Will, our skipper is the quintessential English gentleman. Well educated, intellectually curious, adventurous and generous. He personifies George Bernard Shaw’s definition of a gentleman being “one who puts more into the world than he takes out”.
When I received the invitation to join this first Integrity expedition, my response was reflexive simply because it was from Will. He and I had been involved in another adventure in 2011 when we supported Jock Wishart’s Row to the Pole. Will was the shipwright brought along to make good any damage to the rowing boat by ice, and I ran the base camp at Resolute Bay. I was immediately impressed by Will’s practical skills and exciting ideas for the other expeditions. His enthusiasm was infectious, however, work and family commitments meant that it wasn’t possible to go on a sailing adventure together until now.
Will then asked if I knew anyone with climbing experience. Without a moment’s hesitation, I thought of Paul. Paul and I were near contemporaries during Royal Marines officer training. He then went on to qualify as a Mountain Leader, one of the toughest specialisations in the Royal Marines’ inventory of very tough courses. Paul is an exceptional mountain man, but the real reason I suggested him is that he is extraordinarily good company. He exemplifies the Commando Spirit, possessing courage, determination, unselfishness, and cheerfulness in the face of adversity. If bonhomie could be bottled, Paul would be a one-man distillery…
It wasn’t until our training weekend in Norway that I met Arthur. Arthur, like Will, is also a shipwright and shares the same intellectual curiosity for the world around him; his field of expertise is geo-archaeology. Arthur’s skills as a shipwright have recently taken him to Japan to work on another classic boat on behalf of Stirling & Son. Apart from being an expert shipwright and sailor, the most notable feature about Arthur is that he is completely impervious to cold. As the rest of us tightened the draw cords on our jacket hoods in the face of a blizzard, Arthur seemed unaware of the thickening mat of snow in his hair, beard and moustache. And then at the first sight of flowing water in an ice-fringed pool, Arthur would strip down to his shorts and frolic like a seal looking for its next meal. I’m sure that our enigmatic Frenchman still has some surprises up his sleeve. If Jules Verne himself were to write this account, he could not have created a character quite like Arthur.
Our fourth member is Chris. I didn’t meet Chris until we all gathered together for a planning meeting and dinner at Will and Sara’s Elizabethan manor house on the edge of Dartmoor, which was once occupied by Sir Francis Drake’s niece. In front of a cavernous inglenook fireplace, big enough to park a small car, Chris quietly sipped a beer and assessed his sailing mates for this voyage. He no doubt quickly came to the conclusion that he was the one true seaman amongst us having served in a variety of roles at sea for most of his life. My impression of Chris is that he is the sort of sailor who can keep a cool head in a big sea! And being a regular crewmember of Integrity, he’s just the right person to instruct Paul and I in the finer points of sailing a gaff-rigged cutter. In fact, we might need to learn some of the blunter points too before we set sail into the Arctic Sea. I imagine that Chris can tie at least twenty-five different sailor’s knots in his sleep and knows the right use for each one of them.
Finally there is me. I’m without question that least qualified or useful person to be in the crew. However, I intend to be learn how to dice an onion in a rolling sea, cook at least four different stews, and memorise how everyone takes their tea. I’ve also taken it upon myself to be the chief chronicler of this adventure.
Justin Holt – 7 May 2019