Arctic Sea Kayaking

I have been slowly going through my slide collection and scanning in a few of the more memorable sea kayaking shots and have put together this group of pictures of one of my first sea kayaking trips when we paddled the length of the west coast of Spitsbergen over a period of 2 months.

We encountered a wide range of conditions and almost no other people.  It was a particularly bad summer weather wise, when we arrived at the end of June the sea was still frozen and by the end of August we were pinned in the tents in a 36 hour blizzard, the first of the impending winter.

In contrast to a lot of trips that you read about today we were relatively young, nobody was over 30 years old and I suppose the average was 25. 
It was also ground breaking in a number of ways, for example, we were as far as we were aware the first sea kayak expedition to use drysuits, they had just become available because of developments in wind surfing.
There is no escaping that it was a harsh 650 nautical miles that we paddled and looking back at the conditions we encountered it is hard to believe that things have changed so dramatically that some companies will take relative novices paddling in these waters.

It was almost the golden time of sea kayaking expeditions, with groups of paddlers heading off into distant waters, returning home to write the inevitable expedition report and give a lecture at the Canoe Exhibitions at Crystal Palace the following February.

Heading out from Longyearbyen on the first day, we were half way across a 15nm open crossing when we found that the sea was frozen.  A lengthy detour was required to make safe landfall on the northern side of the fjord.  It really was a baptism by fire.
Campsite on the first night. The winter snow drifts were still banked along the shore, making landing difficult.  We spent the evening familiarizing ourselves with the rifles which we were carrying with us in case of encounters with polar bears. 

An evening walk.  Dave, in the green jacket, has his rifle at the ready.  It was necessary to carry firearms wherever we went.
A very bleak campsite close to the Torrellbreen glacier.  Apart from out tents the scene as almost completely devoid of colour.  I remember feeling that this was a very bleak spot!
Another typical summer campsite.  We had sewn extra material to the flysheets so that they could be weighted down with stones.  It was often difficult to get pegs into the ground so we would tie the guy lines to drift wood or as in this picture, whale vertebrae.
We experienced some extended periods of poor weather, the air temperature was hovering about 0 degrees and the sea was often full of ice.  We were stuck on this beach for 3 days. 
Being stuck on beaches did allow a certain degree of creativity with the cooking.  This is instant whip being encouraged to solidify using the local ice.
The major concern for us was the possibility of an encounter with a polar bear.  We took full precautions including rifles in each tent plus alarms around the tents.  This bear (Apologies for the quality of the photo but I was still in my sleeping bag and trying to grab a rifle, as well as take a picture) had been swimming past and had come out of the sea to investigate what these strange shapes were on the beach. 
This is not sensible but we were young and foolish.
Often we would try to stay on the water for most of the day as landing was frequently very cold and once ashore we would need to have the tents up.  This wasn’t ideal picnic territory.
 Just finishing our circumnavigation of Amsterdamoya.  We were just a few miles short of 80 degrees north and were starting to head back south.  At this point we hadn’t seen another human being for over 2 weeks and it would be another week before we came across some Russian scientists.  In 1983 tourism had not taken off in this part of the world.
 Pete Scott and myself in front of one of the many glaciers, we had just had a very close and memorable encounter with some beluga whales.
 These paddlers (just visible) are too close to the ice front and we quickly moved away when some fairly large bits calved off.
Even on rest days we would get out and explore this pristine environment.  This was heading up one of the glaciers towards the main ice cap.
Great days, we spent two months wandering around this stunning archipelago, encountered almost no human beings and had just a superb time.



4 thoughts on “Arctic Sea Kayaking

  • February 18, 2012 at 22:24
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    Thanks Leonardo. We had a great time, two months is long time to be away on a trip but it was worth it.

  • February 18, 2012 at 21:39
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    Thanks for the nice photos and text, what a beautiful trip!!!

  • February 13, 2012 at 09:08
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    Hi. Thanks for the comment. If I have time later in the week I will look at scanning in some other slides from the 1970's and early 80's.

  • February 12, 2012 at 18:52
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    Fascinating, thanks for sharing.

    They didn't have blogs back in 83 so yours may be the first from that ere?

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