Endurance paddling is a mental excercise

March 7, 2007

In 2001 Ellen McArthur became the youngest person and fastest woman to sail around the world. On 7th February 2005 she became simply the fastest (71 days) and returned to the UK to a heros welcome. Her record has since been beaten by a Frenchman (historically there has been a great rivalry between French and English sailors).

But I think that the faster you do this kind of thing the easier it becomes. Robin Knox-Johnston was the first man to sail solo non stop around the world. He took ten and a half months to do it. (I recommend A Voyage for Madmen about this fascinating story). The thing about the first vendee globe ‘race’ was that it wasn’t really a race at all. Only two people finished and the leader, Bernard Moitessier, miles out in front decided at the home stretch that he didn’t want to finish and set out to circle the globe again.

The challenge of the round the world ‘race’ was a mental one – being alone at sea for a long time, with no one to talk to but yourself. Not a technical one. (Of course there is also the issue of how technology is changing the sport, Knox-Johnson and sailors of old had no satelite weather maps and e-mail communication, but that is another issue). So in my opinion the heart has been ripped out of sailing by the focus on speed. I would love to see a ‘go-slow’ yacht race, see who could take the longest to sail around the world.

And so to kayaking.


Isle of Man based Keirron (unusual spelling of my name) and Jeff are racing around vancouver island in a double while Joe O’Blenis (Scottish descent I’m guessing) is hoping to do it in a single in 3 weeks. The distance is roughly 1100 kilometers.

I don’t see the point in this kind of race, I mean I see the point of kayak racing: going fast, but when it becomes an endurance event it, like sailing, becomes probable that the faster you do it the easier it becomes. (I mean that with all due respect – I know it won’t be easy 1100km!!).

I guess kayaking can never be like sailing where you could in theory live without landing indefinately but still… It brings me back to Andrew McAuley’s crossing of the Tasman sea – it just makes it all the more amazing to think about what he tried to do. Alone at sea.

Lastly the South Georgia circumnavigation in 2005, bumped into again while researching this post, completed by Graham Charles, Marcus Waters and Mark Jones.


Situated in the furious fifties, a latitude shared only with Cape Horn and giving rise to the old mariners saying “in the forties there is no law – in the fifties there is no god”, South Georgia is one of the most dramatic landscapes and wildlife havens on the face of the earth.

“…a land doomed to perpetual frigidness, whose savage aspects I have not words to describe” Capt. James Cook

To circumnavigate this hostile and beautiful land in any vessel is a journey worthy of respect – to sea kayak around South Georgia is a world-class adventure and in an age where genuine adventure objectives are few – the circumnavigation of South Georgia remains a coveted world first.

(source trailpeak website)
This had been attempted twice. Once by a team of British Marines in 1991, who were forced back early into the voyage when they encountered adverse going with brash ice smashing one kayak, and again in December 96 when Wade Fairley and Angus Finney were forced by sea conditions to undertake a portage across the Shackleton Gap. The south coast remains unkayaked by anyone. Ever.

(source the new zealand team’s blog)


The New Zealand team beat the British team by a few weeks although the British Team did post the fastest time. Neither of these facts is interesting for me – just that they did what sounds like an incredible trip. Simon Willis podcast an interview with Jeff Allen (of Japan circumnavigation fame and one of the British team) and this is the MP3. In that Jeff Allen uses the term “scullduggery” to describe the New Zealanders changing their dates to turn it into a race… He also describes 15m (45ft) swells!


3 Responses to “Endurance paddling is a mental excercise”

  1. Wenley Says:

    Hello Kieran,

    Jeff Allen is right the New Zealanders advanced their expedition. Sean Morley was planning to attempt it alone at the time as well, and the Ndk team had scheduled first their attempt.
    Graham Charles, Marcus Waters and Mark Jones have a point when they claim that their circumnavigation was unsupported. The British team had for legal reasons, a yacht as a back-up.
    All in all, one of the hardiest kayak endeavours. It is a testament to both teams that astonishingly, both made it.
    One of that endearing notes: The few British residents in South Georgia gathered to meet the New Zealanders at their final shore, waving their national flag.

  2. Hi Wenley

    Thanks for the info.
    What are the legal reasons, do you know? I’m guessing insurance…

  3. Rock Says:

    Nice site! Big thanx to webmaster!

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