This honest account of sailing a 17’ open boat through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is throughly enjoyable and a must read, says Julia Jones

Blokes Up North
Kevin Oliver and Tony Lancashire
Lodestar, £10

The cover blurb to our November Book at Bunk Time choice is agreeably down beat. ‘This is neither an expose of global warming, not a detailed study of Inuit culture. It is not particularly long on the historical quest for the Northwest passage. It is quite simply the tale of two blokes, up north.’

It is not, however a laddish book. There’s little beery banter or larking about. The adventurers take their challenge seriously. Not so seriously that they are chasing records or setting artificial goals so they can claim to be The First.

They are aware that rowing and sailing (and sometimes dragging) a 17’ open boat through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from Inuvik to Resolute is not an everyday achievement.

Probably it had not been done before – at least by strangers from the south – but it was the challenge itself that appealed, not the space in the record book.

Because Kev and Tony are not lads.

In 2009 – 2010 they were respectively a Lt-Colonel and a Major in the Royal Marines. They were in their early forties and mid-thirties, fully engaged with their careers and also with family and partner commitments. They were interested in testing themselves, and testing their ability to work together.

There’s discussion about ethical decision making and how to apportion the responsibility for decisions other than by rank. They develop a go/don’t go principle to guide them thorough disagreement. The greater weight is given to the person who takes the more cautious view.

They are also unafraid to challenge each other if character traits or assumptions of authority begin to grate. It’s interesting that both are also yachtsmen.

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Many sailing crews could learn negotiating techniques or how to defuse potential disagreement from the way these two men approach their enforced interaction.

Inspiration for this trip came from Frank and Margaret Dye’s achievements in their Wayfarer dinghy. There may also have been an underlying career enhancement motive. Not to achieve promotion but to more resilient and better leaders.

An encounter with Americans Mark Schrader and Herb McCormick with their beautifully equipped yacht Ocean Watch must have provided some inner satisfaction.

From an opening comment ‘Even for Englishmen you dudes have got to be out of your minds!’ to a final evaluation ‘one thing was clear: if these guys were running the British Empire, there’d still be one!’ it must have been a morale-boosting evening.

One doesn’t have to be hankering for a return to Corinthian values to enjoy this book.

Its greatest quality, for me, was the honest admission that adventures are sometimes boring and depressing and that not all challenges can be overcome.

Unpretentiously readable and sincerely recommended.

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