BL16 - Page 51

he first thing you notice
about Jock Wishart is that he
has the most extraordinary
hands. The skin on his
thick, muscular fingers is
mottled red and brown, and looks sore
– the legacy of a lifetime spent in baking
sunlight and salty seas, clutching oars
and ropes and rails and walking poles.
They are hands that have rowed the
Atlantic, circumnavigated the globe, and
been to the North Pole more times than
their owner can remember, twice in
record-breaking circumstances. When
we meet in the bar at Boisdale of
Belgravia one sunny afternoon, they are
already clutching a gin and tonic.
Decades of exposure to some of the
harshest elements on earth are at last
taking their toll. He points to the crown
of his head, where surgeons have
recently removed some cancerous cells.
“They took some off, but it’s a bit
more serious than we thought, so they
took even more off,” he says, matter-offactly. “I’m red-haired Norman Scottish,
and I’ve spent so long in the sun…”
“It’s a tax on the way you’ve lived?”
It’s not so much that they don’t make
them like Jock Wishart any more. It’s
more that the world has made it almost
impossible for Jock Wisharts to exist. A
rower, sailor, and trekker extraordinaire,
he has made a career of adventuring at
a time when challenges are harder and
harder to find. As recent photos of the
Everest traffic jam showed, there is no
shortage of tourists, but real adventurers
are harder to come by.
“I remember [the explorer] Sir David
Hempleman-Adams asked me to climb
Everest,” Wishart says. “Why would I
want to do that, when 28 people climb
it every day? I like to do things that are
different, or break a record. I’ve always
managed to find new things to do, but
except for the very deep sea or outer
space, most things have been done now.
But I’ve paid the mortgage doing what
I love, and enjoyed every minute of it.”
Wishart’s love of sports started when
he was growing up in Dumfries, part
of a family that can trace its lineage back
hundreds of years. His father ran a
garage, and his mother had served on
Mongomery’s staff during the war. “She
taught me that when you do something,
you give it 100 per cent,” he explains.
He had three younger brothers, the
youngest of whom, Alastair, had Down
Syndrome and died three years ago.
“He was six years younger than me. It
probably made me more compassionate,
and it also taught me to value every
day, and to make things work for you
because others aren’t so lucky.”
Although Wishart was a sporty
student, president of the Athletic Union
at Durham, as well as the Union Society
and boat club, he came late to
adventuring, although not to endurance
sports, having raced in the America’s
Cup in 1980. But since the Nineties, he
has achieved a remarkable number of
feats. In 1997 he rowed the Atlantic, and
then the following year broke the world
record for circumnavigation of the globe
in a powered vessel. His ‘Cable &
Wireless Adventurer’ completed the
journey in 74 days, beating a record
held by a nuclear-powered submarine.
His many trips to the top of the world
include a rowing expedition to the
magnetic North Pole, a feat he thinks
is unlikely to be repeated. He has also
explored South Georgia in the footsteps
of Ernest Shackleton, a boyhood hero.
“He had very big balls,” he says. “I like
to think that if I had been around I’d
have answered his famous ad [which
offered ‘small wages, bitter cold, long
months of complete darkness, constant
danger, safe return doubtful, honour and
recognition in case of success’].”
Wishart fits the archetype of the
compact, terrier-determined Scot, but he
is fine company, too, and hard months
at sea haven’t stopped him enjoying the
mid-season English asparagus, turbot
and more than a bottle of white wine
that emerge from the Boisdale kitchen.
His 2011 North Pole expedition was
sponsored by Old Pulteney, and a
limited-edition Jock Wishart bottle sits
on the bar, from which two mandatory
drams are poured at the end of the meal.
He falls silent just once, remembering
a friend who was washed overboard
sailing outside Hong Kong. “He got
caught by the guy [rope] and was swept
out. By the time we had turned round
to get him he had drowned. I don’t think
about it much now. I try not to. You
can’t take any risks with the sea.”
There have been other terrors. On
his trip with Hempleman-Adams to the
North Pole, he woke up to the sound
of a large polar bear sniffing around his
tent. “I saw this paw resting on the
outside and I curled up into a ball,” he
recalls. “I have a higher comfort zone for
danger than a lot of people, but I try to
make sure I don’t get myself in positions
I can’t get out of. You have an objective
you want to achieve, but if part of that is
being in the territory of one of the most
dangerous predators in the world, you
have to be prepared to deal with it.”
He is of the preparation-preventspoor-performance school. “Nothing’s
impossible,” he says. “If you have a
dream and want it badly enough, you’ll
achieve it. Inside every ordinary person
is something extraordinary trying to get
out. If you never give up, in the end
you’ll get there.” He has no time for TV
‘adventurers’, like Ant Middleton or Ben
Fogle, whom he dismisses as “tourists”.
or his next project he is buying
a traditional Spanish rowing boat
called a trainera, in which he
hopes to set some records. He still rows,
skis and sails, and has recently taken up
shooting. “I’ve never been able to hit the
small ball, so I need something to do as
I get older,” he says. The price of his
peripatetic career is going away three
times a year with his wife, Debbie, and
he has close ties to Durham University
and sporting institutions such as the
London Scottish rugby team, as well as
having various charitable commitments.
He still has big plans, although he is
keeping them close to his chest. “It
requires technology that’s not quite
there yet, and if I told you I’d have to
kill you. If it comes off, or something
else comes up, then great. But if not,
that’s alright. I’ve done enough.”

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