Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Remembering Doug Scott CBE

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

Others will remember Doug Scott purely in mountaineering terms, and surely that is right, as he was undoubtedly the most accomplished British mountaineer of all time. Many of his climbing companions describe him as visionary, and while that undoubtedly applies to the way in which he approached mountaineering, to my mind, it stretched to something far more.

I met Doug Scott in the mid-1980s. We had a mutual friend in David Oswin, who ran photographic and walking holidays in mountainous parts of the world, and whom I’d met on a very early press trip to Iceland. We got on well, and soon I was helping David with copywriting for his brochures as well as becoming tour leader for some of his trips, while Doug had gone with David on one or two promotional jaunts, notably to Iceland, before progressing to leading some of David’s trekking holidays. This was the forerunner to Doug setting up the Specialist Trekking Cooperative, which subsequently became Community Action Treks.

I wanted to become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and that required me to find two existing Fellows to propose and second my application, and to provide a reference as to why I should be admitted. David had agreed to be my proposer, and when it came to finding a seconder, he said “I know, I’ll ask Doug.” And so it was that my application to be admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society was seconded by one of the world’s most famous mountaineers. The RGS could hardly refuse me, could they? And they didn’t.

Doug was still climbing big mountains in those days, and he first asked me to help out with a bit of publicity when he was planning an expedition to an unclimbed peak in Bhutan called Jitchu Drake. I couldn’t have done too badly, as he asked me again for a subsequent climb.

I stayed at Doug’s house in Cumbria several times over the years. When he was married to Indian mountaineer Sharu Prabhu, his house had a timber beam stretching across the stairway to the upper floor. Mere mortals would duck slightly to avoid making contact, but Doug, even then still smoking evil-smelling French cigarettes, would do a number of pull-ups as he passed. I could barely manage one!

But one moment which sticks out was when I was nearby, visiting David Oswin with my wife, and daughter Aislinn, then a small baby of just a few months. We’d had an evening meal, progressed to a few drinks, and Doug joined us later. Aislinn was a bit fretful and not settling down well, so my wife brought her downstairs and tried to soothe her to sleep, but Aislinn was having none of it. “Come here, child,” said Doug as he took hold of Aislinn, cradling her against one shoulder. Within a minute she’d quietened down, and within another minute or so she was fast asleep. Having performed a minor miracle, that might have been the point when you’d expect Doug to hand Aislinn back to her mother, but no, we carried on chatting away, with my daughter fast asleep on the great man’s shoulder for a good hour. Others have spoken of the extraordinary Zen of Doug Scott, but this was it in action!

With Doug’s world increasingly intersecting with the tourism industry as he started organising his own trekking holidays, I remember us meeting up at the World Travel Market in London and wandering around the stands. It’s a fascinating experience tagging along with someone instantly recognisable, and seeing the reactions of people. Some just stood slightly open-mouthed and pointed as we walked past, while one woman came up to Doug and said “What was it like on top?” She had of course omitted to say on top of what, but obviously she meant Everest. Doug’s response was typical understatement: “A bit cold!”

And then in 1996 I led one of Doug’s treks in Nepal. Actually I was more a guest tour leader, taking over from the editor of Trail magazine, who should have gone as it was a Trail reader offer trip, but he had to pull out. As Trail’s equipment and travel editor, I was the logical choice to take his place. And while I did visit Doug for a briefing beforehand, in fact it wasn’t too onerous a task – the man actually leading the trek was Ang Phurba, one of Doug’s support climbers on the 1975 Everest expedition.

Before setting out on the trek proper to the holy lake of Dudh Kund, in Everest’s back yard, we went off the beaten track to a village called Ghunsa, where Doug’s charity had built a school and medical centre. Nepal is, of course, one of the world’s poorest nations, and while villages on the main trekking routes don’t do so badly, those further away have a much tougher life. Doug had started out installing clean water supplies in various villages, then progressed to building schools and medical posts. His passion for helping the Nepalis was absolute, and the gratitude felt by the people whose lives he touched was equally profound.

We’d visited Ghunsa because as a journalist, there was a story for me to tell, and the stunning welcome we received from the villagers made it all the worth telling. But for me to be the recipient of gratitude for other peoples’ generosity was overwhelming. The whole village turned out for us, the children sang and danced, and everyone in the trekking group was garlanded. Some moments in life slip happily into the sidelines. That one didn’t.

I came home from that trip to Nepal with two things – one of which was uninvited. Shortly after arriving back home I went down with a severe illness subsequently diagnosed as Q Fever. I even know where I contracted it, from the day I took our group to Bhaktapur, the ancient capital of Nepal, on a holiday when livestock had been slaughtered in the streets.

The other was the determination to do what I could to get Doug Scott’s efforts recognised in the wider world. As a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, I put forward the Ghunsa school project for a special award, and was delighted when it won. The grand award was to take place at the 1996 World Travel Market in Earl’s Court. Doug and I had already agreed to meet up an hour before the award ceremony, and so it was that we sat down at a small table on Iceland Tourism’s stand. They plonked a couple of glasses and a bottle of Brennivin, Iceland’s famed lethal herb-infused vodka, between us, and left us to it.

There’s another story to tell about the way I ended up having to be carried out of Earl’s Court by security guards, but the important point is that the BGTW award was the first of many major recognitions of the incredible work done by Community Action Nepal.

I last saw Doug when he came to Norwich five years ago to do a talk, fundraising for CAN. It was weird, but whenever he phoned me up over the years, I knew instantly it was him before he spoke. Or at the very least he would just say “Clive…?” and I knew it was Doug. On this occasion, he’d had about 20 bookings for his talk, which was a bit light. Could I do anything? I guess it wasn’t much, but in 24 hours I managed to circulate his press release locally and boost the numbers up to around 40. And I helped to diagnose a slight technical hitch in the computer projection equipment on the night. The audience, of course, was absolutely enthralled with Doug’s talk, as was I.

The world of mountaineering has indeed seen the passing of an absolute titan, but the impoverished mountain people of Nepal have lost their champion. Long may his influence continue.

Everest 45 years ago

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

To my left is Doug Scott CBE, who 45 years ago today (24th September) stood on the summit of Everest with Dougal Haston to make the first British ascent. Not only that, it was the first ascent of the south-west face, a route which many had deemed impossible (it hasn’t been climbed many times since). They arrived on the summit as the sun was going down, and with not enough time to get down to their top camp, they instead spent the night in a snow hole 100 metres below the summit. With no sleeping bags, and despite their bottled oxygen running out, they survived the night, and without frostbite!

Many have climbed Everest since via the technically undemanding “tourist route,” with Sherpa assistance and fixed ropes – but that’s light years away from the monumental achievement of the 1975 British South-West Face Everest Expedition. Doug’s other exploits have been the stuff of legend, too, and his climbing style has been described as visionary.

Doug was still climbing big mountains when I met him through a mutual friend in the mid-1980s – he seconded my application to become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and it was my pleasure to help out with a bit of PR for a couple of his climbs, and later, when he started to organise trekking holidays, along with his charity Community Action Nepal, which has built many schools and health centres throughout Nepal. I even got to be guest trek leader on one of his treks!

Poles apart

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

I’ve been using trekking poles – either telescopic or folding – for decades. Originally developed from ski poles, the idea of the trekking pole is to give you stability when you’re out hiking in rough terrain. That could be in the mountains, where a pair of poles can improve your balance and give you the equivalent of four-wheel drive to help you on steep uphill slopes. But they’re also extremely handy going downhill, where it’s like you’re carrying your own set of banisters downstairs. On less hilly but no less tortuous terrain, trekking poles take some of the load off your leg joints – especially good if you’re backpacking – and they add an extra level of security to stream and river crossings.

Note I’ve said “a pair of poles.” While you can buy them singly, and one is better than none, a pair is more than twice as good as one! There are many variations on the types of poles you can get, from the materials they’re made of, to the way they pack down when you’re not using them and thus more likely to have them carried within or attached to your luggage. There are plenty of websites which can offer advice on how you choose what type of pole to go for, but the purpose of this post is to go off somewhat at a tangent.

Apart from seeing an increase in the use of poles out in the countryside, I’m seeing more and more people using them in urban settings – the older generations particularly. With rubber feet attached to the sharp tungsten carbide tips, you can wander along the streets and even in shops without causing any damage. But what I have seen amongst this level of user is frequent misuse of the wrist straps. So many times I’ve spotted where people have simply put their hands through the Nylon loops without thinking that there’s a right way and a wrong way to use them.

A lot of downhill skiers dispense with wrist straps on ski poles for the very good reason that if they take a tumble, a pole attached to each wrist could be more likely to cause an injury, so best be able to jettison them as you fall. But with trekking poles, the idea is to put weight on them, and while you can certainly do that while holding the hand grips, the wrist loops make it so much simpler – provided you remember to put your hand into the loop from underneath. So if you lift your hand up without grabbing the hand grip, the pole will dangle by its strap from your wrist. Then when you bring your hand down to hold the hand grip, you can pull on the trailing end of the strap to adjust the fit for comfort.

With your hands properly located in the wrist straps, you can put lots of weight on the pole without having to hold on to the hand grips that hard, and if you stop for a moment to take a picture, your poles are still attached to you ready for action. While it might seem obvious to many users, I wonder whether the manufacturers of trekking poles are missing a trick by not including these basic instructions on how to locate your hands correctly in the wrist straps.

Getting wider

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Friday 6th and Saturday 7th December saw another landmark moment in the Team Britannia round the world powerboat Excalibur’s construction – she gained an extra two metres in width! Fitting the inflatable tubes (also known as collars or sponsons) was backbreaking work carried out in horrendous weather. Why not wait until a sunny day? It had been planned some time in advance to take advantage of the tide times – depending on which side of the boat is being worked on dictates which side of the dock she has to be moored, and once floated over, we then have to wait for the tide to go out and for the boat to settle in the mud before the heavy work begins.

With the coated material sponsored by Orca, the tubes were assembled for us by Henshaw Inflatables Ltd (Wing). Each one is 19 metres long, weighing 250 kilos, so just manhandling them was a major effort! There are 116 fixing bolts per tube, all of which had to be drilled, tapped and special inserts fitted into the hull to accommodate the bolts. After floating the boat over to the opposite pontoon, Alan Priddy, Elliott Berry and John Garner braved the pouring rain and howling gale to fit the starboard tube. “To say it was a struggle is an understatement,” says Alan. Meanwhile, we also had a working party inside the boat – Steve Mason and Alan Goodwin completed the two two-berth cabins at the rear of the wheelhouse before moving on to the stairwell and front cabin.

After a night spent on board, which included sampling some of Team Britannia’s excellent freeze-dried meals, the boat was floated back over to the other side of the dock for the port tube to be fitted. With Elliott Berry’s place taken on Saturday by Andy Reid, they managed to get finished late afternoon just before a storm came in and the light went. We also had a steady stream of visitors, including Dave Stanway, one of our competition prize winners. We should add that corporate sponsorship opportunities for Team Britannia and Excalibur’s round the world record attempt are still available, so if you or anyone you know might be interested, please do get in touch.

Launching Excalibur

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Getting Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur into the water after over three years in a shed in a boatyard on Hayling Island was a painstaking affair. The following video, about four and a half minutes, provides a flavour of the afternoon.

Win with Team Britannia

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

My last visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur at her boatyard was back in January, when the weather was somewhat icy. The latest open day at the end of March saw rather more pleasant conditions, and a great turnout of visitors. It’s always interesting to get people’s impressions, particularly from those who have followed the project closely, but only previously seen photographs. Everyone remarks on the size of the boat, something which photographs of her in the cramped boat shed really can’t convey.

Apart from giving visitors a guided tour around the boat, we also used the open day to launch a new facet to the project, something which has consumed a fair amount of time over the last few weeks. We now have a prize competition, with a £25 ticket potentially winning a place in the crew for one of the legs around the world, with a hundred other prizes of short trips out in the boat after the circumnavigation.

And while you might think the odds of winning such a special prize are slim, the truth is that everyone is a winner, as each entry also gets 25 shares in Clean Fuel Ltd, whose pollution-busting fuel will power Excalibur around the world. In fact, if you’re interested in combating the Nitrous Oxides and Particulate Matter which form the awful traffic-generated pollution in our towns and cities, your support for Team Britannia and Clean Fuel will make a big difference.

Team Britannia open day

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

It might have been many degrees colder than the last time Team Britannia invited members of the public to visit Excalibur in her shed on Hayling Island, but even so, those that came to marvel at the big boat on January 19th included visitors from Dorset, Essex, Norfolk and North Yorkshire. And with our guests fortified with hot drinks and the most amazing homemade soup supplied by our MD and PR guru Alistair Thompson, our welcome was warm, even if the boat shed wasn’t.

As we anticipate picking up speed again in the boatyard in the next couple of weeks, things have been going on in the background, including a start on fitting out the crew quarters. We also have a couple of trial patches of the plastic wrap with which we hope to clad the boat. The red for the topsides looks stunning, but more interesting technically is the black antifoul material which will be used below the waterline.

Touch it when it’s dry, and it feels quite sticky, but the moment it’s in contact with water, the surface becomes incredibly slippery. So ideal for antifoul, and with the added bonus of improved fuel efficiency. The manufacturers claim an 8% improvement, so add that to the 30% extra afforded by the design of the boat’s hull, along with our use of Clean Fuel, and you start to see how Excalibur could possibly become the most fuel-efficient boat afloat!

There will be an open day every month from now on, so check out Team Britannia’s Facebook page for up to date details.

Click here to read the report about the open day in the Portsmouth News.

Britain by Boat

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Even before she has been launched, Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur is attracting celebrities. Last year it was TV adventure star and Chief Scout Bear Grylls.

This year – and we’ve had to keep it secret until the programme was about to air – it was telly icons John Sergeant and Michael Buerk. They visited the boatyard during the summer before the boat’s big turn round, spending a day filming with Team Britannia boss Alan Priddy. The series “Britain by Boat” will air on Channel 5 on Fridays at 8 pm, following Messrs Buerk and Sergeant as they sail around Britain in a 50 ft yacht, stopping off at places of interest along the way.

Their visit to the Solent didn’t feature just Excalibur, as they also visited the boatyard next door, where volunteers were busy restoring Sir Alec Rose’s historic round the world yacht Lively Lady. Since then, Lively Lady has gone back into the water, and the restoration team has been honoured by National Historic Ships UK with the Marsh Volunteer Award for Historic Vessel Conservation 2018.

Watch “Britain by Boat” episode two – the Team Britannia segment begins at 06:20.

Letters from the past

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

I’m still trying to get my head round the workings of my latest word processor. You can’t plug it in, there are no USB ports, and the only way to adjust the contrast on the screen is to fit a new ribbon. I found it in a local antiques shop, and it sort of spoke to me.

I suppose it harks back to my earliest days of writing – I was still at school, and I would write things out in my appalling almost illegible longhand, and my dear mum would type them out for me on her Hermes Baby typewriter. Years later, and my pre-computing attempts at writing were bashed out on an IBM golfball electric typewriter. Since then, I’ve gone through CP/M, PC-DOS, MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 7 and 10, and a variety of handheld devices including Agenda and Psion. But my 1941 vintage Imperial The Good Companion Model T isn’t burdened with disc formatting or conflicting software. Try to type too quickly and you may get a jam, and the backspace doesn’t magically delete what you’ve just typed.

And while the advertising of the time proclaims it to be portable, at 6.3 kilos complete with its sturdy baseboard and carrying case, it’s possibly not what might be deemed to be portable these days. Having said that, one of my early laptop computers from the 1980s wasn’t that far off weight-wise.

What makes the Imperial so attractive to me is that it is an amazing piece of mechanical engineering. While it works perfectly for a 77 year-old, I suspect its value to me will be more ornamental than practical. Bashing out the copy so physically may be OK for some, but I’m just not the type.

One good turn

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Wednesday 5th September was quite literally a turning point in the construction of Team Britannia’s round the world powerboat “Excalibur.” Having spent the last two years with her bow into the main boat shed, with a temporary structure (a glorified tent) over the stern, the decision was taken to pull the boat out, rotate her through 180 degrees and put her back into the boat shed stern first. The reason for this is that the remaining structural work is all on the wheelhouse and stern, where the temporary shelter didn’t offer enough space.

With the temporary part of the boat shed dismantled, all 17 tonnes of boat was lifted out by a giant crane over the quayside, and for a tantalising while, suspended almost over the water. Not that there would have been enough to float in, as the tide was out, and Excalibur still has yet to have her transom fitted before being watertight. And while everyone marvelled at the size of the boat as she sat in the lifting strops, we were reminded that there’s actually another two metres to fit to the stern – this will include a large dive platform which will sit over the jet drives.

Yes, it’s been a long time coming, and even since we resumed building the boat this spring we’ve had one or two delays, but that’s what you get with a one-off that’s pushing engineering excellence to the very limits. But all being well, the boat will be completed, fitted out and in the water well before the end of the year.

While it’s sometimes easy to become so focussed on what you’re doing that you forget that significant boating advances are happening elsewhere, I produced a feature which highlights the environmental aspects of record-breaking in boats, and got to speak to Peter Dredge, a powerboat racer with many world championships and records to his credit. This year he broke the record for the fastest electrically powered boat, so it made an interesting contrast to Team Britannia. Click here to read: The Clean Green Boating Machines.