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Into the Maelstrom: The Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway 1980

 Scottish Maritime Museum Irvine, Harbourside

 Open now until 30 August 2021

 An exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of Scotland’s first major sea kayaking expedition, which also included the first recorded sea kayak crossing of one of the world’s largest whirlpools, opens at the Scottish Maritime Museum on Irvine Harbourside on Thursday 29 April and runs until 30 August.

‘Into the Maelstrom: The Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway 1980’ charts the story of Jim Breen, Angus Mathieson, Bill Turnbull and Peter Wilson who, together, paddled 394 miles (634 kilometres) as they circumnavigated the two island groups of Lofoten and Vesterålen in North West Norway, 200 miles within the Arctic Circle.

During the 28 day expedition, the team also successfully achieved the first ever crossing of the ‘Maelstrom’ or, as it is sometimes known, the ‘Moskenstraumen’.

Exhibition highlights include two of the four ‘Baidarka Explorer’ kayaks, equipment, clothing, footage (both 8mm film taken by the team and archive news) and photographs from the expedition.

 The kayaks were given Nordic names to foster links with the expedition destination.

The two on display were named after Scottish Norse King ‘Somerled’ and the Viking King ‘Godred’ whom he defeated off the coast of Scotland in 9th century.

The other two kayaks were named ‘Nyvaig’ (Gaelic for ‘little ship’), after one of Somerled’s vessels, and ‘Skuta’, a Viking longboat.

The Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway was the result of two years of planning and fundraising after Jim, Angus, Bill and Peter found themselves storm-bound on an island off the West coast of Scotland in 1978 and made a pact to embark on Scotland’s first major sea kayaking expedition together.

Setting off from Harstad in North West Norway at 8.30am on Tuesday 1st July 1980, the four travelled north, around the top of the island of Hinnøya, south down the West Coast of the Vesterålen and Lofoten island groups to the island of Værøy at the southern tip.

Here, between Lofoten Point and the island of Mosken, where the tidal currents are forced through the shallows creating a fast series of eddies and whirlpools, they crossed the infamous but deceptively ‘smooth’ Maelstrom.

Battling tidal currents which travelled between 6.8 to 12.4 miles per hour (11 to 20 kilometres) and forced their kayaks at right angles, they crossed the Maelstrom twice before returning back to Harstad via the eastern side of the island groups.

As well as the challenges of the Maelstrom, the team had to overcome very severe magnetic anomalies on certain stretches of the trip. They also suffered from bland, repetitive meals, only alleviated by occasional treats of Angel Delight and Cabana chocolate, as well as food poisoning and an unexpected heatwave.

When it came to their first crossing of the Maelstrom, after lighting their night-time kayaking perfectly, the 24 hour midnight sun turned overcast and dull.

Nicola Scott, Exhibitions and Events Officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, says:

“The story of the Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway in 1980 is an exciting highpoint in the history of sea kayaking.

“Not only was it the first major sea kayaking expedition and the first recorded sea kayak crossing of the Maelstrom, it offers a fascinating insight into the challenges and development of sea kayaking in the latter half of the 20th century.

“The kayak was invented some four thousand years ago in Arctic North America when Inuit people stretched animal skins over driftwood or whalebone frames as a means to hunt sea animals and move around by water.

“Although the sport of kayaking sparked interest in Europe in the 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1950s when the hardshell resin and fibreglass kayaks used on the 1980 expedition were developed.

“The 1980 expedition team also helped move sea kayak design on. The limitations of equipment at the time meant that they needed to design some of their own kit to overcome the cold and wet conditions.

“New designs included tents with storage space allowing the kayaks to be packed under cover, dry bags customised with neoprene backed vinyl and used inner tubes from car tyres to make them watertight.

“Altogether, the exhibition tells a captivating story of real adventure which people of all ages and interests will enjoy.”

‘Into the Maelstrom: The Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway 1980’ is included in Museum admission. 

 Up to three children go FREE with each Adult Admission.

 For more information, or to book a visit: www.scottishmaritimemuseum.

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