In an era when it’s harder and harder to knock off legitimate “firsts” in paddling, this summer two Brits are tackling a doozy. In June, British explorers Olly Hicks and George Bullard will attempt the first documented crossing from Greenland to Scotland by kayak. The In the Wake of the Finnmen expedition follows a course likely traveled by Inuit tribes-people centuries ago.
Sponsored by Kokatat, Hicks and Bullard will set out for Iceland from Greenland in a slightly modified, carbon fiber/Kevlar (for ice protection) Inuk Duo 7.4-meter (24-foot) tandem sea kayak. The kayak is also equipped with a special cockpit design that can be sealed, allowing the paddlers to squeeze inside and safely rest and sleep while at sea.
After three days of crossing the Denmark Strait to Iceland, the duo will paddle along the Icelandic coast before taking on the six-day crossing to the Faroe Islands across the formidable stretch of ocean known as “the Devil’s Dancefloor.” Once safely ashore in the Faroe Islands they will rest and recover while touring down the islands before setting out for the tiny island of North Rona. From there they will make the final push of 50 miles to their ultimate destination of Cape Wrath, Scotland.
They’ll be tracing the route of earlier explorers. In the late seventeenth century, Hicks says, mysterious sightings were reported of strange vessels under sail and oar off the coast of Scotland. One account reported a man who spoke in an unintelligible language paddling to shore, only to perish three days later. “To this day, nobody knows for certain who or where these mariners came from,” says Hicks. “Various theories abound, from fishermen from Finland to indigenous prisoners who escaped from ships returning from the New World. Or as artifacts in Scottish museums point to, they were Inuit tribes-people from over 1,000 miles away who crossed some of the world’s most dangerous waters.
“It is amazing to think that these early explorers could cover such a distance, over such inhospitable waters, in such primitive craft,” he adds. “While we have centuries of technology and learning on our side, this expedition brings with it lots of challenges that are certain to make for an interesting journey.”
We caught up with Hicks for more on his upcoming journey…
C&K: How did you first hear of the Inuit’s earlier crossing?
Hicks: After reading a book about the Finnmen called “Searching for the Finnmen” by Norman Rogers. I also heard about it in a book called “A Speck on the Sea.”
C&K: What made you decide to trace their route?
Hicks: I love the story and the mystery–the great question whether they could have paddled all that way? And no one has tried to do it yet–so it’s like an Arctic Kon Tiki adventure. And it has all the elements of a great adventure: pack ice, boats, islands, wildlife encounters, storms, surf and risk. And it’s original, a modern first….
C&K: How much paddling experience do you have with your partner?
Hicks: We’ve spent about six months paddling together. George was inexperienced when we began training in December 2015. He’s trained a lot with me and Jeff Allen has been coaching us both in rolling and self-rescue in the double.
C&K: What do you think will be the hardest part?
Hicks: Crossing the Devil’s Dancefloor and starting through the pack ice. It will also be tough steeling ourselves to get back in the boat in the Faroes for the final-but-not-easy leg to Scotland. It’s going to be a real tough trip.
C&K: How do you plan to handle the Devil’s Dancefloor?
Hicks: As fast as we can! But we’ll have to sleep, too; we just have to wait for a good weather window and then go for it and hope we don’t get hit by a big storm. It will require very good navigation to hit the spot we want to land on in the Faroes.
C&K: What all went into customizing your kayak for the crossing?
Hicks: It’s a lengthened production boat, built by Rob Feloy and Ginge Murphy of Inuk Kayaks. It’s based on the Inuk Duo 6.8m double sea kayak. The only mods are a heavy duty rudder, x2 skegs, lengthened bulkheads to allow sleeping, as well as the tents we’ve made to allow us to sleep and shelter. We also have x2 Flat Earth Sails and fixings on deck to fix our airbags to provide extra stability when we sleep. Also, the boat has been lengthened by 60cm, making it 7.4 meters long.
Virgin, Newscape Capital, Aqua pac, Ortleib, Petzl, Lettmann Paddles, Kokatat, Hillegerg Tents, Tentipi, Land Rover, Bremont