An ice-rich winter
This winter (2002/2003) has brought us some good frosts. Already
several times an ice veneer has covered our local waters of the
Kieler Foerde, an embayment of the Baltic Sea. Each time it is
a great challenge to go kayaking in these conditions.
The first frost, mid December. The ice layer
is growing and growing, the Hoern ( the most inner harbour basin)
is well-frozen by now. It is Friday the thirteenth and finally,
after all those windy, miserable days, we have still and sunny
weather. Now there is nothing holding me back to head down to
the boat shed to go for a winter paddle. A look at the meteorological
station at the Institute of Marine Sciences gave me a little set-back:
air temperature –3 °C and water temperature 2.4 °C,
however barometric pressure rising and wind speeds of 1-2 Beaufort.
Hence - why not?
Now then, quickly I got the kayak ready and myself wrapped up
warmly, careful not to forget the pogies. From
our jetty I first headed south into the harbour basin, passing
several moored and well-winterized traditional sailing ships.
But, half way into the bay, where the Scandinavian ferries make
fast, the leading edge of the ice stopped my progress. Quite this
far out into the basin I had not expected it to be. The ice, though
broken into large chunks, was already re-connected by thinner,
clear ice. The wounds inflicted by passing ships heal fast.
To date, my water sport experiences with solid water were restricted
to the long-range passing by of belated single ice floats
in spring. Thus I sat quite excited in my kayak, which is not
reinforced to icebreaker-quality, on the brink of the ice and
started to try out what one could do:
- Driving the boat onto the ice until the ice fails and the
boat breaks through (very unpleasant scratching sounds on the
- Piercing the ice with the edge of the blade and driving the
boat onwards onto the ice..
But I did not go far into the ice because it is a frightening
feeling when the paddle does not penetrate the ice and instead
glides abruptly off the ice surface. The pull of the intended
paddle stroke can bring the paddler badly out of balance. Furthermore,
I did not want to end up stuck in the ice, having to be rescued
like a swan frozen in the ice.
Carpet of rounded, brittle ice floes; view
Hindenburgufer to Kitzeberg
Thin ice in the inner fjord,
When I wanted to take few photographs, as proof, the batteries
very quickly went flat because of the cold. Then while trying
to turn around I was forced to acknowledge that ice can be quite
spiteful and intractable. Therefore I had to go in a large semi-circle,
always on guard not to slip with the paddle. Eventually reaching
the rim, it was wonderful to have liquid water surrounding the
kayak. A quick look back showed that my “icebreaker”
track looked rather idiosyncratic.
Onwards went the trip, heading north along the eastern side of
harbour basin. The sun was shining and with the wind down it became
pleasantly warm. After a while I realised that the water drops
falling onto the shady side of my boat were frozen. It was not
long before the whole surface of my craft was completely encrusted
with knobbly, botryoidal ice. From the sides of my pogies
as well as from the drip rings of the paddle cute little icicles
hung down. My boat reminded me of an expedition ship on the way
to Spitzbergen, which needed regular knocking off of its ice carapace
to keep it from becoming top-heavy.
Near the little settlement of Moenkeberg a hot cup of tea and
some munchies were welcome to replenish the energy reserves for
the trip back. The air was wonderfully clear, the water was quiet
and still. Nearly no shipping traffic, only the ferry connecting
the east and the western halves of Kiel operated and a military
vessel sailed into the military harbour. The Foerde, bathed in
the sallow light of a weak winter sun, radiated
a fantastic atmosphere.
Ice carpets looked at from close-by are fascinating entities.
Our local Baltic Sea ice, which is strongly influenced
by wind and wave action, shows a much wider range of shapes than
freshwater ice of little lakes:
beached ice floes,
- Individual chunks made of thick, opaque ice have abraded
margins formed by the constant rubbing against each other
due to the wave motion.
- Also, their margins can be bulging by adhering “ice
- Other chunks can have a rather angular shape with sharp
edges, like for instance wreckage chunks from passing
- Some chunks show a rim of clear needles of ice, which
are oriented radially around the old ice body. They occur
in rather quiet, motionless ice rafts.
- In between those ice chunks, a kind of ice-needle-soup
is forming, which grows more and more solid with time.
The structure of this type of ice reminds me strongly
of hash browns.
- Again other forms are shown by continuous ice blankets,
which for example can be perforated by updoming areas
of about 30 cm diameter (possibly formed by air, trapped
underneath ice, trying to escape).
- Or they show irregular, winding and nearly-parallel
‘strings’. These are generated by the ice
moving passed posts, buoys and other obstacles at the
All these many different forms of ice and the mixtures between
“solid“ and “liquid“, which occur but
do not have names, show us here a lack in terminology. People
of the ice regions however have a much more detailed
vocabulary, but of course they are very intimately involved in
icy ice. Also, nobody there would cast funny glances at a kayaker
in winter. But when I, cosily warm, arrived safely at our jetty,
some people strolling by looked rather puzzled – just why??