Whale Watching: QA with Peter Bray

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Outside magazine, June 2000

Whale Watching: Q&A with Peter Bray
By David Friedland

Despite the modern trend toward the efficiency and ease of airplane travel, one brave Cornish man is about to attempt a crossing of the Atlantic, the hard way. In June, Peter Bray, 48, a 24-year veteran of the British SAS, will give his legs a
good final stretch before taking a giant step into his custom designed kayak and pushing off from Newfoundland on a never-before-attempted paddle across the north Atlantic. For three straight months, this man will pull water in pursuit of the next major land mass–Southern Ireland–utterly alone and absolutely unsupported.

His craft: the only self-righting kayak in the world, a deluxe 23 foot, 1/2 ton, solar powered rig with sealable cabin, gas stove, 110 days of food, satellite phone, GPS tracking device, and a desalination device to filter sea water.

His means of locomotion: an adjustable Kevlar crank shaft paddle with 6 removable blades.

His suit: thermals and fleece, an emergence-spray suit, polarized sunglasses, gobs of sunscreen, and a Carbon Dioxide filled personal flotation device–offering the ultimate in life jacket mobility.

Q: Can you explain to me why anyone would do this?
A: It’s a bit of a challenge, you see. It’s never been done before. People have rowed the shark-inhabited Gulf Stream, but nobody’s paddled it without any support. Besides, I reckon it’ll be fun, don’t you?

Q: Are you crazy?
A: Nah. I paddled over 3000 miles around the British coast a few years back. That was great. The only injury I got was to the cheeks of my bottom.

Q: So what are you going to sit on this time?
A: A bean bag. It adjusts, it floats, it insulates. And I can use it as a pillow.

Q: How much do you plan to paddle each day?
A: I hope to make 33 1/2 miles a day. But I heard of a duo who paddled continuously by trading off for 7 straight days, 24 hours a day. By the end of the week, they were 17 miles behind where they started. Hopefully I’ll do better. I figure with my charts and GPS, if I paddle 14 hours a day, I should be good. But I’m going to be paddling mainly at
night–when it’s colder and I’m less visible. I’ll sleep 4-5 hours when it’s light and warmer.

Q: What do you think it’ll be like to see water in every direction for three straight months?
A: Kind of like sand. I saw that in the Middle East when I served in The Special Air Services. Actually, the sea should be better. It changes colors and patterns.

Q: What will you think about? Do you count when you paddle?
A: I doubt I know enough numbers to count for three months. We’re going to have this computer system which, aside from helping me get weather reports, will allow school children to send me questions when I’m out at sea. They’ll give me stuff to think about, like if I’ve seen any albatross, touched any icebergs, smelled any whales?

Q: You think you’ll see any whales? Planning to bring a harpoon?
A: No harpoon–though I might want it for the sharks. But I am going through Humpback spawning grounds.

Q: Think they’ll be spawning in June?
A: God, I hope not, I don’t know what my big boat would look like to a whale in heat.

Q: There have been some others who have tried missions like this. Tori Murden did it earlier this year. And didn’t Tom Maclean row your same route? Do you have any role models for your journey?
A: Tom’s been a big support. I think he still holds the record for rowing the smallest vessel to make it across. … That guy once lived on a rock to claim his British sovereignty. … Now he’s trying to cross the Atlantic in a huge engine driven whale. People like that, how could you not look up to them?

Q: I see what you mean. Peter, are you confident that you’ll be able to make it?
A: I’m confident to the point of arrogance. This is not an attempt. It’s a success. You’ve got to be 100% committed. (Now let’s just hope it works.)

Bray’s sponsor dollars are going to two children’s charities: Taste for Adventure–a center that takes disabled or abused kids on wilderness trips, and Rainbows–a hospice for terminally ill children.
–David Friedland

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