day in the life of Northabout 4
Sailors and Climbers
the course of this expedition many comparisons and differences have been
discussed regarding aspects of climbing and sailing expeditions.
I think they are worth capturing and perhaps sharing with those who climb
and sail, and as an exploration of the nature of both activities.
Issues that arise are the level of athleticism required, the extent that
individual needs can be met, teamwork, leadership and organisational issues,
food limitations and scope, levels of comfort, skill and knowledge levels
required to participate, technology, responsibility and risk management for each
individual, cost of involvement in activity, commitment required, the effects of
altitude, remoteness, and last but not least the opportunities for socialising.
as an experienced expedition mountaineer on my second polar voyage, I will stick
my neck out and share my observations.
The nature of sailing and climbing are different, largely due to a single
capital item, the boat.
A boat like Northabout and its equipment could cost up to £300, 000.
This immediately poses the question, who? owns the boat and indeed who
owns the expedition ?
A mountaineering expedition also needs equipment, and specialist
clothing, all of which are re-saleable afterwards, and few in any single item
costing more than £1,000.
A major mountaineering objective can be climbed by a small number of
people without a major resource such as a motor Yacht, the peak fee can be the
most expensive item perhaps needing a subsidy of sponsorship to fund.
Sailing expeditions on the other hand, require this major resource, the
boat, which needs to be got in to shape and maintained before and after the
group of climbers can organise a climbing expedition without the need for major
Tents usually constitute the most expensive resources, limiting gear and
baggage also reduces travel costs so most climbers over time accumulate good
lightweight gear, purchasing consumables as far as possible, closer to the
Expedition climbing is expensive, but is within the range of a committed
individual to participate, by purchasing most of their requirement over a number
Climbers are by nature mostly anarchistic, most are waged, whereas
sailors need to associate with a craft owner, who owns and covers the cost of
maintaining a boat at a mooring or marina or become part of a group prepared to
jointly purchase or build a boat for an expedition or to share the above costs
(this was the Northabout approach).
They tend to be salaried or self employed or professional people.
The person/s who control the boat, become de-facto leader of an
expedition, unless they delegate the role to another.
Mountaineering expeditions are usually organised by peer groups of
climbers, leadership models vary; the leaders are usually prime movers with the
necessary organisational skills to plan and execute a climb.
is an athletic activity, which is physically very demanding, requiring strength
and stamina, and also a range of skills and knowledge.
Each participating climber must be capable of being self-sufficient, on a
high altitude trip, on steep rock, ice or mixed ground.
Sailors also need to be competent, particularly in relation to navigation
and sailing theory and practice.
Whereas climbers work hard all day on a route, sometimes very sustained,
sailing activities come in short frantic bursts.
Sail up or sail down, reefing, trimming sails, rope handling, responding
to the effects of weather, wind and course.
At the end of a long days climbing one usually got to secure a safe place
for a tent or bivvy, cook your meal and prepare sufficient drinks from snow
usually from freeze dried preparations.
I have lost considerable body weight from sustained activity on two
On Northabout, I am getting fat, its great, for this is one of the main
advantages of sailing over climbing expeditions.
Everything, a climber eats on the mountain, must be carried up by
him/her, food, fuel, stove and utensils.
Navigation and route finding are important skills for a mountaineer for
their own safety, it involves map and compass and interpreting route
In sailing, navigational aids are now high tech, with a much more complex
and technical array of technology and equipment used such as GPS, radar, depth
finders and auto-pilots, and of course the radio used in the day to day
operation of an expedition boat.
In a sustained storm, of course the stamina of sailors are tested, and
the quality of the leadership and teamwork is tested.
Because there is a responsibility and the safety of your own boat and the
crew to consider, and to other shipping, this level of organisation and
equipment is not only desirable but essential to cope with factors such as fog,
tides, currents, being blown on to a lee shore; shallows and rocks can also have
a vessel needs a formal leadership structure and it is here I think that
contemporary climbing and sailing differ in approach.
Most climbing trips are peer based with route decisions being made by the
lead climber of a particular rope, but a ship always has to have a skipper, and
on long voyages each watches will include competent navigators and helmsman to
navigate the agreed passage route.
Socialisation is also very different, climbers after eight to ten weeks
in the mountains will dream and talk about food and drink and a shower.
Sailors are looking to the next port, no more than 4 or five weeks for
example for an Atlantic crossing.
They can bring nice jeans and sweaters.
Climbers are usually wearing their boots and mountain clothes as the
rucsac limits the scope.
conclusion, a sailors life is more organised, they have more scope for food and
socialisation, and higher comfort levels.
The buzz and excitement comes in short sharp blasts where one has to be
decisive, and effective with responsibility not only for self, but for your
High altitude climbing, is hard, physically demanding over a long period
and requires patience, stamina and an often frugal lifestyle.
The buzz and excitement comes in overcoming technical and physical
problems over longer periods usually in the company of one other person.
Responsibility is mostly personal, with the individual capable of
deciding the level of risk to be taken commensurate to their ability.
This discourse, I hope will be responded to by others who have climbed or sailed who may agree or disagree with my presentation. I lastly, would like to make it clear that I enjoy both activities, which both offer challenges to the human spirit and bring us to wild, wonderful places with the best and worst of people. It is the journey, not the destination, which is ever the most important. FN