It’s starting to look like Australia
maintains a modern navy only to pluck hapless British explorers from
their tiny upturned boats.
Last week an Aussie frigate sailed thousands of miles to rescue two
chaps who were attempting to row across the Indian Ocean. No, I don’t
know why either, but as far as I can tell, one of them got a headache
from a freak wave and decided to call it a day.
And who can forget the epic tale of Tony Bullimore who started to eat
himself after his yacht capsized in the Southern Ocean. Luckily, he’d
only gnawed his way through half of one hand when HMAS Adelaide steamed
It all sounds very Boy’s Own but the Australian taxpayers are starting
to get a bit cross, and I can’t say I blame them. Their navy was
involved in the recent bout of Middle Eastern fisticuffs and has a
torrid time patrolling the waters off Darwin in an endless search for
desperate Indonesians who’ve been drifting on cardboard for 14 years
with nothing to eat but their fingernails.
Then, every 15 minutes, they have to break off and sail 1,500 miles in
rotten weather, and at vast expense, to rescue some weird beard
Englishman who’s down to his last Vesta.
The problem is that humans have already climbed the highest mountains
and sailed on their own through the wildest and loneliest stretches of
ocean. But though the records have gone, the world is still full of
Chichesters and Hillarys and Amundsens.
As a result, these people have to think of stupider things to quench
their need for a spot of frostbitten glory. So, they insert a few
sub-clauses into the record and set off from Margate to become the First
Person Ever to Pogo Stick Round the World — Backwards.
Did you see base camp in the Himalayas last week? It was a smorgasbord
of dopamine and lunacy, with people in silly outfits from all four
corners of the globe. “Yes, I’m attempting to be the first Chinese
person to climb Everest in a tutu.”
“Oh really. I shall be the second Peruvian ever to go up there in a
scuba suit but I’m hoping to be the first not to come back down again.”
Then we have a chap called Pen Hadow. Plainly, it’s in his biological
make-up to have icicles in his eyes, so he has to go to the Arctic. But
what record is left to beat? We’ve had the first person to drive to the
North Pole, the first person to walk to the North Pole unaided and
probably, the first to jog there, from Russia, in a kilt. But Pen wasn’t
going to be defeated before he’d even set off. So he pored over the
record books and spotted an opening. Eureka! He would become the First
Person Ever to Trek to the Geographic North Pole from Canada, Unaided.
This meant skiing, clambering and swimming through open water, while
towing a 300lb sled. But he made it, a point verified by the tourists
who will have watched him arrive from the warmth of their helicopters
and their cruise ships.
Sadly, though, he wasn’t able to make it back and as a result, some poor
Canadian pilot who was just sitting down to a nice moose sandwich with
his family had to effect a daring and spectacular airborne rescue.
This is my biggest beef about explorers today. When Shackleton’s boat
was crushed by the ice, he didn’t think: “Crikey, it’s a bit nippy out.
Let’s get the Argies on the sat phone and have them bring a destroyer.”
No, he ate his dogs, sang some songs, rowed like billyo and emerged from
the event an enduring national hero.
Now compare this with the case of Simon Chalk. Last year he had to be
rescued when his rowing boat bumped into a whale. And now he is
attempting to become the Youngest Person Ever to Row from Australia to
an Island Nobody’s Ever Heard Of, On his Own.
I know someone has already rowed the Pacific so I have no idea why we’re
supposed to get excited about some bloke who’s rowing a much shorter
distance, and in some style by all accounts. According to the BBC: “He
will run out of drinks on day 85 and after that he will have to survive
I’m sorry. What drinks? Was he mixing himself a little gin and French
after a hard day’s tugging? This sounds like the kind of record I’d like
to attempt. The Most Luxurious Crossing of the World’s Smallest, Warmest
Ocean, Eating Only Quail’s Eggs and Celery Salt.
Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for all of you who are only happy when
you have gangrene and only feel alive when you’re less than an inch from
death. Stop messing around in your upturned bathtubs in the southern
oceans. If you really have to perform endurance trials at sea, do it
near America. Then when it all goes wrong, it’ll be the US Navy who’ll
come to the rescue.
And if an American naval vessel is employed picking up Mr
Scott-Shackleton who was attempting to swim underwater from San
Francisco to Tokyo, it won’t be able to rain cruise missiles down on
whatever unfortunate country George W Bush has heard of that week.
It’s win-win for Mr Templeman-Ffiennes. If he succeeds, he becomes the
First Person to Cross the Pacific on a Bicycle. If he fails, he saves