09Apr

Curlew’s refit

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If I have been quiet here since our climb of Aconcagua, it is because I have been working hard on refitting our old steel ketch, Curlew.
This expedition to the seven seas and seven summits is entirely self-funded, and Curlew has just had some very expensive welding done to her. She’s been in the tender hands of Nick Williams, ace fabricator and welder here in Grenada.
Steel boats are well-known for two things: their enormous strength and their propensity for rusting. If we are ever unlucky enough to hit a floating container or a reef in the Pacific I would like our hull to be as strong as possible.
So while Gina worked hard on a variety of proof-reading jobs to raise money, I have been sweating buckets inside the boat in a very humid tropical climate.
So, (and only for those hard-core yachties who know what I’m on about) here’s a list of what’s been done, from stem to stern:
1. Reinforced bowsprit. If we start pitching into big seas I don’t want this vital part of the boat to break off.
2. Replaced foredeck. It was so rusty I could put my foot through it..
3. New main fuel tank, holding tank and reserve fuel tank. Previously, soapy water from the shower gently watered the diesel fuel down. Now we can carry enough diesel fuel for over 1000 miles if necessary.
4. Welding all along the plates of the starboard hull.
5. A third bilge pump, mounted in the bows. Just in case we spring a leak.
6. New cockpit floor and new engine room hatch lock-downs. If we got pitch-poled (head-over heels)- and it does happen to small boats- hatches coming off would let the sea into the engine room.
7. Our 75-lb CQR (secure) anchor had worn so badly it had to be re-bushed.
8.I have fitted a 24-inch radar, kindly donated by Garmin, who have supplied all our electronics, including the GPS used to climb the mountains. I want to avoid being T-boned by a freighter doing 28 knots.
9. a plethora of other jobs: new cooker rings, fans, table bolt-downs, switches etc etc.
So we are now broke, bleeding somewhat from battered fingers, but happy that our floating home will keep on floating.
We have to get west towards the Panama canal before the end of May, but we also have to avoid the new wave of pirates operating from Venezuela. That means heading north up the Windward Islands, then crossing to the ABC islands.
Curlew is to be lifted into the water tomorrow morning. Wish us luck.

25Mar

George Mallory’s ice axes

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Terrible news from Christies that they are going to sell George Mallory’s ice axe from the 1922 Everest expedition. This is the tool which accompanied him to over 8000 meters on that first serious attempt to climb Mount Everest.
So it is a priceless piece of our national narrative, and it will probably go abroad. This sale raises a few questions: why is an object of such national significance not already in a museum of mountaineering? Answer: because we don’t have one, even though the British invented the sport of Alpinism. How did it go from the Mallory family to a climbing club to the present owners? And should it be kept for the nation?
There are always arguments against doing worthwhile things, but I call for a National Museum of British Mountaineering to be established, and this axe should be artifact number one. The Mountain Heritage Trust is a good place to start.
There are other questions: who has possession of Mallory’s 1924 ice axe, the one that was with him when his body was found by my search expedition of 1999? Has that, too, been spirited off into private ownership?
For more on this read my book “Last Hours on Everest”.
This issue is about more than a climbing tool: it is about the sharing of stories, it is about children’s contact with the things held and used by our dead heroes, who are important to all of us, not just for a rich elite of collectors.

Curlew is in Grenada having vital repairs made before any further sailing. She is getting on for 40 years old and needs patches welded over her hull.

At some point in the future I would like to sail to Antarctica to attempt Mount Vinson, the highest mountain on that continent, but getting a sailboat down to the end of South America is tricky due to contrary winds and currents on both sides of the landmass. So after climbing Aconcagua, and whilst Curlew was being repaired, I decided to reconnoiter Chile’s and Argentina’s coasts for a possible sailing trip down to Ushuaia in the future. I wanted to see the feasible ports and havens available to a fairly small sailboat, and to see the ports of Ushuaia, Punta Arenas and Puerta Natales.

So we are just back in Santiago, Chile, after an epic 9,849 kms trip by road: a recce of these locations . Another 200 or so and it would be a quarter of the way around the world- it certainly felt that far.

Due to Gina’s amazing powers of organisation we saw:

Wineries, where we blended our own wine, and heard monks singing to barrels in the cellar.
Went down a coal-mine, and were then pulled by huskies on a cart.
Drove down the Carretera Austral- the gravel highway through southern Chile- and saw 1,000 year-old trees.
Checked the havens of Valdivia, Santa Cruz, crossed the Magellan Straits and camped in Ushuaia.
Saw flamingos in front of the Torres del Paine, and penguins in front of the Atlantic.
Sat in thermal baths next to a volcano, and drank tea in a Welsh-speaking tea-shop.
Watched sea-lions eating in a fish-market while the Tango was danced in the square.

My conclusions are that Curlew is not really the right boat for these stormy and contrary waters, so I will try to return to Ushuaia and the Drake Passage to Antarctica in another, stronger vessel.

Next we have to get back to the Caribbean, and get Curlew ready for her next voyage: westwards towards the Panama Canal.

The Carretera Austral is a 770-mile gravel road that runs through the most remote parts of Chile’s Patagonia. It is only fully open for two months of the year due to the infrequent ferries, and it is one of the world’s great road trips. We have driven down from Santiago through the wine and lake regions in a vehicle hired specifically for the tough conditions: a Chevy pick-up. We’re hoping to see glaciers crashing through trees filled with parrots, the astounding Torres del Paine, Mt. Fitzroy and some quiet fly-fishing.
We have our camping gear that we used on Aconcagua, but we’re not sure quite what else we need. Bear repellent? Penguin bait?
At this stage we are happy and excited, but slightly apprehensive. Check back in here in about a month.

It’s very amusing. Honest http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/americas/climbing-aconcagua-a-long-walk-to-the-roof-of-the-western-world-9082511.html

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