS HAD BRO­KEN STRANDS, COUR­TESY OF OUR TIME IN PATAG­O­NIA AND UNDERSIZE RIG­GING.

IN THE MIDST OF THE WAN­DER­ING THAT WOULD SOON SEE US ON OP­PO­SITE SIDES OF THE EARTH, WE HAD EACH COME TO REST AT THE SAME TIME, IN A SPLEN­DID COR­NER OF THE WORLD.

spon­ta­neous gen­eros­ity and good com­pany. Un­for­tu­nately, we couldn’t stay, as the Falk­lands is no place to waste a fair wind. A day of bril­liant sail­ing took us around the south­ern cor­ner of West Falk­land Is­land, where in­creas­ingly dra­matic sea cliffs shone im­prob­a­bly in the sun. To the boys’ de­light, gen­too pen­guins por­poised next to Galac­tic, and leap­ing Peale’s dol­phins guided us into our anchorage.

The next morn­ing, as we were charg­ing out of the anchorage with a reefed main, we heard a fa­mil­iar voice hail­ing us on the VHF. It was our friend Leiv Pon­cet on Pere­grine, his rugged 37-foot cut­ter, re­turn­ing to his home on Beaver Is­land af­ter a char­ter trip tak­ing bi­ol­o­gists to an al­ba­tross colony. Leiv was our rea­son for vis­it­ing the Falk­lands, and his home on Beaver Is­land, at the far western edge of the group, had been a much-won­dered-about des­ti­na­tion of ours for years. It was a treat to sail to Beaver in com­pany with Leiv, and a rare treat in­deed — he later told us that it was the first time he could re­mem­ber com­ing across another sail­boat out­side of Stan­ley.

While Leiv dropped his pas­sen­gers at nearby New Is­land, we went ashore on Beaver to look around. From a rocky hill­top above the set­tle­ment, we had a clear view of the fas­ci­nat­ing land­scape of the far western Falk­lands. Moor-cov­ered hills were in­ter­spersed with in­ter­lock­ing wa­ter­ways of the clear­est blue. Straight be­low us were the scat­tered build­ings of the set­tle­ment, deeply weath­ered wooden struc­tures out of another era. Hauled up above the high-tide line was the equally weath­ered Damien II, the fa­mous 50-footer that Leiv’s par­ents, Jérôme and Sally, used to pi­o­neer Antarc­tic cruis­ing. A few sheep scam­pered in the fore­ground. And over the en­tire scene … there was si­lence. There were no boats trav­el­ing in the chan­nels, and no roads on the outer is­lands. There was no ev­i­dence of hu­man ac­tiv­ity be­yond the set­tle­ment be­low our feet. Our fam­ily of trav­el­ing Alaskans felt in­stantly at home.

We had met Leiv dur­ing a win­ter Galac­tic and Pere­grine spent in Tasmania. Over shared din­ners we heard sto­ries about his home on Beaver Is­land and the sin­gle­handed South­ern Ocean voy­age that had brought him to Tasmania. Leiv re­minded us of our fa­vorite com­mer­cial fish­er­men in Alaska — peo­ple who are hugely com­pe­tent on the wa­ter, and don’t feel any need to show off about it. Leiv was clearly some­one to lis­ten to when the sub­ject was sail­ing in the global south, and he was an em­i­nently lik­able guy. We hit it off.

When spring came, Leiv set off for home — a non­stop pas­sage from New Zealand to the Falk­lands via Cape Horn. His part­ing words stayed with me, a spell of an in­vi­ta­tion from one sailor to another. “Come to Beaver Is­land,” he said. “I’ll give you all the mut­ton and rein­deer that you can eat. You can dry out along­side our jetty to work on

Galac­tic, and I’ve got an old Perkins 4108 that you can raid for spare parts.” Later that spring we left too, and be­gan to fol­low Leiv, very slowly. It turns out that there are a lot of places be­tween Tasmania and the Falk­lands where it’s worth­while to linger. When we fi­nally reached the Falk­lands, it had been al­most three years since we’d seen Leiv.

Leiv turned out to be a man of his word. The tone for our visit to Beaver was set on the first day, when Leiv ca­su­ally asked our boys if we should go out and shoot a rein­deer. The is­land is home to a herd de­scended from an­i­mals that Nor­we­gian whalers in­tro­duced to South Ge­or­gia Is­land.

The boys were de­lighted to find them­selves in the back of a Land Rover, driv­ing on off-road tracks and look­ing for rein­deer.

Galac­tic has been to any num­ber of places where the boys have been told that they shouldn’t touch this or dis­turb that. Beaver

Is­land is a work­ing farm — unique in that its in­come comes both from sheep and from char­ter sail­boats, Damien II and Jérôme’s more re­cent Golden Fleece. It was a rev­e­la­tion to our boys. Af­ter liv­ing their whole lives on a sail­boat, all their ro­man­tic no­tions of land life were be­ing con­firmed.

That evening on the beach, Leiv grilled us all the mut­ton chops we could eat. He showed Eric and Elias how to catch and cook min­nows from the set­tle­ment creek, and how to pluck the geese that we ate for Christ­mas din­ner. He taught the boys to har­vest the suc­cu­lent hearts of the tus­sac grass that grew on the is­land, and he took them to catch mul­let for the smoke house.

Alisa set up shop in the set­tle­ment kitchen, and she and Leiv started can­ning jar af­ter jar of mut­ton and rein­deer to see Pere­grine and Galac­tic through the long sea miles ahead. While

Galac­tic would soon be off for South Ge­or­gia and South Africa, Leiv would be set­ting off on an epic solo ad­ven­ture to our home waters in Alaska.

Leiv had de­liv­ered on his first prom­ise, and he soon de­liv­ered on the other two. We’d been los­ing a bat­tle with a trou­ble­some hold­ing tank on

Galac­tic, and it was time for it to come out. I hoped I could make the job less noi­some if the boat was out of the wa­ter. So on the day af­ter Christ­mas,

Galac­tic duly tied up on the jetty to go dry on the tide. As a mea­sure of just how im­por­tant scroung­ing and re­cy­cling are when you’re main­tain­ing boats in an out-of-the­way place, con­sider that Leiv gave ev­ery in­di­ca­tion of be­ing happy to put our used hold­ing tank on the Beaver Is­land scrap heap against the day when it might come in handy. In ex­change, he pulled out his old Perkins, the vic­tim of a fire on Pere­grine, and soon valu­able bits of the en­gine were tucked away on Galac­tic.

The time came for us to con­tinue our cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the ar­chi­pel­ago. The south­ern sum­mer would only be so long, and we had plans for the rest of it. We’ve left plenty of is­lands with a bunch of bananas hang­ing from the stern arch, but this was the first time we’d ever left an is­land with a leg of mut­ton hang­ing from the rig­ging — a part­ing gift from Leiv. And we came away with a more mem­o­rable gift. One of the great joys of our life on Galac­tic is the re­mark­able peo­ple whom we’ve been lucky enough to call our friends; the great down­side is the way our con­stant mo­tion means we’ll likely never see most of them again. Our visit to Beaver Is­land was a chance to re­con­nect with a sail­ing friend on his re­mark­able home turf. In the midst of the wan­der­ing that would soon see Pere­grine and Galac­tic on op­po­site sides of the Earth, we had each come to rest at the same time, in a splen­did cor­ner of the world, to catch up with each other’s news. That was a high­light of our sail­ing lives.

Of course, there was plenty more to dis­cover dur­ing the rest of our sail around the Falk­lands. There was the sail­ing it­self, which, in spite of our parted shrouds, gave us many days of de­light and easy travel. There was the fan­tas­tic wildlife. We had other ele­phant seal haulouts to dis­cover, and al­ba­tross and pen­guin colonies where our fam­ily could sit just a few yards from an in­cred­i­ble con­cen­tra­tion of avian life to watch the show. And there was the way that the is­lands seemed to glow on a midsummer day, in the heart­break­ing colors of the un­pol­luted far south.

But, for all the phys­i­cal de­lights of the place, it was the peo­ple who made the Falk­lands. There was the hos­pi­tal­ity of Leiv, who took the time at the busy peak of sum­mer to show us around his is­land, and who al­ways had a pa­tient an­swer for our boys’ end­less ques­tions. There was the May fam­ily, in­hab­i­tants of re­mote farms who made vis­it­ing strangers in­stantly wel­come. But even on the busier is­lands that play host to cruise-ship pas­sen­gers, we found that it was impossible to go ashore with­out sit­ting down for tea and cook­ies, and in the rel­a­tive bus­tle of Stan­ley we found more kind­ness than I could re­late here. Peo­ple are the soul of cruis­ing, just like they’re the soul of any travel. Is it any won­der that we left the Falk­lands think­ing we’d found the best cruis­ing in the world?

At press time the Lit­zows were back in their home port of Ko­diak, Alaska, af­ter com­plet­ing a 10-year, 65,000-mile voy­age. Get in touch with Mike and his fam­ily at the­life­galac­tic.blogspot.com.

Eric and Elias Lit­zow take in the sur­round­ings with their new friends — a colony of king pen­guins.

Who needs bananas? Alisa sails Galac­tic away from Beaver Is­land with a leg of mut­ton hang­ing from the stern arch — a part­ing gift from our friend Leiv Pon­cet.

Sail­boat main­te­nance, Falk­lands style: Leiv Pon­cet works on Pere­grine (top) at the Beaver Is­land jetty. Elias and Eric take in the sun­shine at the per­haps grandiosely named airstrip.

Mike shows con­cern (top) as son Elias pre­pares to fend off over­friendly sea lions dur­ing a dinghy cruise. Wind-against-tide con­di­tions make for some sporty sail­ing for Galac­tic.

Few pri­vate sail­boats cruise the Falk­land Is­lands; how­ever, there is an ac­tive char­ter fleet that stops at Stan­ley Har­bour dur­ing voy­ages around the is­lands and to South Ge­or­gia. Galac­tic (top) is rafted up with Skip No­vak’s Pe­lagic

and Pe­lagic Aus­tralis.

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