Featured, Outdoors, Sports

Sea Kayaking Legend Freya Hoffmeister Lands in Seward

by Justine Pechuzal for Seward City News-
Freya Hoffmeister. Photo: Justine Pechuzal.

Sea kayaking legend Freya Hoffmeister paddled into Resurrection Bay Thursday afternoon without much fanfare.  A few cormorants and gulls gave a nod, but otherwise the 52 year old German woman outfitted in black gortex, accompanied by another local kayaker, Josh Thomas, simply landed at Lowell Point and unloaded her boat like any other paddler finishing a half day trip to Tonsina Creek.

The difference was that Freya and Josh had paddled two hundred and thirty three miles from Cordova along the outside of Prince William Sound’s barrier islands, just one more leg of a journey that started for Freya in Seattle last March.  Over the next eight to ten years, Freya will paddle in three to five month blocks, attempting the first circumnavigation of North America by kayak, a distance of approximately 30,000 miles.  While North America is not the first continental circumnavigation for this National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, it is her biggest.  Previous trips around South America and Australia have given her the breadth of experience needed for such an ambitious agenda.

But the mileage doesn’t mean that Freya can’t sightsee.  During her four night stay in Seward, Freya swooned over a baby walrus at the SeaLife Center, made a hair appointment, and purchased a stuffed sea otter and pup to ride in the bow of her kayak.  She even made time to answer questions from a curious local.  Here are a few highlights:

-The food item Freya misses most on trips is good German bread.

-Paddling feels like work when its boring, such as passing through mundane scenery in dead calm seas.

-Freya funded her first sea kayak expedition by operating an ice cream cafe.

-Maintaining a touch of style is important even in wilderness, as indicated by the sparkling nail polish glinting off Freya’s toes.

-For luck, Freya eats camp meals with a silver cutlery set from her childhood embossed with little dwarves.

-While Alaska’s quintessential footwear, Xtra Tuffs, appealed to Freya, she declined buying her own because ‘brown is not my color’.

-Though Freya has completed most of her previous expeditions solo, she is interested in partnering more for this trip, both to mentor and have company.  If possible, she prefers women, but ‘a guy will do as well’.

Provisioning the boat. Photo: Justine Pechuzal.

Monday morning, two kayaks and several bags of gear littered the beach at Lowell Point. As we talked, Freya and her new paddle partner, Eyal Saiet of Fairbanks, stuffed various camping and food items into dry bags. Freya’s round of hot showers, a bed, and ice cream, had come to an end.  Though from the looks of their bags, its didn’t appear the two would suffer much.  A ziplock of fresh cut pineapple was stashed behind Freya’s seat, herbed cheese spread and a half a dozen avocados disappeared in a back hatch. 

“This is more food than I usually buy,” Freya noted without much remorse.  

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“Women are doing the biggest kayak trips,” Eyal, a former kayak guide at Miller’s Landing, noted. 

“Sure, women are the best,” Freya replied.

One does not break the records Freya has by being shy.  

Once most gear was stored, Freya straddled the deck of her custom carbon fiber kayak and ate her breakfast of champions: oats, cocoa powder, a little flax and chia seed mixed with cold water. 

“Cooked oats are too slimy,” Freya explained, and made a face like a little kid eating broccoli.    

Eyal scrambled to catch up with the big kahuna, closing this or that dry bag, clipping a carabiner to rigging.  At last, it was his turn to swallow a quick bite of bagel and yogurt.

“This is later than I usually like to launch,” Freya noted, “but we don’t have far to go today.”

Freya’s cutlery. Photo: Justine Pechuzal.

Bulldog Cove, nineteen miles away, was the destination, close or far depending on who’s talking.  From there, the pair will continue around Ailik Point, notorious for challenging current and waves, then make their way, fjord by fjord, towards Homer or Kodiak Island in a span of one and half to three weeks. 

Homer and Kodiak, two distinct geographies and destinations, shouldn’t a North American circumnavigation proceed with more definites?    

Freya would say no.  As any seafaring person knows, conditions determine passage, not human agenda.  Following this dictate is the one of the reasons Freya has been so successful in her ocean endeavors.  A crux of her Seattle to Southcentral Alaska route was the ‘Lost Coast’, a section of unprotected shore between Yakutat and the Copper River.  When Freya launched from Icy Bay, she was prepared to paddle until the shelter of Kayak Island should conditions not yield a safe landing, and ended up covering 106 miles in her kayak over a continuous day, night, and day, much the way the ocean going Alutiiq people traveled thousands of years before her. 

Seward, and the west coast of Alaska, are fortunate to host such a capable, determined, and visionary adventurer.  For more information about Freya’s travels, visit her website and daily updated expedition blog at http://freyahoffmeister.com/.

Freya Hoffmeister on the water with Eyal Saiet. Photo: Justine Pechuzal.

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