Experiencing adventure in 2016

George Bullard, partner at IGO Adventures, and Olly Hicks are two modern day explorers who have just returned from another record-breaking expedition. The pair were trying to unravel the truth behind an ancient myth in the ferocious North Atlantic Ocean.

In 1728, an Inuit man arrived on a beach in the North East of Scotland, near Aberdeen. He was wearing full seal skin clothing, paddling a traditional Greenlandic, skin-on-bone kayak and carrying all his hunting gear. He died three days later. Until now nobody knew how that man got there, whether he did indeed paddle 1,200 nautical miles (nm) from Greenland or whether he came by other means! George and Olly set out to discover by finding whether he could indeed have paddled the entire way.

This is George’s account:

“As we lowered the kayak into the water at the Greenlandic ice-edge, there was a mixture of emotions, from the fear of risking our lives on the unforgiving North Atlantic Ocean, apprehension as to what lay ahead of us and excitement at the prospect of experiencing raw, unbridled adventure.

We lived in the kayak, resting and paddling both at the same time, barely an inch above the bitterly cold ocean water; it was black like the inside of a cave and made your hands flinch with every droplet. The biting temperature had us questioning what animals could survive in such frozen waters. Dressed in nothing more than a dry suit and a fleece base layer, we battled with the relentless ocean weather, until after 46 hours of paddling we arrived on a beach in North West Iceland. Unable to stand upright after being sat for so long, we staggered to a fresh water stream and collapsed into it. 

Life on board the kayak is beyond difficult – completing the simplest of tasks seems to take hours. Cooking hot meals was one way of mitigating our largest risk: hypothermia, but as you might imagine cooking at sea is difficult, cooking in a kayak at sea is almost impossible.

The following two weeks consisted of paddling 600nm between headlands around the north and east coast of Iceland until we reached Neskaupstadur. Not only did we pass some of the most majestic fjords and mountains, we also met some incredibly generous and welcoming people before arriving at our last stop on the Icelandic coast.

Our first attempt to cross from Iceland to the Faroes was unsuccessful as we met a fishing boat whose crew strongly advised us to return to shore for fear of our lives – we called our weather forecasters and asked for their opinion; two out of three said that we should head back to the mainland, so we did! This leg was our longest and most dangerous stretch of open ocean famously called ‘The Devil’s Dancefloor’. There was no support boat next to us, so once we left land we were committed and exposed. We had everything we needed to exist, from loo paper to fresh water. This leg could have taken us up to a week, and of course weather forecasts aren’t so accurate that far out – hence the danger. If the weather had changed for the worse, we had nowhere to hide.

The second time we left for the Faroes, we made it, at 3am as the sun was about to rise surrounded by vast cliffs and a still, unmoving ocean. We hit the beach having crossed 260nm of ocean in just under 100hrs. We crawled out of the kayak, collapsed into the sand of Tjornuvik Bay and were relieved to have dry land beneath our feet once again. Arriving into the Faroe Islands was a moment we will never forget.

We had been away from home for almost two months and the summer season was drawing to a close. Our weather windows were not only getting shorter, but they were also becoming less frequent. The weather was our dictator; it was the only factor that would determine whether this expedition was possible or not.

Three weeks of waiting and after one false start, there was a narrow chance that we could leave the Faroes and make for the Scottish mainland. The window was tight, so the island of North Rona (45nm North West of mainland Scotland) seemed like a great place to stop and wait out a storm, but we had to get there first…

With only a matter of minutes to spare before gales ensued and the ocean turned into a fury of white horses, we landed sat North Rona – hard ground couldn’t have come sooner. North Rona is a deserted island with no running water, so having got there, it was then a game of survival. Collecting fresh water from the roof and hunting sea birds and limpets was how we survived.

Sixty-six days after leaving the coast of Greenland, we paddled silently into Balnakeil Bay, North Scotland having done something that potentially no human had ever done before and if they had any sense, would never do again!”

So, did the Inuit paddle the entire way…?

George and Olly deliver motivational lectures to all audiences (school or corporate) about their expeditions talking on topics such as success, sustainability, efficiencies, failure and realising goals. Find out more on www.georgebullard.co.uk and www.ollyhicks.com. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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