Thanks to James Cameron’s recent extraordinary journey to the bottom of the ocean, and other personal events, I felt the need to write a second part to my previous post “The Last Explorers”.
Although I could have used a series of other excuses to justify continuing explaining my point about the declining of the spirit of exploration, it was a report on the BBC’s website that got me all itchy.
Journalist Rebecca Morell, on site in Guam, was doing an update right after Cameron had came back from the deepest place on Earth. The short interview featured on the web was so unprofessional, I asked myself if I had mistakenly switched to Fox News.
The other voice in the clip, a man at the BBC studio, started by saying: “This is supposed to be a bit of a race involving a team from Google and one sponsored by Richard Branson – but it is over before it really begun hasn’t it?”
Did anyone brief this person before he went on air? The race to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench has been on for years – the last five mostly in secrecy. Tens of millions have been spent and three other teams have planned expeditions this year alone, DOER Marine,Virgin Oceanic and Triton Submarines. The race is not over before it begun, the race has been won!
Morell continued, cordially, informing him that it had indeed been a race with a winner. She then told how Cameron wanted to inspire a new era of ocean exploration. The man reciprocated: “It is a puzzling point though, if it has been done before because of a US navy team which reached the bottom of the Mariana trench 50 years ago, to what extent is it a pioneering dive that he has just completed ?”.
If that was not enough, they concluded the segment by pointing out that: “Some scientists question whether you actually need to have humans at the bottom to explore when you can do things like drop down underwater robots”.
This should have been a “walking on the moon” moment with the entire world (and most importantly the entire exploration community) celebrating. If this is true that some scientists really question the need to “Physically” explore the unknown, shame on them! Why go to Mars if we can send a robot? Why meet and talk to people in the flesh if you can do it online?
The other surprising fact was the almost total absence of two of the most legendary exploration clubs, the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club. Founded in 1830, the RGS enshrines such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary. There was not a word about the expedition from them, not on their twitter site, nor their News site. The Explorers Club has members including the first man to reach the North and South Pole, the first to climb the summit of Mount Everest, and the first to step on the surface of the moon. Captain Don Walsh, former Honorary Club President, who was part of the first manned expedition to the bottom of the Trench was actually onboard with Cameron for this historical feat. Sadly, the Club only tweeted little bits about this groundbreaking event, and nothing was written on their News/Bog site. A pity and shame for these institutions who have the responsibility of carrying on the flame of exploration.
As many of you know, I am in the process of putting together a large expedition, a 6-year around the world sailing expedition, called E.P.I.C. Aboard two 35m aluminum hull sailing boats, with retractable keels, we will visit over 250 of the remotest islands in the world. Doing documentary film making, photography, conservation campaigns, and science projects, this endeavor is reminiscent of the Golden Age of maritime exploration. The budget is obviously huge and the challenges seemingly impossible. The reactions I usually get could be summed up in three words: “Really? Why? Good Luck!” No worries, I do get my share of encouragements, but last week I received a couple of comments that reminded me why I was sacrificing everything to make this project of mine happen.
The first one came from Prince Michael of Kent, whom I had the honor to meet in his office at Kensington Palace in London. Listening carefully to my presentation, his eyes opened up and I could see a glare in them. He looked at me and said: ”Finally! It is so refreshing to see that the real spirit of exploration, the one I grew up with, these big dreams of exploring the world, of not being afraid of leaving the comfort zone behind, do still exist. I am glad to know that the flame is not extinguished and is being carried on. Thank you”
The second comment came from Bill Vartorella, who is a fellow of both the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical Society, and a member of the Overseas Press Club and Rotary. In his email, Mr. Vartorella said: “This is a gutsy expedition that cuts to the heart of grand exploration tradition (something abandoned by some organizations, as per vote of membership several years ago, re: grants), while embracing high-tech, with the ocean as central theme/connective tissue to past and present. The intro and feel of your 30-page brochure are riveting. This is a great expedition!”
It is always difficult to explain why I want to commit the next 10 years to a project that seems impossible. It is hard to find people that “get it”! When I see projects like Cameron’s journey to the ocean depths and when I get comments like those two last week, I am reminded that I am on the right track and that I don’t always have to explain my reasons. I just have to listen to that little voice inside of me that tells me to keep on going, and to keep pushing the envelope. One day, when I am on the boat, sailing the oceans like the great explorers of yesterday, all this hard work, all these days where I was left without a single penny, all this hardship, and all these days where I felt like abandoning the project, yet kept on going, to the disbelief of many, all this, will have been worth it. Because that is what these grand-scale expeditions are for, to remind us that everything is possible, that our dreams are never too big.