Look at those silver waves over there and other visual phenomenal views from my cockpit

Gail Ferris


I am in Upernavik Greenland paddling solo in my Klepper on my way to Eqaluit / Laksefjorden and it is not the first time I have done this sort of paddling in this area of Greenland.  It is a nice are with lots of igneous rocks and only one mountain of any size, Sanderson’s Hope. 



This is 1993, so there I am paddling along, la de da. It’s a nice afternoon.  The water is sparkling navy blue.  It is just such a lovely intense color of navy blue.  The sun is shining at me from the west.  It is about four o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t really know.  I have been doing fine.  I started out from Upernavik about 9 miles away to the north. 

There is not much wind maybe it is blowing at five knots.

I have been paddling along near the rocks but I would like to see what happens if I paddle a little farther out. 

After all, why paddle hugging the rocks, I have done that plenty of times before.

So let me see what it is like paddling a few hundred yards off.

I am right next to Qaersorssuaq Island on its west side.  The rocks are sheer.  This is the base of Sanderson’s Hope a 3,400 feet tall pyramid of basalt.

I want to see if it is any different paddling farther out.  Maybe I will cover more ground.

I suspect that there is a counter current along those rocks that is slowing me down.  Maybe farther out there is a different current. I have to try and see if I can make faster headway

There certainly is no place to pull in.  It is all just sheer rock, grey slabs of gneiss and granite along here.  Only tiny little extreme emergency perches in three places.


There is a nice roll to these waves that have developed.  I hate paddling on flat water the boat moves slower all that surface friction really slows my kayak down makes a lot of work I think the bow is a little heavy too.  I probably had better pay attention to packing the bow lighter.  It is so easy to accidentally pack the bow heavy because it is the largest area in the kayak.  Remember food is heavy put it all in the back.  Put the sleeping bag up front.  Keep the tent where you can get it easily, you might need shelter quickly.



Oh this is nice the roll to these waves feels lovely.  They are about a foot high which is a comfortable size for paddling this kayak in.  I always like that moment in paddling when I can synchronize my stroke to the roll of the waves.  It seems to make paddling just a symphony of harmonic effort and response between me, my kayak and the waves.

Now I am farther out.  I am just cooking along but now I am finding paddling rather boring out here it is like being on a treadmill.  I know what the problem is.  I am not getting a sense of accomplishment because from this perspective not much is changing visually.  The shore is far enough away that it just looks the same. 

Visually not much is happening.  Even though I am out from shore this long distance view is not very different in the sense of seeing more of my goal. 

I still have a few miles before I arrive at the end and head around the corner.  It does not look like I am covering all that much distance.

I think I will just return to paddling along the rocks because I get more of a sense of covering ground and the view is much more interesting because it is more intricate and changes faster.

The water is such a lovely navy blue.

I am on my way to Laksefjord.  This is my first trip there and I am looking forward to seeing the Orpit and what it looks like in the bottom.  I have read Porsild’s article about the Orpit where trees are 2 meters tall which is not possible at this latitude except in this one place.

It is nice paddling on the outside of Sanderson’s Hope.  This is different my last trip which was down behind Upernavik through Torssut passage to Aappilattoq. 

Now I am looking out over Baffin Bay / Davis Strait.  There are no other large islands to the west between here and Baffin Island some hundreds of miles away.

There is the sun over the water to the west of me and it will not actually set until mid-August.



Oh isn’t that interesting, over there northwest of me the water is silver.  It is a nice silver and this water is navy blue.

Now it is getting closer to me.  The waves feel lovely.

Now all the water around me is silver.  The waves are a foot and a half to two feet.  There is wind behind me it is about ten to twelve knots.

The waves are not breaking.  They are just rolling but the tidal current is against them.  They are steepening but stretching out.

This is curious I am paddling but it is like being on a roller coaster.  All I am doing is going up and down in the same place.  It is a nice ride but I really would like to make some forward progress.



Very interesting paddling up and down up and down, it is kind of fun, the current and the wind are just perfectly balanced so that all I can do is just paddle in place, up and down up and down. 

The separation between crests is very curious.  I have never seen wave separation like this before. 

Normally wind generated waves are of a particular height with have a similar proportion between them.

These waves are very different.

I am feeling that I am being pushed by the wind but also there happens to be an unusual elongation to the wave face.  It is as though the waves are stretched out.

I can take advantage of this very conveniently long and steep wave face so that I am easily able to accelerate down the wave face.

But the next thing that happens is the wave from in front of me the tide rip wave at the bottom of the wind wave is going against me just as fast.

So there I am just paddling in place.

I am stalling out because the water is stalling out.  The waves are just going up and down, wind against current.



What I am really doing is just paddling in place.  This is hilarious who would believe this one.  After all my lessons in surfing and practicing off Stony

Creek running the waves down wind between the islands I have never experienced roller coaster paddling, paddling in place, before.

What is really happening is I am in something similar to a rip that is stationary.  This is interesting.

I decided that rather than just paddle in place all day maybe I ought to try a trick I had learned in river paddling.  Take advantage of the shore eddies and the increased friction along the rocks.

So I pulled over as close to the rocks as possible hoping my theory might work.

Sure enough, groveling along the rocks I was able to gain headway against the tidal current climbing up the shore eddies.

It is a good trick to learn some whitewater paddling, you just never know when you might need it, even on the open water in Greenland.

It was a good thing I tried that trick of taking advantage of the shore eddies because I would have been stuck paddling in place until the tide changed.

This story takes place in Arctic Bay, Canada, it is another long story about “what is that over there” the water is silver?  How pretty the water over here is, it is navy blue.

It is 10 o’clock at night and I have started out purposefully at night.

They say the water is calmer at night because the wind blows less at night.  Who they are is a good question and what area they are talking about is another good question I did not really think about very much.  Sometimes there is safety in being naive and blind optimism, or is there?

Oh where am I?  I am down in Adams Sound near Arctic Bay at 72 degrees North and it is July.



I would like to paddle back out of Adams Sound to see other places but I am finding that there is just a slight problem.  Where I am camping now I am finding that the wind arrives from the west my mid morning which will make paddling not for sightseeing but instead miserable hard work because it is against me.

I hate the type of paddling where if I miss a stroke I have to paddle numerous strokes to get back to where I was.  That means I cannot stop and look at things, I cannot take a break, take pictures or think about what I am seeing because I have to constantly pay close attention to not loosing my heading into the wind.

Here where I am camping I seem to be wind bound.  It seems as though the wind is blowing so much that I have to just hang out down here waiting.  I don’t know exactly why but it seems to me that in the evening the wind seems to settle down and I am not sure if the wind is slaking off because of the evening reduction in sunshine intensity or change in the tide.

The sun does not set here until mid August so there is no actual night so I can’t paddle at night because there is no night.  Oh well! Maybe I can still get away with this paddle in the late evening hours anyway. 

I am not going to think about that right now.

It has been a drag down here I am getting bored.

I am going to try this strategy of paddling starting out at about 10 pm because there is plenty of light so that I can see what is going on without any problem.

Tonight is a lovely evening and I see that there is hardly a cloud in the sky.  I feel like paddling.

I have loaded up my kayak and am starting across the sound.  It is a mile or so across.  I think I should cross here because I know that there are campsites on the north side but I do not think There is anything but cliffs farther up this south side. 

I feel more comfortable crossing now where the distance is less.  I am afraid of getting stuck with no place to land and being forced to make a longer crossing farther up this coast line.

In retrospect I wish I had inspected the south coastline of Adams Sound with binoculars when I paddled down the sound and I was near enough to see if there was any possibility.

On the other side directly across is a peninsula the east side of which I camped on when I was on my way paddling down the sound.

I am starting off on the south side and there is no problem with the sandy beach and campsite I found over here.

I have had a nice paddle from the bottom of Adams Sound up to here.  I wanted to see in detail what the south side looked like.

Below is a picture from my first campsite showing what I could see of the south side that I am referring to.

Perhaps I ought to have chanced paddling farther westward on the south side because only close up from my kayak cockpit could I really see what is over there but I was afraid that there was no place to come in for a landing for too many miles of paddling.

That is the problem with solo kayak paddling in unknown areas you do not know until you are there what an area is like.



As a paddler I like to not be preoccupied with getting from place to place as fast as possible but rather to see what is along the way.  I paddle to explore in detail and to do this I find that low wind conditions are best.  I can look around and think about what I am seeing.

When I first started paddling west back out of Adam Sound wind was calm and I was able to enjoy looking at area of pocket gardens.

These miniscule gardens were filled with rich soil that hosted all sorts of plants. 

What was so special about looking at them from my kayak was that because they were literally hanging gardens on white feldspar precipices along the water it was impossible to see them other than from my kayak.

I could just effortlessly glide by look at them.  If I needed to I could just paddle backward and take another look at them, all from my cockpit. 

If the wind was blowing in my face I could have never enjoyed them.  I doubt I would have even noticed them at all because I would have been so preoccupied with paddling.

Then farther along just for fun I dipped among the rocks into an indentation where found an area with a lovely, unusual combination of rocks.  Some of the rocks happened to be very dark colored greenish black somewhat glassy looking basalt that could almost be obsidian.  These were mixed with rose pink feldspar rounded boulders and chunks.  It was an interesting combination together just in the sense of color and type of rocks together.



Views from the cockpit at water level just look different than views from a motorboat.

After that I came across this very curious view as you will see in the picture below.



After the picture above I landed and set up camp.

I spent the next day idle until early evening.  I planned my paddling to hopefully coincide with a slack in the wind which I hoped would occur during the evening hours.

Counting on this to happen I decided that I ought to load my kayak at 8 pm. At 10 pm I left my camp and headed directly across to the north side where there was a peninsula. 

Paddling conditions during the first three quarters of the passage looked just fine.  The water was dark navy blue with just a slight riffle on the top.

A slight riffle with six inch waves is very nice to paddle on because the riffle reduces the water’s surface friction on the hull allowing the kayak to paddle easier and faster.

As an experienced paddler, when I set off no matter how innocent the conditions may be, I always have my spray skirt, life jacket, pogies on properly and everything on the deck is tied down.  I take no chances.



As I paddled the dark blue water looked lovely all was going well.

Then as I always do when I am making a crossing, just in general observation from my cockpit, I happened to look over the water to the southwest some miles away.  Where I was and for miles around all the water was dark blue with a slight riffle but over there I saw this patch of silver water.  “Oh isn’t that pretty” I thought to myself as I paddled along.  “How interesting there is silver water over there a few miles away over there.”---

“Oh the silver water is nearer I see that it is stretching out and coming toward me.” I told myself as I looked again just a few minutes later.

After all what is there to do during a crossing other than look around.

“Oh that silver water is waves.  The wind is blowing the water turning it silver.  It is getting closer.  Looks like I am on the receiving end.  Well let me see I am going to continue this crossing. 

I know I cannot land on the ramp because it is covered with boulders. 

I bet there might be a place where I can pull in and camp above the ramp on my way out.  I will shoot for that. 

I don’t want to reverse direction and camp down in the protected area where I camped before because that faces east.  I would rather be looking out to the west where I am going to be camping along this north side.  I do not think that there is absolutely no place to camp I know I saw some sand so I bet I can camp there.”

More naïve thoughts could I have ever had!

Then the silver water overtook me just as I was mostly across.

Now I was paddling broadside to it.  I was dealing with 15 to 20 knots broadside wind out of the west.

I pushed on past the outside of the peninsula which was all sheer rock where there was absolutely no place to land.

Heading across in front of the west end of the peninsula I was committed to about a quarter mile of broadside waves breaking against this very shallow coastline.

When a wave jumped up the deck and slapped me in the chest I realized that these waves were anything but innocent little things, in fact these waves were fierce.

Eyeballing that ramp on the peninsula which was completely covered with nothing but round boulders I now knew just exactly why.  All those rounded boulders were created by the prevailing storm wind from the west that always drove the waves up that ramp.  The boulders rolled around in those waves and I realized that I did not want to join them.

How nice to know that in this area the most consistent strong protracted wind was from the west.  It would veer down Adams Sound following the nearly straight shoreline topography of this inlet.  And there I was right on the receiving end in my little kayak with nothing but a solid paddle and all my skill and strength to keep me from joining them – I was scared.

The ramp was just exactly on the receiving end and a long expanse of shallow water lead up to it.

I thought to myself “Am I glad I never pulled in there, what a place to be trapped by wind and waves.  Round boulders show that is what goes on there.” I told myself.

It took all my strength to be able to keep going and maintain sea room.  There was no time to miss a stroke.  It was time to just dig and dig and keep digging.

I told myself “what ever I do, don’t let a wave grab me, roll me over, let me miss a stroke or do an air stroke, have the rudder break or anything go wrong that might force me onto those rocks!”. 

Use my body weight behind my stroke.  Lean into that stoke and push on the top with all my might.  Pump those legs.  Use those strong lower back and torso muscles to keep that kayak moving.  Be precise, be economical with every motion, lean toward that wind I told myself.  I used all my kayak training from Bart Hathaway.

On my way I was glad I had a tough paddle with a large blade.  I really leaned on that shaft.  I could feel the stiff fiberglass shaft flex in my hands.

I was desperate and scared no place to go no where to turn around the waves were slamming at me they were jumping across my deck and slapping me on the chest.

If I did not have such a seaworthy kayak, the Klepper Aerius I.  The Klepper expedition spray skirt held to the outer coaming and inner coaming unaffected by crashing waves.

I was glad I had a tough paddle, Warner Wenatchee, with a large, square blade.  I really leaned on that shaft.  I could feel the fiberglass shaft flex in my hands.

The weight and momentum of my kayak was sufficient to make the paddle shaft flex. From that I realized that I could conserve energy in my stroke by taking advantage of this shaft flex giving an extra kick to my stroke without me doing anything.

All I did was to just extend the timing of my stroke to allow for the paddle shaft flex in the water as the last part of the stroke.

I was desperate and scared no place to go no where to turn around the waves were slamming at me they were jumping across my deck and slapping me on the chest.

So much for silver water it is real!

 Next I was past the peninsula turning westward along the shoreline.  Again there was no choice other than to force my way westward along the coast. 

I saw sandy patches but there was no beach large enough for anything other than the most emergency stop.

I slogged my way for another half mile before I came across a beach wide enough for my tent.  As ironic as might be I had spotted this little beach on my way down to the east.  I noticed that it was only wide enough for a tent and behind it were just vertical sand cliffs with no water anywhere.  Better than nothing but ordinarily I would never have stopped.

I was exhausted by the time I finally reached this area where I was able to land and camp.  I knew that I was in an emergency situation.  I could not paddle any farther into this wind.

Below is a very innocent looking picture I took from this campsite a few hours later.  You would never guess from this picture what I had just been through.

On the left side of the picture the dark area is that peninsula I just had come from.



Even though there was a campsite with water and better safety a few miles to the west where I first camped.

I came in. What was really a problem with this emergency campsite was that the beach was very narrow, just barely at the high tide line with no place to go. 

I put up my tent as far back as there was room.  There was no water so I knew that I could not stay there any length of time longer than the one day amount of water I always carried in the bottom of my kayak in water bags.

All I can tell you is that silver water means strong wind on the water and as with cats paws on the water remember to always lean toward the wind.


Gail Ferris gaileferris@hotmail.com 2/10/09 www.nkhorizons.com