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N A V I G A T O R 05
N A V I G A T O R 05 ADVENTURE PADDLING PIONEERS A story about endurance, extreme conditions and mystic kayakers, by adventurer and explorer Olly Hicks I first got wind of the Finmen mystery when my friend and fellow adventurer, Patrick Winterton, pointed me toward a book he had read about them . There is an incredible story of Inuit kayakers, or Finmen, arriving on the remote Scottish isles by sea as early as in the beginning 1700s. To this day no one knows exactly where the bizarre paddling visitors came from, but artifacts preserved in Scottish museums – including hunting paraphernalia and the remains of an ancient skin-covered kayak – point to the possibility of Inuit paddlers arriving autonomously by sea from Greenland more than 1,000 miles to the north east. I decided to find out whether the passage could indeed be possible. To do so, I would need to imitate the journey from the shores of eastern Greenland to Scotland’s north coast, accompanied only by my travel partner George Bullard and a lightly modified 22 foot sea kayak. It would be a journey no one had completed in modern times, but I wanted to shed light on this little-known mystery – and prove to myself and the world that it is possible. As we began planning the trip, it became clear that we were facing a truly epic challenge. The Arctic waters are notoriously treacherous, and the journey would see us cover more than 1,200 miles, at times alone on the open sea with no communication and limited supplies. We would need to paddle through the night and only rest five minutes per hour. The Inuk kayak would become our home. And we would have to face the ‘Devil’s Dancefloor,’ a feared, open 280-mile passage between Iceland and the Faroe Islands renowned for its unpredictability and wild conditions. I began kayaking when I was seven years old and have always felt at home at sea, even in rough conditions. But this was beyond anything I had ever done before. Above and right: George Bullard and Olly Hicks. It takes a special kind of grit to be a modern-day Finman PHOTOGRAPHY: EMMA HALL 16
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