An Arctic expedition: day by day

Whales, icebergs, and wolves – all from the safety of your very own standup paddleboard.

Bart's 5-day journey

In mid-July, standup-paddler Bart de Zwart undertook an expedition above the Arctic Circle. Here's the day-by-day details of his trip.

 

Day 1, Saturday: Bart – prepared with food and other supplies for an eight-day expedition, leaves from Illusiat’s small fishing harbor. Ahead of him is 15-km strewn with ice chunks ranging from the size of a beach ball to the size of a beach hotel, and a direct route through the icefield will be impossible. He paddles until about 2am. He’s so far north of the equator, “daytime” never truly ends, with the sun dipping just below the horizon for a brief period of time. Bart’s departure was slotted into a period of calm winds, which reduced the movement of already-calved icebergs, making his passage much safer.


Day 2, Sunday:
Early in the morning, Bart tries to rest, but finds his “SUP bed” – an inflatable mattress – has a hole in it. The hardness of his SUP board isn’t a problem – but the chill of the water is. Unable to sleep and stricken with exhaustion, the well-traveled waterman succumbs to a bout of seasickness – a rarity for him. “After sailing for many years, I can handle seasickness,” says Bart. “Basically, you feel sick, throw up, wait five minutes eat and drink to refuel what is lost and do this until you start to feel better. On a ship this might take a few days, on a board, I am OK after half a day.” Bart continues at a good clip across the vast open water of Disko Bay, towards the town of Aasiaat. Along the way, he spots Atlantic Humpback whales ("Impervious to the cold water!"), as well as seals and other wildlife. 28 hours of almost continuous paddling later, de Zwart arrives in Aasiaat, where a quick sat-phone call to his wife assures her that he is OK.

Day 3, Monday: Bart awakes in Aasiat to clear skies, but south winds, which could0 impede his progress heavily. Undaunted, he continues south at a slightly-more-than-glacial pace (about 1.5km/h). His goal is Sisimiut, the second-largest town in Greenland – at a population of just over 5,000 inhabitants. That evening, he stops at a small, forgotten village to sleep on the shore, and continues on in the morning.

 

This isn't the kind of trip you make friends on.© Bart de Zwart

Day 4, Tuesday: South winds continue to battle against Bart, but warm temps make for pleasant paddling. Bart spends the night on the board in a bay, with a stream of icebergs parading in front of him.

Day 5, Wednesday: Sisimiut is still almost 200 km away. With an aft wind, the trip would have been entirely feasible – with the oncoming winds already having slowed his progress for two days, it will take Bart more time than he has food for to get to Sisimiut. With an incoming storm and temperature drop, his decision is easy: find a way back to the closest airport and get the heck back to Hawaii. On day five, he arrives in Kangaatsiaq. Here, he books a flight from Aasiaat (quite a distance to the North) then hitches a ride with a local fisherman to catch his plane.