01 July 2012

The Rules of the Game

Along the way an oft-occurring topic of conversation revolved around the varying ways paddlers approach(ed) the UK Circumnavigation and how the differing approaches could be compared. Like it or not people will compare, and the number of days taken will usually be the first criteria used.

There are few hard and fast rules in this game; when you set out it is your train set and you decide on how it should be played with. It is not for others to say how you should do things - you go the way you want to. The rules of the game, almost the ethics of it in a way, relate less to how you make your attempt and more to how you portray your attempt in the aftermath.

If one attempt has a full support crew and another doesn't, does the first one carry as much merit on completion?

If one paddler goes entirely solo and another welcomes friends to join them on some stages, how does that compare? Does it matter?

If an attempt has a team of supporters to arrange accommodation, to help carry the boat, to obtain food and water, to remove the need to paddle a heavily loaded boat, to cater for every whim  - do they have an advantage? Is it 'fair'?

Of course it is - somebody somewhere has still completed a rather demanding and relatively rare achievement. Respect is rightly deserved.

If a paddler is lucky enough to be in the position to have a support crew then good for them. Do they have an 'advantage'? Well I guess they wouldn't go to all that hasssle if they didn't think it made life easier for them. But somewhere along the way people have had to put in a lot of time, effort, personal sacrifice and let's face it, money to put this support in place. Surely that is as valid preparation as marking maps, training fitness, seeking sponsorship or buying a new cag.
I don't see any problem with that, I would have jumped at the chance of a full support crew - initially anyway.

What is surely not right is to come home and put a spin on things, to not quite tell the 'full story' or even to deliberately mislead in order to make an attempt look more impressive.

Even if you want to use a sail, so what? Crack on. Just make sure the fact is mentioned at the end.

The only assistance that I think would not be in the spirit of things would be the use of an on the water, powered support boat. The temptation to use this to shelter from the wind, to wash-hang (haven't we seen that somewhere?) or just to give that on-site safety net would change the whole self-reliance nature of the daily challenge that is sea kayaking. All that said, remember that once again, the rules are set only by the participants.

For my part I paddled solo and for the most part was self-supported - though Pascale my girlfriend joined me for two one-week slots during the trip. It was nice to have the company but it also gave me a little more flexibility in that I could push my route in bad weather knowing that if I landed in a more inhospitable spot then 'International Rescue' would come along to bail me out. It also meant that I had to spend less time off the water sourcing food, accommodation and other such daily admin. But on the down side it also made the days a little more 'sterile'. I would meet fewer interesting people and the whole thing became little less of an adventure and more like a series of linked day paddles scratching miles.

There is a balance to be set, a choice to be made between chatting to every person you meet, visiting every bay on the way or just chasing headlands to keep the number of days to a minimum. Neither is right or wrong, just the method for different people to achieve their goals.

You don't have far to look to see wildly differing approaches. Currently Joe Leach is doing an impressive job of storming his way around the coastline, while Michal & Natalie Madera are taking things at a much more leisurely pace. On completion will one be more worthy of the other? No, of course not - they all will have pushed themselves to their limits at times and will have many tales to tell of their accomplishment. It is just that one will have taken fewer days than the other.

So, a full support crew? Well, for me and me alone, I think I set a nice balance - I wouldn't change what I did. Next time may be different though.

There are no rules in how you make your approach, no right or wrong way.
It's your train set remember. But there are definitely right and wrong ways to portray the attempt.
And you don't half make a knob of yourself when the truth eventually comes out - it always does.



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