The Crew on English Rose V1

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By John Ridgway

John Ridgway today with the small dory English Rose 111 in which he and Chay Blyth rowed across the North Atalantic in 92 days in 1966

A long trip in a sailing boat with other people brings its own special stresses and strains. Choosing the crew is a key decision. Francis Drake executed his best friend before he was even a quarter of the way round the world aboard his Golden Hind.

People change throughout their lives, the fellow who may have been an ideal companion on a trip a few years back may have become quite the opposite over the intervening period. Two is a good number, three definitely not, the risk of a two-to-one situation is not worth chancing. Romance in the crew is like office gossip, intriguing at first but increasingly less so. The best crew I have encountered have been quiet fellows, people who avoided taking sides or making a stand on issues.

Before we set sail, I like to take the crew for a quiet sit down by English Rose III, the twenty-foot open dory which Chay Blyth and I rowed across the North Atlantic. Although there will always be fresh comforts which it would be good to have aboard the fifty-seven feet of English Rose VI, at least the crew will be very much more comfortable than Chay and I ever were on English Rose III. And yet, and yet, by the time we landed in Eire, we thought her the finest craft ever built. Throughout history, given time, humans have proved very adaptable. We had adapted to that rough kind of life, without plates or taps or lavatories or bunks or bedding.

While considering the crew for this third voyage round the world, I took into special account, previous voyages on English Rose VI. Twelve of us had raced together for the nine months of the Whitbread Round World Race of 1976/7, while just one person had come with me on the 203-day non-stop sail round the world in 1983/4. And there were six of us who shared the 18-month family cruise to Polynesia and Antarctica in 1993/5, then again, we were nine to West Greenland in 1999 and four to America in 2001.


This time, I think we should take a total of six; three watches, each of two people

Marie Christine and John Ridgway, February 2003, at Ardmore

Of course, at 65, it would be easier to sit at home and get on with the knitting and gardening. I do need Enthusiasm to help me lift the heavy load once more. As Henry Ford said "Enthusiasm is the key: the spark in the eye, the grip of the hand the spring in the step, everything else is an alibi." So I'm looking for Enthusiasm.

So what does all this add up to?

Well, after nearly forty years of marriage, Marie Christine and I will have another stab at trying to share a watch without too much strife.

Nick Grainger on the river in Pittsburgh, USA, July 2000

Nick Grainger(53) is coming back for the trip, thirty years after his time as an Instructor here in '71-'73. His Master's degree in Virtual Communications will be handy in running the computers and cameras. But what really draws us to Nick is his enthusiasm for life, coupled with that huge well of resourcefulness, which carried him through his epic self-rescue after capsizing and losing his mast in the middle of the Pacific, aboard his tiny wooden Shetland foureen, The Aegre. It's always good to be with lucky people, and Nick makes his own. It is important to say that Nick's total participation on this voyage for the albatross would not be possible without the huge support and understanding from his wife Tomoko and daughters Erica and Mariko back in Australia. Thanksalotty, Tommy, Erica and Mariko!

No matter what, I hope that between Nick, MC, our experienced Birdlife volunteers and me, we’ll find a way to keep the boat moving through the water for tens of thousands of miles, mostly in the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean.

“I think continually of those who were truly great….

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,

See how these names are feted by the waving grass

And the streamers of white cloud

And whispers of wind in the listening sky.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life,

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

(Stephen Spender)

Like that rowing trip across the North Atlantic, in the open boat, 37 years ago, we are totally independent, without outside commitments.

What magic will we paint together, on this blank canvas, which lies stretched before us?

John Ridgway

Igor Asheshov

Crewmember, Legs 3 to 9.

I was born in Lima, Peru, and as a boy lived pretty much unfettered except for a couple of short spells in the south of England. There was the sea, the desert, the mountains and the jungle, interrupted by school. At one stage I was sent to boarding school in Argentina to straighten me out, which it did for a while. There, on a school field trip to Peninsula Valdez in Patagonia, I had my first revelation.

I was sitting crossed-legged on a low sandy cliff overlooking the bay, watching the sun go down, when a whale stuck its fluke in the air and waved it at me, not fifty yards away. The whale, a right whale, was probably more interested in my school chums messing about on the beach below, but I was certain it was shaking its tail at me. I stood up and swore to protect him as long as I lived. The next day we all went back to school, and that was the end of my revelation.

I went on to try and finish my education in the UK. Having had enough of that, and the UK of me, I returned to South America. I missed the adventure. I sometimes thought about the whale but never really did anything about it.

Perhaps I was distracted. In Peru, you were always surrounded by adventure and nature was more or less taken for granted. My dad, an anthropologist and journalist, had arrived there from England in the early sixties to look for lost cities, I think. After he met my mum, a local beauty, she had to put up with expeditions into parts of the Andean jungle that were unmapped and still aren't. I was too small to remember, but my mum tells me we almost lost my dad once and spent days flying over the jungle, me strapped in a crib and not much use, looking for him. He turned up, thin but OK.
When I was about eight, my aunt Anna went down the entire length of the Amazon on an expedition led by John Ridgway. It must have been tough, because I don't think she ever spoke to him again. The team had readied their kit for the expedition at our house in Lima, and standing there, with all the talk and the equipment, I told myself this was the stuff I was going to do.

I more or less kept this promise. I joined several expeditions in later years and went with John a few times over the Andes and into the jungle, always managing to stay on speaking terms with him after each trip.
After I got back from the UK, I started my first job as a reporter and editor at The Lima Times, our local English rag. I became interested in the design, layout and production of publications. Copy deadlines were tough and I didn't care much for them, but here the pressure was more or less constant and from all sides, which I could handle.

I worked my way as a production manager for various publishing houses around South America, and eventually started my own business in Santiago, Chile. A few months of 120-hour weeks later, exhausted, I closed it down: we had no financial controls.
I took an extended leave into the Andes and the Amazon to sit and think, or just sit. This of course is the advantage of living in Peru. Once I was done with that I headed back and was hired to start up a new Lima newspaper, El Mundo. But that, too, disappeared though well-designed and much admired.
One morning, however, I sat down at my desk and found a fax waiting for me, marked 'Urgente'. It said, 'Igor, you only live once. Would you like to sail to the Antarctic? Into the mist... John'. So by the end of the month I was on my way to join the Ridgways on the English Rose VI for one of the last legs of its 1994-95 voyage halfway around the world.

Like any self-respecting Peruvian I arrived 24 hours late at the rendezvous at Port Famine, near Punta Arenas in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Overdressed and with much too much luggage, I had no idea what to expect or what to wear to sail to the Antarctic. I'd been in the Beagle Channel with John before, first on a research trip to Cape Horn and later on the 1992 British Cape Horn Kayak Expedition; I'd messed about on my dad's 20-footer around the islands off Chiloe. Now I was staring at the Drake Passage which had blown away plenty of people before me.

John and the crew were kind, kept quiet about my gear and clipped my harness to the railings. Once I was no longer rushing to feed the fish after each bowl of porridge, I became aware of this paradox: The Liberating Effect of Being Cooped up with Seven People and a Cat in a Plastic Tube on the Ocean.

I no longer had to run around dealing with millions of people or work out what I should do for dinner or what shirt I should wear in the morning. Here everyone was stuck with clear jobs and responsibilities and toughed it out. Even the cat was tough. No shirking and no messing about or everyone could die. The universe was reduced to solely what you really needed, a few people who depended on you closely, and then the sea around you. And you had time to read, write and think about stuff.
It was also during this voyage that I had another revelation. On the Antarctic, whenever we stepped ashore we became acutely aware that there was nobody else around and that this land belonged to no man and no country, pretty much an untouchable gem like the moon.

The thing was that when we then returned to the boat, we should have felt that the same was true of the ocean around us, the oceans everywhere else for that matter. The difference here was that, though we couldn't see them, we knew the ocean was crawling with people busily cleaning it out of all its valuables. Something had to be done. If it hadn't been glaringly obvious to me before, it was now. I half expected my whale from Patagonia to jump up and give me the finger, or rather the fluke.

You'd think that now I'd do something about the whale. I went back to publishing, however, and worked for a number of years for the Peruvian government and the UN at a special promotion agency. I worked with extraordinary people under absurd pressure and fantastic deadlines, the fangs glistening. We were going to show the world and put Peru on the map. When I left I was burnt out, and had accomplished nothing to show the world or to put Peru anywhere near the map.

That was three years ago. I am now an independent publisher and producer, loosely associated with an outfit with offices in Santiago, Lima and Boston. I'm also a founding member and director of the Asociacion Andes y Mares, a non-profit organisation based in Lima, whose main objective is to create greater awareness and understanding about the Pacific Southeast and Antarctic environments.

A couple of weeks ago, I got another message. This one read, 'Are you interested in sailing with us ex-Capetown 20 October? Rapid reply please. Into the mist... John'. I'll be taking a smaller kit bag this time.

Igor Asheshov

Boston, August 2003

Once more unto the breach! Find out more about Igor's mad life in his thoroughly entertaining biography.

Other Crew

In addition to John, MC and Nick, we've been luck enough to have been joined by:

  • Scotland to Tenerife: Scotty
  • Tenerife to Cape Town: Marie Rogers
  • Cape Town to Melbourne: Trevor Fishlock, Quentin Hannich, Igor Asheshov
  • Melbourne to Wellington: Igor, Carol Knutson, Pete Lewis
  • Wellington to Stanley: Igor, Brent Stephenson (NZ Birder and photographer), Francois Nouhilias (French Marine Electronics teacher)
  • Stanley to Azores: Igor and Tim Reid, (an extremely knowledgeable birder with special interest and knowledge about albatrosses, currently working with Falklands Conservation)
  • Azores to Honfleur (France): Igor, Richard Morris Adams
  • Honfleur to Tower Bridge, London: Igor
  • London to Ardmore: Igor, Ward and Sanel Irvin, Bob Duncan

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