Vikings! …and Sea Kayaking

I’m currently reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse, in which he explores ‘natural experiments’ to try and explain what makes civilizations succeed or fail. So far he’s talked about Easter Island and other Polynesian islands, Ancient Pueblo Peoples (southwest American natives), and the Mayan. [note: the ROM (in Toronto) currently has a Mayan exhibition. I went to see it a week or two ago. I wasn’t too impressed with the ROM’s treatment, but the artifacts and myths that they presented were really interesting. The one thing I really liked was their idea of the milky way being a giant sky serpent who crossed the sky each night]

The chapter I’m on now deals with the Vikings (turns out they gave us the following words: “egg” “skirt” “awkward” and “die”). I’ve heard lots about Vikings in my lifetime, but the only thought that comes to mind is pillaging and looting with horned helmets (which turns out to be a fabrication by Wagner’s operas: Vikings never had horns on their helmets). I had also heard that they had ‘discovered’ the Americas before Columbus…but for some reason the significance of that has never really struck me until now. The short story of the Vikings is that, from Scandinavia, they developed fantastic sea ships (mostly for going along the coast) and would pillage and loot the Europeans and make a speedy escape since they (the Vikings) had superior ships. Eventually they did some settling in Europe (intermarriage and so on) and develop Kingdoms in Scandinavia which then traded with, as oppose to steal from, the Europeans. They also mostly converted to Christianity for various reasons (some political).

That’s all fine and dandy. The interesting part to me, however, is Erik the Red’s ‘discovery’ of Iceland and Greenland (both due to being exiled: first his father was exiled from Norway and went to Iceland, then Erik was exiled from Iceland and went to Greenland), and then his son Leif Erikson’s discovery of Baffin Island (northern Canada), then Newfoundland/Labrador.

Here’s a short documentary about the evidence of Leif’s existence in Canada and potentially America:

Finally, I got really interested in the idea of potentially kayaking between Baffin Island and Greenland (~300kms), that I started looking up past attempts at trans-oceanic kayaking.

  • I found out about a guy who tried to recreate Leif’s travels solo with a sea-kayak. He made it from Greenland to Baffin island, barely surviving, then made his way south towards Newfoundland. He slept on ice that kept drifting out to sea, was rudely awoken by a curious polar bear, and eventually got frostbite on his toes and was taken to hospital. After taking a break and visiting his family in Florida, he went back to where to ended, and tried to finish his trip. His body was found days later, still in his kayak. An autopsy determined that he died from a heart attack. Damn!
    Here an article I found about him.
  • Oskar Speck paddled from Germany to Australia in 1932-1939.
  • Ed Gillet paddled from California to Hawaii in 1987 (~4000kms!)
  • Peter Bray crossed from Canada to Ireland in 2001.
  • Andrew McAuley, an Australian solo kayaker, was lost at sea in February 2007 only 30 nautical miles (56 km) short of his destination of Milford Sound, New Zealand, during his attempt to cross from Australia to New Zealand.
  • Justin Jones and James Castrission made the first crossing from Australia to New Zealand, arriving on 13 January 2008, a journey that took 61 days. This is the longest two man kayak expedition ever undertaken. They have a doc called Crossing the Ditch that I watched. Most excellent doc. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.
  • On the turn 2010/2011, polish kayaker Aleksander Doba crossed from Dakar (Africa – Senegal) to Fortaleza (South America – Brasil), approx 5400kms! This guy was 65yrs old! It took him 99 days!
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About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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