Part III of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

I already knew that in one out of every four HA cruises around the southern tip of South America, a landing at the Falklands is not possible. This is not surprising. The Falklands experience some of the worst weather on the planet. Despite its dismal reputation, the climate during the austral summer (Dec-Feb) can be moderate, with temperatures occasionally reaching 75° F. But we are now in the southern autumn.

The total land mass of the islands is roughly equivalent to the state of Connecticut. The capital is Port Stanley, located on the Eastern Falkland Island, where two-thirds of the population of 2,500 live. Nearly everyone else who lives in “the camp,” the term for the countryside, is involved in sheep ranching.

Although we will see some sheep farms, our reason for taking a land tour is to see the penguins. We have observed small yellow and blue penguins in South Island, New Zealand but these are special: large in size and colored in the familiar Patagonia colors: black and white. We look forward to seeing these penguins—with their orange beaks and orange-and-yellow chests. In 1592, Sir Thomas Cavendish, a British explorer, sailed The Desire down the coast of Patagonia in search of the Straits of Magellan. It was in Puerto Deseado, that he described “a curious black-and-white bird that cannot fly but swims like a fish.” A Welshman on board named the bird based on the Welsh word for white head, “pen gwyn.”

I’m reading “River of Desire,” by Simon Worrall, on my Kindle. In Patagonia, Worrall says, people begin counting the speed of the wind from 50 kilometers (about 30 knots) an hour. That’s zero! A “concerning” wind is about 200. To prepare for cold, windy on-shore experiences, Günter and I have packed a duffel with our sailing jackets, fleeces, long silk underwear, gloves and caps.

On Thursday, March 22, Veendam Captain Frank van der Hoeven announces that our ship may or may not land in the Falklands, depending on whether he is able to anchor there: “We are experiencing Force 7 winds, a light SW gale, at 33 knots. If the winds there come from the right direction, we might be sheltered from the long fetch by the land mass of South America. Then we can board using tenders.” Later that day, the Captain orders the stabilizers to be put out. These are 18’ long and 8’ wide. He has to reduce speed to use them, so we will be late in arriving.

On Friday, March 23, at 0805, the captain announces that he is regrettably canceling the stop and proceeding for two days directly to round Cape Horn. Several boats already there are “wallowing in the wind,” he says. They report Force 9 winds, 50+ knots from the SW—not promising. Outside our veranda window, we can see racing whitecaps and spindrift. We do not even want to open our sliding glass door to the balcony! The whining of the wind is constant—sometimes a high whistle, sometimes groaning with the gusts. Surprisingly, with the stabilizers out, the ride on this cruise ship is not too rough. Günter and I can only imagine what it would have been like in our 43’ yacht!

By noon, there is another Captain’s Announcement: The wind is down to Force 8, with swells lessening to 16’. He expects that we will round Cape Horn by 6 p.m. on Saturday. He has altered course directly to the Horn waypoint, proceeding more slowly to ensure our comfort. “Here the warm Brazilian current meets the cold 2.5-knot Falklands current,” he adds, “causing rough seas.” He expects the winds to lessen as we reach the Cape.

Sailing around the world on our own yacht, we have learned to accept the winds and currents and to “go with the flow.”  The political situation in the Falklands, though, has piqued our interest and we continue to follow the news. While in Buenos Aires, the English translation of the local newspapers contained daily headlines about a new conflict between the Brits, who own the Falklands, and the Argentineans, who have been taught in their schools that these desolate islands are rightfully theirs.  The headlines scream, “Malvinas Stand-Off.” Some articles report that by reasserting its claim to the islands, the current government led by liberal President Christina Fernandez Kirchner is gaining the popularity it had lost.

It’s amazing how little we hear about worldwide events in the U.S. I had not heard about any conflict in the Falklands since the struggle for control ended in 1982. This ratcheting up of tensions is the run-up to the 30th anniversary of that war on April 2, 2012.

Some history here: It was the French navigators who gave the islands their Spanish name, Isla Malvinas. Beginning in the mid-1700s, the Falklands have been the source of many battles between countries fighting for control. The islands themselves were strategically important for those ships rounding The Cape before the Canal was built, but they continued to languish economically until the wool business became lucrative.

Thirty years ago, Argentina seized the Falklands and the U.K. invaded to get them back. Britain claimed that the islanders had a right to self-determination; the British population wanted to remain British, of course. The Argentineans were no match for British troops, although both sides suffered serious losses: 255 U.K. servicemen were killed; 649 Argentineans died in the conflict.

Although there is a lot of talk about Argentinean pride and the islanders” right to self-determination, it is the discovery of oil that has caused current tensions. Three oil companies want to drill in these tempestuous seas, especially because oil is being depleted in the North Sea.

While we were in Buenos Aires, it was reported that a cruise ship that had already stopped in the Falklands was denied entry into Buenos Aires or any Argentinean ports. That problem does not pertain to our ship because we are going the opposite way. The Argentineans are also upset with Peru for conducting standard military exercises with a British ship.

Later during our voyage, the Veendam is two hours late leaving Ushuaia, Argentina because it has been held up by the port captain. Reportedly, our captain was asked to sign a statement saying that the Veendam would never again include the Falklands on her itinerary. He did not have the authority to sign, and had to wait for an answer from the head office. Of course, the corporation would not consent to the request, but the ship agreed to pay a “port fee” to be able to sail away.

Captain Frank apologized again and again that, because of the delay, we would miss viewing much of the fjords and would not reach the world-renowned Ushuaia glaciers before sunset. I could hear the controlled anger in his voice.

On our own yacht, we often repeated the phrase, “Pacific Bliss is not a train, not a plane, and not a cruise ship,” in answer to questions and complaints about schedules. But now, we realize that even a cruise ship can miss scheduled stops because of wind, weather, and geopolitics.

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