Intense Kayaking From Greenland to Scotland

Olly Hicks and George Bullard trace the paddle strokes of the Finnmen of yesterday.
By Corinna Halloran

There are certain things in the world that take heart. And other things that take guts. In the case of Olly Hicks and George Bullard’s adventure from Greenland to Scotland last summer, it took absurd levels of both.

What began as an idea, a simple "what if" they could trace the strokes of the Finnmen (the Inuits from Greenland and beyond), who paddled over 1,200 miles from Greenland to Scotland centuries ago, evolved into an all-out mission that led Hicks and Bullard on the ultimate adventure.

This meant kayaking through icebergs from country to country, managing conflicting weather reports, working on fishing boats, waiting out gales on deserted islands, traveling by container ship, facing frustration after frustration, dealing with strong currents, paddling night and day for days on end, eating wild birds, hallucinations, dolphins and boiling water between their legs. All across severly choppy seas. Yeah, let that all sink in for a minute. 

The itinerary

From the east coast of Greenland to Iceland, around the north of Iceland, off to the Faroe Islands, two weeks at home for a weather window, back to the Faroes, south toward Scotland, a week on North Rona and, finally, Durness, Scotland.

The first leg to Iceland took 42 hours and this would then become the easiest and timeliest of the three ocean legs and two coastal legs. The remaining legs saw incredible battles with the weather, which was constantly changing.

See, the thing is, when paddling from country to country in open ocean, you actually want the seas to be as calm as possible — Hicks and Bullard wanted "boring" so to speak. They wanted boring because they were paddling for 15-17 hours for days and days, when things started to get weird.

"We had hallucinations from the Faroe Islands to Scotland," Bullard explained. "We were so sleep deprived that we’d start to see lights, boats and trees that weren’t there. We heard women’s voices in the cliffs. One night dolphins swam next to us and we thought it was a gale or rogue wave."

The duo pulled off the "ultimate adventure" and they were probably both a little shocked that after all the delays due to the weather they touched the shores of Scotland via kayak.

"In the end we pulled it off," Hicks said. "So many lessons in humility. It’s beautifully simple being offshore, the serenity of everything. We sit back now and think 'what have we just done?'"

In today’s world, when we are surrounded by constant noise and when there seems to be little left unexplored, adventures come along like Hicks and Bullard’s that remind us about how important it is to keep it simple.

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