The East Coast Of Greenland Is A Source Of Bounty And Burden, Feast And Famine. These waters have choked mariners for centuries. Just look to the shipwrecks and grave sites dotting the shores of the Ammassalik Fjord for evidence.
It was here I found myself floating on a 30-by 30-foot piece of sea ice with a group of guests a kilometer from shore. We were all standing on the floe because just minutes before a wide lede we’d been paddling along had narrowed due to shifting ice, catching and crushing one of our tandem sea kayaks with its paddlers inside. The ice receded as quickly as it approached, turning hazard into an island of safety.
This kayak was fatally damaged, but our only way back to shore was to find a fix.
The tandem pair were uninjured and in good spirits, but the 22-foot fiberglass kayak bore a smattering of nine full thickness holes and cracks scattered from bow to stern.
Most severe was a crack at the bulkhead extending a foot-and-a-half in length, and partially below the waterline. This kayak was fatally damaged, but our only way back to shore was to find a fix.
Fothering is an almost lost nautical technique for quickly repairing a damaged ship. Sailors used fabric from sails to cover holes from the outside of hulls to stem leaks. Early mariners and Arctic explorers used this technique in times of desperation, to save ships from sinking after running aground or contacting with ice.
Using Vice Grip pliers and a pair of gloves, we transformed an MSR Dragonfly stove into a torch. Drying and warming the damaged surfaces of the kayak was the first step to a successful repair job.
In the end, every piece of repair equipment we had—every inch of tape, and every ounce of adhesive—played a part
The holes and cracks were far too large to solely rely on duct tape patches, so we dissected a dromedary water bag, harvesting the fabric for fothering patches. Any AquaSeal glue we could squeeze from the tube in the subzero temperatures was used to fill hollows between fabric and hull.
Then came the duct tape, Tenacious Tape and medical tape—any tape we could muster—to further seal fabric to hull. We used the stove to melt the edges wherever tape was applied, and pressed the adhesive into place with a heated pot lid.
In the end, every piece of repair equipment we had—every inch of tape, and every ounce of adhesive—played a part. After two hours of careful concentration, the freshly repaired kayak was ready to be put to the test. And it proved watertight.
Making a field fiberglass repair is difficult in ideal conditions, let alone stranded on an ice floe off the coast of Greenland. What surprised me most was how quickly the ice went from hazard to refuge in the unpredictable conditions of the Arctic.
Steve Ruskay is the lead guide for Black Feather, an instructor for Raven Rescue and ambassador for Kokatat. Feature Photo: Steve Ruskay