‘The First English Explorer’… and a much more recent one

The late author and Explorer Kit Mayers on the first Greenpeace mission to Antarctica.

This content is very dear to my heart, as it centres around my grandfather, Kit Mayers, who died in January. He was a big influence on me. No dragging or cajoling, but his stubborn adventurousness, stoicism and passion for the world was quietly inspirational.

Kit was a sailor, doctor, explorer, activist, mountaineer and researcher. He sailed round the world with Sir Chay Blythe on ‘United Friendly’ in the Whitbread Race 1981-2. He was part of the first Greenpeace Expedition to Antarctica in 1987. Young family in tow, he spent a year doctoring in Newfoundland, including working aboard a hospital ship serving remote coastal communities.

Settling in North Devon in his latter years, Kit helped in the restoration of the 1900 three-masted schooner ‘Kathleen & May’ in Bideford, including sailing aboard for some of her first post-refit voyages to carry cargo from France.

I stayed with him for a night as I walked the South West Coast Path in 2010. The 630 mile hike was an urge I had after finishing University. We spoke about exploration. “Why do we do these things?” It was a question he asked throughout his life. He never stopped doing those things.

Completing a Master’s degree in Maritime History in retirement, Kit wrote two insightful books on the history of exploration. The first was on Stephen Borough: ‘North East Sea Passage to Muscovy’. His final piece of work: ‘The First English Explorer’, details the travels and discoveries of Anthony Jenkinson in the sixteenth century.

Following his death, we have a small run of copies of ‘The First English Explorer’ which need reading and enjoying. We are selling these in Kit’s memory, with all proceeds going to Greenpeace.

The fundamental mark of an explorer is not necessarily miles travelled, or discoveries made, but inquisitiveness about and respect for our planet.

The late author and Explorer Kit Mayers about to set off on the first Greenpeace mission to Antarctica. With Ian Balmer Gerry Johnson and Ralph John 1986.

Anthony Jenkinson: “The First English Explorer”

Anthony Jenkinson was the great Elizabethan explorer. With very little information, he travelled through the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, across the Caspian Sea and the dreaded Kara Kum Desert, and reached the Silk Route to Cambaluc (Beijing). Despite all the storms, shallows, severe illness, predatory local rulers and several attacks by pirates and brigands, he kept going.

He was eventually forced to turn back at Bukhara, due to heavy fighting ahead. After this, he made another great exploration to the sophisticated country of Persia, where he nearly had his head cut off. He was appointed ambassador to Russia, gaining the respect of the pathological tyrant Ivan the Terrible. It was his skill that restored the trading rights of the Muscovy Company after Ivan had abolished them in a fit of rage. His detailed reports back to the Muscovy Company in London describe the very different countries of Russia, Tartary and Persia, the people he had seen, and the numerous attacks and adventures that he had along the way.

A lively and carefully researched study of Anthony Jenkinson, the unsung hero and the great pioneer of English overland exploration.

Ranulph Fiennes, OBE

Colourblind sailor and jumped-up cook

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