02-Mar-2004 -- When I was a teenager, the Falklands War was in the news. Eighteen years later, I discovered confluence-dot-org. Two years and fourteen confluence visits later, I idly wondered whether the Falklands had any confluences. Getting the definitive answer to that question would be very interesting for me.
At that time in 2002, it was easy to see that S 52 and W 59 did intersect on the low plains of Lafonia on East Falkland, but the Project deemed that intersection to be a secondary confluence. Was there a primary Falkland confluence on land? In 2002, the answer seemed to be "no." The Mapquest link at the time showed S 52 W 60 to be some tens of meters off the coast of West Falkland, in the chilly South Atlantic. I entertained notions of a broad shoreline suitable for wading or a confluence claim by hired boat, but those thoughts were entirely fanciful. No amount of Falklands fascination would draw this landlubber into the ocean, even though shore be in spitting distance.
But I never lost interest in the Falklands, and I kept watch for news and would check the confluence info periodically. By 2003, something had changed. It seems that in some way Mapquest either received an update to its South American shoreline data or the coordinate references moved slightly. The previously-wet red Mapquest star was now dry, albeit in the drab white, featureless island outline the site had drawn for West Falkland. I began spending money on books and maps. I bought the British Admiralty chart of anchorages in West Falkland. I read about the Falklands War. I bought the 1:50,000 scale topographic charts. I bought travel books for South America. I started looking at airfares, lodgings and tours. I bought the Falkland Islands Travel Map. I was getting serious about gearing up for a trip in the austral spring of 2004, around November.
What my charts and maps were telling me was that the confluence was on or near East Head, the 191-meter hill that overlooks the Atlantic's entrance into Fox Bay. Toward the north end of the bay were the clusters of buildings that are West and East Fox Bay settlements. If one were to start from Fox Bay East Settlement, it looked like a seven-mile walk around the bay to East Head and the confluence. There were a number of assumptions in play though. This did assume for instance that the map datum was spot-on. It assumed that the thin blue watercourses depicted in the charts were fordable. And while one Internet source warned of landmines at Annie Brooks Bay, I had no map of what routes those landmines might cut across.
I got in touch with the relentlessly helpful and upbeat Jenny Luxton of Stanley Services, who got me acquainted with my itinerary options for both East and West Falkland. Even though 2003 was wearing on, I learned that it was still possible to book for late-February or early-March 2004 and jumped at the opportunity. I selected an itinerary. I bought airline tickets. I made down payment on the accommodations, and began to gear up. Every critical item needed to be duplicated: two GPS units, two cameras, two emergency flashlights. Spare media, spare batteries. I copied critical portions of charts, and laminated them. I was going to have one shot at this; there wasn't the money to try, fail, and try again!
My wife and I arrived in the islands Saturday 28 February. I don't think it's possible to adequately thank the people who helped us on our way. The Greenlands of Darwin got us acquainted with the countryside ("camp") and got us on our flight to West Falkland. Susan and Wayne were our hosts at Port Howard, and saw to arranging our transport to Fox Bay. Mike and Mandy were our actual drivers, taking us south and dropping off Miss Luxton on the way so she could visit family in Chartres. As it happened, I never mentioned to any of these excellent people the Degree Confluence Project. The thought of bringing up such an abstract subject and admittedly arbitrary goal -- I just feared our hosts would think me a silly American wastrel. It was entirely possible that my wife already thought that, but was too supportive to say so. Better to just say we aspired to hike to East Head, as indeed we did, and leave it at that.
It was 11:20 a.m. Falklands daylight time (GMT -3h) of Tuesday 2 March when we got out of the vehicle with our packs and started for Coast Ridge. We needed to re-rendezvous with our drivers between five and six o'clock. We were going to have to hustle to cover 14 miles of unfamiliar terrain and document a confluence in the time given to us.
There were three times on the hike that I was seriously in doubt that we could make the confluence and return on schedule, and the first occasion came early. On setting out, we made the mistake of following a track that headed south almost directly for the bay first before breaking east around. The problem became apparent when we saw the minefield fence blocking our eastward turn. This was not the Annie Brooks Bay minefield, but rather one we had not counted on, evidently laid to protect the Argentines from an infantry assault hooking around from Annie Brooks toward Fox Bay East settlement. It was a narrow strip, probably not more than 100 meters deep, but it extended all the way from the bay to perhaps a kilometer inland. We lost more than half an hour backtracking and had walked nearly 2500 meters to make good only 900 from our drop-off point. It was an inauspicious start, and I had to rejuggle my mental schedule. We'd have to shorten the time-on-confluence, abbreviate breaks, and try to make up as much time as possible with an efficient return path. I started marking more outbound GPS waypoints in the hopes of speeding up that return.
The second occasion for doubt came on our big swing east, where we were trying to get around a broad saltwater inlet called Fish Pond Creek. This inlet was down in a ravine, and on approach I caught sight of its breadth (at least a couple hundred feet at that point) and despaired. Now, I knew from the GPS map and charts that this stream would narrow, but would it narrow enough to leap? And wouldn't the narrows also be deeper? Well, we were lucky. Just west of the tightest narrowing was a broad region of accumulated sand deposits that was sufficiently firm, shallow and short to cross without getting too wet or worrying overmuch about immersing our electronics. We forded and pressed on.
Of course all this time we were watching the clock and keeping in mind that the last push to the confluence was going to be up boulder-strewn hills. Following the GPS's navigation arrow, we ascended Coast Ridge, still making for East Head. It started to dawn on me though that the WGS84 coordinates were going to be somewhere along the ridge, and not quite on East Head itself. This meant that we didn't have to go quite as far around the bay as first thought, but with the clock past 2:15 p.m. the GPS arrow was swinging more and more leftwards, leading us higher and higher and seeming to steer us into an impassible rock face at the crest of the ridge. In spite of this, we pressed on and took encouragement from every handful of meters we could make closer to the confluence. We skirted the rock face, going around on its right (west) side. And though just minutes before things had looked most grim, now there was a gentle grassy slope running away south in the sunshine to the Atlantic Ocean. It was a short walk down this hillside to the confluence.
If only there had been more time. Leisure time for panoramas, time to use both cameras, time to put the Garmin and Magellan side-by-side, time to calibrate the altimeter, time to just sit and enjoy this special place! But it was 2:40 p.m., at least 10 kilometers hike for the return, and the longer one stood the more the feet hurt when walking resumed. I did the drill: general pictures, cardinal points, GPS photos, plus a few vanity shots with flags and banners. It was too rushed, but a happy handful of minutes nonetheless. The crest of the ridge was behind us (north). To the west were the Atlantic-facing hills and cliffs on Fox Bay's other side. Out eastward was the strip of land embracing Carcass Bay, and Lafonia (East Falkland) in the furthest distance. To the south, nothing but ocean all the way to Antarctica. Since the hill's slope curved away from our line of sight, shore and surf could not be seen. There was just the sudden transition from green hill to watery blue. And as the maps indicated cliffs of up to 100 meters drop in that direction, we didn't care to try a closer look.
For the return we kept a good pace, didn't attempt anything fancy, and shot our critical return waypoints as straight-line direct as we could manage. As hoped, having better navigation and familiarity saved distance and time, and we made it back to the rendezvous about 5:20 p.m. The Nikon's compact flash module, now worth its weight in gold one-hundredfold for the precious digital photos stored inside, spent the rest of the vacation on my person along with my passport.
I will not try to convince anybody that this adventure means that I'm done with confluencing, since the interest in discovery and seeing new places never completely abates. But I really cannot imagine what other combination of country, geography and people could motivate me to undertake a journey of this magnitude again. The way earth, sky, wind and sea came together at Fox Bay was unique to my experience.
But to anyone who has read this far, I left East Falkland's S 52 W 59 for you. On my charts, it's less than a thousand feet from the track that runs through Shell Point. Why not go become its first visitor? You won't be sorry. As Steve Fosset wrote:
"Records, as they say, are made to be broken. But being first is forever - you can only be first once."