When your adventure paddling from Shetland to Norway coincides with the arrival of a royal baby, don’t expect much attention
I’m starting to wonder if the world – and the media world in particular – might be suffering from a spot of adventure fatigue.
Not in the literal sense of having returned tired and hungry from an actual adventure, but in the sense that we now read so many stories and see so many films in which remarkable people do intrepid, death-defying things that these feats no longer impress us. Everest? Meh. The South Pole? Whatever. We have become desensitised, indifferent, numb. How else to explain the deafening silence that greeted adventurers Patrick Winterton and Olly Hicks last month, when they completed an epic 200-mile, 62-hour sea kayak crossing from Shetland to Norway?
Their story certainly seemed to have plenty going for it. It was a world first: nobody had ever paddled a kayak from Scotland to Norway before. It was hazardous: they had to negotiate a particularly angry stretch of water around Viking Bank, not to mention large, kayak-killing ships. And they had a nice history angle, too: they were following in the wake of the Shetland Bus heroes of the Second World War – Norwegian fishermen who crossed the North Sea in the worst conditions imaginable in order to ferry arms and agents into Norway and sneak refugees out.
In spite of all of the above, however, drumming up media coverage after they arrived in Norway proved to be something of a challenge, as Winterton explains. “There’s been absolutely nothing,” he chuckles. “I couldn’t even get it in the Oban Times.”
The lack interest in their achievement might also have had something to do with the timing of the expedition – a couple of London-based celebs had a baby called George while Winterton and Hicks were at sea. But still, even with the Royal Sprog clogging up everyone’s news feeds, you’d think they might have merited a mention or two.
Never mind though, eh? Because as a consolation prize they’re now getting a few lines at the back of the illustrious organ that is Weekend Life. Not exactly the News at Ten, I’ll grant you, but do the News at Ten guys have horoscopes? Hmm? No they do not.
Winterton, 51, is a former Royal Marine with a serious long-distance kayaking CV: the last time I interviewed him, back in 2009, he had just completed a 250-mile paddle from Lewis to the Faroe Isles. Thirty-one-year-old Hicks, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to the sport, but he has made several open ocean journeys by rowing boat and Winterton considers him “an ideal expeditioner – he just loves being out there”.
The pair launched their double kayak from Whalsay on 16 July and initially enjoyed perfect conditions.
“That first day we had south-westerly winds, which was great,” remembers Winterton. “We were going on an easterly course, and south-easterly is just about perfect for that because you paddle along the face of the waves rather than down them – when a wave overtakes you, you don’t slow down. On the first day we did almost 140km, which is about 50 per cent more than we were expecting. Even after five hours, we realised: there’s no way we’re turning round now.”
They may have got off to a dream start, but it wasn’t all plain paddling. After about 12 hours, Winterton started getting seasick. On the second day, he could only manage a solitary Jaffa Cake and it wasn’t until about three hours before they made landfall in Norway that he felt able to eat anything else.
“I sort of knew it was going to happen,” he says. “We had grey sky, grey sea, no horizon… every little aspect that induces it [seasickness] was there.”
The pair operated a four hours on, one hour off paddling system during the day, and slept for just four hours at night, using inflatable bags to stabilise the boat while they slept. With winds of Force 5-6 for most of the crossing and waves breaking over their boat “every couple of minutes”, they were at constant risk of capsizing. Now, though, both feel much more confident about paddling small boats in big seas. Winterton’s next project? An attempt to kayak from Greenland to Aberdeen via Iceland and the Faroes – the route allegedly taken by an Inuit hunter known as “the Finman,” who washed up near Aberdeen in the 1720s. Hicks, meanwhile, hopes to row around the world unsupported next year. Surely either of those adventures would make better telly than endless pictures of a woman holding a baby?