fbpx skip to Main Content


Into the Maelstrom: The Scottish Kayak Expedition to North West Norway 1980
Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) Castle Street, Dumbarton

An exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of Scotland’s first major sea kayaking expedition is now open at the Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) on Castle Street, Dumbarton.

‘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 one of the world’s largest whirlpools, the ‘Maelstrom’ or, as it is sometimes known, the ‘Moskenstraumen’.

Exhibition highlights include equipment, clothing, archive news footage and photographs from the expedition.

Abigail McIntyre, Senior Curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum, explains:

Our ‘Into the Maelstrom’ exhibition tells a captivating story of real adventure which people of all ages and interests will enjoy.

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

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

“Kayaking as a sport became popular in Europe in the 1800s but advances in the design of equipment were slow. It wasn’t until the 1950s when the hard-shell resin and fibreglass kayaks used on the 1980 expedition were developed.

“Faced with the limitations of the equipment at the time, the expedition team needed to design some of their own kit.

“New designs included tents with storage space for the kayaks and, with an eye to budget, watertight dry bags customised with neoprene backed vinyl and used car tyre inner tubes!”

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 1 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), they crossed the Maelstrom twice before returning back to Harstad along 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, food poisoning and an unexpected heatwave.

‘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: www.scottishmaritimemuseum.org


Back To Top
Skip to content