Monday, September 01, 2014

Stepping Off

There had been a steady breeze from the sea since we landed. This brought a penetrating chill that reminded me that we were in a lonely Arctic wilderness.  I had been cold all night. I was woken at 5am for my hour long 'bearwatch' shift. I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and huddled behind a boulder whilst watching, waiting and hoping for nothing to happen. After my shift, I felt the benefit of the warm drink and got a couple of more hours in the land of nod.

Paddling from our first camp filled us with excitement and anticipation. The wind had abated, the morning sun warmed the air and gave the bergs a bright, fresh new look. The peak of the first exposed headland towered nearly 700 metres over the calm ocean. The sheer scale of the scenery was difficult to comprehend. We didn't land until lunchtime.

The rest of the day's paddle was less exposed with the sparkling coastal waters protected by a series of off-lying islands with peaks rising sharply to over 500 metres. We landed in the late afternoon sunshine on a sandy beach at the island of Gruse. To the east there was only open ocean with small groups of icebergs.

To the west, the steep mountainous coastline was dissected by immense calving glaciers. Every now and then, a huge piece the size of a block of flats would crash into the sea. This would give a thunderous boom shattering the peace of what had become a still and silent evening.

In the distance to the north we could make out Ailsa Island and our crux headland dubbed 'Hell Corner' by the 1932 British Air Route Expedition team. We were stepping off into territory where few choose to venture.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arriving at Sermiligaaq

The flight from Reykjavik to Kulusuk Airport takes around an hour an forty minutes. Just over half way through the flight we began to see the jagged frozen coast of East Greenland. As we got close we could pick out some of the headlands and islands that we would be paddling round in the next 16 days.

When we landed we needed to get to the boat jetty which is around a kilometre walk from the airfield. Each of us were carrying around 30-40 kilograms of equipment and food.

The boat journey to Sermiligaaq took just over 90 minutes. Once we arrived there was no time to hang around. The first job was to get to the shop to buy some extra food. I bought bread, cheese, some tinned fish and as many beers as I though I could cram into an already heavily laden kayak. The second job was to get re-aquainted with the P&H Scorpio that I paddled in the 2012 expedition.

Once we were all loaded up we launched into a misty afternoon and paddled for just after an hour until reaching our first camp. After pitching my tent I went for a short walk around the nearby headland and gazed at the moon rising over the ice laden channel that we would be paddling through next morning. It really felt as though we were about to paddle off the edge of the world.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reykjavik, the gateway to East Greenland

East Greenland is just as easily reached and many of the remote yet popular holiday destinations in Europe. The total flying time is a little over 4 hours. Flights from Reykjavik to Kulusuk only run in the morning so the journey will always involve an overnight stay in Iceland's intriguing capital city.

Sun Voyager (Icelandic: Sólfar)
Reykjavik is home to a community of prolific creators. Music, entertainment and art fills the busy public places but walking the narrow back streets it is clear that there is fresh talent growing at every corner.

My favourite sculpture is 'Sun Voyager' which is situated on the sea front close to the city centre. It is a ship of dreams, fantasy and knowledge. To sail the 'Sun Voyager' is to follow the sun and promises a bright future full of adventures and discovery.

All too soon the sightseeing is over and its is time for an early night. The next day will take us on a flight across the Denmark Strait to Kulusuk Airport and the beginning of our sea kayak journey in the tiny hunting community of Sermiligaaq on the icy East coast of Greenland.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Greenland here we come!

During the last few weeks I have been sending daily weather forecasts and information about the sea ice to Martin Rickard. He has been exploring the Fjords and channels of the Angmagssalik region of East Greenland.

Very soon it will be my turn to head off to this dramatic Arctic coastline. Our expedition will take us along a more exposed stretch of coastline to a place called Tugtilik otherwise known as Lake Fjord. This is where the celebrated British explorer, Gino Watkins went missing in August 1932. A memorial cross stands in his honour close to the remains of his expedition hut.

Back home I have been weighing my kit and checking my documents. Thanks to Lyon Equipment I have a new set of Ortlieb dry bags and 2 weeks supply of Trek 'n Eat freeze dried expedition meals. Once again I have plenty of nutritious Clif Bars that will help keep me going on those long days on the sea.

It has been a challenge getting everything packed within the various airline weight limits, but its all coming together now. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank P&H Custom Sea Kayaks, Peak UK, F-stop Gear for their continued support as well as Mitchell Blades for my newly re-furbished 4-piece paddles.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Skerries in the Mist

Following the great rains of Saturday, I joined members of Liverpool Canoe Club on a trip out to The Skerries off the North West coast of Anglesey. We launched at Cemlyn Bay where there was a gentle breeze and the sun was shining brightly.

As we left the bay we noticed the The Skerries were missing! We paddled into mist and dense fog patches. These weather conditions kept us guessing and focused on our navigation skills. However, past training and practice paid off as the islands loomed out of the gloom with around a kilometre to go.

Life on The Skerries is as hectic as ever. Most of the young Arctic Terns have now fledged but parent birds are still being kept busy feeding some of the younger ones.

A handful of chicks have yet to get their flight feathers. These late comers to the party will have to grow up fast if they are to be strong enough to make the long Autumn migration to the South Atlantic in the next 4-6 weeks.

In the meantime, life in the waters and around the rocks is busy for the seals. There was hardly a dull moment as we were escorted off the premises by several of these playful, inquisitive sea creatures.

The mist and fog patches remained for our return crossing. As we arrived back at the Anglesey shoreline, we took the opportunity to explore the gullies and channels that lead the way from Hen Borth to Cemlyn Bay. Many thanks again to my friends at Liverpool Canoe Club for their company over the weekend.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A return to Bardsey

Trevor an I set off from a misty scene on Aberdaron beach. Initially we headed fro the East side of the bay where we found some entertaining paddling in the caves and amongst the rock gardens.

The poor visibility gave us some concern about the 7km crossing to Bardsey from Ynys Gwylan Bach. In addition, we would be dealing with strong currents generated by strong spring tides.

During the crossing we were entertained by local puffins and spectacular aerial displays of Manx shearwaters as they glided across the sea around us, skimming the tops of the waves. I'm sure they were playing a game of 'dodge the kayak' flying to within feet of our bows.

The crossing took more time and effort than we expected. We were reminded that the crossing to Bardsey is one of the more challenging sort crossings in the UK.

Down on the western pastures the sheep shearers have been and the hay has been cut too. However, one of the fields has been left as a spectacular summer meadow.

Walking along the summit ridge of Mynydd Enlli, we were treated to yet more wild wonders. Mountain thyme is now in flower among the rocks, peregrines are busy feeding their young on the young of other unwary parents and the local gang of adolescent choughs are up to no good as usual.

Our return to Aberdaron was far more straight forward in good visibility and glorious sunshine.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Under Sail

Last week I joined Dr Charles Clarke and his partner Marcella for a 3-day coastal voyage aboard his 35ft yacht 'Whisky Galore'.

Within an hour of leaving Pwllheli Harbour there were Manx shearwaters gliding along the wave crests. Soon afterwards we spotted a bottlenose dolphin, or perhaps it spotted us. Within minutes there were several of them playing in our bow wave.

Shore leave took us to venture round the pretty villages of Barmouth and Aberdovey. Each evening we were treated to lovely views across shallow estuarine waters to rolling hills and mountains beyond.

Many thanks to Charlie and Marcella for the adventure, great company and wonderful hospitality.