Why is it ....

This picture was taken a few years ago, during a trip from Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) to Angmagssalik.
At this point we had crossed the entrance of Scoresby Sound and were about 300 miles into the trip, so about half way from Ittoqqortoormiit.
Sat in our kayaks, NDK HV Explorers, which we had finished fitting out ourselves and then shipped out from Nigels the year before.
Here we are looking onto the completely uninhabited Blosseville Coast.
The most amazing thing, other than the fact that in all probability no one had even landed here, let alone walked up those valleys and climbed any of the peaks - was that most likely we were the only people within a 300 mile radius. No one behind or in front of us - Iceland was 300 miles away and the west coast of Greenland a similar distance.
Quite a unique situation really.
A couple of days later while at sea we had our first Bear encounter, he was swimming along in the sea ice hunting seals and our paths crossed. A truly amazing experience, uneventful for the bear, although still very unforgettable for us.

And people often ask - why is it you enjoy kayaking in Greenland so much........

NDK Explorer - my old faithful

I just cant believe how well my old NDK Explorer has done over the years.
It was made way, way back in another time by Mike Webb, when the small factory was next to the "Paddlers Return", for an exercise with the Holyhead Life Boat. It wasn't expected to survive that!
I then got hold of it and after a bit of TLC used it for many years as a fleet boat.
As it was never expected to last its original mission it never had a skeg fitted (not worth the labour and extra expense), so was a challenge for some folk to use.
However in 2008 I shipped it out and added it to my growing fleet of kayaks in Tasiilaq, East Greenland. Since then it has been used every summer - as my guide boat, as without a skeg its so easy to pack and has quite a bit of extra space, and with no skeg it is less prone to damage and potential leak spots.

Admittedly it has undergone some repairs, but nothing too major, keel strips every few seasons keep it solid, strong and bone dry.
The hardest thing was fitting a new cockpit rim a few years ago, I had a lesson at the factory in Holyhead and was supplied the correct stuff to mix up when I got out to Greenland.
However as expected, this was a particularly unpleasant task to be doing outside my storage container in the heat, dust and mosquitoes.
Ironically, two days later this great repair job got damaged, when an new and over enthusiastic helicopter pilot at the pad in Tasiilaq managed to lift the empty kayak up and blow it over a small cliff. I fixed it, but it was a shame.
Folk say every scratch tells a story or reminds you of a memorable moment, well there are too many stickers on mine (they make great cover ups for repairs) to remember them all, that's for sure.

I can say though, that after an early hard life, and then a re birth to the sea ice of East Greenland, she is still going strong.
Now with well over 5500 Arctic miles under her hull she is still fit for purpose in this pretty demanding environment.
Always paddled fully loaded and always braking trail when the sea ice gets thick.
Like many old girls - she has put on a bit of weight here and there, but that's fibre glass for you.
Still a looker though, much loved and admired by many.
One things for sure - she will outlast me.

If any suitably experienced kayakers fancy a trip of a life time - then there are still a couple of seats, in less used and equally attractive kayaks, available on one of my guided expeditions this summer.

Top tip - seal blubber, removes all signs of scratches on a Navy Blue hull.
Happy Paddling...

Geoff Murray writes....

Geoff Murray from Tasmania writes...

I first paddled with Martin back in 2012.
I was immediately impressed with not only his relaxed manner and obvious competence but also the quality of the kayaks he supplies.
Most tour companies that operate on the churn principle supply lesser quality plastic kayaks that "just" do the job.
Martin's are the sort of kayaks you would buy for yourself. In fact, the kayak I paddle when I am on one of his trips is the same make and model as one of my own in Tasmania,a Rockpool GT. During the trip, discussion of plans and aims is inclusive and friendly while at the same time you know there is a competent mind in the background considering all aspects of the trip from the point of view of safety, to individual paddler's abilities, the need to resupply and ultimately to providing the team with the best trip possible.
So far I have paddled in East Greenland 3 times for a total of around 900kms. Two of the trips were with Martin and one was a specific solo photographic trip, for which Martin supplied me with kayak (Rockpool Menai 18) and logistical support. I imagine there are other places as good as East Greenland but I haven't found them yet.
I have visited West Greenland which doesn't offer the raw feel of the East. If you want adventure, go East! On my second expedition Martin guided a small team to Lake Fjord, which was where Gino Watkins died in 1932, a truly fascinating place.


I have also paddled 300kms along the Antarctic Peninsula on a recent expedition camping on ice along the way. This expedition was inspired having read about John Rymill who was one of Gino Watkins expedition members in the 30's. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rymill
Certainly an excellent trip but for me East Greenland is better. Antarctica is unbelievably committing with kilometre after kilometre of ice cliffs, really unpredictable weather and very few sheltered campsites. Overall, a very dangerous place to paddle. Plus in no way could the accessible and regularly visited part of the Antarctic Peninsula be called wild and remote. It is normal to see cruise ships, zodiacs and yachts every day. Remember, 30,000 people a year visit Antarctica in a 3 month window. You don't have to go far in East Greenland to escape all of that. Antarctica lacks the unique, captivating culture and social history of the East Greenland Inuit. A friendly and charming race of people. It is also logistically far easier to get to East Greenland compared to going to Antarctica. And cheaper!
I will definitely be returning to East Greenland, and I will travel with Martin.

Not long now - I can't wait !

Not long now......

Spring is nearly here in Shetland, on some days at least, and the evenings are starting to get much lighter so the paddling season is now well underway. However the past dark months were an ideal and busy time to be gearing up for our summer in East Greenland. Flights, accommodation and logistics are now sorted and team members are focusing on their kayak and general fitness, equipment lists and packing systems.

I own a comprehensive fleet of quality UK kayaks and equipment, which is permanently kept in Tasiilaq, so folk can often paddle the same boat they are familiar with at home, so this helps when it comes to working out if everything will go in.

Always an option, some folk are staying on a bit longer after their expedition dates with me to further explore this amazing area and do some dedicated hiking, while others are teaming up with family or friends to explore Iceland a bit, on the way back home from Greenland.
This season sees a multinational group of folk making up the teams, paddlers from America, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Norway and the UK, we have good teams (as always) going out this season.
Greenland is now becoming a popular place for kayakers and is getting busier every season.
However the Angmagssalik region of the east coast where my expeditions are based, with only one flight from Iceland a day, is in comparison less accessible and consequently quieter. I have been running guided trips on the east coast every summer for the past 12 years and have seen little significant change.

There are only two access points for the east coast - Kulusuk and Constable Point so traffic is not excessive. The main settlement of Tasiilaq (via Kulusuk) is on Angmagssalik Island and was at one time called Angmagssalik. Here the local ‘commune’ or town council administer an area the size of the UK with a population of approx 2500 people – many of which are seasonal contractors, involved in building and infrastructure projects. In fact the total population of Greenland is only 56,000 – with the remaining 53,000+ living on the south and west coasts.

Consequently, once out on expedition we are pretty much on our own and apart from local seal hunters we don’t see many other people. Over the past 19 years I have developed some good local contacts who are able to provide back up services. So should anyone have a medical issue and need to be evacuated to the modern local hospital, then that base is covered. If conditions dictate, then checking in with these folk every few days by satellite phone gives me a heads up as to what the local ice is doing and enables our journey to make the best of the conditions. This also gives us added options enabling our trip to venture further afield to lesser known areas and gives added flexibility as to where expeditions start and finish.
Having spent so much time in this area I obviously now know it extremely well, certainly my current trips are much improved on the ones I ran in the early days, generally being more adventurous, flexible, interactive and safer.

Ice conditions on the east coast are very different from the south and west side, as the main polar drift flows south down the east coast from the Arctic Ocean.Conditions can at times be unpredictable and challenging (Fun), however that’s why folk join me – to paddle amongst sea ice and ice bergs. Over the years the word has got round and I now regularly get folk joining my trips from New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia as it’s much easier, cheaper and safer than venturing to the Antarctic to paddle in ice. I also get many folk joining me having first paddled on the west coast.
Although no as bad as some, my trips are still expensive,so a good lead in time is advisable. I obviously don’t skimp on service or safety, the kayaks and equipment are my own. They are good quality and well maintained and I know the history of every bit of kit. During the lead up phase as well as on trip I try to give folk options and advice and allow them to make decisions and have control - its important folk feel it's their trip, with me along in the background to guide and support and step in when appropriate or the conditions dictate. As a result my trip dates fill up quick and I don’t really advertise, also I get many repeat bookings which say’s a lot.

East Greenland doesn’t take prisoners, so don’t get caught out. Every expedition is run by myself, and I am always supported by at least one back up leader who is capable of taking over should the need arise. They know the area, ice conditions, weather anomalies and my systems well, having been out to this area with me several times before. Team members are introduced to my way of working and taught how to read and negotiate ice and ice bergs, as well as transferring their existing navigation skills to our 1:250000 scale maps, route planning, identifying camp sites, get outs and plan B's.

Some time back I wrote the ISKGA Paddling in Ice Module. This along with BC guide modules are covered during the expedition and certificates are available for interested parties. Hazard and Risk and ‘expedition mind sets’ are looked at in depth, all with the aim to help further develop your existing skills and provide knowledge for future unsupported trips to this area on your own.
The Arctic is a fragile and delicate area, slow to recover from neglect, abuse or over use.
Throughout the expedition we implement a minimal impact and sustainable approach towards our journeying.

So – if this sounds like the sort of thing you may be interested in, an truly amazing kayak adventure, in the Arctic, paddling amongst the sea ice, negotiating icebergs, encountering whales and wild camping amongst fantastic wilderness scenery. Then why not contact me for further details info@seakayakadventures.co.uk

Scoresbysund / Film Project.

Last May I was approached by Paul Walker, who runs Tangent Expeditions.
Paul was facilitating logistical support for a film crew, who were planning a six week project in Scoresbysund.
The aim was to produce a two part Mountaineering and Kayaking documentary, highlighting the effects of climate change and its impact on the hunting community of Ittoqqortoormiit.

I had kayaked extensively in this area before, so to cut quite a long story short, I ended up on the team as kayak guide / safety adviser for the paddling section of the documentary, this meant I would be out in Ittaqqortoormiit for about 3 weeks in June.
Just enough time before returning to the UK for a week and then heading back out to Angmagssalik to lead my guided expeds in July and August.

It was all very last minute, apparently this is not uncommon with film projects, and it was a bit of a rush to procure all the kit.

The project required reliable expedition sea kayaks. I obviously recommended NDK HV Explorers, as I knew from numerous expeditions, that they would carry the kit and stand up to the abuse both a film crew and the sea ice would inflict on them. Being fibre glass we would at least be able to repair them should in the unlikely event they sustain catastrophic injury.

A couple of my pals (Nick and Alistair) collected the four Explorers and a selection of Celtic paddles from Nigel's factory in Holyhead and delivered them, along with kit from Reedchillcheater and Steve Wetman, at the docks in Immingham. From here they were shipped to Iceland and taken overland by truck to Akureyri.

So far so good, they now had to go into a "Twin Otter" for a special flight out to Constable Point on the east coast of Greenland. I was always told to measure twice / cut once. I think on this occasion both kayaks and the plane were measured a dozen times. With the seats out and some packaging removed they just fitted, with only an inch or so to spare.

The next challenge was to get them out to the settlement slung under a helicopter.

After a bit of faffing, over concerns that they would be too light and hence swing all over the place and cause issues for the pilot, they were weighted down with the expeditions Zodiac outboard - success.
This was a first for me, not sure how many Explorers have been transported to the start of an expedition as a sling load.

The next few days were spent, like on any other expedition, faffing with kit.
The film crew were using a couple of hunters boats as a floating platform and Matt, one of Pauls instructors, was also running the Tangent Zodiac. Boats, equipment and film gear all needed prepping and loading.

The only snag at this stage, being June, was there was no water to paddle in. To be fare it had been pretty perfect as we flew in, however the pack ice had been pushed into the fjord, blocking any chance of an early get away.

While the main team filmed in and around the community, I got the chance to accompany (as his gun man) one of the camera men who was trying to get footage of Polar Bears. We had a great sled ride out to the mouth of the fjord where the pack ice was likely to be hiding bears hunting for seal.

It was in this area in July 2006, that Phil Clegg, Pete Jones and I waited 9 days for the ice to clear for our crossing of Scoresbysund on our attempt to paddle 700 miles down to Angmagssalik. We had a couple of attempts at the crossing before safely getting over and while waiting had a bear walk right past our tent in the night. That particular expedition in 2006 was unsuccessful. We got half way, but after many protracted delays caused by sea ice, had to return the way we had come - None the less it was a fantastic adventure and was the start of my guided trips.

Martin and Pete 2006.

Time is money as they say - in this case literally, so in desperation to get off we launched as soon as a shore lead opened up and offered a chance of progressing. It was too thick really to make any sensible progress, however if we could make it across the little bay by the settlement we had a chance of reaching some open water before the local shore lead closed up again. The hunters both had boats with 180 hp Yamaha outboards, capable of pushing through choka ice, so we had a safety net never available on independent / unsupported expeditions.

A couple of slow days paddle put us on the "James Land" coast. It is basically a shallow beach running for a 100 miles into the top end of Scoresbysund, not too inspiring but there are fantastic views across the fjord. However being shallow the ice runs aground and there is always a gap of open water by the shore.

The only issue is that at high water the beach often disappears and landing by kayak and getting out on the frozen snow wall is a pain. Obviously in July and August landings in this area would be a doddle.

The highlight was seeing a polar Bear up close again. During our expedition in 2006 we had had numerous encounters, but then the three of us were on our own, with out any support and miles away from civilisation. Now on day three when a big healthy male bear walked into our camp there were a dozen folk, two of which were experienced local hunters, so we were able to shoo him away with out incident. There is safety in numbers for sure and this is why the expeditions I guide each summer in the Angmassalik area have a total of 8 clients plus 2 guides. A bear is less likely to cause trouble if he is outnumbered. On my trips we also do a waking watch at the campsite. Here we were doing the same, with the added agenda of filming one, rather than let it wander past.

The encounter with the bear was the footage the crew obviously wanted - I am sure if we had just stood still and made no noise, it would have come very close, as it did and checked us out but then moved off on its intended route - we were just in the way. It was scared off with rocks and flares and swam out to sea unharmed. Prob his only encounter with humans and like most of the crew, their first bear. A very special moment for sure!

The kayak team reached the ice edge after about 60 miles of paddling. It blocked the route and prevented further progress.
There were several other production options at this stage so this was the end of the kayak phase and my involvement on the water.

The remainder of my time was spent in helicopters, travelling to film locations, looking for Muskox - I had never seen these stage beasts.
Quite amazing creatures..

Checking out routes and laying in stores for phase two of the filming project.

I have not been at liberty to discuss this project in any detail, so this blog is rather vague.
However it was a great experience, the team were a fantastic bunch and I am sure it will be a very interesting adventure documentary, that covers the important aspects of climate change and how this impacts on the hunting community in this remote part of east Greenland.
Well worth watching - keep an eye out for it.

Arctic Club

I was recently invited to give a short presentation at the Arctic Club annual dinner, Edinburgh. My talk with slides, was based around both of our successful kayak trips in East Greenland to Lake Fjord (2016) and the 1932 British Arctic Air Route Expedition base site at Natavit (2018). It was great that expedition members - James Pigdon, Donna McCready and Sonja Ezergailis (2018) were able to attend and Geoff Murray and John Paschke who were not there, were mentioned in dispatches. During the course of the weekend I was made a Full member of the Arctic Club, having been put forward by Mike Lea from the Gino Watkins Memorial trust. Pleased to say that the presentation was very well received.

Unfinished Business 2018

Unfinished Business 2018 A sea kayak journey to the BAARE base site at Nativit East Greenland. I have harped on about Gino Watkins now for many years, however his exploits have been a significant inspiration for me and over the years have inspired several of us to thoroughly explore the Angmassalik region of East Greenland. Although much of my regular touring area around Tasiilaq was explored and mapped by Watkins team in the 1930’s, there was still one major area for us to visit and explore. The site of the original “1930 British Arctic Air Route Expedition base”, Which was established south of Angmassalik Island near the old settlement of Nativit. For a small group of us, this became the focus of a trip this summer. The team consisted of Sonja and James and Donna who had been with me on my Lake Fjord expedition in 2016.
The sea ice had moved out from the coast early this year and although this increased the potential of much greater sea swells, effecting exposed headlands, conditions fortunately remained calm and settled. We all know the Angmassalik area very well, however from Nativit at the west side of Sermilik fjord, we would be on new and unexplored ground. Nativit was the site of an old Inuit settlement and comprised of over a dozen large turf houses which would each have housed an extended family. Several of these (probably during the time of Watkins) were remodelled to have a wooden house inside the walled structure. This remote settlement is mentioned in “Northern Lights” (F S Chapman) and we were keen to stop and see if there was anything interesting or recognisable left.
After what had turned into a rather long day we were pleased to discover a very small (modern day) hunter’s cabin in the channel between Nativit and the outer islands. Although cramped, this was still a real bonus as it saved us having to do a bear watch that night. We had, had a bear encounter a few days before (neither party came to any harm) on the west side of Sermilik fjord. Although justifying all our previous night watches it meant bears were definitely in the vicinity. This area feels extra remote and by now we were on our guard, each of us doing two hour bear watches during the night, which soon becomes exhausting. We were also setting trip lines around our camp at night. James commented that this was the only place he had ever needed to take a gun and a camera with him when venturing off to the toilet.
While exploring that evening we discovered two substantial wooden posts that had been placed vertically in the ground and about 6 meters apart. Although I can’t be certain, we would strongly suspect these were used as the vertical supports for Inuit rope training / kayak agility training / games. None of us had ever seen anything similar before, but all agreed due to their location in the settlement that there would have been very little other explanation for their purpose.  
It was also interesting to think that several of the old wooden huts may well have been built using materials scavenged from the BAARE site when Gino and the team abandoned it in 1931. Wood and timber is a valuable commodity in this area, even now, and an empty hut would soon have been re purposed. The atmosphere is very dry and timber takes a long time to rot.
A late start due to further exploring saw us paddling the final 14 km into the fjord to locate the BAARE base site. The outer coast had been pretty free of ice bergs, however from here on in the fjord was packed with them. These were some of the largest and most impressive bergs I have ever encountered, and quite why they were here remains a bit of a mystery to us, as conditions and tide didn’t account for their presence. Dog Island, where Gino tethered his sled dogs before off loading supplies was easy to identify and we landed on the smooth rock slabs where the Quest would have unloaded her cargo in 1930. After an initial recce, and as we intended base camping for several days, we decided to lug all our kit up to the hut site and establish our camp there. It was a strange feeling, walking up and down the smooth flat rocks from the kayaks to our camp, thinking of all the times this route would have been trodden in the past. There is a wide uniform band of smooth black rock which is just like a paved path and your eye always goes to it and you end up walking this line, whether you want to or not. I am sure this was also the case in 1930. After all this time we could still see bits of coal that had escaped from a burst or overfull sack and had lain hidden in a rock crevice, unobserved or thought about for over 90 yrs. That evening we set up our trip line round the tents – if walked through a taught line would pull and activate an audible alarm, this was to give us a heads up, rather than scare any bear away. It’s a simple system I have developed myself and is easy and lightweight to carry in the kayaks.
The next few days were spent soaking up the atmosphere, everyone pretty much did their own thing, mooching about and looking for artefacts. There is very little left to see, however once you trained your eye in the outline of the hut was very clear. Donna had brought out her copy of “Northern Lights” and we all got a lot of pleasure from identifying the exact spot from which all the original photos were taken.
It made us smile when we realised that several of the shots were very staged and taken from the rocks at the landing site. Understandable I suppose given the heavy camera gear they were using at that time. The back drop to these photos is unchanged and was easy to identify. There was only one good fresh water source and unbeknown to us we had already found it on our paddle from Nativit into Dog Island. Again it was strange to think of folk inevitably walking the same route we did to get drinking water.
Donna was a real sleuth with her book, even finding the remains of the post (snapped off but still embedded) which held up their original washing line and the metal rings used to anchor the radio mast.
The site is littered with broken bits and pieces, these included :- spent ammo, paper shot gun cartridges, broken beer bottles, medicine bottles, roofing felt, wood, hinges, the remains of the stove, lots of window glass, coal, pottery, wire, electric cable, battery plates, bits of big earthen wear storage jars, dog harness buckles, shoe / boot soles, a bracket from a Seagull outboard motor, various unidentifiable bits of metal work, what looked to be radio parts and most exciting of all bits of broken gramophone records. Everything was photographed and left on site, apart from the bits of gramophone record which I took and will try and find someone to help identify the songs for me.
It was very noticeable how the growth of any plant life testified to the extreme conditions regularly experienced here. NW behind our camp was a rocky hill which gave great views in all directions, including out to sea – in the day this was undoubtedly a well visited summit. Watkins would have been checking out conditions and looking for returning boats, planes or sled teams. For us this was a great site to observe and photograph the ice cap, icebergs in the fjord, and locate our route up onto the inland ice.
We spent a day paddling into the head of the fjord to check out the original route used in 1930 to access the ice. It was an amazing feeling looking up from the beach at the “gully route” and scree which was their start point for any trip inland. However for us at least the way up “Bugbear Bank” as it was affectionately named, is now impassable, as the ice has receded so much, leaving a huge rock moraine and boulder field.
As a result the following day we paddled over to the far side of the fjord to investigate another area we thought might be more promising and one Watkins had used when travelling by dog sled to Isatoq. Negotiating the colossal icebergs on route was a daunting prospect as we had previously witnessed huge collapses and seen the effect the resulting waves had had on other small bergs in the area – it was certainly not a place to linger. Interestingly though, these very significant waves didn’t affect the landing site, and our kayaks, like Watkins boats and planes were safely sheltered by the buffer of rocks at dog island..
Reaching the far side we managed to locate a gently sloping tongue of ice which gave us good access from a sandy beach onto the ice cap. We brought the kayaks up to a safe position and secured them with lines before changing from kayak to mountaineering gear. It was good to explore the area, view and photograph it from the ice and although we didn’t gain any major height by mountaineering standards, it was a fantastic experience.
At the last minute Stephen Spencer Chapman (Freddy S Chapman’s grandson) had been unable to join our expedition, However the family did provide a very unobtrusive plaque acknowledging the 1930 expedition team. We chose a good location overlooking the base site, protected from the elements and secured it to a flat, vertical piece of bed rock.
One overriding memory from this trip was the silence of it all, which was only interrupted by the sound of the huge icebergs rumbling and collapsing behind our camp. During several days of pottering about and taking photos, it was hard not to notice that the base site is now on a direct transatlantic air route – with several high altitude flights (too high to hear) going overhead every day. Ironic that the very reason Watkins came here was to gather weather information for PANAM Airlines.
One day a local family out hunting stopped at the rock slabs for lunch, inviting us to join them for a meal of cooked seal meat and blubber. This was a first for several of the team and quite a highlight too. They were very interested in our kayaks and that we had come to such a remote place, like their ancestors, travelling by kayak – although they used the rocky look out to check on conditions and look for seals, they were completely unaware of the fact that the remains of the base site were there. Freddy S Chapman’s account of the BAARE is called Northern Lights, so it was a fitting finale that we experienced several great displays of this phenomenon, not least on the final night before we paddled out.
Our journey into Nativit and the BAARE base site felt like such an adventure, all the more so knowing the heritage associated with it and the feeling of being so isolated and “out there”. Remarkable to be again be following in the same steps and standing on ground that had been such a significant part of other people's lives during the 1930s. It's hard to put into words the feelings and emotions associated with this journey. At times you could hear a pin drop. The silence and peace of the place was inspiring and thought provoking. Frequent reflections into what life must have been like to live here during that time regularly crossed our minds. The drama associated with the enormous collapses of ice from the icebergs in the fjord entered our conscious and unconscious sleeping minds on a regularly basis due to their regular roar and thundering.