Non-Stop Circumnavigation of Kefalonia Island - Ionian Sea - Greece

22nd October 2008

by Shaun Rodgers

On the 22nd of October 2008, Pavlos and I attempted the first non-stop circumnavigation of kefalonia. Crazy as it may seem to many, it was a goal that Pavlos had for quite a few years. 78 nautical miles / 145 kilometres non-stop in less than 24 hours?

He kindly shared the idea with me and invited me to attempt it with him during a warm summer day in 2008. It sounded like a fantastic idea! Very challenging and the fact that it had never been done before made it all the more attractive to me.

So, on that warm sunny day the challenge was set, we spoke more and more about it, occasionally sharing the idea with many of our clients and friends while sitting having lunch or a beer after our day of paddling. Many were shocked, many were supportive, many thought we were just mad and that the sun and sea had warped our brains - how was it possible to do 78 nautical miles / 145 kilometres non-stop in under 24 hours in a sea kayak?

This question was something I never truly thought about. I realised we would be physically ready by the end of the season when we would have paddled in excess of 1500 kilometres, combining all our guiding and training. Mentally ready was another story, neither of us had attempted something like this before. We had both travelled long distances on trips but never against the clock!!!!!

Our season slowly came to an end in mid October and it was now time to set the date. Talking time was over, it was now time to confront the challenge!!!!!!

We had hoped to do the circumnavigation with a full moon as the challenge meant paddling all through the night. Unfortunately, conditions were not favourable during the full moon, so after studying the satellite data and weather conditions we agreed on the starting date and time 22nd October 2008 16h00.

Our starting point was Avithos beach on the south side of the island. It was a fairly warm autumn afternoon and conditions looked good. We arrived at about 14h30 to prepare our equipment. We had decided to use the Prijon Seayaks (the old model with the smaller cockpit), plastic but fairly fast a kayak we both enjoy paddling. Our safety equipment was checked and packed. We never advertised the trip date so it was just our loved ones and a few friends waving us goodbye as we seal launched off the sandy beach with our fruit, energy bars, and water.

Our plan was to head east past Trapezaki, Lourdas, towards Kateleios and then north to Skala, Poros, Sami, Agia Efimia, Fiskardo, south across the bay of Assos and Myrtos towards Atheras and along the west coast of the Lixouri peninsula, reaching Xi beach and then make the final run heading east 'home' to Avithos before 16h00 on the 23rd of October 2008.

On leaving, Pavlos handed me a map and a time break down of points, places and times. The CHALLENGE had well and truly begun, I had not given much thought to the details and scheduling of the trip - this is what makes Pavlos and I such a good team we are able to role play and share the load of any challenge - he is the best planner and me... I just paddle!!!!!!

He had planned the trip and had broken it down into an almost hourly schedule of distance and time. Without this kind of planning I now realise that these kinds of challenges are almost impossible to achieve.

In order to achieve the goal, the schedule would be to have a paddling speed of 3.25 nautical miles / 6 kilometres per hour for 24 hours. We would stop every 2 hours for 5 minutes only to rest, eat, re-hydrate and urinate. Including the stops, this would produce an average paddling speed of about 3.1 nautical miles per hour. According to the calculations, this would give us about 25 minutes to play with. We would not touch land for 24 hours in order to achieve the goal.

I realised the magnitude of the challenge after 2 hours when I suggested a stop on land to urinate. 'No time, use a bottle', was the answer from Pavlos. The mental and physical challenge had now officially dawned on me.

We reached KATELIOS just as the sun was setting. We both felt good and we were still on schedule, to be precise, 1min 30sec ahead schedule! Nightfall crept in and we had no moon, it was pitch black. As we passed the lights of SKALA and POROS, our conversation was small talk, we were both focused and now truly into a mindset that this challenge was achievable! Then we started the long dark paddle towards Sami. This part of the kefalonian coastline has no human inhabitants, so we had no lights to keep us company, just the splashing of paddles and the occasional question from each other, 'how you feeling?' Heads were down and paddling was consistent, we reached Sami around midnight, about 1-2 minutes behind schedule. We had now been paddling for just over 8 hours non-stop.

Around 01:00 we reached Agia Efimia, 2-3 min behind schedule. Pavlos was feeling sleepy and asked to have a land break. We got out in a liitle bay and spent about 20 min stretching, fighting sleep, recovering strength. We started paddling, now being 25 min behind schedule.

We were still in good spirit and felt that if we could keep a solid pace until sunrise we could make up the lost time and be on schedule for the 24 hour goal. What we did not take into account was a change in weather conditions and the effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation which began to creep in as we started the approach to Fiskardo which was over 11 nautical miles / 20 kilometres away. As we paddled on, the night became longer and longer. I was starting to feel my eyes close and my body was screaming for a stretch. Pavlos was in far better shape than I was and his motivation kept me going. I was well and truly exhausted and begged him for a second land stop to stretch my legs before we reached Fiskardo, which thankfully he agreed to realising that I was about to fall asleep and was probably going to fall out of the kayak. We stopped on a small stone beach around 6:00 in the morning. Still about 2 hours to sunrise, we were now 25 min behind schedule, mostly due to our previous land stop. The air was cold and woke me up. 10 minutes later we were back on track. Realising that we were now out of time to play with we put our heads down trying to increase our paddling speed. When we started the big crossing across the bay of Assos/Myrtos, 12 nautical miles/21 kilometres in open sea, we had already been paddling for over 15 hours.

As we began the crossing the easterly wind began to blow and the waves started to beat against the side of our kayaks, making the paddling harder and more extreme. The sun was beginning to rise and I began to feel a little more ALIVE. We kept paddling and would occasionally look over at each other with a look of intensity that the wind and waves might be getting the better of us. We paddled on but could certainly feel the fatigue and pain that was upon us.

Our pace slowed as we approached Atheras, the beginning of the west coast of the LIXOURI peninsula. We had endured heavy winds and waves for over 3 hours. It was at this point that I noticed Pavlos was holding his paddles in a rather strange position. His right wrist had almost collapsed and was causing him a severe amount of pain. His ligaments had been severely strained in the windy crossing and it was at this point that we had a very serious decision to make, was he to continue or was he to abort the challenge?

Pavlos was scheduled to leave for the ISLE OF SKYE in Scotland to attend his 5 Star, Level 4 coaching BCU assessment in less than a week. Being uncertain of the degree of his injury, it was decided he would abort the challenge.

I was alone from this point on, after 52 nautical miles / 94 kilometres of paddling and I felt terribly guilty for leaving my friend behind, as it was by his invitation that I was doing this.

After our goodbyes I turned the corner and began the stretch of the west coast of the LIXOURI peninsula. I ate an apple and then the mind games began. I had been paddling for over 18 hours, I was tired alone and felt bad for leaving Pavlos, I had 6 hours to finish the trip, I was at least 1.5 hours over schedule and was well and truly exhausted.

I held up the schedule of distance and time that Pavlos had so kindly worked out. I began my solo paddle to Xi beach and home to Avithos with the easterly wind blowing into my face and making paddling hard and strenuous. It was during this period that my mental state evaporated and my desire was merely to get home.

I passed beautiful beaches we had camped on with clients, ignoring the scenery. I just paddled, not thinking, not caring, and just paddling towards home.

I approached Xi beach in the late afternoon, 2 hours behind schedule, hoping to make the crossing to Avithos in an hour. During this time my mind began to play with me, I saw strange things on the water and imagined shadows eating my paddles. I was exhausted and hallucinating!

I kept thinking that I would end before, but phone calls from Pavlos, Yvonne and my wife Jeannette kept me going. Nightfall came again and I kept paddling, finally arriving at Avithos beach 27 hours 42minutes later to the 'pop' of a champagne cork and the smile of the very people who bid us farewell the day before.

My wrists were in callipers for 3 days afterwards, my mind blank and my body strained.

My future plans are non-stop circumnavigations of all the Ionian Islands and then to circumnavigate the Mediterranean Sea. Achievable, 'who knows?'

'The greatest calamity is not to have failed but to have failed to try'

Shaun Rodgers
Husband, father of 2, friend and kayak guide for 'Sea Kayaking Kefalonia' (x-'Monte Nero Activities')