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......
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.