Beaufort woman's love of kayaking takes her to tranquility of Greenland

abredeson@islandpacket.comJuly 22, 2013 

Fran Symes stands for a portrait with her and her husband's kayaks on Thursday afternoon at her home in Beaufort. She recently returned from a 10-day kayaking trip in Greenland. Symes trained everyday for about six weeks, usually kayaking six to ten miles, before leaving for the trip.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

Fran Symes learned to kayak five-and-a-half years ago when a friend introduced her to the sport.

She fell in love and has been paddling ever since. The 69-year-old Beaufort woman is now a kayak instructor. She said most people who kayak use a European-style paddle, but her friend was a fan of the traditional paddle, also known as a Greenland paddle, so Symes learned to paddle in this style.

When Symes heard in February about a group that was planning a kayak expedition in Greenland, she knew she had to go. She signed up for the trip, which she called an early birthday present for herself. And she began preparing for the grueling adventure.

"It looks deceptively easy when you see someone do it, especially in the recreational kayaks that we have," she said. "They're pretty stable. Most people can get in and start paddling."

But she said what can be challenging is learning how to control, maneuver and roll the kayak.

To build up strength for her trip, Symes said she paddled at least 10 miles every morning that she could. Her husband, Chuck, even added big bottles of water to her kayak to make it heavier, as it would be heavier with her gear on the trip. For motivation, she made a pennant for the stern of the kayak that read, "Going to Greenland."

Symes left for Greenland on June 22 and returned to Beaufort on July 7. She and a group of six others -- who came from Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Alaska and Greenland -- paddled for 10 days in fjords around Sisimuit, Greenland. They paddled about 20 miles a day and camped at night along the way, totaling about 100 miles on the trip.

Symes said it was a wonderful experience, although it was so cold that her fingers were often numb. They are still peeling from the cold weather. She said the water ranged from the low 30s to the low 50s there.

Despite the frigid temperatures, the group was able to enjoy the experience, especially the views -- the rocks, the mountains and the colorful homes scattered around the landscape.

Symes said along their journey, the group came across a sight you won't ever see back in the Lowcountry -- thousands of noisy seals devouring a meal. She said they were all lined up in a row and would dive down into the water to catch the fish.

"That was pretty exciting to see," she said.

And the people of Greenland were very gracious, often inviting the group inside for coffee and tea when they took breaks from paddling.

But the trip was also a lot of hard work. Symes said they faced some rough waters. Every afternoon between 2 and 5, the heavy winds and strong waves would roll in, giving the kayakers quite a workout.

"It's exhilarating," Symes said. "You put it out in the surf, and you're surfing a wave, and ... it's pretty darn exciting."

While she loves the excitement of kayaking, she also loves the tranquillity and the gorgeous views.

"One of the things I like about paddling a lot is the closeness with the water and nature, and the serenity of that," she said. "You don't have the loud noise of an engine. It's just you and the water and the fish that you see and the birds flying over."

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