Don and Margie McIntyre, all bundled up in the Southern Ocean. Don¿s next sailing adventure, in the wake of William Bligh, will require a far different wardrobe.
It was a little over 10 years ago that I sailed into Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay aboard the Open 60 Spirit of Sydney after a 10-day voyage due south from the Australian island state of Tasmania. The mission: to pick up Spirit of Sydney’s owners, Australian sailors/adventurers Don and Margie McIntyre, who’d “wintered over” in a glorified lean-to at the former base of famed Aussie explorer Douglas Mawson. Now mind you, Donnie hadn’t seen another human, other than his wife, for many, many moons, so I braced myself for an emotional reunion as I shakily stepped from the dinghy to the tundra and embraced my long-lost friend. I’ll never forget Donnie’s fateful, heartfelt first words: “Did you bring the sausages?”
I’d first met Don McIntyre in the early 1980s while covering the inaugural BOC Challenge singlehanded around-the-world race. At the time, he was peddling Aries self-steering units from a base near Sydney and vowing to someday contest a BOC race himself. In the 1990-1991 edition, he did just that, in highly memorable fashion, ultimately producing a chilling DVD called Knockdown! that’s still available online. The film captures Donnie at the nav station when, as the title suggests, his 50-footer suffers a brutal Southern Ocean capsize in 70-knot winds and 50-foot seas. The footage, including Don’s wide-eyed reaction, is incredible.
It’s a moment that would’ve sent many a sailor cowering for shore, never again to set sail into a stormy sea. For Don McIntyre, it had quite the opposite effect.
For in the nearly two decades since that wild, violent day, Don and Margie-it’s a genuine toss-up as to which is the craziest of the pair-have embarked on one hair-raising escapade after another. In fact, it’s no stretch at all to say that they’ve become professional adventurers. It would take far more space than we have available to detail all their accomplishments, but here’s a partial list:
They sailed to Antarctica, stayed for a year, and produced a book and DVD, both entitled Two Below Zero, about their experiences. They returned to the continent on numerous occasions as guest lecturers on the cruise ship Orion and in command of their own 121-foot icebreaker, Sir Hubert Wilkins, aboard which they ran their own exploration and adventure-travel business. They commissioned a new steel yacht of their own, a George Buehler-designed 50-foot “diesel duck” (www.dieselducks.com) called Ice, with plans in the not-so-distant future to freeze themselves into an Antarctic cove for another frigid winter. They’ve embarked on numerous dive expeditions to remote waters and even done a bit of treasure hunting.
And that’s not counting some of their “grounded” exploits, like racing rally cars through remote Aussie terrain. Oh, yes, and just recently, Don became the first man to fly something called a “gyroplane” around Australia, a mere 7,500 miles.
Wilted flowers they are not.
Now Don’s come up with a scheme that, even by his own maniacal standards, is somewhat over the top. In April 2010, with a crew of three, he’s planning on setting off from Tonga, bound for Timor, in a 25-foot open boat to re-create the 3,700-nautical-mile voyage of William Bligh after he was removed from his command of the mutinous ship named Bounty (www.bountyboat.com).
“We’re not taking iPods, GPS, watches, flashlights, or even toilet paper,” said Don. “If Bligh didn’t have it, we won’t have it.”
That’s not entirely the case, for the Bounty Boat, as he calls it, will have a tracking device and a satphone so he can relay updates on a regular basis to Margie, who’ll be running shoreside logistics. (The voyage has been pushed back a year due to her recent back surgery; clearly, it’s not easy keeping pace with her high-energy spouse.) But in nearly every other aspect, the goal is to capture Bligh’s largely miserable experience as faithfully as possible.
“We want the same challenges in keeping the boat afloat,” Don said, adding that the crew will navigate solely by sextant and octant and will carry the same type and amount of rations as Bligh; like their predecessor-and unlike a pair of other Bligh-voyage re-creations in recent times-they won’t stop en route. “We want to feel the same pressures.”
Don’s already recruited one kindred spirit to join the expedition, his young, adventuring protege, Chris Bray. But the other two slots in the four-man team are open and available-for the tidy sum of A$20,000.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Geez, that’s an awful lot of money,’ but I put it to them simply that it’s one way of proving that you’re passionate about doing the trip. Because if you’re not, you’ll never survive it.”
The McIntyres are hoping for one Aussie and one international crewmember to fill out the crew, preferably under the age of 25 or 26. For they’re also committed to opening doors for young adventurers like Bray; to that end, they’ve recently formed a company called McIntyre Adventure.
“We’ve been doing a bit of that quietly, in the background, but we’ve decided to put our whole effort into it and encourage people to get out there and have a go,” Don said. “We’ve been pushing the advantages of responsible risk taking and how it develops character and things like that. Insurance and liability issues are killing the spirit of adventure and changing our culture, and you just can’t do that. We want to encourage adventure, not squash it, and hopefully we’ll get other companies and individuals involved so we can help people start having their own little adventures.”
Clearly, the McIntyres’ own “little” adventures are far from over. On our sail from Antarctica back to Australia those many years ago, I remember asking Donnie what drove him to wander so far off the beaten path, and with great clarity I also recall his answer.
“Well, mate,” he said. “You’re a long time dead.”
What better reason is there to live a life fully engaged?