WHEN keen kayakers Jim, Angus, Bill and Peter found themselves storm-bound on an island off the west coast in 1978, they dreamt up a history-making plan.

The four men, who had met while working as teachers in Glasgow, made a pact to embark on Scotland’s first major sea kayaking expedition together.

This weekend, the Scottish Maritime Museum in irvine is marking the 41st anniversary of their magnificent adventure – which was also the first recorded sea kayak crossing of one of the world’s largest whirlpools - with a special exhibition.

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 paddled 394 miles (634 kilometres) as they circumnavigated the two island groups of Lofoten and Vesterålen, 200 miles within the Arctic Circle.

Bill with 8mm film camera.

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’.

Bill and Peter were PE teachers at All Saints Secondary in Barmulloch, and Gus taught maths and Jim taught PE at Colston Secondary in Springburn.

Jim, Gus and Bill are now retired and Peter is currently the Principal of Ardentinny Outdoor Centre.

Looking back, Gus explains they were not scared, but excited.

“We knew we were fit enough to do it, but it was the unknown,” he says. “This was a new place, and a new adventure.”

Paddling Into the Maelstrom

Paddling 'Into the Maelstrom'

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

The expedition was the result of two years of planning and fundraising and when they left Glasgow, Lord Provost at the time David Hodge waved them off with a letter of goodwill from the citizens of the city, written to the various community leaders they would meet on their travels.

Setting off from Harstad at 8.30am on Tuesday, July 1, 1980, the four travelled north, around the top of the island of Hinnøya, down 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.

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

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

Paddling to Hadseloya 2

Paddling to Hadseloya 2

Nicola Scott, Exhibitions and Events Officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, says: “The team’s story is an exciting highpoint in the history of sea kayaking.

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“It offers a fascinating insight into the challenges and development of sea kayaking in the latter half of the 20th century. The 1980 expedition team helped move sea kayak design on. The limitations of equipment at the time meant 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.”