Tanks for the memory

April 18th, 2018

The first full week of resumed work at the Hayling Island boatyard building Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur produced some pretty impressive progress. First a bulkhead was welded into position, then the two forward fuel tanks, 6,000 litres capacity each, were manhandled into place and secured on beds of high-density rubber.

With the tanks in the bow, another bulkhead was welded behind them, followed by another further back, separating the main cabin area from the six-berth forward sleeping area. The main cabin area will actually be above the remaining four fuel tanks to go in – it will all make rather more sense when the already completed wheelhouse is welded into place on top of the hull.

And even as our ace welders from Latvia and Russia continue to work in confined spaces inside the boat, Team Britannia project leader and skipper Alan Priddy has concluded a deal with Technifast, a company manufacturing special mechanical fixings which will attach Excalibur’s enormous inflatable tubes around the sides of the boat.

At the current rate of progress, we’re hoping the boat will be in the water by late June or early July, at which point sea trials will begin, with one or two smaller world record runs before we base Excalibur in Gibraltar ready to tackle the big trip around the world.

Going to the movies

February 23rd, 2018

Last weekend saw me celebrate a birthday which some might regard as “significant.” Having survived quite a few close shaves over the years, I’m inclined to think that every birthday is significant!

But it has led me to think about one or two changes, including starting a long overdue project – making a movie about my first attempt to break the record for circumnavigating the world by powerboat, which took place in 2002. It produced at the time a highly acclaimed book, “Confronting Poseidon,” and I shot a lot of video which was turned into short TV documentaries as well as news output. But TV producers have different priorities when they’re making a programme, and I wasn’t really happy with any of them.

So the plan, once I’ve transferred about 20 hours of video from MiniDV tapes on to a new computer, is to turn them into a full-length feature documentary. I recently bought the DVD of a British-made production called “Mission Control” (reviewed below), all about the back-room boys of the Apollo moon landing programme. It intersperses lots of archive footage with present day interviews with surviving flight controllers and astronauts. “Confronting Poseidon – the movie” will have a similar kind of construction. Mine is even going to go one better – as a musician, I’m intending to compose my own soundtrack. I’ve already come up with a lot of ideas, and doubtless more will surface as I put the film together.

With the new record attempt with Team Britannia (which I will also be documenting in words, pictures and video) likely to eat more into my time as this year wears on, I’m not really sure about the timescale, but I don’t feel the need to rush it – I want to get it right. But in the meantime, if anyone wants a flavour of what to expect, they can of course download the book.

Down at the boatyard

February 5th, 2018

You might think that not a lot has been happening on the Team Britannia front, but things have been quietly moving forward. Having negotiated the funding to finish building the round-the-world powerboat Excalibur, the ABC Marine boatyard on Hayling Island is gearing up to resume construction, with launching projected for late spring / early summer 2018. Sea trials will include one or two record attempts before basing the boat in Gibraltar, and the round the world record attempt commencing in October.

In the meantime, there’s a bumper bundle newsletter to provide a little catch-up on the news. Download directly from here, or visit www.teambritannia.co.uk and enjoy a browse before finding the download link.

Mountain DVD duo

December 29th, 2017

I’ve been watching a couple of documentaries over Christmas, each one featuring British climbers with a mountain of achievements between them – Alan Hinkes OBE and Sir Chris Bonington.

“Alan Hinkes – The first Briton to Climb the World’s Highest Mountains” is a film by Terry Abraham, whose previous award-winning documentaries about Lake District hills have been broadcast in abridged form by BBC TV. Rather than just being a straightforward account of Alan’s achievement of climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000 metre summits, gained over 27 attempts, he’s interspersed mountain memories with people and places that had an influence on him in some way. Rosebery Topping – the little hill in Yorkshire that started it all off, and fell-running legend Joss Naylor.

The film shows Alan indulging some of his passions, which include real ale and steam engines, but outdoors activities in all forms, including rock climbing, mountain biking, caving, or climbing up a waterfall. He’s extremely generous with his time helping charities such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the Swaledale Mountain Rescue team and acting as an ambassador for the Youth Hostels Association. His previous existence as a school teacher has clearly helped him in his quest to give young people a taste of adventure, and this includes his own grandchildren, who nevertheless think he’s crazy! But he makes the point that you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to have an adventure – you can do it even on a walk in the woods.

Having said that, it’s the sequences where Alan is interacting with the outdoors on a larger scale that really make the film – skipping along the classic knife-edge ridge scramble of Striding Edge on Helvellyn, being lowered into the cathedral-like subterranean expanse of Gaping Gill, or mushing huskies through the frozen wastes of the Arctic – where Terry Abraham’s talent for capturing the full grandeur of the landscape comes to the fore, along with some spectacular aerial shots.

The film includes scenes shot in Nepal, including the touristy sights of Kathmandu before taking a flight to Lukla and trekking in Everest’s back yard. Here Alan reminisces about his climbs, and you realise that this bluff Yorkshireman is also very aware that he’s beaten the odds, and that he’s quite happy not to have any more big mountains on his bucket list.

“Bonington Mountaineer – My Life Story” by Keith Partridge and Brian Hall is much more biographical, with lots of archive footage and photographs. Even so, the fact that the film opens with present-day shots of Chris Bonington recreating his ground-breaking climb on the Old Man of Hoy at the age of 80 simply leaves you open-mouthed with admiration. What fascinated me the most was the recollections of his early climbing days in the 1960s, where hemp ropes were the norm, and climbers had cigarettes dangling from their mouths – a far cry from today’s rock athletes!

It was also a time when not every corner of the planet was so easily accessible by air, with an expedition to South America entailing a long sea journey. But perhaps most amazing was how after making the first ascent of Nuptse (a mountain across the Western Cwm from Everest), he drove all the way back to Chamonix to do some more climbing! Of course, this was back in the days when overlanding was popular/possible.

The film features interviews with some of Chris’s climbing partners, including Doug Scott, Hamish MacInnes, Paul “Tut” Braithwaite, Jim Fotheringham and Charles Clarke, and inevitably also deals with the many friends lost along the way. Quite often these were tragedies which occurred at the moment of greatest triumph, such as Mick Burke on the 1975 Everest expedition which made the first British ascent.

Impossible to choose one film over the other, as the styles are so different, but if you like mountains, and want to know what makes mountaineers tick, you’ll get a good insight from both of these.

As a small digression, this seems to be an ideal moment to recount a day over 20 years ago, when, as Equipment Editor of Trail magazine, I was with a group of journalists on a product testing trip in the Lake District hosted by outdoors clothing and equipment manufacturers Berghaus. Amongst the company personnel were three of the main players in these two films – Chris Bonington, Alan Hinkes and Brian Hall. The day’s events included a hike over Great Gable, with a lunch stop by Napes Needle, a pinnacle of rock on the flank of Great Gable where the sport of rock climbing began back in Victorian times. The idea was that they would set it up so everyone that wanted to could have a go at climbing the needle. My experience at rock climbing was limited, but I was keen to have a go.

Seated at the very top on belay was Brian Hall, an accomplished mountain guide who has since carved himself a career as mountain safety and logistics expert in extreme locations for the film industry, with an impressive tally of achievements including the Bond movie “Die another Day,” “Touching the Void,” “Shackleton” and “Everest.” I was on what they call in the climbing world a “tight rope.” Every inch that I moved, Brian reeled me in. Even when I reached up for some miniscule blemish on the rock which I subsequently decided I couldn’t put weight on, Brian still tightened the rope. While all this was going on, Alan Hinkes was effortlessly free climbing the rock beside, then above me, suggesting where to put my hands and feet, as well as taking pictures of me. At one point he even crossed over my back from one side of me to the other!

I’m not sure how much of it was my effort getting up (it felt like a lot) or Brian’s taking a substantial amount of my weight, but I was delighted to make it to the top of this most classic of rock climbs. In order to speed things up and allow more people to attempt it, Brian lowered me down the upper pitch to a shoulder of rock where Chris Bonington was waiting to lower me down the rest of the way to the grassy slopes below. So my life has quite literally been in the hands of Britain’s best loved mountaineer. How could one possibly not dine out on that?

Near Miss

November 15th, 2017

With the news today that adventurer Benedict Allen has gone missing in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea, I’m reminded of my own plans to visit the island in 1995, and what could have been a near miss. The idea was to join the very first British “package holiday” to trek to the summit of Puncak Trikora (Wilhelmina Peak) – at 4,750 metres, the second highest mountain in West Papua (Irian Jaya), and just 150 metres lower than neighbouring Puncak Jaya (Carstenz Pyramid), the one which any monied mountaineer ticking off highest continental summits heads for as the tallest lump of rock in Australasia.

Although nowhere near as technical a climb – simply a trek through remote leech-infested jungle, with some modest scrambling along a rather exposed summit ridge – Trikora had been visited a good deal less than Carstenz. Apart from the jungle trek and climb itself, the trip also offered the opportunity of contact with the fascinatingly primitive Dani tribes in the Baleim Valley, and even the possibility of me modelling the traditional mud-smeared naked body and penis gourd! As with any such small tourist groups, there is always a minimum number of participants required to make the trip viable, and in this instance it was cancelled not long before departure as they were one or two short.

I’d already moved on to other projects when a couple of months after my cancelled trip, I heard in the news that a group of Cambridge scientists visiting the same area to study the Lorentz National Park had been taken hostage by separatist rebels belonging to the Free Papua Movement. They were held in captivity for over four months until a dramatic rescue by Indonesian special forces, during which a couple of their Indonesian fellow hostages were killed. And so I pondered, had my trip gone ahead, it could very easily have been me kidnapped by terrorists. It makes you wonder how you would have reacted, how you would have borne such a traumatic experience over a period of time, not knowing what the outcome might be. Of course, I also reasoned that had I survived such a situation, it would have resulted in a fantastic book!

Whatever the circumstances of Benedict Allen’s disappearance, I do hope he turns up alive and well very soon.

Update 16th November 2017: News report from PNG saying Benedict Allen has been spotted, and arrangements are being made for his rescue.

Happy Birthday Today!

October 28th, 2017

As BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” programme celebrates its 60th anniversary, I’m reminded of the time nearly 30 years ago when I got to interview its then star presenter – Brian Redhead. I had been commissioned to put together a lavishly produced 24 page brochure for an art exhibition called “Artists in National Parks,” staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum (otherwise known as the V&A) in London. The artists chosen to depict Britain’s National Parks included Anthony Eyton, Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, and apart from interviews with each (all telephone), I amassed a collection of quotes from celebs of the day, including “Last of the Summer Wine’s” Bill Owen, David Bellamy, “Treasure Hunt” presenter Anneka Rice, TV journalist Julian Pettifer and royal photographer Lord Lichfield.

But my main full-page interview was with the president of the Council for National Parks – Brian Redhead. As this was going to be a bit more in depth, he agreed to be interviewed in London. And so it was that we met in the foyer of Broadcasting House just after he finished the programme at 9 am, and we went into an adjacent hotel where he very kindly bought me breakfast. He was rubbing his hands together with glee because he’d just interviewed Norman Tebbit and “really stuck the knife in!”

I was nursing a broken wrist at the time, and he was most sympathetic, particularly as I had to tape the interview without making notes. It occurred to me then that while his stock in trade was interviewing people (and making politicians very uncomfortable), he probably didn’t actually get to be the subject of an interview himself that often. We enjoyed a very leisurely meal while he waxed lyrical about the National Parks, and how he hoped this high profile art exhibition might help raise their profile. He also had some deliciously waspish things to say about his co-presenters Sue MacGregor and John Humphrys, but that’s maybe something for my memoirs!

Mission Control

July 19th, 2017

The latest acquisition for my DVD library is a British-made documentary called “Mission Control.” Made by the same people that produced “The Last Man on the Moon,” it tells the story of the unsung heroes of America’s Apollo moon landing programme – the engineers, scientists and backroom boffins who made it all work, using archive footage cut with present day interviews. If you’ve seen the 1995 hit movie “Apollo 13,” you’ll recognise some of the names of the men remembering their roles, including Flight Director Gene Kranz, John Aaron and Sy Liebergot. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke and Gene Cernan also take part, while British audiences will be delighted to see several clips featuring James Burke, presenting the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings.

It has a special resonance for me, as my interest in spaceflight goes all the way back to 1957, when at the tender age of four I was taken into our back garden one night by my physicist father so we could see the bright light of Russia’s Sputnik 2 – the dawn of the space age – tracking across the night sky. I followed Apollo throughout my school years, and in 1972, my first solo trip abroad was to the USA to see the launch of Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon, remembered in this blog from eight years ago. The trip also included a visit to Houston in Texas, where I got to see Mission Control for real, and sit in the viewing room at the back of the nerve centre.

“Mission Control” covers the history of the space race, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 launchpad fire which defined the way the whole programme was subsequently run, the historic first landing on the moon, and the nerve-shredding moments and sheer hard work and tenacity that saved the crew of Apollo 13. Excellent viewing for space geeks. Available in Blu-ray or DVD.

Telly Tully

June 3rd, 2017

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was equipment editor of two walking magazines, and regular outdoors contributor to the Daily Telegraph, I went through a period of guesting on a number of TV shows – a lot of them daytime TV, but one or two prime time jobs as well. It always struck me as somewhat ironic, as a TV producer putting together an outdoors series for Channel 4 had previously told me more or less that I had a great face for radio! The clips from these shows have been languishing for years on VHS cassettes, and I finally got around to digitising them. At some point I’ll put them on their own page on my website, but in the meantime, here’s a small selection in all their glory – and yes, these were the days when I still had hair!

 

It’s not everyone who gets to be called a girl guide by TV star Nick Knowles! This was something I did on a travel programme called “The Great Escape” on BBC1. The studio part of the programme was live, while the outdoor segment with the tents was recorded earlier, but it was recorded “as live” – so no rehearsals, and no retakes. Considering I had no advance warning that I was expected to do what they call in the trade a PTC (piece to camera), and I’d never done one before, I thought I did pretty well. But the “as live” filming proved to be a slight problem when I came to putting up my previously reliable fast-pitch tent, when one of the pole joints pulled apart.

 

This one was for the BBC2 programme “Tracks,” with a nice dash of Jean-Michel Jarre in the soundtrack. It was shot on a roasting hot summer’s day, and one sequence which didn’t make the final edit was the cameraman’s bright idea of simulating night-time in the tent by draping a large blanket over it to black it out. We spent about half an hour inside doing things like sleeping bags and lanterns, but it was like a sauna! Something else that didn’t make the final cut was my closing quip as Nick Fisher and I walk off. He wishes survival guru Ray Mears was here, and I ask why. “He’d know what to do,” replies Nick. My parting “Nah” was edited out.

 

A BBC researcher rang me up asking me to do a telly spot on BBC2’s “The Leisure Hour” talking about camping. My speciality is lightweight camping rather than the family stuff, and yet still they wanted me! Former Eurovision winner Cheryl Baker did a brilliant job whizzing us around the studio, and at the end of it all, there was a post-shoot meal where I got to dine with Cheryl and her co-presenter, former “Tomorrow’s World” man Howard Stableford.

Trending theme

May 14th, 2017

Over the last few months, Team Britannia has been putting out press releases every so often for individual members of the crew, targeting them at publications in their own locality, as well as in Portsmouth, the home of the project. It’s a great way of keeping the publicity ticking over, even when there isn’t much else to report.

The middle of May finally saw my turn. and it’s been interesting following it up to see who decided to run with the story. Not surprisingly, my local newspapers the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News ran it, along with Teamlocals and The News in Portsmouth.

It also featured in the marine press, including All About Shipping, and sporting publication The Sport Feed. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all was to find that the phrase “Clive’s skills and experience” had popped up as a trending theme on Team Britannia’s word cloud, which highlights the most often used words or phrases in our current media coverage.

Bear visits boat

April 28th, 2017

It would be nice to say it was a pleasant surprise, but it had actually been on the cards for some time. Even so, when renowned TV adventurer Bear Grylls paid a visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world record-attempting powerboat, under construction at ABC Marine on Hayling Island, it was still a nice boost for the project, making a story in the Portsmouth News. It was quite a coup, too, for Team Britannia’s PR director’s young son Edward. He managed to land a Cubs’ communication badge when he interviewed the Chief Scout on a wide variety of topics.

Team Britannia skipper Alan Priddy had remained in touch with Bear ever since 2003, when Alan, Jan Falkowski and I made a northern crossing of the Atlantic in the round the world RIB Spirit of Cardiff, just ahead of Bear’s own attempt via a similar route in an open RIB. Our crossing was quite a bit quicker (we set the unofficial record for a fastest transatlantic by RIB), but to be fair, we had a cabin and Bear didn’t, and that does make a big difference. And of course it wasn’t us that went on to make TV survival programmes which included the US President!

Needless to say we were delighted to welcome Bear to the boatyard, where apart from seeing the boat, he got to meet some of the injured veterans who will form part of the crew. He was also extremely interested in all of the project’s environmental angles, which include the fuel-saving hull design, the pollution-busting Clean Fuel, and our plan to monitor suspended plastic content in the sea throughout the circumnavigation.