A short update for those who have been following our Kayak expedition tracker which stopped on the 10th of April.  Despite our track finishing in the cemetery at Puerto Williams (it was behind our hostel) both Seumas and I are alive and well after our expedition in Patagonia and are now back home in Scotland.  

Arriving to Puerto Williams earlier this month, we celebrated the end of a 525km route with mixed emotions. In short, we successfully achieved the first two thirds of our expedition:  The last third which aimed to take us round Cape Horn, was cut short, not by weather, but a revised instruction by the Chilean Navy denying our permissions which had earlier been approved.   

Over 21 days we have enjoyed a tremendous adventure, crossing again Strait of Magellan and for our first time, through the Beagle Channel. The weather was kind to us in the Magellan then predictably wet through the Beagle, although on occasions the sun and on others there was snow.  We explored glaciers new to us and succeeded in the longest and most physically taxing portage Seumas or I ever intend to do!  Despite being denied our intended goal, we both still feel fortunate to achieve what we did: This corner of Patagonia is absolutely stunning in its own right for both scenery and wildlife. 

Given our planned ambition, we cannot hide our feelings and disappointment; to have our written and signed permissions reversed mid voyage with little explanation was hugely frustrating.  Our primary objective was to link our two previous trips to round Cape Horn.  The management of maritime access by the Chilean Navy an entity unto itself, and although we had our intended route approved in writing, we found to our cost that once within the Puerto Williams region conditions could and were changed at a whim.  This revocation is almost beyond belief after several years of preparation with the naval authorities which had resulted in stamped approval.  

This year’s trip to Cape Horn aimed to culminate a decade long ambition and for myself a personal test of what I have always viewed to be the pinnacle of Patagonian kayaking mastery. To be denied the opportunity to simply try, with all our safety procedures checked and in place, our physical and mental preparation at its pinnacle, and plans progressing so smoothly feels like a betrayal through bureaucracy. For now, I cannot imagine we will return to try again as there is simply no trust left that we will not experience the same treatment at such a whim. 

This ending has been extremely difficult to process emotionally, bitterness sits uncomfortably with me as does a sense of personal embarrassment about how this has all played out.  This is largely why I haven’t updated our progress for quite some time after finishing, which I hope you can understand. 

For now it is time to focus on the future, and there are plenty of amazing adventures in the world to be had, and it certainly won’t be my last adventure in Patagonia. 

After five years professionally guiding in Patagonia spread over almost a decade and multiple big personal expeditions in these region, I recognised that taking a legal approach by negotiating a permit from the navy was extremely important from the outset. Cape Horn is a serious undertaking and one that I was aware took more than the usual preparation to achieve. This process begun in 2019 by contacting the naval bases at Punta Arenas, Porvenir and Puerto Williams with request as to what we required, which they promptly provided in good detail. Needless to say the world had other plans that year and just one week before starting we were forced to move our plans to return again in early 2023. 

At the start of 2023 I re-submitted an extremely comprehensive expedition plan to the same armadas. This was detailed by a 6000 word document with over 220 identified campsites in lat-long format and three alternate exit routes all translated into Spanish (with much help from my great friend Cris from Kayak en Patagonia). To achieve this took months of work and several return trips to Punta Arenas by both myself and Cris, (a nearly 6 hour round trip each visit). 

Our route was broken down into conservative 28km days for a proposed 33 days of journey time, for which I allocated 40 days. This was based on our previous expedition average paces of 34 and 35km a day respectively.  

Again, as before, it was required we submitted this plan to all three naval districts we were entering and once submitted they had 30 days to reply. Throughout all of this process there was a back and forth of questions between the navy and I, translated via Cris from Kayak en Patagonia, who without his help and contacts this would have never begun. Every question we were asked we could answer fully and in detail. In February 2023 the navy approved our proposal and gave us the permit with the clause of a final physical kit inspection which we then passed without fault.  

With an official green light to go, I then invested thousands of pounds in food, insurances, ferries and other miscellaneous equipment while Seumas in turn booked his flights to join me in Patagonia.  

Our trip was on!  

Our route began on March 10th with our kayaks laden around 130kg and barely above the waterline. We quickly proceeded well ahead of schedule and by the night of day 2 we were already a full day ahead of plan. Our intention was to paddle and portage hard early on to gift more time to wait for good weather at the Horn and increase our safe window to make it round. The weather was kind and we moved fast. At the end of our first week we had arrived on the far end of a frankly brutal portage (it took us 3 days!- 2 longer than planned) but we had still gained a full day ahead of our schedule despite this.  

We had now arrived into the district governed by Puerto Williams. Immediately, we were contacted by the Captain, who promptly told us that we now required a support boat to continue south and we were not legally permitted to be in the area (I had the physical permit in my hand): his demand.was that we must return to Puerto Williams post haste. 

During the very early stages of the permit procedure, we had asked about a support boat, as the previous team (a French party in 2018) had been asked to have one, but other teams I knew had not. We were given no demands of this. At no point in the years then months of back and forth did the navy require this of us nor did they mention it when questioning our route and emergency plans in fine detail. We were led entirely to believe, and given a permit for, a trip without support.  

Had they said we needed a boat from the outset, or during any part of the lengthy process it took to gain our permit, we would have had options. We would have either tried to raise the funds to hire one or to pick an alternate route in the fjords excluding the Horn. Even if they had told us this new information on the very start date would have allowed us to avoid the portage to take a wider berth through the western fjords and extend our journey time. We fulfilled every end of our negotiation at great effort and expense and seemingly on a whim the captain changed the conditions mid-expedition!  

We were now expected to arrange our new requirements via 160 character texts on an in-reach sat phone which was frankly impossible. Cris, back in Puerto Natales also tried extremely hard to fight our corner and explain to them how unreasonable this change of demand was, but to no avail.  
Left with an incredibly difficult decision and no ability to communicate properly we weighted our options. To say I felt betrayed would be quite the understatement. Team moral at this point was rather low.  

We discussed three options at this point: 1. Return to Puerto Williams as demanded. 2. Attempt to negotiate 3. Continue illegally onward. – Ultimately we attempted the second and went for the first.  

Our choice to follow orders I feel was the right one, however this also feels like we have been penalised for acting in direct accordance with the rules. I’m left frustrated and wondering how this could have been done differently. Ultimately the unpredictability the armada has demonstrated to us, as well as has been experienced by other paddlers, sailors and navigators we’ve spoken to since returning will breed a local culture of mistrust between both parties and does little but incentivises embarking without adhering to their requirements. I can only hope that a resolution is found to this in the future. 

For the remaining 14 days it took Seumas and I to return we deliberately slowed down significantly. We explored various detour fjords to make the best of an undesirable situation by seeking desirable landmarks. This gave us the time to venture into a few fjords we would have otherwise missed and experience glaciers and mountain vistas that are incomparable to any other place on earth.  

Another upside was we now had almost double our food rations and afternoon ‘cheese and salami aperitifs’ were a popular addition. Dinners could also be double and coffee now almost limitless. We joked that had we been allowed we did have enough rations to turn around and return all the way north again, although this would likely have upset the powers at be more. This gave the sense of a somewhat ‘holiday’ feel, with little to no pressure to push and those times we did was more by choice over necessity.  

I think it’s important to also recognise how extended time on the water, often paddling considerable distances within your own head gives a person time to dwell. This gave both Seumas and I significant time to process the anger resentment at how this whole situation has been played by the Chilean Armada, but also time to put the first steps of mental focus on the positive outcomes of an otherwise fantastic adventure. A personal big positive is that I have never felt as physically and mentally strong as I did on this expedition, despite all of the above. We experienced both bigger open crossings and stronger conditions than all our expeditions beforehand yet both Seumas and I paddled strong throughout and managed to make light humour of what we both recognised was a mentally stressful situation, at least at the surface level. 

Now back home, I’m moving focus from noteworthy adventure together to the next horizons. I have a fantastic summer ahead with lots of paddling all over Scotland, a possible return to Patagonia in November for a month (pending) and a few trips in Antarctica in January. Seumas and I have plenty of new in-jokes for the foreseeable, and bonded throughout.  The Horn for now has at the very least been a phenomenal exercise in expedition planning.  

Thank you all so much for joining us on this adventure in the end of the earth.  

I’m now looking forward to writing up the trip itself and sharing the highlights and challenges of the adventure through photos and stories. Watch this space.

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