The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records


To boldly go where nobody’s tried a dumb record before.

Comment by Jeremy Clarkson

08 June 2003

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 into view.

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 on water.”

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 the world.

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