In 1728 an Inuit man arrived on a beach in the North East of Scotland, near Aberdeen. He was wearing full seal skin clothing, paddling a traditional Greenlandic skin-on-bone kayak and carrying all his hunting gear. He died 3 days later… Up until now nobody knows how that man got there, whether he did indeed paddle 1,200nm from Greenland or whether he came via other means! This is what George and Olly Hicks set out to unearth or at least add speculation to the fact that he might have paddled the entire way. Over the summer of 2016 the pair paddled a 26ft long kayak from the Greenlandic Ice edge to the white sand beaches of Northern Scotland.
As we lowered the kayak into the water at the Greenlandic ice-edge, there was a mixture of emotions, from the fear as to what lay ahead of us, to excitement at the thought of experiencing true, unbridled adventure. We were about to do something that no human has ever attempted – potentially, and the stakes where high, very high!
We lived in the kayak, resting and paddling both at the same time barely an inch above the burningly cold ocean water which was black like the inside of a cave and made your hands flinch with every touch and left us questioning what animals could survive in such Arctic temperatures. Dressed in nothing more than a dry suit and a fleece base layer we battled against the unforgiving oceanic weather until after 46hrs paddling we arrived on a beach in NW Iceland. Unable to stand upright, we staggered to a fresh water stream and collapsed into it.
Life on board the kayak is beyond difficult – completing the simplest of tasks seems to take hours. Cooking hot meals was one way of mitigating our largest risk: hypothermia, but as you might imagine cooking at sea is difficult, cooking in a kayak at sea is almost impossible.
The following two weeks on the expedition consisted of paddling 600nm between headlands around the north and east coast of Iceland until we reached Neskaupstadur. Not only did we pass some of the most majestic fjords and mountains, we also met some incredibly generous and welcoming people before arriving at our last stop on the Icelandic coast.
Our first attempt to cross from Iceland to the Faroes was unsuccessful as we met a fishing boat who strongly advised us to return to shore for fear of our lives – we called our weather forecasters and asked for their opinion; 2 out of 3 said we should head back to the mainland so we did! This leg was our longest and most dangerous stretch of open ocean famously called ‘The Devils Dancefloor’. There was no support boat next to us, so once we left land we were committed, we had everything we needed to exist from loo paper to fresh water. This leg could’ve taken us up to a week and of course, weather forecasts aren’t that accurate that far out – hence the danger. If the weather had changed for the worse, we had nowhere to hide.
The second time we left for the Faroes we made it, at 0300hrs as the sun was about to rise surrounded by vast cliffs and a still, unmoving ocean. We hit the beach having crossed 260nm of ocean in just under 100hrs, crawled out of the kayak, collapsed into the sand of Tjornuvik Bay and were simply relieved to have dry land beneath our feet once again. Arriving into the Faroe Islands was a moment we will never forget.
We had been away from home for almost 2 months and the summer season was drawing to a close. Our weather windows were not only getting shorter, but they were also becoming less frequent. The weather was our dictator; it was the only factor that would determine whether this expedition was possible or not.
Three weeks of waiting and after one false start, there was a narrow chance that we could leave the Faroes and make for the Scottish mainland. The window was tight so the island of North Rona (45nm NW of mainland Scotland) seemed like a great place to stop and wait out a storm but we had to get there first…
With only a matter of minutes to spare before gales ensued and the ocean turned into a fury of white horses, we landed at North Rona – hard ground couldn’t have come sooner. North Rona is a deserted island with no running water, so having got there, it was then a game of survival. Collecting fresh water from the roof and hunting sea birds and limpets was how we survived.
Sixty-six days after leaving the coast of Greenland, we paddled silently into Balnakeil Bay, N. Scotland having done something that potentially no human had ever done before and if they have any sense, would never do again!
So did the original Finman paddle the entire way…?
George delivers motivational lectures to all audiences (school or corporate) about his expeditions talking on topics such as success, failure and realising goals (www.georgebullard.co.uk).
George also runs IGO Adventures who make the ultimate adventures accessible to anyone (www.igoadventures.com) - come join in 2017!