Wake of the Finnmen

   Sea Kayaking / Touring
East Greenland to North Scotland - July - Aug 2016
In 1728 an Inuit kayaker landed alone on a beach in Northern Scotland, theories abound as to how he may have arrived on such distant shores from his icy homeland, This Summer Olly Hicks & George Bullard will kayak from Greenland to Scotland to fuel the legend that he may have paddled himself there over the wild North Atlantic.

   Sea Kayaking / Touring

East Greenland to North Scotland - July - Aug 2016

In 1728 an Inuit kayaker landed alone on a beach in Northern Scotland, theories abound as to how he may have arrived on such distant shores from his icy homeland, This Summer Olly Hicks & George Bullard will kayak from Greenland to Scotland to fuel the legend that he may have paddled himself there over the wild North Atlantic.

The team

Olly Hicks

Olly Hicks

George Bullard

George Bullard

“Hicks and Bullard believe the hardiness of the Inuit has been underestimated and they could have made the daring voyage in their fragile craft.”"


Olly Hicks has long been fascinated by the story of an Inuit man who landed alone and exhausted, on the coast near Aberdeen in 1728, only to die 3 days later. He believes other Inuit paddled their tiny kayaks from Greenland to Scotland – a journey of 1200 miles in the late 1600’s.

Before the death of the unfortunate traveler near Aberdeen, Inuit – called Finnmen by locals – had previously been sighted by locals in the Orkneys between 1682 and 1700. One contemporary account describes a man paddling his boat like a seagull swimming on top of the water.

As the modern day adventurers prepare to start their voyage from Greenland on July 1st, Olly Hicks, 34 and George Bullard, 27 hope to complete what has been called the “Arctic Kon Tiki” Expedition, to show Inuit could indeed have made their way across stormy ice-berg strewn seas to Europe, in fragile craft made of sealskin and driftwood.

Their kayak ‘Selkie 2’, named after a mythical creature that is half seal, half human, has undergone thorough sea trials around the British coast. Hicks rowed the Atlantic solo in 2005 and plans to row 18,000 miles around the world in 2017 across the inhospitable Southern Ocean. He and Bullard will follow in the tradition of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian Explorer who crossed 4,300 miles of the Pacific in 1947 on Kon-Tiki, a balsa-wood raft, in an attempt to prove his theory that people from pre-Inca Peru settled the islands of the South Pacific from about AD500.

Hicks and Bullard hope to see whether the Inuit really might have pioneered a route to Europe using Stone Age transport, or if there is a less romantic explanation.

Norman Rogers, the author of Searching for the Finnmen, said many explorers and whalers of the 16th century captured Inuit and brought them back to Europe as trophies to impress their patrons. Some adventurers at the court of Elizabeth I would bring back Inuit if they didn’t find gold. It seems possible that some of the sightings in the late 1600’s were of Inuit who had crossed the sea as captives, for example on whalers before escaping to the Scottish coast.

Rogers said the kayak that landed near Aberdeen in 1728 – known as the Belhevie Kayak and displayed at a museum in the city – had only half the volume of a modern sea kayak of comparable length. He argued it would have been unable to carry enough supplies for the journey from Greenland, even if the Inuit stopped off in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the Orkneys. There was also insufficient room to lie down, he added, meaning a kayaker would have to go without proper sleep for days. In addition, Rogers said that after 3 days at sea water would seep through the sealskin in a traditional kayak and there was no system to bail the craft out.

Yet Hicks and Bullard believe the hardiness of the Inuit has been underestimated, and they can convince skeptics such as Rogers to reconsider.

“They lived their lives in kayaks, whereas however fit we are, we are ultimately just playing at it by comparison,” Hicks said. He and Bullard will paddle a kayak made of Carbon-fiber and Kevlar and hope to cover the 1200 miles in six weeks. They will nap at the warmest times of the day and spend 12 nights at sea, paddling by the light of the midnight sun.

Inuit in the 17th Century may have had a shorter voyage. The period between 1680 and 1700 was the coldest time of the era known as the Little Ice Age, when Ice extended further into the area where the Arctic meets the Atlantic than it does today, potentially allowing the Inuit to travel along its edge to Iceland. That would have reduced the sea journey to as little as 600 miles. “This could solve the riddle” Rogers said.

Learn more about Wake of the Finnmen expedition and keep your eye on the tracker to follow their progress

“Hicks and Bullard believe the hardiness of the Inuit has been underestimated and they could have made the daring voyage in their fragile craft.”"


The Gear that Made This Possible