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Rower Circumnavigates Iceland for Charity

The Story of Kjartan Hauksson’s row around Iceland in his Virus Yole rowing boat called “Frelsi” (Freedom).


Kjartan J Hauksson grew up in a fisihing village, in the northern part of Iceland playing with and then building boats. His playground was most often in the area where his grandfather, a local shipbuilder of wooden boats and ships worked. It was a dream for an active boy to be able to get all this material and advice to build his first rowing boat. By the age of seven, Kjartan had already built several rowing boats of simple construction. At times he would take his friends along, if they were allowed to play with such an active boy.

The years went on in this fishing village and by the age of fifteen Kjartan had bought and rebuilt his own motorboat. It was a open boat with a small inboard engine and not always reliable, so Kjartan had to row this heavy boat single, even though this size usually acommodated four people. Kjartan used this boat for commercial fishing during the summertime and weekends, when he was out of school.

At that time he also became a commercial diver and made his living from fishing and diving. He studied to get his qualifications at the Marine Engineer School in Reykjavik and the School of Navigation in Reykjavik. He also attended several schools in the USA, England and Scotland to learn Commercial Diving and related things. Since the age of 30 he has been running his own marine construction and subsea cable lying company, operating working boats and barges. Having this background it was always a dream to row around Iceland and then across the Atlantic ocean. Now, at the age of 43, he has started to make these dreams come true.


During the winter of 2003 he started building a down sized version of a rowing boat, used for ocean crossings. The boat had two closed compartments, one for the rower, navigation and communications equipment. The other for storing food and supplies. This rowing boat was being built with the plan to row single handed around Iceland - 2300km / 1241 Nautical Miles with 4 planned stops for re-stocking and promoting his favorite cause, the Handicapped Association of Iceland.

Kjartan, as a volunteer for the Handicapped Association of Iceland, had decided to do this project to raise money for the benefit of the association. With his self built boat he started in Reykjavik in August 2003. 3 weeks later, on the north side of Iceland and in difficult weather conditions and strong cross winds, he was unable to keep the boat at safe distance from the rocky shores.
He collided with the unforgiving shoreline and the boat collapsed several times. In the end, the boat was totally destroyed.

Kjartan was lucky and got off with just scratches and bruises. During the 3 weeks rowing he covered 400km/220 Nautical Miles stopping at a harbour once for supplies and promotional photos. He did not set foot on land, thus had been in the boat for a full 3 weeks when he was forced to stop by the circumstances.

In 2004, due to family reasons he did not finish this project, but used the time for training and preparations for a second much longer leg to the finish line. Kjartan also decided to get a completely different boat. It needed to be much lighter to row against the wind, to stay off shore and to keep safe from uncontrollable landings. Weight was also important so he could mangage single handed to pull it ashore in remote locations. The boat needed to be big enough to carry the rower with gear and supplies for two days. These changes also meant that he had to plan to go ashore more often for resting and resupplying.

Further, is was important to have a boat that was totally self bailing, had good surfing characterisitcs and overall stability. Also, the boat needed to be “unsinkable” and, in case of damages, easy to repair. The goal was to find the best boat or.. build one for the purpose for the second leg of 1900km/1025 Nautical Miles

Mark Ginisty, a friend of Kjartan from France,wanted to build or assist in building the new boat. Mark is a naval architect who has designed and built many boats for ocean rowing. The was designer and builder for the boats that Anne Quemere and Maud Fontenoy rowed, both pioneering women in ocean rowing. After concluding that there would not be sufficient time to build a boat for the trip, he decided to search for a boat suitable for the row.

Mark came up with the idea to look in to the boat made by Virus, France. The Yole de Mer. They decided that the Yole Class in Fiberglass, robust and light enough, could be up to the task. Searching the internet, Kjartan found the US Virus contact, one who could deliver swiftly. Urs and Renee Wunderli, owners of Rum International Inc in Florida and sole importers/distributor of Virus boats for USA/Canada and Western Hemisphere had a used Yole Class available for immediate delivery. Kjartan and Urs, in a short few days exchanged many e-mails and had numerous phone conversations about suitability, specs and conditions of the Yole. Kjartan decided to buy the boat and within a few days the Yole and all gear underwent one last thorough inspection, was packed up safe in Sarasota, Florida, delivered to Norfolk, Virginia and on to Reykjavik, Iceland.

When the Yole Class arrived in Iceland, Kjartan applied some very minor changes for gear and load. The hull color was changed form the original burgundy to a new highly visible yellow color.

Used Yole being shipped to Iceland
Front view of the Yole
Used Yole being shipped to Iceland
Rear view of the Yole
Packing up the Yole
Packing up the Yole for shipping to Iceland
Unpacking the Yole in Iceland
Unpacking in Iceland
Ljartans first row in the new Yole
First row in the Yole
Ljartans first row in the new Yole
Kjartan trying out the new boat.
Notice the new paint job!


The goal of this trip

The goal was, this to be the first circumnavigation around Iceland in a rowing boat! The first Icelander to row around his own country without the support of motor or sail! Only on his own power... and very importantly, to raise money for the Handicapped Association in Iceland.
In addition this row was also planned to be a preparation for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat.

All gear and equipment was selecet based on lightness and reliability. All had to be waterproof. Kjartan wore a life vest at all times and was connected to the boat via lifeline. The equipment included: GSM, NMT and Irridium Sat phone, VHF radio, GPS and compass used for navigation, two emergency beacons, flares, parachute rockets, lights, survival suit, necessary spare parts and tools. All equipment was stored in dry bags and fastened to the open foreward and aft deck of the boat.

The rowing

Kjartan started the second leg rowing on June 5th 2005 and finished, rowing the Virus Yole “Frelsi” in to Reykjavik Harbor on September 2nd, at exactly 02.15pm. See insert with details "the row in numbers" . He was greeted by a crowed of cheering supporters and spectators, like at every stop during the row.

The most difficult parts in this project have been the weather and in some areas long shallow shorelines with limited to no possible landings. Average rowing legs were 15-20 hours and as much as 100 kilometers. Some legs were up to 30 hours nonstop and up to 140 kilometers. Non stop means without any rest due to total lack of options for a safe landing. Many days, the weather, winds and surf made it necessary to keep rowing in order to prevent from being blown ashore into heavy surfs. In these most difficult legs the routine was about 2-3 minutes food stop every 2-3 hours.

The Yole “Frelsi” was damaged several times in landings due to bad weather. The keel broke twice. The hull below the waterline and sides was cracked and holed several times. Kjartan did the repairs ad hoc. “Frelsi” was the perfect boat for this row, the Yole did the job as expected after all repairs.

In spite of the strenuous parts of this row, there were days with very good weather. Huge amount of marine and bird life could be seen and enjoyed. Whales are common as well as seals, get quite close to a small and silent rowing boat. The beautiful nature of Iceland can be enjoyed, as well as, some of the most spectacular mountains and landscape are viewed best from sea and close to shore in a small boat.

rowing southern Iceland
rowing southern Iceland
rowing southern Iceland


At the end

After finishing his row around Iceland, Kjartan will start working as soon as possible at his company. Some of the projects waiting are working for Clint Eastwood on a filming a movie in Iceland. As a part of Russian diving and explorer team, he will sail on his 50 ton diving and research boat from Reykjavik to the Iceland's west coast where they will locate a historical World War II Russian vessel. Kjartan is then looking forward to his future plan with his wife Brynja. They are building up their Lake Site house, which they want to rent to rowers, anglers and general outdoor lovers.

There is also a plan to offer guided rowing tours to one of the most beautiful areas of Iceland which could vary from a weekend to several days.

Last but not the least

Thanks to the public's continued interest and coverage by Icelands media; Newpapers, TV and Radio, the fundraising to the benefit of Handicapped Association of Iceland has been a very, very big success.

Kjartan wants to thank his wife Brynja for her partnership in the row around Iceland. While he did just the rowing, she did all the other stuff.

For further information you are welcome to contact Kjartan or Urs

The Row in Numbers:

Trip   Boat used on second leg
Overall Length 2300km/1241 naut. miles   Yole Class, by Virus -Fiberglass
1. leg 2003 400km/ 220 naut. miles   Length: 4.80meter / 15'9"
2. leg 2005 1900km/1025 naut. miles   Width: 83cm / 33"
Days on the water: 109   Weight: 60kg / 125lbs
Hours rowed: 550   Rigger Span: 158cm/ 62"
Longest leg 29 hours /140km/76 n.miles   Cockpit open, 100% self bailing
Total burn of energy (body) Kcal 500.000 = 70 kg/150lbs Butter   Manufacturer Yole: Virus, France
Average Air temp: 10 degrees celcius   Oars Carbon/ Hatchet Blades
Water temp: 2 -10 degrees celcius   Spare Oars Aluminum, Macon Blades
Average daylight: June=24h > Sept=17h    
Money raised for Iceland Handicaped Association = 8.5 M Iceland Kroner = USD 135,000.00 (Pop. of Iceland 300,000)