Welcome To My World of Pedals and Paddles

An account of my Sea Kayaking and Mountain Biking exploits

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Who was Gino Watkins?

So who was Gino Watkins? There has been plenty written about him over the years. The most recent book being published fairly recently in 2008. His biographer J.M.Scott opens his book with the phrase 'Watkins Explorer England' and describes how Watkins was so famous these four words were sufficient for a cable to be delivered to him at The Royal Geographical Society HQ in 1932.

Today however it is a different story many people young and old will never have heard of him but, to me and many other like minded sea kayakers he is an inspiration, a legend even.

So why is he given this status? the best way to understand this is to read about his life and his exploits. This is a selection of the many books written about him which are available on-line:

Gino Watkins by J.M Scott - pub. Hodder & Stoughton 1935 & 1946
Watkin's Last Expedition    - F.Spencer Chapman - pub. Hazell Watson & Viney 1953
Gino Watkins                    - John Ridgway (of Atlantic Rowing fame)
Dancing on Ice                  - Jeremy Scott 2008

The paper 'Watkins Explorer England' by Duncan J D Smith gives an excellent account of Watkins' life without the need for extensive reading (unless you want to)

When you consider that Watkins was only twenty five when he died and that he was leading his fourth major expedition to one of the remotest and potentially hostile places in the world it is very important that he is not forgotten. It is also important that younger people learn about the tenacity and strength of spirit that he so obviously possessed which allowed him to achieve so much in so short a life. The Gino Watkins Memorial Fund maintains his link to the Polar Regions by assisting expeditions   http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/about/funding/ginowatkins/objectives.html

The main inspiration which I take from reading about Watkins is firstly his style of leadership which was a new concept in his day. Namely his ability to provide strong leadership coupled with the ability to consult his team without the semi military style being used on previous expeditions. Then there is the concept developed by Knud Rasmussen of living off the land and travelling light. To do this without the modern technology we have today you have to learn to hunt, live and kayak like the subsistence Inuit hunters used to.

Duncan Smith states that Watkins was probably the first European certainly British person to master the art of paddling a Kayak. The level of his skill and that of his companions is where my personal interest arises from. There is no doubt that they were extremely proficient paddlers and also learnt the associated skills of kayak building and paddle making all taught to them by the local Greenlandic people.

Watkins drowned at Lake Fjord or to call it by its Greenlandic name Tugtilik. This is situated just over one hundred miles north of Angmassilik on the East coast of Greenland.

There is a large memorial cross erected on a rocky headland in the Fjord and I am fortunate enough to be able to attempt to visit the Fjord next August with Martin Rickard and a party of sea kayakers. Martin was my guide for the trip to Greenland in August 2013.

Martin Rickard at Tugtilik
This will be an exciting expedition up the East coast of Greenland and very close to the Arctic Circle. Weather and ice permitting we hope to spend a few days at the old BAARE Base camp and experience some of the lifestyle associated with the place.

Hopefully, my Blog posts will help to maintain the memory of Gino Watkins. More to follow.


DuncanJDSmith said...

Dear James - Many thanks for mentioning my Gino Watkins essay. I've enjoyed reading your post and wish you all the best for your trip to Tugtilik. Incidentally, my late father remembers Gino coming to lecture at his school. He brought a husky whip with him that greatly impressed the schoolboys! With best wishes - Duncan Smith

James Murray said...

Thank you for your kind words Duncan. I enjoyed reading your essay too. Comments such as yours will encourage me to keep posting.
Many thanks, James.

DuncanJDSmith said...

Hello again, James. The url for my Gino Watkins essay has changed to the following: http://www.duncanjdsmith.com/uploads/documents/tratra/ginowatkinsbio2.pdf
Maybe you can update it at your "Who was Gino Watkins?" Blog entry? Hope all well and best wishes - Duncan