Port Angeles adventurer safe, recovering after storm spoils attempt at rowing from Iceland to Greenland

Chris Duff ()

Chris Duff ()

PORT ANGELES –– Chris Duff, an adventurer from Port Angeles, posted one word to Facebook after waiting more than 10 hours for an Icelandic search-and-rescue team to reach him in the North Atlantic.

“Contact,” he wrote at about 4 p.m. PST on Saturday, signaling to family, friends and supporters that he was going to be safe.

Duff is now recovering in Grindavik, Iceland, about 30 miles southwest of Reykjavik, after rough seas ended his row from Iceland to Greenland, said his wife, Lisa Markli.

He is staying at a couple’s guest house in the small Icelandic town until he recovers.

He wasn’t injured, but he hadn’t eaten or slept for about 36 hours, said Markli, who spoke to her husband Sunday morning. He’ll spend the next few days recovering and will likely be back to Port Angeles in a couple of weeks, she said.

Duff embarked on his journey Thursday and had expected to make landfall in Greenland in about two to three weeks.

Markli said waves and high winds Saturday rocked Duff’s boat, Northern Reach, a modified 19-foot Wayland Marine Merry Wherry vessel, for hours. As the weather continued to worsen throughout about 8 hours, Duff called back to his support crew in Iceland and found the weather was only going to get worse, Markli said.

That’s when Duff called off the voyage.

“One of the things that I really admire about Chris is that he has very sound judgement,” Markli said. “He is able to think with clarity and purpose, even in a chaotic situation.”

Duff’s previous experience during solo kayaking trips and diving with the Navy helped inform his decision, she said.

The storm was so bad all Duff could do was put out a sea anchor while he waited for help.

Iceland Search and Rescue sent a crew on a 50-foot vessel from Grindavik to rescue Duff from the North Atlantic, where he was about 100 miles offshore from Iceland, she said.

The team attempted to rescue the Northern Reach, but after towing the vessel for several hours, the lines broke and it was lost at sea.

During the voyage, winds and currents had pushed Duff south and off course.

“He was getting pushed too far south,” Markli said. “If he would have continued east, he would have missed Greenland.”

That also factored into his decision to call it off.

He was getting pushed south into a part of the North Atlantic known to have worse weather than he was already facing.

He first used the boat in 2011. After researching boats, Duff found the Northern Reach would work for his long-distance treks in the North Atlantic.

This was Duff’s first journey since the summer of 2014 when he successfully rowed 300 miles from Scotland to Greenland, a feat he had attempted twice before without success.

Duff also circumnavigated Great Britain in 1986 and Iceland in 1996, and rounded New Zealand’s South Island in 2000.

“What always impresses me is how people are so grateful of him doing these kinds of adventures,” Markli said. “We all have an adventurous spirit and live vicariously through [him].”

Duff was prepared for the trip and had planned for just about any scenario he could face at sea, Markli said. Because of that, “everything went right.”

Duff had a satellite phone he could use from sea and an InReach device that allowed him to post messages online with his location.

He spent about a week in Iceland not only getting the boat ready for the trip, but talking through scenarios with his support crew.

The boat was chosen for its speed, minimum weight, dryness in rough water and adaptability for modifications, Duff said on his website.

A sleeping cabin had been built forward of the rowing compartment and constructed so as to make the boat self-righting as well as offering a high degree of watertight integrity to the hull.

The forward cabin was fully padded so as to minimize injury in the likely event of a roll over in rough seas. An aft cabin had been built for gear storage and additional watertight integrity.

“Everything went right and that led to his rescue,” Markli said. “I am just so grateful for the incredible well wishes and support from this community and the Icelandic community.”


Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected]

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