Decade Gazing

I guess this is something I should have done a few days ago, but then I’ve never been one to put a great deal of store in the concept of New Year. It is, after all, just a system of numbering.

Having said that, the past 10 years have been quite momentous ones for me. I thought the 90s were pretty amazing – I did a huge amount of travelling, became the first journalist to fly in a hot air balloon in Soviet Russia, descended 100 feet to the bottom of Windermere in a submersible, and led a trek in Nepal for Everest legend Doug Scott (in the process coming back with one of the most exotic diseases on the planet).

But the noughties saw a personal journey rather more intense. I’ve had a few sticky moments in the mountains, but nothing could compare to the brutal punishment of being tossed around in storms up to Force 11 in a 33 foot powerboat. Spirit of Cardiff was built to break the record for circumnavigating the world, and by accident, I found myself part of the crew.

Spirit of Cardiff in Gloucester, MassachusettsWe didn’t break the round the world record, but we still set more boating records than anyone else, including Ellen MacArthur. In 2000 we set the very first ever world record for circumnavigating the British Isles by powerboat. It’s been broken several times since, but no one can take away the fact that Spirit of Cardiff was first! And in 2001, we set the new world record for a powerboat transatlantic from New York to Lizard Point. Not only does that one still stand, no one has even tried to beat it.

Finding yourself in an angry ocean in the middle of the night, 300 miles from land, is one of those things that forces you to confront your fears. And yet I was less concerned about the many times I had to worry about that during my epic voyage around the world in 2002, than the moment in Sri Lanka when I found myself staring down the receiving end of an AK47, or being chased by a pirate boat in the South China Sea. Those are the moments that stick in my mind as rather more scary than braving Mother Nature at her most aggressive.

Spirit of Cardiff ended up being lost at sea, abandoned in a dramatic rescue in the North Atlantic. It was one of the few trips she did without me on board, and I’ve always wondered how I would have faced up to that one – where the prospect of not surviving was even more stark than the ones I had to face. After that I went back to rather more gentle travel journalism, but the intention has always been to come back for another crack at the round the world record.

In the end, it didn’t happen in the noughties, but the successor to Spirit of Cardiff is designed, and a lot of the groundwork has been done. Of course, finding sponsors with deep pockets in a recession is a pretty tough call. But you never know – it could still happen in the next year or so. All of which leads me to thinking that there’s only so much gazing backwards one can do – forwards is always much more interesting!

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