Greenland Paddling 2003 my first paddle in my new kayak, Long Haul Mark I

Gail Ferris



I arrived in Upernavik after hauling with me on the plane all my equipment. Whew that was an expensive exhausting ordeal.  I made the flight all in one day 07/31/03 from Newark to Copenhagen to Søndrestrøm to Ilulissat.

Then I had to overnight in Ilulissat and fly to Upernavik the next day arriving 8/2/03. 

Some deal I can tell you.

It is possible to actually fly on Tuesday all the way up Greenland from Copenhagen without overnighting in Ilulissat.

Below is the appearance of Upernavik on approach in the DeHaviland Dash 7.  This is the first I arrived in Upernavik via fixed wing air craft.  I had left town in 1999 while this airstrip was being built.

What a thrill to finally fly into Upernavik by fixed wing aircraft, a Dash 7. 

I was completely surprised that the pilot flew over Sanderson’s at 1042 meters and in 3.5 nautical miles dropped down to 220 meters altitude.



Such a joy it was to feel the airplane glide low over Lang Ø.  In this photo below I am in my kayak looking toward Umiaq mountain to the left is the low topography of Lang island.



Below is what Upernavik looks like from the air just as I was coming in.  I am just over Lang island where there is a lake in view from the air but not from the water.



Then in 1 nautical mile the plane just kissed the ground on touch down. 

This photo was not taken in 2003 but on a sunnier day in 2009 when I had the privilege of being in the cockpit between the pilots.



The pilot had landed us in 150 meters without gaining speed. 

Just as the pilot brought us down he reversed props just about dime landing us at the very start of the runway.  I would describe as “dime” landing.

Dash 7 aircraft are designed as short runway aircraft and in this experience of landing at Upernavik the Dash 7 sure showed her colors!

There I was at the airport with this view out over the islands all around the horizon and the icebergs drifting by Upernavik to the east.



This time, when I arrived at Upernavik just by coincidence by my own innocent mistake I thought I recognized a fellow who was solid looking hardworking gentleman as being the school janitor. 

Well actually he was not. 

So there I was strutting about the airport, “Miss wise guy”, the wise guy of the century having just landed in Upernavik.  “You know that American lady – she comes here all the time and she paddles that ridiculous kayak.  See, there it is, in those bags she has with her.  She has more bags with her than a family with ten children!”

I remember in 1996 I did something really outrageous and my Danish husband just said “well what do you expect, she is an American!”

I thought that, just as in the past, that I could simply ask him for a free ride with all my bags down the hill to the water or where ever. 

This time I felt my gratis request was even more justified because I was looking for HC Hjort the school director who is a very dear friend.

Oh the things we do, and so innocently too!

I walked up to Lars whom I had mistaken as the school janitor.  Even though he drove a truck for Lasø Company I just assumed the truck was on loan to the school for some temporary reason. 

What emboldened me further was that Lars happened resembled my dear friend HC a very solid older Dane, the best type.

And the plot thickens!

Unawares I told Lars from Lasø that I wanted to find HC.  I was very serious about it and he took me very seriously. 

So there we are the two of us making this assumption that he was supposed to transport me.

We started off by driving to HC’s house but he was not at home.


So next we continued, driving down to the bottom of the hill to the harbor because we knew that HC keeps his boat there.  We both decided that he must be there.

Sure enough HC was on his boat.  He was not off sailing because he was involved with some repair.

After waiting around HC recognized my silhouette and I got to chat with him about conditions.

HC told me that Upernavik had just endured several days of strong windy weather from the north.  Waves were still out there from this storm.

Aha I thought to myself, “this is perfect, I want to catch these waves and run south on them.

Little did I realize that this storm had really set everyone on edge because it is not all that often there is such a strong long lasting storm that forces everyone to stay home until the waves die down.



Lars kindly stuck it out with me all the while, even though he was actually supposed to be on a job.  He dropped my baggage which consisted of my kayak and all my camping gear at the Old Harbor and at the Museum.

Below is a photo showing a wave coming in from the north.  This is near the island just off the museum taken that afternoon of my arrival.  You can see that it does not very inviting out there, then.



Next morning the weather all had changed and it was just bright and sunny

Below you can see the standard motor boats which are the most common boat used for travel between the towns in this part of Greenland. 



Unfortunately this size motorboat does not do too well in following seas as it has a low transom which could easily take a wave.

This photo was taken 8 3 03 10:39 am EDT or 12:39 GDT local time.  The remains from a nasty storm showing in the photo below with dramatic clouds and waves. 

The waves were showing, yes indeed those are real waves out there, but you can see that they are roughly only two feet - just a nice size to run down south on, not large enough to suddenly slew my bow about.

Right! I thought to myself, how perfect I thought to myself as I figured I could take advantage of this nice little situation. 

With this nice following sea I could get a free ride down hill, so to speak, with the wind pushing me all the way or as far as I could take advantage of the wind blowing out of the north to push me down to Prøven Kangersuatsiaq.  What a neat idea now how can anybody especially somebody in a kayak ever pass up a free ride.  I could run those waves right down the coast just zoom along past all that boring stuff I had already paddled by in 1993.




This trip in 2003 was my first time paddling my Long Haul Mark I folding kayak. 



I have spent many years paddling the Klepper Aerius I and I knew very well how very seaworthy the Klepper is.  The Long Haul Mark I is designed on the Klepper but extended to 16 feet 6 inches.

I can tell you that a lot of major design work in choices of materials went into this creation by Mark Ekhardt.  All the rib fittings of spring loaded white metal that break had been changed to bayonet clip together stainless steel fittings that do not come apart and not break.



I assembled my Long Haul Mark I kayak.  I packed it with all my food and camping gear

I can tell you I never packed a kayak as quickly as this one.   It made my head spin.

This is my first time loading a kayak with deck ports.  Believe me, there is nothing like decent loading ports. 

Long Haul was kind enough to ask me where I wanted the ports positioned.  One thing I knew for from my many kayak tours was that I wanted those ports to definitely be on the same side.  I already knew from those very awkward experienced of attempting to safely step over my kayak without somehow catching my foot and accidentally tripping and falling into the across the deck when stepping over a beached kayak.

Trying to step gingerly over a kayak while I am preoccupied and wearing my drysuit makes me hopelessly awkward.  I happen to have short legs to start with.

So I knew that I really wanted these ports to be located on the same side.  Because all I would have to do is just walk up and down the kayak shoving drybags into the ports.

I am never so organized to not at the last have to put a drybag, one here in the bow and another there in the stern.

I decided that the left side or port side of the bow and stern would be perfect.  The loading went so easily and rapidly it made my head spin!




Then I launched from those convenient smooth granite rock slabs you see in this photo below on the Old Harbor, Gamelhavn, in Upernavik.




After all these years of that horrible struggle to load the Klepper Aerius I which at that time had no loading ports.   Whew! What a change. 


Below is a photo of my Klepper in 1992 on the rocks off Aappilattoq.



I so unfondly remember being just exhausted after loading the Klepper in this photo above, standing on my head fishing things deep within the narrow confines below deck using my paddle to prod and poke the stuff bags in the dark recesses figuring out how to fish this and that inside so that nothing would be on the deck.  


In the photo above you can see waves are coming in.  Actually these waves are just swinging around the corner from the right side or north and I have it figured that I am going to grab a free ride on these following seas all the way, or as far as they will carry me, south to Prøven/Kangersuatsiaq.

Nothing like a free ride!

I can sure tell you how boring it is to paddle down in that direction with anything but a free ride rather with current against and swells against me and waves broadside that is a drag! And there is not much I in my kayak can do about it other than keep paddling.  Eventually I will get there or somewhere, sooner or more likely later.



Actually it is well known in Upernavik that a cloud cover on Sandersons Hope as you see in this photo taken conditions are considered very nasty.

Here in this photo I am already on the water just at the end of Lang Ø about 5 miles from Upernavik.


What a delight to just glide along.  My new kayak with its longer bow was more seaworthy and carried on the waves much more nicely.

Below is a photo I took just a half a mile after launching my bow was just in a dip at the moment.  Wow what a nice day, at last I was on my way.


the same topography only it is an aerial view on a flat day


In the photo below I am just off Lang Ø/Akia looking at the base of Sandersons Hope heading southward.

The waves are not all that threatening.  I am very comfortable in my new kayak.  I was just so delighted to be off and heading south in these two foot waves which are just the perfect size for me. 


All I had to do was just sit back and paddle I did not have to worry about being slewed broadside my rudder was holding me just fine.  This Long Haul kayak rudder is designed as a modified sailing rudder.  I was to find that this rudder worked much better in not just ordinary paddling than the barndoor rudder of the Klepper.   Later I had one of those moments in really demanding conditions where I had to reverse direction in 25 knot winds and paddle down wind.  I was able to control my helm with this rudder.  I did not get stuck broadside to the oncoming waves as I was reversing from paddling upwind to downwind.  This rudder offers much less friction when partially deployed for maintaining the bow than the barndoor rudder, allowing me to paddle with less effort many miles.







Below is a delightful photo from my kayak of the passage between Lang ø and Sandersons. I am in my glory just so enjoying my ride south among these waves.

This is a couple miles from my last on the water photo the rhythm of the waves was just lovely.  A few low clouds are hanging over Sanderson’s you see on the right winding in a wall of basalt just past the middle of this photo.  Lang Island is on the left side.

What is so strange is that Lang island is of yellow granitic rock probably metamorphosed sea sediments and just over the other side is the straight up and down basalt of Sanderson’s.

I always like paddling in this region because from place to place the geology can be completely different. 

In one nook on an island the plants and soil can be completely different and very interesting.

The currents in this area are very powerful; something like 7 knots and the depths can be very deep in the thousands of feet.  Because of these depth extremes ships have to go to known anchorage areas.

Walking on ice in this area is very tricky because a thin spot created by these currents can be anywhere.  Digging a hole through the ice at low tide for fishing or setting nets near an ice berg can result in a geyser erupting.





Below is an aerial view taken the day before of this same passage between Lange and Sanderson’s Hope.  You can see how shockingly vertical the basalt rock edge of Sandersons is and believe me there is absolutely no place to land unless you are a fly.  The other side to the left on Lange island is much more benign but the distance across is probably half a mile.


Next is the aerial view just outside Sanderson’s along the north west flank





I had just the best time hope skipping along past this coastline in the photo above.  This was actually the first time I paddled this coastline in the early afternoon sunlight.

I started heading out toward some islands which I have never seen other than as some backlit dark lumps.  This time with the sun near noon I could see the minerals and layers of rock for the first time.  They are quite beautiful in the photo below.








It is always surprising to be paddling in the same area with different light, especially in this mountainous area.  The dark brown on the islands above is probably a heavy deposit of iron.

After this point I just hunkered down and paddled south I was making such good time.

My plan was to take GPS readings and record approximate numbers of birds on the islands.



These are cliff faces just before the crossing which are very uninteresting in the morning when back lit but now in the height of the sunlight they are just spectacular to witness these colors in their strata.

Only once before in 1993 had I seen these cliffs in this light. I knew that they were there all along but it was hard to believe these spectacular colors.

Around the corner this same strata looked pink and that was really difficult to imagine possible.

In my kayak I can take the time to look and enjoy these views.

Below I have made it most of the way down along Sanderson’s/Qaersorssuaq island I am looking at Ingia point and you can see there is no place to land but the tall cliffs past the end of the point are the opening of Sortehul.




These same rock strata a little closer with some Guillemots on the right, they nest there!





When you compare the colors in the photo above and below you can see that the colors are changing as I come closer to the islands their colors are changing from bluish tones to browns and some yellows.

In the photo Tina and Anana islands look as if they are just over there, in reality the distance is a few miles.




Same iceberg only now I am a little closer near Tina island.

Because I am a mile or so off shore my view of the Sortehulle passage in the background is starting to develop. 

In this view below this same iceberg in the photo above is off Tina island.



Below is a photo taken from my cockpit in 1993 of Sortehul while I was paddling across.




I paddled just enjoying the way my new kayak was handling open water even though during this upcoming crossing I would pass between islands with a seven mile gap.  Not being able to look at land makes me somewhat anxious but in reality looking at land with no place to land is not any better than going between islands where there is nothing but water.  So what am I going to do other than smother my fearful thoughts about handling the openwater.


Below is another view of Sortehulle and I have yet to summon the nerve to paddle this passage because it can have large waves develop during the tide change.  Six foot standing waves I am not especially interested in trying.  John Kislov told me he has had this experience in a motor boat.  You can see the possibility that this passage can become dicey in a tide change or a strong wind.



34 I took this from a helicopter on approach to Upernavik 1993


I was having such a great time looking for birds on the islands Tina Anana and others on this crossing.  I took GPs readings but forgot to take pictures.


Next I made the five crossing Anana and Kangeq at the end of Sortehul. I was relieved I just headed for the next two islands Kangeq and Singarnaq because they were the most direct line to Prøven/Kangersuatsiaq.  Time was about 8 pm.



Then all was fine as I was still running nicely down hill on the following seas which had not changed in character since my initial launch but I had not considered what the effect of the long open fetch might have on my next passage between two islands.

As I was paddling along I happened to pass closely to the steep straight sided west face of Singarnaq.

There I was so innocently running on the waves riding them to beat the band through this straight passage between these two islands. 

This opening was not like all of the other passages indeed it was just exactly in an unobstructed straight line with this fetch.

Oh boy, at first all looked so innocent from my cockpit, just some more waves, when suddenly as I heard the sound of these large plunging waves along the rock faces.  I looked to the side and then at my bow just in time to realize that I was about accelerating down the steep face at an outrageous speed that could only end with my bow underwater and abruptly lurching into a pitchpole. 

There I was close to the rock wall near the end as I was uplifted and heading for an ender down the face of a six foot wave. 

Luckily I did not loose my cool.  I knew enough to lean out on my paddle with a strong low brace slowing the boat down before she pitch poled.

That was close and I thanked my many years of experience especially the experience I had in Arctic Bay where I found my boat being propelled madly down the bay by some very powerful winds, just as if I were being towed doing some waterskiing.  Whew that was a really dicey moment but at least from then on I knew what leaning out on my paddle and tilting up wave would do in an otherwise out of control situation where I would be going over one way or another.

It comes to in a kayak, don’t be afraid to wear the wave and lean toward the wave or wind.



After my fun when I nearly pitchpoled I headed for the next pair of islands.  The crossing was easy no turning tides no threatening seas even though I was crossing the opening of Angmarsaq passage.

I realized as I neared Sagdleq that I was beginning to feel tired. I was not just tired but sleepy and I was starting to fall asleep in my seat.  I realized how comfortable this seat in my new kayak is when I just started to doze off.



Just exhausted I passed by and pulled in after passing a hunters cabin.  I just took a chance that there would be some sort of place I could bring my kayak in.

There was no beach but I found a protected slope with large boulders on the beach.

Now doesn’t this look innocent?  What you do not see is all the boulders that revealed themselves in the morning at maximum low tide.

One of those nasty traits of this area with the tides is that there are two kinds of high and low tides.  The lowest tide is much lower than what you see in this photo below.

I awoke to find my brand new kayak sitting precariously on the rocks with the rudder jammed in them.



I had a very difficult time getting myself out of my cockpit because I was really down in there.  After heaving and hauling I finally wedged myself upward and was able to sort of put my leg over the side on the rocks in this calm water.  I carefully engineered standing up on my leg without doing some motion my artificial hip could not tolerate.  That was tricky! But at least the water was calm in this lee area.  All the waves from the wind were on the north side which was just rock faces.

All the islands I had seen seemed not to offer any place to get out on and I was really concerned as I paddled past the hunters cabin that there would be some sort of place to get out at.  Just any old nook was alright with me!  I was really desperately tired at this point and I did not feel able to paddle much further.

When I rounded the corner and found these friendly rocks with this bank covered with lush vegetation I knew this had to be a nice place.



I literally stumbled up the rocks, tied off my kayak and dragged out my camping gear.

Later I dragged my kayak up as high as I could get it by lugging and dragging over the exposed rocks.

The light was dim as I gallantly proceeded to set up camp.  It was only 10 in the evening and on the south side all was grey.

First I pulled r things had changed from when this photo was taken in 1993.  My tent however was not okey and it should have looked like this.  However it had decomposed and all that remained was the orange nylon liner and the pole you see in this photo below.




I just thought to myself that since it is an absolutely quiet evening and the ground because this faced south was covered with soft willows and warm I bet I can sleep here without any tent.

I just  took my solar blankets, my sleeping bag and Thermarest air pad out, got out of my dry suit, crawled in and fell asleep hoping that my kayak would be alright over night.


Next morning I awoke to this. 





There was my kayak way up there!

In the photo below you can see the bright yellow pool noodles tied around the hull to protect it from abrasion but the rudder really was jammed into the rocks and the weight of the boat was bearing on it.  I am surprised the rudder survived undamaged.



This  is the story so far 2 28 2011