84-year old set to cross Atlantic on a raft

84-year old British adventurer Anthony Smith has big plans for 2011. In January of next year, he and three other men, will attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean aboard a raft made out of plastic gas pipes. Setting out from the Canary islands, they’ll cover more than 2800 miles, in 60 days, finishing up in the Bahamas sometime in March. If successful, it’ll be the culmination of a dream that Smith has waited nearly 60 years to see realized.

The former RAF pilot has led quite a life of adventure. Back in 1963 he became the first Briton to cross the Alps in a hot air balloon and he has explored east Africa by balloon as well. He is also an accomplished filmmaker and the author of more than 30 books. The ocean crossing has been his goal for most of his life however, and five years ago he took a big step towards making it a reality when he took out an advertisement in the Telegraph, a popular paper in the U.K. That ad simply read: “Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.”

From that advertisement, Smith found his crew, and he’ll now be joined on the voyage by 57-year old yachtsman David Hildred, 61-year old hot air balloonist Robin Batchelor, and Andy Bainbridge, who at 56, is the young man of the group. Bainbridge is an experienced sailor and long time friend of Smith.

The raft is being built out of 13-yard sections of pipe that will have both ends sealed, trapping the air inside and making the craft buoyant. There will also be two small shelters, built from pig huts, that will provide the crew a respite from the elements, and a small fence will line the outside of the boat to prevent them from falling overboard. The simple boat has been dubbed the An-Tiki, a nod to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, and will have an “elderly crossing” sign on the sail.

Smith and his team hope to take advantage of the strong trade winds that arrive in January so that they can avoid the Atlantic storm season and finish the voyage on schedule.

[Photo credit: Andre Crowley]

Ryanair dumps passengers on wrong island – doesn’t care

A planeload of passengers on a Ryanair flight from the UK to Lanzarote (one of the Spanish Canary Islands) learned the hard way that low cost carriers carry a hidden price.

Instead of landing in Lanzarote, the plane landed in Fuerteventura (about 30 miles from their intended destination).

Bad weather had forced the plane to divert, but usually when a plane has to divert, a normal airline takes care of its customers.

Obviously, Ryanair isn’t considered to be a normal airline, so the passengers were told to get off the plane, and after refueling, the plane took off, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves.

There were no Ryanair staff at the airport, and with no way to reach anyone from the airline, the passengers had to book hotels for themselves.

The next morning, the passengers were able to grab a ferry to their correct destination, losing a night of their vacation and any hotel nights they had booked.

A Ryanair spokesman confirmed that the flight had indeed been diverted, but was quick to point out that “if flight disruption is outside the control of the airline, no monetary compensation is due.”

So there you have it – flying with Ryanair really is a gamble, and you don’t even know whether you’ll actually arrive at your destination. Perhaps they can make some more money by starting a “will we get to our destination” lottery on their flights.

(Image: Getty)
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Details about the Cunard ship the Queen Elizabeth

The maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth, Cunard’s latest cruise ship endeavor, won’t be until October 12, 2010 when it sets sail from England for the Canary Islands. Details about what the ship will feature have begun to be revealed.

It sounds fancy–more than fancy. Polished wood, marble, artwork that depicts the royal palaces, and special dining rooms for people who have paid more money add to the luxury of ocean travel. The ship’s design incorporates aspects of the QE2 and the original Queen Elizabeth.

In this USA Today article about the ship, one line made me laugh a bit. The senior executive for Cunard said that the ship would make passengers feel “‘right at home.’”

Yes, I know he means that people will feel comfortable despite the ship’s wow factor, but whenever I’m around marble and polished wood, I’m reminded about how it doesn’t seem like my home at all. For me, that’s one reason to take a cruise. The photo is of the Garden Lounge that was designed to evoke an image of Kew Gardens’ conservatory.

You can start booking tickets on the Queen Elizabeth on April 2nd. Here’s the booking link.

Another Low-Cost Carrier Fails

Low-cost-carrier LTE ceased to operate today because of its financial predicament. The Spanish carrier stopped booking flights on Thursday, but some would-be holidaymakers were left with luggage in hand, waiting to get from rainy England to the sunny Canaries. LTE specialized in such routes and worked closely with several English tour operators.

LTE was not a newcomer to the LCC game. It has been operating for 20 years and, though its executives claim that they are trying to find a solution to their financial woes, the current state of the industry isn’t going to lend itself to any quick recoveries. Thomas Cooke Airlines, a charter service based in Manchester, is among the players stepping in to service LTE’s passengers and the tour operators that relied on the now defunct airline in the past. With European LCCs coming and going (mostly going, these days), one can almost hear Elton John crooning “The Circle of Life.” when all is said and done, the biggest beast, Ryanair and EasyJet, might be the only survivors.

Toboggan Riding in Madeira

A friend of mine is writing a fictional memoir of her mother’s life. It’s fictious because she is imagining the specific details, but the big picture events she is writing about, for the most part, happened. One big picture event was when her mother went to Madeira on a Canary Islands cruise as the personal maid of a wealthy woman. My writing group feasts on the details.

While doing research for the flavorful details she could add in to make the story about her mother’s trip more vivid and real, my friend came across information about wicker basket toboggan rides in Monte. This was a memory jog. Her mother told her about these when my friend was growing up. Even though my friend’s mother may have whizzed down the streets in a basket built for two years ago, you can still do this.

It took looking at this You Tube video for me to fully get the picture. This looks like a blast and funky enough that if you go here, you just have to do it. Here’s Louise Douglas’s account of her Canary islands travels. In her article, “Boatgirl,” she fills in details about her experiences that includes this ride.