Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top 10 outdoorsmen of all time

Outdoorsmen come in all shapes and sizes, from all eras and walks of life. It is only fair to say that most of these gentlemen have varying degrees of faults, as well.

Most men of adventure have at least one or two flaws, and in some cases their liabilities outweigh their accomplishments, but we won't dwell on that too much. I have attempted today to select the cream of the crop and have tried to place some historical perspective on it by choosing from as many different periods of time as possible.
With that said let's get down to it.
No. 10: Marco Polo (1254-1324 A.D.): An Italian explorer who tramped all over Asia - most notably China.
Got to hand it to him, it's a long way from Italy to China whether you are walking, riding a horse or perched atop a camel. Bonus points for the camel riding part. Saddling up between those double humps has to be rough on the hemorrhoids.
His claim to fame was that he became close friends with Kublai Khan, no small feat considering Khan's notorious penchant for making foreign trespassers walk over hot coals before beheading them.
No. 9: Leif Eriksson (975-1020 A.D.): An Icelander noted for his seagoing adventures.
The famous Viking first sailed from Iceland to Norway to in an attempt to find the home of his ancestors. Later on his way back to Iceland decided to try to venture further west to Greenland, but missed the mark by a wide margin and bumped into North America instead.
Although an eminent adventurer and sailor of the northern seas he was not noted for his navigational skills. He was the son of Eric the Red, who was also a dyslexic map reader.
No. 8: Ponce De Leon (1460-1521): Spanish explorer who made his claim to fame by being the first European to set foot in what is today Florida.
He had to be a brave guy to put up with all those Indians, snakes and obnoxious Gator fans even though their football team in the 1500s was of little note. He also traipsed around looking for the Fountain of Youth. Must not have found it because he died at the age of 61 from a poisoned arrow wound, but gets an "A" for creative exploration.
No. 7: Augustus (Gus) McCrae (Circa 1890): The fun loving Texas Ranger and star of Lonesome Dove was a man's man. He could drive cattle, kill outlaws, eat rattlesnakes for breakfast, rescue damsels in distress from wild Indians and cook biscuits over a fire.
On the other hand, he enjoyed skinny dipping in the creek before breakfast with only his boots on, wooing the ladies and cutting the cards with ladies of the night.
Was known to say "It's not dying I'm talking about, it's living." Died because he wouldn't let a surgeon cut off the only leg he had left. You gotta love him.
No. 6: Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873): Scottish missionary who was one of the first Europeans to wander around in the jungles of Central and South Africa.
He is credited with being the first white man to see Victoria Falls. A really nice person who was thoughtful enough to take his entire family with him on a crossing of the infamous Kalahari Desert.
Livingstone had a notorious aversion to backtracking and thus his most famous comment was "I am prepared to go anywhere provided it is forward." Spoken like a true man of adventure.
No. 5: Roald Amundsen (1872-1928?): This Norwegian was a polar explorer extraordinaire.
He was the first man to reach the South Pole, first to take a ship voyage through the Northwest Passage and first to fly over North Pole from Europe to Alaska. Needless to say the boy had plenty of cold weather gear at his disposal.
Rumors still fly that he only saw the sun come up three times in his life. Amundsen died in a plane accident attempting to rescue the engineer that built that same specialized aircraft. Oh the irony of that friendship.
No. 4: Jeremiah Johnson (Circa 1870): The star of that movie portrayed by Robert Redford left society forever to be a mountain man. Now there's a real outdoorsman's label for you.
This mountain man could hunt, trap, survive the cold winters of the Rocky Mountains and cook up a scrumptious rabbit over the fire. Additionally, he was capable of building a log cabin, taking lethal revenge on those who harmed his family and could even defeat an onslaught of Crow Indians intent on seeing to his demise. A real man.
No. 3: Daniel Boone (1734-1820): Born to Quaker parents, Boone took a right turn away from his heritage by donning a coon skin hat and became the ultimate symbol for frontier heroes.
He blazed a trail through the wild country of the Cumberland Gap, lived with the Indians for a time and later moved on westward because he wanted to live in unpopulated areas. Some reports of his death indicate that the famous marksman died at the ripe old age of 84 under the claws of a bear when Boone's aim failed him for the first time.
No. 2: Neil Armstrong (1930-Present): You gotta give it up for a guy who went to the moon. How are you going to beat that? I mean that's the very definition of outdoor adventure. He drove through outer space, got in a little pod and landed in place called the Sea of Tranquility. Bet he wouldn't have much trouble handling a four-wheeler over muddy roads to get to his deer stand.
No. 1: Davy Crockett (1786-1836): Perhaps the most colorful of our top 10, Crockett was a hunting and storytelling legend.
He actually is credited with feeding an entire army during the Creek War with the game he killed. Was eventually elected to Congress, but lost his bid for re-election whereupon he told the voters " ...You may all go to hell; I'm going to Texas." He promptly fulfilled his threat and was even more promptly killed fighting at the Alamo.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Famed Submersible Alvin Gets $40 Million Upgrade

DSV Alvin is the vehicle that first explored the Titanic, brought back footage from hydrothermal vents, and investigated the BP oil spill, but the workhorse of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has lagged behind technological breakthroughs. But now, the plucky submarine is finally getting the upgrade it deserves.
Currently, the sub can only dive 2.8 miles which leaves 40% of the ocean floor beyond its reach. Furthermore, its titanium-sphere cabin is notoriously uncomfortable, especially for researchers that can spend hours on end onboard. But after $40 million facelift, all that will change. The maximum depth will be extended to four miles, granting access to 98% of the ocean floor, thanks to improved buoyancy foam. New lithium-ion batteries will make that increased depth even worthwhile, providing 12 hours of operations on a single charge. Inside the sub, folding chairs, additional viewports, and an 18% increase in space will make the cabin a little more habitable.
Though it certainly isn’t luxury accommodations, it does ensure that this 46-year old little sub will continue
making scientific discoveries for years to come.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Princess of whales: How a naked female scientist tries to tame belugas in the freezing Arctic

The beauty of nature: Like a scene from a classic pre-Raphaelite painting, naked Natalia Avseenko swims with beluga whales in the Arctic

Braving sub-zero temperatures, she has thrown caution — and her clothes — to the wind to tame two beluga whales in a unique and controversial experiment.
Natalia Avseenko, 36, was persuaded to strip naked as marine experts believe belugas do not like to be touched by artificial materials such as diving suits.
The skilled Russian diver took the plunge as the water temperature hit minus 1.5 degrees Centigrade.

Belugas are famed for the way in which their faces are able to convey human-like expressions. Certainly Matrena and Nilma seemed to enjoy frolicking with Natalia. 
The taming of the whales happened in the Murmansk Oblast region in the far north-west of Russia at the shore of the White Sea near the Arctic Circle branch of the Utrish Dophinarium.

An area of the sea is enclosed  to stop whales and dolphins getting out and instructors tame the mammals before they are transported to dolphinariums around the world — a practice many animal conservationists consider cruel. 
Belugas have a small hump on their heads used for echo-location and it was thought that there would be more chance of striking up a rapport with them without clothes as a barrier.

Breathtaking: the scientist uses yoga techniques to hold her breath for up to ten minutes at a time ask she frolics with the whales, Nilma and Matrena

Breathtaking: the scientist uses yoga techniques to hold her breath for up to ten minutes at a time ask she frolics with the whales, Nilma and Matrena

Come on in, the water's lovely: The whales wait for Natalia to take the plunge, but the sub-zero waters are enough to kill most people within five minutes

Come on in, the water's lovely: The whales wait for Natalia to take the plunge, but the sub-zero waters are enough to kill most people within five minutes
The average human could die if left in sub-zero temperature sea water for just five minutes.
However, Natalia is a yoga expert and used meditation techniques to hold her breath and stay under water for an incredible ten minutes and 40 seconds.
There are around 100,000 belugas in the wild. 
The first to be held in captivity was shown at Barnum's Museum in New York in 1861, and there are belugas in aquariums and sea life parks across Europe, North America and Asia.
Their large range of 'facial expressions' comes from them having a more flexible bone structure than other whales.
Certainly these two had a big smile for the naked Natalia.

Rare space: Natalia's encounters with the whales take place in an area of sea which is enclosed to stop whales and dolphins getting out

Here's looking at you: Belugas have a wider range of 'facial expressions' due to a more flexible bone structure, and it has made them a hit in aquariums around the world

Attraction: There are around 100,000 belugas in the wild but they are also in sea life parks and aquariums around the world

Here's looking at you: Belugas have a wider range of 'facial expressions' due to a more flexible bone structure

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Perilous cape forces kayaker to quit tour

Tim Taylor camped for weeks in Ahipara waiting for the weather to clear so he could get around Cape Reinga. Photo / Alan Gibson

Tim Taylor camped for weeks in Ahipara waiting for the weather to clear so he could get around Cape Reinga. Photo / Alan Gibson

A Tauranga kayaker's quest to conquer the country's coastline pitted him against massive swells and violent lightning strikes, but in the end it was a patch of treacherous Northland water that cut Tim Taylor's trip short.
The 24-year-old has been forced to cancel his bid to make the first complete solo circumnavigation of New Zealand by sea kayak, having paddled more than three-quarters of his 5500km expedition since he set off from Tauranga on November 27.
"It's a bit of a letdown ... and it was sad coming home because this wasn't what I planned but it is what it is."
The adventure had taken Mr Taylor down the eastern coasts of the North and South Islands, around Stewart Island and back up the west coasts to Ahipara, at the base of Ninety Mile Beach.
Before making the tough decision to fly back to Tauranga on Sunday, Mr Taylor had camped for weeks in Ahipara waiting for the right conditions to traverse a perilous strip of water off Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Oceans meet.
"Basically, it was just continuously big and bad weather up there and I needed a period of three days for it to be perfect," Mr Taylor said.
"There was a lot of fresh water going around Cape Reinga, it was a nasty little exposed place, and it had the potential to destroy me - it could have ripped me out of my kayak.
"There is not a single commercial skipper who does not respect this area because even in a big boat they know that it could destroy them in seconds if given the chance. So yeah - a real fun place in a kayak."
The wait in Northland took a heavy toll on his fitness level and his sanity.
"Just the fact that you're sitting around for so long; it's all a big mental game. In the end, I had to make the hard call that I was better off just coming back home to train."
Negotiating 4m swells off East Cape and in Fiordland and ditching his kayak on a King Country beach amid a heavy thunderstorm rated among the wildest parts of his trip.
Asked if he would try it again, he said: "I'd do it again in a second."
Mr Taylor plans to return to Ahipara in July or August to complete the circumnavigation of New Zealand.
"I've done about 4700km and when I look at that I realise it's quite a good achievement.
"I've been to so many amazing places and met people from different walks of life. It was just awesome ... I think I'll call it my OE."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Icebergs: Delivering Fresh Water

Towing icebergs to places desperate for water is something of a non-urban myth. The idea sounds good on the surface. The planet is running short of freshwater, and gloomy forecasts predict a 30 percent rainfall decrease around the globe. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of big, purely freshwater icebergs crack off Greenland and Antarctica every year, only to drift into warmer waters and melt.
The notion of harnessing these massive, glassy natural resources is hardly new. In 1773 Captain James Cook brought small icebergs aboard The Resolution to replenish fresh water supplies. Towing bergs north or south has been seriously talked about in this century since the 1950s.
Unfortunately, every time a visionary entrepreneur floats a plan for navigating all that solid freshwater to parched markets, the H2O innovator is stymied by 1) the high cost of the towing and 2) the unacceptable amount of ice lost along the route.
Still, new iceberg theorists pop up every few years. The latest proposal comes from a University of Cambridge professor of ocean physics named Peter Wadhams. Wadhams claims to have partners in Canada and France who want to use tugboats to lug bergs from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands.
“It would be very nice to try it out and see if it works,” said Wadhams.
The group, which is of course looking for investors, bases its optimism on a hi-tech virtual map study illustrating the combination of ocean currents and winds, the anticipated melt rate and the tugboat’s fuel consumption. Coating the underside of the iceberg with an “insulating geotextile material” to reduce melt rate is a new twist on previous notions of wrapping them in sailcloth or Kevlar.
A team of 15 at Dassault Systems, a French software company, put the virtual imaging together. It estimated that a 7 million ton iceberg would take 141 days to reach the Canaries, and would lose 38 percent to melting. A test is estimated to cost upward of $10 million.
Five years ago, Britain’s biggest water supplier—Thames Water, which delivers to 13 million people—announced it was considering a plan to drag bergs from Greenland or northern Scandinavia across the North Sea. After factoring in costs, disruption of shipping lanes and that damn problem of ice melting as it reaches warmer climes, the plan was quietly dropped.
In 1977, scientists from 18 nations gathered at the International Conference on Iceberg Utilization at Iowa State University trotted out a similar idea. The event was organized and paid for by a nephew to the king of Saudi Arabia, a place desperate for new water sources, then and now.
The idea of Prince Mohammed al Faisal—and his Iceberg Transport International company—was to wrap a 100-million-ton iceberg off Antarctica in sailcloth and plastic and tow it with a fleet of tugboats back to the Arabian Peninsula. The trip was estimated to take eight months and cost $100 million.
At the time, the math suggested that the high costs would still be cheaper than desalinating water close to home, typically the Saudi’s primary access to fresh water. It was also thought that the American public—sucker that it is!—would pay for unique bottled iceberg water. To support his dream, Prince Faisal delivered a mini iceberg from Alaska to Iowa, by helicopter, plane and truck, where it was chipped and put into cocktails.
A Time magazine report of the day quoted a representative of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory who was hardly optimistic: “Once you get north of the equator, you’ll have nothing but rope at the end of your tow.”
But maybe one day will be the ultimate cold day in …. and towing icebergs will finally make sense.