Foggy Paddling a Loosing Experience

Gail Ferris


This is the approximate view of the fog over the icebergs outside the passage near Innarsuit that I was camping in.  This picture was taken before I unpacked my kayak.

On the right is the opposite side of the passage.



The next morning 8/3/08 Sunday at 08:00 Wow was I surprised to open my tent and look out.  The fog was so dense I could barely see across the 650 foot wide passage.

The picture below is not quite at that moment but you can see my kayak as it is situated outside my tent up on the rocks above the tide line and the fog blowing in from the outside to the west.

The fog I paddled in was much denser having fifty feet of visibility.



I am glad that I paddled the 1.7 mile crossing yesterday to Qaersorssuatsiaq Island.  Today it is just hopelessly foggy – who knows – but I have seen this density of fog before in Upernavik this time of year and now there is a slight breeze.

At 09:45 am the sun has broken through but the visibility is not better it is still very low. 

I was bored so I decided to take a chance.  I started out at about 11:30 am. I decided that I ought to paddle in the fog north to Innarssuit.  From there I would continue north but hug the rocks if there was no visibility so that I could investigate the passage called Natip Ilua.

This passage is well defined being flanked with vertical rock cliffs and few pockets.  It begins at Innarsuit and leads eastward toward the tiny town called Naujat. 

I thought it would be probably safe to paddle along in the fog.



I brought my magnetic compass and GPS.

As I was making the crossing I thought to myself I wonder if I should paddle down to the peninsula on the opening and leave a few marker rocks so that I know that this peninsula leads directly up to my tent a few hundred feet away.

I decided leaving marker rocks as a rather futile idea surely I would not become that confused in this fog.

I decided to just head directly across northward from camp make the crossing the 650 foot wide passage to the small island, Qeqartarssuaq.

I was essentially just following around the south, east and up the north side in a U shaped route hugging the rocks.

I headed along the south side of the island to its eastern tip for a mile.  I just paddled next to the rocks because I could not see more than a few hundred feet.

The fog was not too cold because it was not coming from the ice but rather from the warm water to the west, Davis Strait or Baffin Inlet.

Then I paddled along the eastern edge for half a mile and up just a quarter mile at most the north side of the island.

All looked familiar relatively speaking and if it did not I convinced myself that I had to be near a cove that was loaded with shellfish and moving northward to a cove without shellfish.


I figured that I could just cross over heading pretty much due north and surely I would hit the south facing coastal portion of Innarssuit Island on the opposite side.  The crossing was only 2 tenths of a mile and when I was partway across I could see the upper portions of the cliffs on Innarssuit because the fog was an even color grey and not all that dense.

I stuck to following the rock walls for what seemed like a very long time passing each unfamiliar cove indentation inlet peninsula for the next 1.7 miles until I reached Innarssuit. 

Even though I had paddled several times to Innarsuit I had always paddled on a bright sunny day a quarter mile or so offshore so I had never really familiarized myself with this very different type of detailed paddling along this coast.  Previously I was much more interested in exploring all the indentations on the opposite side.  I was really unfamiliar with this coast up close.  I did not think it mattered then.

It was nice to reach something definite, Innarssuit, because I was getting somewhat concerned as to what was real.

I paddled along the vague western coast not completely sure but I knew I could only be heading around to and along the south side of Natip Ilua passage.

I paddled along heading eastward down the passage until I got bored because everything just looked all the same there was no change in the topography.  I decided that it was pointless and just too boring paddling in all this bland grey fog, so I turned around.

On my way back following along the vertical rock cliffs of the passage was fine but looking out from the peninsula I was rounding - something was not quite right.  Sure I was perfectly safe following the rock walls I had been there before.

I knew that there were no mysterious hidden passages along these escarpments but then again looking out over the water; things were looking a little fuzzy.

“But that is okey I can find my way back.  All I have to do is just follow the rocks back around and I will be home” I said to myself.

Then I noticed what was a very familiar little island in the bright sun which had particularly distinctive shellfish loaded shallows but this shore looked somewhat questionable in this fog. 

I asked myself “is that really that island or is this some other island?”

On my map that island was not even there.  “Oh well not to worry, after all, that island really is just a few rocks with a tidal rip washing over the shallows.”

I continued paddling hugging the rocks I heard some dogs so I knew I could only be near Innarssuit again it was the same dogs that had barked at me before so that was okey.

Then I crossed Innarssuit bay and headed along the rocks now on the south side of the town.  I went from bay to bay losing sense of direction just hugging the rocks not knowing which bay which, gradually heading eastward.  I could not tell if I was dipping into a large or a small bay.  All I knew was that I was just heading along the rocks and that I had to keep the sun on my right side as I headed eastward.

Thoughts came to mind that I had not bothered to keep track of the time or the direction when making crossings or from point to point.  Other people do that, not me. 

I had my GPS with me but I had never bothered considering that it might be a good idea to learn how to do things such as use the “Go To” point system.  All I learned to do, out of necessity, was to take way points for my records.



I never considered that it might be a good idea to learn how to use the “Go To” function with the waypoints. 

As far as the waypoints are concerned it is important to know which waypoint is which because they all look the same on a monitor that does not show any sort of map.  To compensate for not having any map I must gather current waypoints on my way out so that I could know which waypoint I would like to “Go To” on the way back.

Nothing like a foggy paddler paddling in the fog!  That was me and there I was getting more and more in trouble,

I convinced myself “how could I get in trouble? If worse came to worse would be that I would just follow the rock walls around and surely I would get back to my tent. 

After all, I was just paddling around a U I could either follow the outside of the inside of the U.  The shortest way would be to cross over from the outside to the inside of the U and then back again to the outside of the U where my tent was located.”

So here I was gingerly paddling along the rocks occasionally looking south which ought to someplace be a good spot to cross from,  trying to figure out where I ought to begin my crossing.

Fine I thought but when?

“This does not look too good!  Looks like open water over there!  I am not crossing that only to wind up out in the open water.”

Little did I realize that the fog had created this aura of brilliant brightness over the water. 

The innocent fog had become a fifty foot high brilliant glow just over the water topped with a ceiling of grey fog.  This even brilliant glow of white spread out evenly over the water as I looked south was reflection into the fog of sunlight from the water. 

I did not see this glow when I looked north except over a few icebergs and in this situation the glow was an even arc shrouding an iceberg which was also this same type of light reflection.

Where I could have been making the crossing of a mere half a mile all I saw was this glowing fog.  It seemed impossible to me that I was just seeing reflection and behind it was actually the island.  I could not imagine the island appearing as anything other than grey fog in front of the dark rock-cliffed island, Qeqertarssuaq.

“Surely the brilliant glow can only be coming from open water” I told myself as I continued paddling eastward down the coast for an inordinately long time.

Finally I decided I ought to cross.  What a great idea that was!  So there I am paddling across so I thought and next thing I come upon is this island.  I consoled myself thinking it was a little island off Qeqertarssuaq.  “How lovely” I thought “now all I have to do is just keep following the curve of this island I think I remember, but who knows anything is possible, maybe it is one of those peninsulas that is only connected at low tide.  Oh well, the sun is on my right side, so that is alright.”

I gingerly kept paddling until I saw a fish drying rack on my right that I had seen on a previous day’s paddle and it was only in one place because there was only one fish rack like that anywhere around.

Oh no! Guess where the fish rack was I said to myself?  That fish rack is down in the bottom of the north eastern wing of the passage and it is sitting on Innarssuit Island which is on the bottom side of the “U” I am paddling around, not on the top side along Qeqertarssuaq where I thought I was.

Oops well here I am and it is definite I said to myself and I am glad I have been here before.


Okay I told my self this is easy now all I have to do is turn around follow this wall out to the end of the passage back west until I get to the opening where I can cross from the east side to the west side of the bottom of the “U”.

Oh there is that inexplicable island again.  Now I know.  That is the island where there were dogs and remnants from people.  How interesting that I never noticed the dogs that I have just passed by on my way into the bottom of this passage.  It is interesting what you don’t see unless you are expecting to see.  There is nothing like being a little confused in the fog.

I realized how very foolish it had been that I assumed all this time that I would be perfectly safe paddling along the rocks so I never bothered with taking any salient waypoints nor kept track of time. 

I told myself “Now I will just follow this wall until I think I am getting to the intersection where I can cross over to Qeqertarssuaq Island”.

Well I crossed the intersection and in the fog I found that the sun was on the wrong side, my left side which was impossible unless I was now paddling up the north side of Qeqertarssuaq Island. 

In frustration because I did not want to admit anything was wrong I just kept paddling telling myself to just keep going and that things would work out.  It is amazing how irrational you can be when you are scared and confused.

I gave up on the compass because the magnetic compass was 45 degrees off and I did not trust it and the compass on the GPS was fine but I was just too mixed up because I had no sense of time or distance while I have been trying to follow this U.

And sure enough I came upon an orange net float tied off at the opening of a little harbour and inside was a lone fishing boat.  Of course that harbor I had seen before and it could be only one place.  It was on the north side of Qeqertarssuaq Island.  I knew the last time I saw that net float, the only one for miles around anywhere that there was some sort of déjà vu about it.

“Oh boy here I go again” I said to myself.  This can only be the little harbor that I saw last time and this on the north side of the big Island not anywhere else.  What I have done I said to myself is paddled across the “U” passage and headed up the north side of the Qeqertarssuaq Island because I never noticed in the fog that I had merely skipped across the bottom of the “U”.  I must have paddled crossing over in only two tenths of a mile in the fog never realizing what was going on.

Luckily as I was retracing my paddling knowing that I was definitely paddling along the east side of Qeqertarssuaq Island.  I knew that I would have to religiously stick to every little indentation in the coast no matter how tiny because who knows where I would wind up next.

“Wow the sun came out.  How weird.

Whew I recognize where I am but I would have never guessed that I am at this intersection. 

Okey, I am really tired of all this confusion.  To be extra safe I will take the most conservative route.  I will paddle across to Innarssuit Island.  I will follow that coast line exactly.

There is only one possible confusing spot which is a very short hop over another opening.  That opening I know very well because it opens to a round area and has a narrow ten foot wide restriction in the end of it, should I get lost again. 

I will cross over.”

“Okey, I did that.  Now I will just paddle up the coast line of the little unnamed island my tent is on and I should be okey.

Well where is that tent I thought to myself it ought to be anywhere along here.  Maybe I am lost again because it is taking a very long time to find my tent.

Oh this looks like the peninsula with the rocks on it but where is my tent.  Oh! oh this is not good.

Oh I know there are two peninsulas and this is the first one the next one is where my tent really is.  Whew there it is.”



Getting lost in the fog is not fun but it is great for an adrenalin rush. 

I have to learn how to use the Go To function on my GPS and take salient waypoints all along the way if I want to ever find my way back to my tent in the fog.



1/8/09 Gail Ferris