Gino Watkins – “Northern Lights”

Numerous books have been written either about Gino Watkins or concerning his exploits in the 1920’s and early 1930’s prior to his untimely death in the waters of eastern Greenland, an area which very few modern paddlers complete with the equipment of the 21st Century venture into.  How much more demanding must have these travels been when undertaken in the equipment of the day?
Watkins is credited with being the first English man to be able to roll his kayak.  A  skill which he thought was essential to master if the aim was to supplement the food supplies with locally caught species.  It was this desire to live off the land which probably cost Watkins his life, although no body was ever found his kayak was recovered and is preserved today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The book, which is probably easiest to acquire today, is simply called “Gino Watkins” by J M Scott.  It seems that most second hand bookshops, which are searched, will reveal a copy of this book.
A less common title is “Northern Lights” by Spencer Chapman.  It was the official record of the expedition in the 1930’s, which was trying to find an air route from Europe to North America.  I had been looking for a copy for several years when, in the mid 1990’s, I came across a copy at a bookseller in London.  The fact that it was store in a locked glass cabinet should have been enough of a signal that this was a book, which was out of my price range, but curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see exactly what it was like.  Once I had regained my composure after seeing the price, it cost more than some of the cars I have bought in the past, I was able to savour the delights within.  It was a joy to behold and as I opened the covers it only got better.  The author Spencer Chapman had signed it, but more importantly it contained the original cutting from The London Times announcing the death of Watkins.  This was before the contents of the book were reached.  I knew that this was an important volume but one that I was unable to justify buying without discussing at home.  Marriages have probably fallen apart for a lesser sum!

Northern Lights

I reluctantly placed the book back in the hands of the shop assistant and left with his card in my hand and hope in my heart.  After discussion at home it was decided that there could be no better Christmas present for the paddling bibliophile than this particular volume, “Northern Lights”.  It was with some relief that I was able to order the book over the telephone a few days later.  Today it occupies pride of place on my paddling bookshelf.

Northern Lights
The inscription inside the front cover written by F. Spencer Chapman plus the cutting from The Times newspaper of the 7th September 1932.

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