Patrick Winterton and Olly Hicks: half way to completing paddle of wartime ‘Shetland Bus’ route to Norway

Shetland bus paddle

Patrick Winterton, a hugely qualified Argyll-based sports broadcaster, having been a Winter Olympian in 1988 and with a raft [sorry] of  sea kayak expedition firsts to his credit – several the subject of award-winning films – is one of those extraordinary perpetual adventurers whose hunger for challenges and will to take them on thrill the rest of us, is off again.

Team mate and co-paddler Olly Hicks is another of the same inspirational breed. Already the youngest person to row any ocean [in 2005 when he was 23 and spent 124 days at sea between America and England], Olly is to relaunch an ambitious challenge in 2015, to row solo around the world, starting at the bottom.

In 2011, along with Mick Berwick, they failed in an attempt to do what they are doing  now – paddle the route of the World War II fishing boat route between Norway and Shetland to support the resistance movement with arms and escapes, known as The Shetland Bus. 44 lives were lost on the Shetland Bus run, some to the German forces and some to the North Sea.

On that occasion, Cathy Winterton, whose husband is Patrick, says: ‘Back then I stood on the rocks and watched them disappear out of sight. It was a weird feeling. I did something similar this time  – but now we have a 1 year old as the perfect distraction.’

The relatively shallow North Sea is a pretty fearsome place, with steep swells and the occasional phenomenon of super-large waves. The photograph at the top, taken during training off Anglesey for the abandoned 2011 attempt, gives us a clear idea of just what additional terrors to this heartstopper that the North Sea offers.

For the 2011 expedition they were in separate kayaks. This time Patrick and Olly are in one double.

Crossing the North Sea – and well to the north of it, in a single kayak, is bound to be a ‘dry mouth’ experience only the most able and the courageous would even think about.

Best estimates indicate that it will take Patrick and Olly a total time at sea of 84 hours – four days and three nights, non-stop.

They will be increasingly salt-encrusted and wet, fighting to stay awake in the hours of darkness – which thankfully are short at this time of the year – and always alert to the dangers of their invisibility to shipping as well as to the risks of injury from these temperamental waters.

They are doing this completely alone, with no support boat, which also lessens their visibility to shipping.

They set off on Tuesday 16th July just after 16.00, routing from Whalsay to Valvoe in the Skerries and then off for the unbroken paddle.before they left the Skerries, they met folk from a Norwegian yacht who gave them a fog horn – just as well, since fog, the passage through the oil fields – and both – are a real source of concern for the pair.

The last fix on their kayak’s position was just after 11.00am today, 18th July, at coordinates 60.13.93 N and 002.17.02E, about half way across to the Norwegian coast and doing 4.2 knots.

Cathy Winterton, who works at the eminent Scottish Association for Marine Science [SAMS] at Dunstaffnage  north of Oban and small daughter, Faraid, are off to Bergen tomorrow to welcome the expedition back to land – and help to hose off the salt.

Patrick and Olly are taking on this challenge for two massively worthwhile charities:

  • the first is one very close to their hearts, given what they spend so much of their own lives doing – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, with volunteer crews, whose existence is supported solely by public subscription;
  • the Make a Wish Foundation aims to make come true each year the wishes of 1,000 children fighting life threatening illnesses.

The effort is being supported by who have provided free the additional bandwidth needed to be certain that the website for the challenge will be faultlessly responsive throughout.

The two paddlers note, wryly, that there is now no ferry between the UK and Norway – and it is unlikely that many others will take on the passage in these adventurers’ preferred mode of transport.

You can track their progress from their expedition website here and also on the site you can donate any amount you can afford to support the causes they are in this boat and on this route to highlight. The Virgin Money Giving page for donations to the two charities and in support of this expedition is online here – and is also linked from the expedition website.

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