An American carpenter who has kayaked more than 14,000 miles since 1983 has set off from the Western Isles in his attempt to become the first person to make the crossing in an open boat between Scotland and Iceland.
At 6am on Wednesday, former US Navy diver Chris Duff, from Port Angeles in Washington State, rowed out of Port of Ness harbour and set course for the Faroe islands in his small orange kayak called Northern Reach.
The sleek self-built boat, bigger than a traditional kayak, has also been his home for the last month as he paddled around the north-west of Scotland waiting for suitable conditions.
As well as rowing, he hopes conditions will also be right for him to get assistance from a kite which he will put up to help drag the boat along – even when he is sleeping.
Chris, who is 54, thinks it will take him four to five days to do the 179 miles to the Faroes and then, after a rest stop of at least a week, another eight days to cross the final 250 miles to Iceland.
However, after a failed bid because of poor weather to do the same crossing from Shetland last year, he says he is not too proud to turn back if conditions deteriorate or if he encounters any serious problems.
“I try not to take any foreseeable risks. It would be silly to.”
Undoubtedly, the most experienced long-distance kayaker in the world, Chris Duff became the first person to circumnavigate UK and Ireland in 1986 and has since also circumnavigated Iceland and the South Island of New Zealand.
Despite that long experience, he said that this would be the first time he would be so far offshore and so far from rescue if anything went wrong.
“Yeah, it is a real concern. I have done nothing before so far out into potentially wild seas,” he said.
A published author and noted public speaker, he has also broken several world records and is intrigued that no one is on receord as ever having successfully sailed in an open boat from Scotland to either Iceland or even the Faroes.
He adds: “Of course, the Vikings did it. However they didn’t do it solo like I hope to.”
He is not setting out to break any rowing records and plans to use a kite to help speed up the boat whenever the wind is right. His plan is also to fly the kite when he is asleep to help him make progress at a leisurely knot or so.
Since first arriving on the Isle of Lewis more than a month ago to await suitable weather, Chris has been helped in planning his passage to the Faroes by John ‘Dods’ Macfarlane of Ness. He is the longtime leader of the annual expedition to Sulasgeir by Ness fishermen and other volunteers to catch and slaughter the gugas – solan geese, a type of gannet, which are a delicacy in the north part of Lewis.
Dods says he is extremely impressed by the safety consciousness of Chris Duff who, he believes, must be one of the very few people capable of such an arduous voyage.
“I have every confidence in him,” he said. “He double checks everything and he makes sure the risks are minimal. To tell you the truth, I would love to go with him.”
His plan was also to sing by Sulasgeir for a recce. He hopes to photo the gannet colony before pressing on northwards.
Chris’s wife Lisa, a nurse, will be worrying about him back in Washington, he admits. However, as they met and then married only five years ago, she has not known him not to be going on solo expeditions. A keen hillwalker herself, he says she “understands” the appeal of total solitude and focus.
Hard training, meticulous preparation and double-checking everything from forecasts to vital equipment is, he says, the key to him having survived in an extremely hazardous activity that has claimed many lives.