Archive for May, 2008


These octogenarians – way to go Maam!

May 31, 2008

Having written about 80 year old Barbara Rawlings who is about to go hang gliding I am pleased to bring you this story of another octogenarian who has just completed her first scuba dive.

81 one year old Marge Frisch from Florida, USA has just completed her first scuba dive off the Grand Cayman Islands. For years, Marge Frisch would hear the wonderful stories and see the beautiful photos about Grand Cayman from her daughter Linda Martin.


81–year–old Marge Frisch enjoyed her first dive with Absolute Divers.
Photo: Don Mart

Marge had always wanted to visit such a magical place, but her husband’s health challenges kept her from venturing very far from her Sun City Center, Florida home. This week for the first time, Marge had the opportunity to visit Grand Cayman and took full advantage of the chance.

Like many people, her ultimate goal has been to go scuba diving and experience the underwater world that blesses these islands. The only difference with Marge is that she is 81 years old. Marge keeps an active lifestyle in Sun City Center including swimming in the pool, walking and aerobics but they don’t quite offer scuba diving as an activity.

So, Marge began learning about diving and got comfortable with dive equipment in her daughter’s pool in Tampa. Ready to take on the challenge, Marge teamed up with Mark Sahagian, owner of Absolute Divers and successfully completed her first dive at Stingray City last week.

“What an experience of a lifetime,” chirped Marge after boarding the dive boat. “The coral reef and tropical fish were amazing. Having all the stingrays swim up, around, under and over you is incredible. I can’t believe I actually did it but I am so glad I did.”

Sahagian said Marge did great, “At age 81, Marge is the oldest diving student I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. But let me tell you, she certainly doesn’t act her age. Once we got her ears cleared she was like a fish in the water, immediately taking to the stingrays and checking out the tropical fish and coral reefs.”

Ladies and gentlemen this is another incentive, and another reason, to never say never again – well done Marge.


A comment worth reading

May 30, 2008

I received this comment following my blog about taking out insurance if you are going to practice any form of extreme sport. I thought it was worth putting out for general consumption!

“I read your comments about participants in extreme sports needing to have insurance to cover the costs of rescue efforts. I completely agree that this should be done: it is bad enough to (potentially) expect rescuers to put their lives on the line for a rescue, but it is unacceptable to expect taxpayers to foot the bill for rescues of people who have taken foolish risks.

No doubt you have read “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”. I have and was completely turned off by his lack of consideration for his family and others…given his conduct before he got trapped, it was a matter of time before he was injured or killed in some extreme situation, probably entailing a dangerous rescue. There are quite serious moral issues at stake here…

Of course there is no way to force people to do this, but it should become ingrained in the ethics of these sports that, in participating, you must not place rescuers at undue risk and you should be in a position to pay for rescue costs. That would (might) be expensive and put quite a few people off, but so be it.”

That comment comes from a responsible person who, himself, practices various forms of extreme sport.

Food for thought…


I’m going to fly like a bird on my 80th

May 30, 2008

“‘SUPERGRAN Barbara Rawlings won’t be settling down for a quiet birthday tea party when she turns 80.

Instead, the daredevil pensioner from Coventry will be hang-gliding from a mile above the ground.

Barbara, who lives in Middlecotes, Tile Hill South, and has two sons and a grandson, said keeping active has always been the way of life for her.

She said: “All my life I have kept active playing netball, tennis, I have travelled the world and now I play golf and do yoga.

“I have been in a helicopter but I have always wanted to try hang-gliding and never had the chance before. I don’t need any presents at my age, I have everything I need in life, so I have asked friends and family and anyone else who can to sponsor me to do the flight and the money will be donated to Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.”

Barbara, who moved to the area 10 years ago to look after her sick mother, worked as a medical laboratory scientific officer and spent 10 years in the Middle East.

She was involved in setting up the first women’s hospital in the United Arab Emirates 20 years ago.

She needs to raise £299 to complete the flight at Sywell airfield in Northamptonshire.

On her birthday on July 26, following a lunch with family and friends Mrs Rawlings will be taken up in a microlite and then complete her tandem hang-glide.

Mrs Rawlings says she has never felt scared about trying something new.

She said: “People think I’m mad to do something like this at my age. My family were very surprised, especially my grandson who is 21-years-old this year.

“I am not scared at all. The organisers at Sywell have asked me if want to take out extra insurance but I have said no. It doesn’t bother me.”

Mrs Rawlings has set up a bank account in the charity’s name at Coventry Building Society for anyone who wishes to donate.'”

What a wonderful story. My grandfather was just like Barbara Rawlings – his zest for life could shame us. And he never saw the bad side to anything – he always looked for the good in everything and everyone. What a gift.


BKSA recommendations if you want to start kite surfing

May 29, 2008

You wouldn’t believe it but summer has started in the UK and with that in mind those who are thinking of trying out kite surfing should read the following.

According to the British Kite Surfing Association (BKSA), the best way to get started is to take a 2-3 day kite surfing course at a BKSA approved school. The BKSA recommends that you be able to swim 200m in open water and a good level of physical fitness is required. The good news here is that you don’t have to have super human powers of strength because it’s all about technique.


Like all sports, there are risks involved but if you receive proper tuition to become aware of the hazards and talk to experienced kite surfers then the risks are minimised.

If you do take risks and go out in conditions that you can’t handle (too much wind) then obviously you are increasing the risk level.

It’s important to remain in full control of your kite at all times, and watch your lines, especially if there are other kite surfers out at the same location.

Learning to fly a two-line power kite before you take a course will help you learn significantly faster, though most people are standing by the end of the first day of a three day course.

Within three months you can be a competent kite surfer and within six months to a year you may well be pulling off jumps of 10 – 15 foot.


You are looking at between £500 – 1000 for your start up costs, though it’s nearer to the £500 mark if you buy some of your kit second hand.
You will need:

· An Inflatable kite. You need a kite between 9 – 14m depending on your body weight, but an instructor will be able to tell you which is most suited to you. Expect to pay between £200 – 400 for a used kite, with 5 line types costing the most. A top of the range current model can cost up to £850 but this expenditure is not required until you have convinced yourself that this sport is for you. Initially you will be able to use a kite provided by your instructor.

· A kiteboard and leash. Board-wise you are looking for one between 130 – 150cm in length. The twin tip wakeboard style is ideal as you can ride it in either direction.
For those with a windsurfing or surfing background directional boards are great for speed and light wind conditions, however, the fact that they can only be ridden one way may well hamper your learning curve. Expect to pay around £250 for a second hand board and between £300 – 500 for a new one.
A leash is also a pretty essential piece of kit enabling you to keep the board attached to you when you wipe out- you must use a helmet if you use a leash. Approx £40.

· Lines and control bar. Modern kites normally come complete with lines and bar so you don’t have to worry much about the lines. The line length is dependant on the size of the kite and wind conditions, though most kite surfers use 25m – 30m lines to give the most versatile range for starting, pointing (going upwind) and for jumping. Whichever control device you use, make sure that it has a dependable safety release system, and a depower device. This system should be able to disable the kite completely even in the event that you become unconscious. Expect to pay between £100 – 250 for a control bar.

· A harness. This performs the basic function of attaching you to your kite. There are two types of harness – the seat harness and the waist harness.
As a beginner, the best harness for you is the seat harness as this is less likely to ride up when the kite is in the zenith position (directly above your head) where the kite will probably spend most of its time as you learn. Around £70-£90.

· A helmet. Pretty straight forward, useful for protecting your noggin while racing across the water at speed. Expect to pay between £30 – 50.

· A Wetsuit. This is the UK not Hawaii, you will need one. Your best bet is a winter suit (3/5mm) if you plan to kite surf all year round, though the summer suits are cheaper, thinner and are guaranteed to give you hyperthermia if you wear one in the winter.
A winter wetsuit will cost you between £120 – 220, where as a summer suit will set you back between £80 – 180.

Finally I would like to reiterate that any BKSA accredited instructor will provide all the equipment you need and so the initial expenditure is limited to the cost of the lessons. If you do decide to continue with the sport you will then, after 3 to 5 lessons, have a much better idea of what to buy when you go shopping. My advice is that you should be prepared for this expenditure as ‘once bitten you are forever smitten!’


Rescued Divers’ Heroes or Fools?

May 29, 2008

Remember I talked about the furore created by the 2 scuba divers who came up 200m away from their dive site and were then ‘lost’ at sea for 19hrs – and all the fuss and fanfare that’s gone on since?

Well, it’s not over yet. I picked this up from and was written by an irate citizen,Larissa Cummings:

“It’s hard not to be cynical when comparing the plight of the hard-working majority – those who consider nabbing a seat on the train each morning an extreme sport – with those lucky rescued divers Richard Neely and Allyson Dalton.”

For the simple feat of “surviving” their extreme sport – which also happens to be their job – the couple has been showered with lucrative publishing deals, while the rest of us who live safely and quietly are struggling to afford a holiday. ” So says Larissa.

But the rumbles have seeped through all walks of society.

President of the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association Gary Raymond is worried about the message it sends when people are able to make money from their “acts of stupidity”.

“It makes them out to be survivor heroes, but if they don’t obey the rules of their sport they are just survivor fools,” he said.

“It should be mandatory for people who do extreme activities to have insurance and, if they don’t, they should pay the cost of the rescue.” (A good point I think – my comment)

Mr Raymond said it would send a more preventative message if Neely and Dalton donated all of the money from their story to the rescue associations that saved their lives.

“These sports have rules for a reason. Like the caver (Geoff McDonnell, who got stuck in the Wombeyan Caves) a few weeks ago, these people broke the rules. The chance of the casualty rate rising after that is huge because we have to go into the same environment in which they got themselves into trouble,” he said.

Geoff McDonnell, a diabetic man, was trapped for two days in the Wombeyan Caves in the New South Wales southern highlands. Although an experienced caver, McDonnell went into a remote cave alone on Friday evening to take photographs. At 7:00pm he became trapped after a rock fall. The alarm was raised by other cavers on Saturday morning and he was located at about 9pm on Sunday night by rescue workers. This team was made up of about 30 people, including members of the South Coast Rescue Squad, Binalong Rescue Squad and NSW Police.

Mr McDonnell says the emergency crews saved his life.

He now says his solo caving days are over.

So – back to the subject of insurance. It makes senses doesn’t it? You’re voluntarily participating in an extreme sport – so why take a foolhardy risk by not protecting yourself against an accident… Think of it as an unselfish act. By protecting yourself you are also ensuring that rescue services get paid for the time, effort, and the expertise they give you when coming to your aid.


Awesome rock climbing adventure

May 29, 2008

I know you didn’t believe me when I told you I read the Wall Street Journal but here is another great article, courtesy of Michael J. Yabarra who describes his adventures in Canyonlands National Park, Utah with such entusiasm and in such an entertaining manner that it makes you wish you were there. This is rock climbing at its best and I send out a big shout of thanks to Michael and the Wall Street Journal – read on and enjoy!

“The crack was a thing of imposing beauty, steep and smooth, splitting the red sandstone tower like a bolt from the sky. It was also really hard to climb. The wall was flat, devoid of features; the crack too narrow to take a foot, but too wide to jam my fingers into without their greasing out.

Elizabeth Szyleyko
A ground-level view of Ancient Art, part of the Fisher Towers.

I could climb a few feet off the ground but no further. After flailing wildly for about half an hour, I cheated: I yanked on a camming device I slotted into the crack and pulled myself to where my hand fit better and I could work my way up without resorting to pulling on gear. The climbing became enjoyable, but the fun didn’t last. Soon the crack yawned wider and reared overhead, becoming an overhanging off width — a term of dread among climbers.

I hauled myself into the gap, the void swallowing almost half of my body, desperately trying to twist my right arm and leg into an elusive combination of shapes that wouldn’t slide out. Grunting and groaning, I slowly struggled upward a few crucial inches until the crevice opened wide enough that I could securely wedge my whole body into it and catch my breath.

Next, I had to grab a small hold with my right hand, shuffle my toes on a rail of rock, lean sideways until I could barely reach my left fingers around a corner, and then delicately transfer my weight and finish the traversing move to a good stance where I belayed my partner Liz up to me. Whew.

It was time to enjoy the view. We were scaling North Six Shooter, which rises dramatically from the fringe of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. North Six Shooter (along with its shorter sibling, South Six Shooter) is a sheer sandstone tower crowning a huge talus cone that etches an unforgettable silhouette against the desert sky.

Around us spread the massive Colorado Plateau, which stretches across four Southwestern states — a stunning, crumbling tableau of erosion that opens a geology textbook writ large everywhere you look. Plateau is something of a misnomer, however, since the landscape is constantly relieved: cut by great canyons, hogbacked with buttes and mesas, and pierced with spires — many of which are catnip to climbers. I spent most of April climbing towers around the Moab area. Toward the end of the month, as spring wildflower season began splashing color across the desert, my friend Liz arrived. She’d never climbed a tower before, let alone sandstone. For some reason, I decided to introduce Liz to desert climbing by ascending North Six Shooter via the Lightning Bolt Cracks route (a 5.11 on the climbing scale, which is to say fairly difficult).

Liz didn’t have too much trouble with the first pitch, but the next rope length was a different story. Crack climbing becomes dramatically easier — or harder — depending on the size of a person’s hands. Looming above us was a massive roof cleaved by a wide, fist-sized crack. This looked like good news for me; not so good for Liz.

I pushed my fists into the crack above my head, stuffed my feet in as well, and struggled to pull over the roof. I fell off, discovering the hard way that the crack becomes too wide in places even for my big mitts. On my next attempt, I managed to fight my way up.

Entering a chimney, I wedged my body against opposing walls while the ground below me dropped away to hundreds of feet of empty air and a perfectly framed view of South Six Shooter, which so amazed me that I froze in midmove to admire the scenery.

The chimney stopped, forcing me to reach blindly over a roof, groping for a crack to pull myself out onto the face of the tower. I found a crack, but my feet slipped off the sandy, sloping footholds — and suddenly I was hanging by a single hand jam, my legs kicking uselessly in space.

Then it was Liz’s turn. I grew a bit alarmed when the rope barely budged during the better part of an hour. Eventually she came gasping to the belay and told me what had happened. The crack had proved as difficult as expected, so she decided to aid through the roof, standing in slings attached to gear. But the rope got entangled with the gear, and after much effort she found herself hanging even lower than before. Finally a climbing team on a nearby route offered to drop a line to her, which Liz ascended Batman-style, hand over hand. On the way up she also dropped a carabiner — something I’ve never seen her do before.

I was even more clumsy. Fishing in my pocket for my topo (route map), I realized I must have dropped it earlier. Moving through a tight gap, I felt something unsnap from my harness and tumble toward the ground.

“It looked like your camera,” Liz said.

Actually, it was my brother’s camera. (Sorry, Gary.)

Entering a squeeze chimney before the summit, a space so narrow that turning your head sideways was impossible, I eased off my sunglasses and tried to stuff them into a pocket. You can guess what happened.

Soon we were standing on top, reveling in a panoramic view, vast canyons snaking this way and that, buttes cutting into the sky, eons of geology falling away to the horizon in tiers of sedimentary history.

Over the next week we climbed a number of desert classics. There was Ancient Art, a blood-red pile of mud topped by a corkscrew-shaped finial, part of the Fisher Towers and famous for its poor rock quality (“the most hideous sandstone imaginable,” author Stewart Green called it). I was hoping that stories of climbers pulling out protection bolts with their hands were exaggerated, but the first hold I touched crumbled into dust.

The climbing, thankfully, was not very hard (5.10a, we thought, instead of the official rating of 5.10d). Low on the route I was pinching pebbles embedded (I hoped) in a mud wall. High up there were a couple of delicate moves on suspiciously friable sandstone and then I was walking (crawling actually) across a rock bridge no wider than my waist before pulling myself up a series of bulges and then mantling onto a summit about the size of a large pizza box. A fierce wind was blowing and I didn’t have the guts to stand upright on the pinnacle. Liz, when her turn came, did.

Then there was Castleton Tower, a blocky 400-foot tower of Wingate sandstone, sitting atop a 1,000-foot cone of lesser rock. Much of the rock is covered with white calcite deposits that make for excellent climbing. We went up the north chimney route, gaining a huge summit with great views of the Fisher Towers and the Colorado River across the valley and the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the east.

None of the other towers, however, really compared with North Six Shooter. Maybe it was the fact that we had to work so hard to get up — or that for all my clumsiness the tower seemed quite forgiving of my foibles. After we rappelled to the bottom, I walked back to where we had left our packs. Sitting next to mine was the missing topo.

Looking around I quickly found the dropped carabiner. A little more searching turned up my sunglasses — none the worse for a 300-foot fall. Then we located the camera; It was intact and actually worked.

Even Liz, after the fact, seemed to enjoy the climb. Driving past North Six Shooter another day, she shook a well-bruised fist at the tower and made an oath. “Just wait,” she said, “until I get better at crack. I’ll be back.”

Mr. Ybarra is the author of “Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt.”


Air race first in two countries at the same time

May 28, 2008

The next installment of the Red Bull Air Racing World Series moves to a course built over the Detroit River between Detroit in the USA and Windsor in Canada and will be held on May 31st and June 1st.

Created in 2001 the air show now visits 10 cities worldwide, each with its own unique features and recognizable backdrop. The automotive city, aviation beacon and stunning skyline will be the stage for 12 world class pilots who will be judged on speed, flying precision and skill. Not only is the air race being held in two countries for the first time but it is the first time this world series has been to Detroit.

Pilots must navigate their lightweight planes on a low-level race track made up of air-filled pylons, flying at speeds reaching 230 mph, while withstanding forces up to 10 Gs. The object is to complete the course and steer through 65 foot high inflatable pylons – or air gates – in the fastest possible time.

“Planes race only 10-20 feet above the water. Unlike other air shows, the Red Bull Air Race takes place at eye-level providing amazing views of high performance race planes flown by some of the best pilots in the world right in front of you,” says Maddy Stephens, Red Bull communications manager.

Speed is not all. Pilots must also pass between the air gates in the correct position, if not, penalty seconds are tacked on. The pilot who accumulates the most points at each race and at the end of the season wins the Red Bull Air Race World champion crown.

Spectators will also get a chance to check-out the race pits from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 31st at the Metro Airport. Tickets on the Detroit side are sold out, but tickets are still available on the Windsor side. Another extreme sport which is certainly attracting the crowds.

Pilots in the Red Bull World Series Air Race scheduled to race in Detroit over the weekend May 31st/June 1st