23 Mar 2005, Yorkshire
My final word on the rules of expeditions...
...As has been highlighted in the last few days, expeditions are subject to rules just like any other area of life. If every member of the community abides by the rules, then everybody including the sponsors know where they stand.
My discussions with Ken Crutchlow of the Ocean Rowing Society have brought home the potential consequences of breaking these rules. Honesty pays. Not always in the short term, but abiding by the rules is essential to integrity, credibility, and reputation.
The pursuit of the sponsor's dollar is what causes the trouble - in the era of spin, it's all too easy to yield to the temptation to sex up an expedition. It must be marvellous to be a Branson, to have the money to do something simply 'because it's there', or 'for the fun of it'.
I'd love to live in a world that regarded FUN as a perfectly valid objective - where we didn't have to try to be the first or the fastest or the youngest.
Yes, some people (myself among them) find things more fun when we come first, but ultimately, if we take on a challenge and give it our best shot, and learn a few things about ourselves along the way, then we're a winner whether or not we're the first across the line.
22 Mar 2005, Yorkshire
I'm glad to be an ocean rower (aspiring) and not a polar explorer - apart from the risk of losing minor appendages to frostbite, polar exploration is fraught with hair-splitting definitions that would furrow the brow of the finest legal eagle.
A quote from Misadventures in a White Desert, by Patrick Woodhead: "Despite a desperate need for exposure in the press, they [explorers] soon discover that their exploits are only reported if something goes desperately wrong or a world record is broken. This helps to explain why some of the great names in polar exploration are so pedantic about the exact nature of their expedition. With so many of the big prizes already gone, they have to find harder and more elaborate ways of doing the same journey in order to make it into the papers...
...By aiming to complete the first ever British, unsupported, solo ski to the Magnetic North Pole, they will break a new record and the dollar bills will come flying."
Office politics are stressful enough - if you spend 40-80 hours a week busting a gut for your boss, you want proper recognition for it. Imagine if you were devoting years of your life to planning an expedition - risking life, limb and bankruptcy to achieving your goal - just how much MORE upset you'd be if you felt someone else had stolen your thunder.
So the alternative to being the first/fastest/Britishest is to go for the 'desperately wrong' option. Unfortunately you have to judge this one finely to end up on the right side of death-defying. It also has the twin disadvantages of being:
a) by definition impossible to pre-plan, and therefore...
b) not available pre-expedition when you're trying to impress the sponsors.
It's enough to make you hanker after the simpler (albeit much more dangerous) days of the gentlemen explorers, when anybody with enough money and sense of adventure could head out into the great unknown territories of the world, without having to emblazon their clothing and/or boat with corporate logos.
20 Mar 2005, Yorkshire
Solo, single-handed, or unsupported? That is the question.
Yesterday I read an article on www.theoceans.net which defines the rules on how to describe your expedition (and has a pop at Ben Saunders along the way). It has caused me 24 hours of worry - had I been blithely describing myself as solo, when in fact I am merely unsupported ?
Solo/single-handed is defined as "No assistance, no contact with other people throughout entire expedition". Aha, I thought at first, that's me.
But then I read the definition of unsupported. "No physical assistance during expedition". Oh. maybe that was me instead, then, because although I'll be entirely self-sufficient throughout my row, I'll have a VHF radio and satphone on board - the former being a mandatory safety requirement so I can communicate with the safety vessel and/or alert big ships to my presence. It would be downright dangerous to be on an ocean without it.
Yet I'm a female, and in the solo class (as opposed to a pair or four) so didn't that make me a solo female rower?
I turned to Ken Crutchlow of the Ocean Rowing Society for clarification. He rang this afternoon to reassure me that I am indeed a solo female rower, and am undeniably the first solo woman to row in a race across the Atlantic. Phew! I will also be unsupported (nothing to do with whether or not I'm wearing a bra) and, I guess, single-handed.
I'm still not 100% clear on the distinctions - Ellen MacArthur might be surprised to learn that she wasn't solo within the Oceans.net definition. Pete Goss likewise. And HE thought he was solo/single-handed - although not in the way envisaged by a little old lady who once came up to him and said, "As if it isn't hard enough sailing around the world on your own, they tie one hand behind your back as well?!" I wonder what she would have thought of a single-handed rower...
13 Mar 2005, Yorkshire
Or shouldn't I ask? Maybe on your way home, maybe still partying? Me, I was rowing...
I'd woken up at 4am thinking about the 5-hour ergo scheduled for today. It had been looming over me all week, my eyes drawn irresitibly to Sunday's entry in my training programme.
This morning I decided to let it loom no more. Deciding that the anticipation is usually worse than just getting on and doing it, I communed with my pillow for a final blissful moment, then flung back the covers and hopped out of bed.
By 9am I'd rowed over 42km, watched the sun rise, and listened to all four new CD's my WOMAD friend Stevie had burned for me.
Virtuous, me? It's not often said, but maybe this morning, if you'd looked in the direction of Leeds shortly before dawn, you might have seen a glow in the sky - the reflected glow of my halo shining.