Starting 72*North in Upernavik, Alain and Nathalie Antognelli kayaked 5500 kilometres along the entire west coast of Greenland in three different travel periods from 2009 to 2014. We asked them a few questions about their adventure:

 

Why did you first decide to kayak Greenland?

We come from Monaco, the country with the largest population density in the world, so we are naturally attracted by destinations where nature and wide-open spaces dominate, with peoples who are open to others. A few friends told us of a magnificent country at the dawn of important political, climatic and cultural change.

“In a few years, it will be too late to go to Greenland", they said, so we understood that we had to go – and soon!” Accordingly, on June 6th 2009, we left Upernavik in two kayaks towards Ilulissat, and our first part of the photojournalism adventure began.

At this time of the year, the atmosphere is magical, especially the light!

When kayaking, we’ve played with humpback whales, often for more than an hour or two!

How would you describe kayaking in Greenland?

In our opinion, kayaking is the best way to see Greenland because you can go everywhere you want. Of course you need some knowledge, and not everyone can go alone but it’s one of the last natural places as it used to be, and when you arrive in the village you have very nice people to meet.

We have visited over 50 villages, and what is most interesting for us is the Greenlandic population. We are especially interested in meeting the ones in the North who are still in contact with old ways of life - it is still their everyday in 2015.

What does it take to plan kayaking trips like yours?

To travel by kayak does not just happen. We have been kayaking for more than twenty years to many different destinations, but it took us eight months to organize everything for our first expedition.

Every detail was carefully considered in advance. Each item was listed, forwarded by road freight to Aalborg, Denmark, and then shipped up to the starting point of every expedition in Greenland.
 

A deep blue night underlines a clear light on the horizon.

We had the feeling of being physically disconnected from the rest of the world.

What did you carry with you on the expeditions?

We transported up to 60 kilos of equipment on each kayak. In addition to the food reserves, this included security equipment, a rifle, an Iridium telephone, distress beacons, camping equipment, photographic equipment, a computer, as well as navigation equipment including maps and GPS, and not forgetting repair equipment. 

To be safe, a great number of these items were duplicated. It was certainly a major undertaking, with a significant cost, but fortunately numerous partners who were all interested in Greenland provided the sports equipment.

What’s a favourite memory while kayaking in Greenland?

When kayaking, we’ve played with humpback whales, often for more than an hour or two!

When they don’t want to play with you they come very close to the kayak and then pass under you. Then we know it’s finished. We also wintered in Savissivik, 76’ North.

The first winter in Savissivik began in the middle of the polar night, in the beginning of January 2013. At this time of the year, the atmosphere is magical, especially the light!

A deep blue night underlines a clear light on the horizon. When we got out from the helicopter, we had the feeling of being physically disconnected from the rest of the world.

Fact box

  • Alain and Nathalie’s adventures can be viewed in the documentary called Planète Thalassa, launching this month and later on on TV5 World.
  • Kayaking in Greenland requires more technical and safety experience than when in warmer waters, but for those who would love to try it is possible to try this in Greenland. Day trips and longer expeditions are available!

"We were adopted into a family when in Savissivik, and although we had our own house the doors were always open, and our host family’s children always ran in and out."

What was winter life like up North?

Altogether we spent the winter in two villages, one year in Nuussuaq, north, and ten months in Savissivik. The differences in the way of life between these two villages are so large so it is difficult to say. At Savissivik, there were only 50 inhabitants.

We were adopted into a family when in Savissivik, and although we had our own house the doors were always open, and our host family’s children always ran in and out.

Generally speaking, life takes place in slow motion and it is not unusual to be without any access to the outside world for several weeks.