Adventurers aim to be first to row to North Pole

NEW YORK Mon Jun 20, 2011 6:05am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Polar bears and ice floes are prudently avoided by most people but to Scottish adventurer Jock Wishart they are food for the soul.

Leading a crew of six with a support crew the same size, Wishart, 55, will attempt a 450 nautical mile (833 nautical kilometer) voyage in a specifically designed boat to be the first to row to the magnetic North Pole this Arctic summer.

Why?

"Because it's there," said Wishart, in the tradition of explorers, mountaineers, sailors and other adventurers throughout time.

His personal hero is Sir Ernest Shackleton, who famously failed to reach his goal of crossing Antarctica in the early 20th Century. But after his ship became ice bound and sank, Shackleton ultimately made an open boat journey unrivaled in recorded history to ensure his crew was rescued.

Wishart himself has a long history as an adventurer.

Within the space of 18 months alone, he rowed across the Atlantic, led a crew which established 15 new world speed records for powered circumnavigation and captained the team that broke the London-Paris rowing record.

Wishart's expedition to the magnetic North Pole, as designated in 1996, will set off from Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada sometime in late July.

If all goes well, they will reach the pole in four to five weeks or the first week of September.

He is nonchalant about the risks.

"Death, polar bears, extreme climate," he said.

His biggest fear is open water with a lot of breaking ice which can tear a hole in their craft. But in that event, the ice would also save them as they find the biggest piece to hoist themselves up on and wait for support.

Once they reach the pole they will walk to permanent ice from where they can be airlifted out by plane.

The boat is 9.2 meters long, a little over 30 feet, and weighs 824 kilos, around 1,816 pounds, and designed to be dragged up and over the ice should their way be blocked.

Sponsored by Old Pulteney Single Malt whisky, and others, the venture will cost around 500,000 pounds ($812,000).

Members of the crew were all selected for their rowing ability but they possess key and complementary strengths such as mechanical ability or even marketing in the lead up to the actual voyage.

Wishart describes the crew as all being "driven people" with one particular crewman known for being able to "put a bit of oil on the water and help to mediate."

"Inside every ordinary person is something extraordinary trying to get out," said Wishart.

There are no female crew members but Wishart says there were female applicants for an open spot filled by competition and a U.S. woman made it to the last 10.

"The selection was not based on gender but on the person with the best physical and mental attributes," he said.

Wishart's latest adventure would not be possible without climate change which has opened up vast stretches of open Arctic water during the summer months. Wishart himself doesn't get drawn into the debate on climate change other than to acknowledge it is changing.

"It's a warning to all of us," he said. "Is it partially caused by man or cyclical changes? I don't know but we do know pumping carbon dioxide into the air is not a good thing."

The rowing crew will take salinity levels of the sea at various points of their voyage. The data will be analyzed at a British university as part of research into climate change.

Married for 27 years with two children, Wishart lives in West London -- except when chasing polar bears.

(Reporting by Nick Olivari; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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