New Zealand Team Aims for First Sea Kayak Circumnavigation of South Georgia Island

Three Kiwis are readying to kayak almost 400 miles around the South Atlantic Ocean island made famous by Sir Ernest Shackleton's fated Endurance expedition

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Little is certain about the South Atlantic Ocean’s South Georgia Island, except for the savage weather and ravaging gale-force winds—when Mother Nature decides to brandish her sword, there are scant places to hide. No vessel is safe—not a fishing boat, not a yacht equipped with the most progressive navigational technology, and certainly not a sea kayak. Despite daunting statistics—an average of roughly 13 days per month when the wind is over 39 miles-per-hour and only one day of blue skies—a trio of New Zealanders will attempt one of the last great challenges left on earth, a 373-mile sea kayak circumnavigation of the island.

South Georgia Island

Click here for a gallery of images of the island.

On October 2, Team Adventure Philosophy, which comprises Graham Charles, 39, a photographer and adventurer, and Marcus Waters, 39, a human resource manager, both from Christchurch; and Mark Jones, 41, an outdoor leadership instructor from Auckland, will attempt the first circumnavigation of South Georgia Island by sea kayak. The stakes for failure—or even death—are high and the team could take as long as six weeks to complete their journey.

Made infamous by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s two-year expedition, South Georgia is an icy, barren isle 100 miles long and 20 miles wide, inhabited by ferocious fur seals and located in the “furious fifties,” approximately 1,100 miles east of Tierra del Fuego, the hair-raising southern tip of South America. In 1916, Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, drifted for ten months in pack ice off Antarctica’s Caird Coast before it succumbed to the elements. The crew took refuge on Elephant Island while Shackleton, along with five other crew members, sailed the whaleboat James Caird some 800 miles to King Haakon Bay on South Georgia, where Shackleton, Tom Crean, and Frank Worsely then traversed the island to Stromness Station. The entire crew was eventually rescued.

The biggest challenge in Adventure Philosophy’s quest for the unclaimed coast isn’t the mileage, it’s the weather. “We can paddle in 25 or 35 mile-an-hour winds, but it’s rare that the wind in South Georgia gentles on a nice 30 knot (35 mile-an-hour) breeze,” says Charles. “It’s like creeping up on the enemy. When the weather’s facing away, we can go. But as soon as the weather turns around and looks, we have to be twiddling our thumbs and looking innocently like we’re not trying to do anything.” On a previous visit to South Georgia, Charles had experienced wind gusts over 100 miles per hour.

The three men are no strangers to firsts, merciless conditions, or each other. Waters and Charles have known each other since age 13, when they spent endless hours on the ropes course at New Zealand’s Outward Bound School, where Waters’ father was deputy director. Jones, Waters, and Charles have all worked for The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre, the pre-eminent outdoor education center in New Zealand. Aside from highly-refined technical skills, each contributes a unique expertise to an expedition: Charles as the visionary, Waters as the “details freak,” and Jones, says Charles, as the “Kiwi bloke who’s really good at fixing stuff with a piece of number eight wire and duct tape.”

In January and February 2001, the team paddled 500 unsupported miles from Hope Bay at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to beyond the Antarctic Circle in the south, the longest stretch ever paddled in Antarctica. In January 2003, they faced 300 miles worth of Tierra del Fuego gales down the Beagle Channel to the Pacific Ocean before pioneering a new route through the Darwin Cordillera into Argentina.

When compared to the Antarctic Peninsula expedition, Graeme Dingle, a noted Kiwi explorer and author of “Dingle: Discovering the Sense in Adventure,” (to be released by Craig Potton Publishing in October) says the South Georgia Island attempt is much more dangerous. “The wind, the currents, and the size of the sea are considerable,” he said. “You need a mix of very good technical skills, you need a bit of luck on your side, and I also think you need a kind of strength that these guys have together. The bond between them is quite awesome.”

The team, however, is quick to dispel the idea that this is just a sea kayaking expedition: it’s about a purist’s definition of a classic adventure. “This is the romantic exploration-era kind of thing where it’s day after day of ugliness, hard work and crucial decisions that could change the course of your life or the expedition,” Charles said. “It’s not about sea kayaking, it’s about rolling the dice with intuition and prudent judgment. A kayak just happens to be our mode of transportation.”

Technology has changed since the days of Shackleton, but even Adventure Philosophy’s reinforced, custom-designed Kevlar kayaks will not guarantee protection from harm. The team’s prepared for the worst. They’ll stow a month’s worth of fuel and vacuum-packed food, as well as mountaineering equipment in case an emergency evacuation on the island is necessary.

Two teams, one in 1991 and another in 1996, have previously attempted to circle South Georgia. Both failed. Team Adventure Philosophy, though, isn’t the only squad out for bragging rights this year. Operation South Georgia, a British-Israeli team under the leadership of veteran sea kayaker Pete Bray, who in 2001 was the first person to paddle solo and unsupported across the North Atlantic, hope to be under way November 12.

Pete and his teammates are inspired by adventure and a “South Georgia circumnavigation is one of the last remaining challenges in the sea kayaking world,” said Jim Rowlinson, Operation South Georgia project manager.

Team Adventure Philosophy chose to depart earlier, October 2 to be exact, after their research indicated that the half-ton, carnivorous fur seals that dominate the island come mating season will be on the island’s northern end in early November. “Our plan is to go counterclockwise starting from the northeast side,” Charles said. “We’re hoping to beat the seals rush hour ashore. When they weigh half a ton and are pumped up on hormones, they want to charge everything in their little territory zone.” The presence of the seals also poses another problem—fewer places for the team to camp ashore.

Since there are no search and rescue services within 1,000 miles of the island, both teams are required by British law to be accompanied by a support vessel to help in the event of an emergency. Charles’ team will have support aboard their emergency vessel to help gather footage for the documentary the team is producing about their attempt.

In the end, it will come down to the unpredictable and more than a little skill. “There are so many unknowns for us,” Charles said. “But we don’t go out there ignorantly. We research as much as we can, but no matter how much research we do, there are so many unanswered questions. And that’s the beauty.”

Check in with Outside Online for updates on the Team Adventure Philosophy’s progress in the coming weeks. The team will also post daily dispatches of their expedition on their Web site,

The Shatter-Proof Skeleton

Bone Cuisine

High-impact exercise is one way to maintain bone density, but it may not sustain the calcium levels you need for the long term. In a 1995 study of college basketball players at the University of Memphis, researcher Robert Klesges’s bone-density scans revealed significant mineral loss in the athletes during their four-month season. To find out why, his scientists literally wrung out the jerseys after a practice. “Our analysis showed huge expenditures of sodium,” says Klesges, “which we expected, and surprising amounts of calcium, which we didn’t.”

The next season, to counteract the mineral flush, Klesges advised the players to supplement their diets with up to 2,000 milligrams of calcium per day, administered by stirring inexpensive calcium lactate into an energy drink. That season, “bone loss was virtually eliminated,” he says. For five years, the team continued to add calcium to their drinks, with the same results.

His findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996, exposed a common shortfall in the American diet: too little calcium. “Most people don’t even come close to the recommended daily allowance of 1,200 milligrams,” says Klesges, “but that amount is still not enough for an athlete exercising over an hour each day.” Nearly ten years later, most sports drinks still don’t contain enough calcium for Klesges. “Without a demand for it, manufacturers simply aren’t going to add the mineral’s cost to their products,” he says.

So how much calcium should you be getting? For most, anything over 2,000 milligrams is overkill; 1,200 a day is plenty for a recreational athlete, says Klesges, and you can meet your needs through milk, dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, and tofu. Each serving contains about 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium. Going on a long workout? Nab an additional 200 milligrams of the stuff for every hour beyond the first.

Bill Holland follows this advice religiously. He still rides as much as ever, but now he also rotates in thrice-weekly four-mile runs, plus three trips to the weight room each week, and he takes 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day. Since his first bone scan, in 2001, he’s reversed his bone loss and seen 1 to 2 percent increases in density each year.

“Someday,” says Holland, “I might have average-strength bones again.”

Beyond Grenada

The 2004 Caribbean hurricane season was one of the most destructive in recent history

THOUGH HURRICANES ARE A FACT OF LIFE in the Caribbean, no one was prepared for the massive destruction and loss of life the islands experienced in 2004. There were six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin (defined as Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with winds topping 111 miles an hour). This was twice the annual average, and four of them slammed the Caribbean. The cost to the region was more than $6 billion, according to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In August, Hurricane Charley hit Cuba and Jamaica, killing five people. Three and a half weeks later, Hurricane Ivan struck Grenada. Ivan then intensified to a Category 5 storm (winds over 155 mph) and pounded Grand Cayman, washing over the island and causing severe damage to homes and hotels, many of which couldn’t reopen until this fall. Ivan generated the largest ocean waves ever recorded—upwards of 90 feet—before knocking out the monitoring buoys; post-storm computer models put the waves at up to 130 feet. Ivan also struck parts of Jamaica, killing 17 people, racking up nearly $600 million in damage, wiping out many of Negril’s waterfront bars, and forcing hotels to close for several months of repair work. Days later, Hurricane Jeanne and the massive flooding that followed killed 2,700 people in Haiti and 23 in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Jeanne also brought floods and wind damage to Grand Bahama and Abaco, which had been hit hard by Hurricane Frances a few weeks earlier.

In mid-August, with the hurricane season already off to a record start, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was forecasting 18 to 21 tropical storms in 2005. Of those, NOAA said, nine to eleven could become hurricanes, and five to seven could end up as major storms. The season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, with the peak between late August and early October. This grim outlook reflects a continuation of increased storm activity that began in 1995, when shifts in atmospheric and oceanic flow patterns resulted in warmer Atlantic water. Forecasters say this pattern may continue for at least another decade, if historical cycles repeat themselves.

As the 2005 season began, NOAA added seven weather-data-buoy stations in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic, to fill some gaps in its data-monitoring map. It also launched a Web page called Storm Tracker, which provides advisories and tracking maps. Still, international agencies continue to call for better early-notification systems. “I’ve warned the world that it is not going to get better; it is going to become worse,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last June, at a workshop on disaster preparedness. “We owe it to the people to prepare them.”

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