Iceland by Kayak 1977

In 1977 Nigel Foster and Geoff Hunter set off to circumnavigate Iceland by sea kayak. It had never been attempted before.

(See blog)

Arriving at Seydisfjordhur on Iceland's east coast by ferry, Geoff and Nigel carried their kayaks ashore and launched later that night to paddle clockwise around the island. Nine and a half weeks later, having completed the 1,500 miles circuit around Iceland, they landed at their original launching place, not immediately recognizing it because a huge warehouse had been constructed while they were away.

Geoff Hunter with fisherman-farmer Axel in NW Iceland

Geoff Hunter with fisherman-farmer Axel in 1977 in the northwest fjords.

This site documents this sea kayaking trip, completed in the early years of a British sea kayaking expedition renaissance, said by some to have begun with a well publicized 476-mile six-man expedition from Bodo in Arctic Norway to the North Cape in single kayaks two years earlier, led by Colin Mortlock. Around that time John Ramwell's Advanced Sea Kayak Club contributed to the renaissance. His newsletter created a way for sea kayakers to learn about others with similar interests, and his annual sea kayaking symposium offered a place for sea kayakers to meet and exchange ideas. It was at the sea kayaking symposium of 1976 that Nigel Foster met with Geoff Hunter and invited him to join him on his 1977 Iceland trip. The British Canoe Union's Sea Touring Committee, in which John Ramwell was also a driving force, and later the BCU Expeditions Sub-committee also helped drive the expansion of British sea kayaking. The International Long River Canoe Club with its regular newsletters also offered a way for paddlers to hear what was going on and get inspiration.

In the few years of the mid to late 1970's there followed a gentle frenzy of paddlers seeking firsts in the expedition world. There were plenty of places that had never been kayaked before to choose from. In 1978, the year following the Foster/Hunter Iceland circumnavigation, two teams simultaneously attempted the first circumnavigation of Ireland by kayak. Each team set off from a different place, and not until half-way-around began to learn of another team that had already passed by doing the same thing.

Given the ubiquitous nature of kayaking nowadays, the ease with which information can be found, the equipment available, and the ease of communication even from the water, it seems strange to imagine times when there were very few manufactured sea kayaks, before the days of kayaking dry-suits with wrist and neck gaskets, before GPS, cell-phones, or the internet. Far from texting messages or e-mailing, Geoff and Nigel sometimes mailed a postcard or letter to England with news of their progress when they stopped at a village to buy supplies. With this in mind you may be curious to check out the notes on equipment and clothing.

Iceland was considered remote. Few of the roads were surfaced with asphalt and only in 1976 was a road completed across the south coast of Iceland. Before then it was necessary to drive around the north coast to get from east to west. There were no Icelandic kayak clubs, and only one or two kayakers.

Iceland is sparsely populated, with only about 250,000 people living in the whole country. Yet more than anything it was the wonderful warmth and friendship of the Icelandic people they met that made the biggest impression.

Nigel's Vyneck, the kayak he paddled around Iceland, was cut in half in 1978 to fly it to Newfoundland. It resurfaced some thirty years later in Canada and has been lovingly restored to paddling condition. There is a page documenting the restoration. Geoff still has his original Vyneck in England.

Nigel's Vyneck, after Iceland, being modified with a new hatch for the Newfoundland trip in 1978

There was a certain naivety in the way I fitted this kayak out. Notice the red-handled pump, positioned to the right, with the black outlet set to the left. Whenever I pumped the kayak dry the water spouted into the air giving me an icy Icelandic salt-water shower.I had plenty of opportunity for regret.

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