The hoped for settled weather failed to materialise and we woke to a day virtually without colour. Low grey skies, settled on a the grey screen covered hillsides and were reflected in the grey sea. Somehow packing in those conditions seems to take longer but we still managed to be on the water just before 09.00.
Heading out from the shelter of the islands we picked up a slight northerly wind, which certainly assisted our journey south. The ice bergs were largely offshore so we were able to relax. At one point we did have a couple of whales submerge about 100 metres directly ahead of us only to resurface behind, you hope that they are aware of your presence but I am never too sure.
Landings along this section of coast are few and far between so we didn’t have lunch until we had finished at the end of the day. The relatively early finish meant that we were able to make full use of the substantial stream to wash both ourselves and equipment before having time to walk up the large valley behind the campsite.
There is something exciting about wandering across terminal moraines, identifying a roche moutonnee and pointing out hanging valleys. Having a basic understanding of glacial processes can only add to the enjoyment of your time in such a spectacular environment. The wind was still blowing relatively briskly which meant that all of these activities were an insect free experience. Something which had been all too rare so far on the trip.
We woke to find that the grey skies of the day before had been replaced by a virtually cloudless sky, unfortunately the wind had increased somewhat and the waters on the outside of the bay were flecked with white horses. We obviously weren’t going anywhere straight away, so we had an enforced, relaxing morning waiting for the wind drop, which it did just after lunch.
Soon we were heading south before rounding the southern tip of the island. The plan was to paddle under the huge cliffs of the east coast the following day. A couple of miles along the east coast we found some ideal slabs, suitable for landing on with flat land for camping on behind. Perfect. The only thing that could make it better was a couple of whales, whilst we ate our evening meal. As it was we only had one humpback whale but what a spectacle we experienced for over an hour. It is evenings and days like this that make you realise why sea kayaking in Greenland is such a special experience.
Arve Prinsens Ejland is a large island, which dominates the views of north east Disko Bay and offers some fascinating kayaking. Although we only had a short day planned there was plenty of variety, with a number of stops planned.
Our first target was a small Bay where I know that there is some excellent evidence of a former settlement. We had first camped here in 2008 and it was here that I really thought about the similarities of modern recreational kayaker and generations of former Greenlanders. We travel through the environment at the same speed as the Greenlanders did hundreds of years ago and our needs are almost identical. An easy place to land a kayak, a flat area for tents and a stream for water. As soon as I realised that we had identical needs and knew what to look for almost everywhere we camped we could identify signs of former human use.
As we approached the small bay it was clear that there were quite a few local fishermen in residence and it looked like most were still in bed, so we avoided landing there. We carried on pottering along the coast with the next target an area where Brunnich’s Guillemots nested. En route we passed a couple of very confident White Rumped Sandpipers. Quite an amazing bird, which is one of the greatest long distant migrants in the world, some individuals traveling from northern Canada to Patagonia. On their way north to breed they are thought to undertake non-stop flights up to 2,600 miles in length.
Brunnich’s Guillemots are a species which you are likely to encounter in the U.K., as they spend their lives in areas where the sea temperature remains below 8 degrees Celsius. So it’s always a pleasure to seem them on their breeding grounds. We weren’t disappointed today with quite a few individuals flying around in addition to variety of other species.
Our destination for today was just to the north of the abandoned settlement of Agpat, which is on a small island just off the west coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland. It is somewhere, which is always worth exploring. After landing Louis, headed back out to test his new fishing kit. As he headed back to shore it seemed that he was making hard work of what should have been a short paddle, it was only as he entered shallow water that we realised he was towing 4 Greenlandic cod, each of which would provide enough food for 7 people. 3 were delicately released whilst the unlucky 4th fish was on an open fire with 10 minutes of leaving the water. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
The evening was spent exploring the old settlement. This was my 6th visit and it is sad to see how the buildings are deteriorating over the years. Amazingly it was also the first time that we haven’t seen other people there. Some of us carried on exploring the village whilst several decided to walk to the highest point on the island, which was marked by a substantial cairn.
A great day but we went to bed in the knowledge that the following day we were heading south along quite an exposed section of Arve Prinsens Ejland. All we needed was weather like we have had for the 6 days and life would be great.
The day after we were forced to change our route in northern Disko Bay we headed west along the north coast of Arve-Prinsens Ejland. Passing between the ice to the north and the cliffs to the south, there was no real prospect of an easy landing, I always think that this a challenging stretch of water.
As we passed through the narrow gap to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland we caught a glimpse of our first Arctic Fox. This is one of two land mammals that you might see whilst paddling in this area. The other is the Arctic Hare, which we encountered a couple of days later.
Once inside the gap it is advisable to stop, there is a nice sheltered beach and its probably been at least 3 hours since you have been able to have a toilet stop.
After lunch a quick scramble up the slopes behind the beach gives you a good view across to the small settlement of Qeqertaq and it is possible to assess the ice conditions for the crossing of the fjord. More importantly there is a really good mobile phone signal, which is great for checking in with home after 7 days out but also enables you to get a reasonable weather forecast. We have used Weather Underground, on recent trips and have found it to be pretty accurate.
Oqaatsoq, is the smaller island to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland, and there is delightful campsite in a small bay on the south east corner of the island. There are some dramatic bird cliffs on the opposite side of the bay to the camp and we have seen whales on a regular basis. What better place to pass some time.
We camped for two nights, with some of us paddling the 13 nm around the island, with empty kayaks. A real pleasure. What we saw to the north though didn’t inspire confidence for the future, substantial numbers of large bergs appeared to be blocking the route to Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our food supplies. The future looked uncertain but there was nothing we could do as we retreated to the tents with a possible storm approaching across Disko Bay.
After a couple of days on any trip you start to settle into a daily routine. The start of our day had the simple mantra “7-8-9”. Up at 07.00, breakfast at 08.00 and on the water by 09.00. By the time we had arrived in northern Disko Bay, the routine was well established and most mornings we were away early.
Entering the waters of entering these waters is always an unknown, as regards ice. It is possible to obtain sea ice charts from the Danish Meteorological Institute but by the time you have kayaked to northern Disko Bay from Ilulissat they are likely to be out of date. If you encounter open water no problem but if there is ice it is matter of feeling your way forward and this may involve getting of the kayaks at times, climbing to higher viewpoint to scout for leads in the ice.
In the northern part of Disko Bay there are a number of glaciers which discharge into the fjords so it is impossible to predict how much ice there will be. What is important is to ensure that you maintain a safe distance between yourself and the ice front. The closest we approached was 3 nautical miles and we didn’t hang about!
On our journey through the area there were some significant areas of open water but in one place our intended route was blocked so we took a more southerly route. This actually worked out really well as we ended up camping in a delightful spot at the rear of sheltered bay. Our only concern was that in the distance we could see a number of really large bergs, which might have an impact on our need to reach Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our supplies.
There are 2 small settlements in the northern part of Disko Bay, Saqqaq and Qeqertaq, both of which provide the opportunity to buy food, what was uncertain was which one it would be. As with any sea kayaking in Disko Bay there is a need to remain flexible due to the variations in the weather and ice.
July, saw a return visit to Greenland for 19 days kayaking with the Jersey Canoe Club. The Club is fortunate that it has 8 kayaks in Ilulissat, the main town in Disko Bay, on the west coast. This means that the logistics of paddling in this area are relatively straightforward. Book a flight, go to the supermarket in Ilulissat and start part paddling. What a complete contrast to my first visit to Greenland when we had to ship the kayaks out months in advance, plus boxes of food etc. That felt like an expedition, nowadays we go on holiday.
On our arrival at the hostel in Ilulissat we met Peter and Sue Bisset, who had used the kayaks before us. Peter runs the “Paddles with an Anas Acuta” blog and it was interesting to hear his description of their 4 weeks out kayaking. The weather had clearly been far more unsettled than normal, which had resulted in some exciting conditions. They experienced several days of snow, which is very unusual for July. It was good to catch up though and to hear of their experiences.
Within 24 hours of arriving in Greenland, we had sorted out the equipment, bought food and were heading north. Unfortunately as we headed away from Ilulissat the wind started to increase, which was to become a feature of our paddle north. The first day we had to cut short because of an increasing headwind, although we did manage to do some slightly longer paddles in the following days, which put us back on some sort of schedule.
For various reasons over the last few months I just haven’t had the time to update the content on the site, partly because I have been fortunate enough to be out kayaking, several times each week. Things are changing and hopefully I will be able to add content on a more regular basis. In addition I have moved the content from the blog into a new format, which should give more flexibility with the updates.
It has certainly been a busy few months with sea kayaking in Jersey’s waters taking place on a regular basis. I have also been fortunate enough to visit some amazing paddling destinations which I am planning to write about over the next few weeks and months.
Greenland has featured again in our paddling adventures but so have some new areas such as Spain and Mauritius, both of which offered kayaking of a surprisingly high standard, with delightfully warm weather and water.
One of the biggest changes is that retirement has arrived which allows for significantly more time to explore Jersey’s local waters. It wasn’t until I finished work that I realized just how good the weather is during the week, enabling visits to our favourite reef, the Ecrehous to take place on the quieter days during the week. My finishing work has coincided with a number of other people coming to the end of their careers, which has meant that there is always somebody to go paddling or coasteering with.
Over the coming months there will be updates with useful information for those who wish to kayak in the Channel Islands, with suggestions of great paddling destinations further afield.
Other photographs of our more recent kayaking trips can be seen here.
Over the years I have seen numerous species of bird, animals and other wildlife at quite close quarters whilst out paddling in my kayak. In common with many other sea kayakers I thought that paddling in a sea kayak was the ultimate green vehicle. The one form of marine vehicle, which was going to cause the least amount of disturbance to wildlife, either along the shore or on the water.
On reflection though I am not so sure we are as environmentally as friendly as we think we are. I remember the indignation I felt when a wildlife watch boat off Shetland approach us and told us we were disturbing the birds. I then watched the boat approach much closer to the cliffs than we had been with no visible impact on the thousands of birds, which were in the area.
On another occasion I recall paddling off the south coast of Skye. There were numerous seals hauled out on the rocks and although we paddled out from the rocks there was some disturbance with a number of the seas entering the water. One of the small boats which operated out of Elgol passed reasonably close to us before approaching the rocks so that the passengers could get a better view of the seals. Surprisingly although the boat was closer than us the seals weren’t at all concerned.
Thinking of other meaningful interactions with wildlife of various shapes and sizes many of the closest encounters have been whilst have been sitting still in my kayak. Puffins swimming close by, seals approaching the bow my my kayak, whales surfacing nearby, the list could go on.
So why didn’t these larger boats with engines disturb the wildlife? One theory is that we are not a fixed shape, our paddles are rotating and at times the sunlight catches the blades. We are a moving image and perhaps the wildlife concerned becomes confused whereas a boat is a fixed shape and so the animals become accustomed to the shape and less agitated.
Of course this might be complete rubbish but I think that it is worth considering the impact we have on wildlife, our environmental credentials may not be as robust as we think they are. With the winter approaching be particularly thoughtful about those small wading birds who have traveled thousands of miles to find a regular food supply along our shoreline and then we paddle along, passing close to where they are roosting, causing them to take flight and wasting some of their hard earned energy resources.
Seeing wildlife in all its forms is one of the most memorable aspects of sea kayaking but lets slow down, give a bit more space and reduce the anxiety to those animals which call our seas and shoreline home.
Paddling in Shetland. There were literally thousands of gannets plus numerous other species such as Puffins and Great Skua’s. We didn’t need to approach the cliffs as we slowed down the birds came closer of their own accord.
This was a memorable day heading south along the west side of the Sleat Peninsula in Skye, for several miles we were accompanied by dolphins. We didn’t follow them or chase after them, they just decided to be with us.
Basking Shark off Wiay. Sitting and watching this magnificent creature swim alongside and underneath the kayaks was a very special experience.
Whilst launching after lunch two whales appeared alongside us. We sat for 30 minutes watching an amazing display and then as if they had had enough fun they just disappeared. One of the reasons why kayaking off the west coast of Greenland is so memorable.
This beautiful bird just swam past whilst waiting for some others in the group to launch.
It is always worth experimenting by pointing the camera down. This was just a lucky shot but there were so many sea lions in the area it was worth trying a few underwater shots even if I couldn’t see what the camera was pointing at.
I can never understand people who actually select a non window seat when flying because, without doubt, the best onboard entertainment is found from looking out of the window. Frequently the flights pass over some of the more classic paddling destinations, so the advice would be to always keep your camera at the ready. You are unlikely to be disappointed. These are a few aerial photos that I have taken in the last few years.
An early morning departure from Heathrow gave superb views of London. The Isle of Dogs is clearly visible and the more eagle eyed will be able to find the location of Shadwell Basin, where we were paddling last weekend.
Lihou is a small island off the west coast of Guernsey, where we have passed many a happy weekend. This was taken in the aftermath of a February storm, hence the swell breaking on the north and west coasts. We are there this weekend but the forecast is for much calmer conditions.
Brecqhou, off the west coast of Sark. The narrow channel is the Gouliot Passage, where the tidal streams can reach 7 knots on springs. A very entertaining location.
Just after take off from Ilulissat in Greenland and before the plane turns to the west and the south. These waters had been much more ice choked when we had paddled south a couple of days earlier.
Approaching the Isle of Wight. The entrance to the River Medina at Cowes is clearly visible. Calshot is largely obscured by the bank of cloud. This picture was taken when heading south towards Jersey
Heading north from Jersey you have a different perspective from the Isle of Wight. We are just to the east of the island looking down Southampton Water. Portsmouth Harbour is visible in the middle of the picture, whilst Langstone Harbour is to the right.
Alderney is the most northerly of the Channel Islands and the closest to France. The harbour at Braye is clearly visible, whilst the small island is Burhou, a fascinating bird colony. Between Alderney and Burhou is the Swinge, with tidal streams of 7 knots, whilst on the other side of the island is the famous Alderney Race, where speeds can reach 8-9 knots in places.
Bonne Nuit bay on the north coast of Jersey, a popular place for the start of kayaking trips. In the middle of the bay Cheval Rock is clearly visible.
Departing from Jersey in a westerly direction, the cliffs at L’Etacq are exposed to the Atlantic swell.
Flying out of Milos in Greece, after what would have been another great weeks sea kayaking. We are looking across to the summit of Mount Profitis Elias 748 metres (2,454 feet) high. On one particularly windy day we did walk to the summit, from which we were able to see some of the finest sea kayaking destinations anywhere.
Your final day on a long trip is always a time of conflicting emotions. We had taken part in a really memorable paddle through some stunning scenery. There was far more ice around than I had experienced on my 5 previous trips in Greenland, which at times had presented a significant challenge and even up until the last we weren’t sure how things were going to go. The French paddlers we had seen a few days earlier had taken 2 days to get out of Ilulissat because of the ice, if we took two days to get in then we would miss our flights home.
There was quite a special feeling, this was the conclusion of a project which had started over 2 years earlier. At the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium in 2013 we came under some pressure to run another event in Jersey in 2014. It was eventually agreed that we would go ahead with the event but the aim was to raise enough funds to be able to buy a number of sea kayaks to place in Greenland, which would be available for the participants at the event to use. Effectively we were aiming to re-invest in the sport.
2015 was the first year that the kayaks were available and they were used for 40 days, which was a successful year from the Jersey Canoe Club’s perspective. We already have bookings for 2016 as well as tentative inquiries for 2017. A successful legacy from the Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium, which will hopefully allow more paddlers to experience the memorable kayaking off the west coast of Greenland.
The final morning. We had lifted the kayaks up quite a distance the night before as there were a number of large bergs just offshore and we didn’t want to risk losing the kayaks on the final night.
Eric heading south through the ice towards Ilulissat.
Our first glimpse of Ilulissat. We were still concerned about whether we would be able to reach the town. There was a significant amount of ice, the only indicator which gave us hope were the number of small boats going past. They had clearly been able to force their way out of the harbour.
The last few hundred metres and there was a hint of open water between the ice floes.
The final slabs on which we pulled the kayaks. At this point we knew that in 36 hours time we would be on the flights home.
The last but one day on my trips in Disko Bay have always been memorable because the distances have always been short, there is the chance for a few pleasant snacks at lunch time and the evening meal is in one of the nicest restaurants I know, anywhere. The H8.
I really enjoy the drop in pace, it allows you to adjust gradually back into “normal” life following several weeks out in the field. Rodebay a small village, to the north of Ilulissat, was the focus of today’s activities with lunch purchased at the shop and the evening meal taken in the restaurant. It was really nice to be joined by Kampe who made the journey north from Ilulissat, in the evening, in his small boat.
Late in the evening we sat on the slabs, just to the south of the village, trying to come to terms with the awe inspiring view across Disko Bay, to the west, whilst realizing that this was likely to be our last night in the wilderness for some time. This was a time to savour the experiences, as opposed to rush back to the “delights” of Ilulissat at full speed.
Paddling towards Rodebay in almost perfect conditions. We just needed to hope that the restaurant was taking bookings!
I have always tended to use this narrow inlet on the southern side of town. Landing was always slightly spoilt by the large quantities of broken glass which littered the beach.
Toby in front of the kayaks. The village shop is visible behind.
The buildings in the village are quite spread out, it is alwaysquite pleasant to wander around the village whilst taking in the superb views to the west.
Eric made friends with the local wildlife.
He was quite a delightful dog who seemed quite happy to pass the afternoon in our company.
Every now and again whilst walking around the villages you will across some surprising discoveries which provide a link to the past.
Kampe joined us for the meal in the evening. Coming up from Ilulissat in his trusty boat.
Camp site just to the south of Rodebay.
After a meal at the H8 restaurant it is always an emotional moment sitting on the slabs looking out across Disko Bay, knowing that this will be your last night in the wilderness for quite some time.