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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 13:59 GMT
Britain's new wave of explorers
First a 27-year-old breaks a record by walking to the South Pole, then, within days, a 23-year-old trumps him. Meanwhile, a boy of 15 sails the Atlantic solo. And they are all British!

Empire may be a distant memory, but British explorers and adventurers live on. What's more, it seems youth is no deterrent for the current crop.

In the past three weeks alone, feats of derring-do have earned young British discoverers a clutch of records.

But it is no co-incidence that such triumphs are often crowned by a Union Flag. These adventurers are following in a long-line of great British explorers, says Ted Grey, secretary of the Young Explorers Trust.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618): organised voyages of discovery to the Atlantic seaboard of north America
Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890): explorer of East Africa; discovered Lake Tanganyika
Sir Earnest Shackleton (1874-1922): led expeditions to Antarctica and located south magnetic pole
Mr Grey believes we are seeing Britain's "Third Age of Discovery".

"The first age was during the reign of Elizabeth I, with the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake. Then came the Victorian Era, with Stanley, Livingstone, Sir Richard Burton," says Mr Grey.

The latest era of exploration has been helped along by schemes and societies that exist to encourage exactly this sort of boldness.

Helping schemes

It used to be private schools that would send pupils to the four corners of the Earth. But in the 70s comprehensive schools had got involved, says Mr Grey, and the launch of schemes such as Operations Drake and Raleigh in the 80s fuelled young people's spirit for adventure.

"We are an island nation. We've always had to go somewhere, to cross the water to be anywhere. I think adventure is in the psyche of the British and we have it fed to us in children's books and television."

So, who are the current crop of young British explorers? Here, we offer a snapshot.

Tom Avery
Tom Avery, 27, finance director from London

In the last days of 2002, Avery became the youngest Briton to walk to the South Pole, accompanied by Patrick Woodhead, who is just one month his senior. The pair braved Antarctic winds and temperatures as low as minus 30C on the 702-mile (1,130km) trek and Avery suffered frostbite to his face.


Andrew Cooney
Andrew Cooney, 23, scout leader from Nottinghamshire

Five days after Avery's triumph, Cooney took his title and, in turn, became the youngest person ever to reach the South Pole on foot. Cooney suffered his fair share of "battle scars" including altitude sickness and an injured shoulder. A lieutenant in the Territorial Army, Cooney planned to raise 10,000 for charity.


Seb Clover
Seb Clover, 15, from Cowes, Isle of Wight

This week schoolboy Seb became the youngest person to sail solo across the Atlantic, after making the 2,700-mile (4,345km) crossing from Tenerife to Antigua. Seb had been in training for three years and set the record as part of a race against his father, Ian Clover. The pair sailed identical 32ft yachts and, although his father won the race, Seb had the last laugh. "He doesn't walk away with the world record and I do," he said.


Edward "Bear" Grylls, 28, former Etonian and son of late Tory MP Sir Michael Grylls.

An adventurer in the mould of the old swashbuckling hero, Grylls became the youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest in 1998, aged just 23. And that followed a parachuting accident in Southern Africa while he was with the SAS. Grylls' next challenge is to be the first to cross the north Atlantic, via the Arctic Circle, in an open-rigged, inflatable boat.


Ellen Macarthur
Ellen MacArthur, 26, yachtswoman extraordinaire from Derbyshire

MacArthur sprang to the public's attention in February 2001 when, at 24, she became the fastest woman and fastest Briton ever to circumnavigate the globe by sea. Weathering storms, icy seas, exhaustion, rigging failures, she became an instant celebrity. But despite the media attention, her first love remains sailing and she is currently preparing for a new word record attempt - hoping to go round the world in under 64 days.


Simon Chalk, 30,from Devon and Robert Munslow, 24, from Monmouth

The pair plan to row 3,000 miles across the Indian Ocean in record time in May. Chalk (left), a property developer, has already made one attempt. Last year he and previous partner Bill Greaves were flipped over by a freak wave 60 miles off Australia, leaving them stranded for 15 hours in shark-infested waters waiting to be rescued. With Munslow, the pair will be in an improved boat, which should be able to correct itself if it is capsized.


Jake Meyer
Jake Meyer, 18, from Gloucestershire

Meyer could be one to watch. He is planning to conquer the "seven summits" - the highest peaks on the seven continents. He was just 15 when he scaled Mt Kilimanjaro to see the new millennium dawn. His goal is to be the youngest person ever to have climbed the seven mountains - and he is well on his way. Last year he climbed Mt Elbrus in Russia, and then he is believed to have been the youngest person ever to climb the highest mountain in South America, Mt Aconcagua.

In February he is going to Indonesia, where he intends to tackle the Carstensz Pyramid mountain, and in June to Alaska to attempt Mt McKinley. Meyer is on his gap year before going to study civil engineering at Bristol University, after which he will go to Sandhurst.

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15 Jan 03 | UK
03 Jan 03 | England
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