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Editorial: Risky ventures

Cornishman Peter Bray has made both successful and unsuccessful daring transatlantic journeys.
Cornishman Peter Bray has made both successful and unsuccessful daring transatlantic journeys.

It happens frequently enough that you could almost call it a regular event. Tuesday, admitting to perhaps being “crazy,” two adventurers left St. John’s in an attempt to row to France. They hope to be safely across the Atlantic by mid-August.

They’re travelling with dried food and protein bars for the journey, and plan to burn up 4,000 calories a day, rowing in shifts for what they expect will be 60 days on the water. They’ll have a shore-based support team, including a long-distance medical adviser.

At least one of the men, 24-year-old Brian Conville, has experience: he spent 48 days rowing from California to Hawaii. His fellow sailor, 20-year-old Joseph Gagnon, has sailed across the North Atlantic with his parents.

Adventurers have left St. John’s to row the Atlantic before. They’ve also attempted kayak crossings, solo sailing trips — even windsurfing.

Some make it, others don’t, and end up needing rescue, sometimes extremely complicated, long-distance rescues in harrowing weather conditions. Some have made it barely past the Narrows; others end up miles out in open ocean.

These rowers are heading out on an ocean that just wreaked havoc with a trans-Atlantic sailing flotilla of well-equipped, experienced ocean sailors. That storm was serious enough that five people had to be rescued and three vessels abandoned; the conditions included seas of 15 metres and winds at 130 kilometres an hour.

These rowers won’t face anything like that, if they’re lucky.

But the ocean is cold, fierce and unforgiving.

As adventuring becomes a constant — and as society continues to recognize those who climb the highest peaks and run across the driest deserts as worthy of praise — it might be time to think about basic ground rules.

Put it this way: if you fall on the East Coast Trail and need a medical rescue, fair enough. A tumble off the North Head Trail on Signal Hill shouldn’t mean you have to pick up the tab for your own high-angle rescue, nor should getting into trouble on a July sail or motor across the bay mean a five-or six-figure bill for marshalling the trained people and equipment needed to save you.

That is, of course, one of the reasons we all pay taxes.

But when it comes to extreme adventuring — when it comes to risks beyond the norm —perhaps we should be asking something more.

One thought? An insurance policy to cover the cost of rescue. Why? Because insurance companies are very good at managing risk. Before issuing an adventure policy, they would be sure to examine the competency and preparation of those involved, including whether or not private support teams are close enough to take action, and what rescues might involve.

To the current set of rowers?

Good luck on the ocean. We hope you won’t need it.

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