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Meet Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his Saga adventure

Saga invites you to spend 48 hours in the company the world's greatest living explorer, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Joining the Jewels of the Canary Islands cruise on Saga Pearl II this November, Sir Ran will entertain and enthrall with tales of his remarkable, record-breaking adventures. It's just one included highlight of this spectacular small-ship cruise.

The life of a landlubber

In conversation with Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE

He was the first to reach both the North and South Poles by surface travel, is the oldest Briton ever to conquer Everest, and has broken countless endurance records. But will the world’s greatest living explorer succumb to mere seasickness next time he cruises with Saga? Writer Ben Gibson finds out…

‘Of course most of my achievements have been on land’, says ‘Sir Ran’, rather modestly. ‘But when it comes to the ocean, I do actually get terribly seasick.’ 

It’s a frank admission from the adventurer widely recognised as one of the greatest in history, as he speaks to me from his home in Exmoor.

‘The first time I really experienced seasickness was on expedition ships in the Arctic and Antarctic waters. On those vessels it was the crew’s job to take us right there, to crash through the ice and land us. And then a year, perhaps 18 months later, to pick us up on the other side. If we ever got to the other side that is!

‘More recently, I sailed around Cape Horn with Robin Knox-Johnston, the greatest solo sailor of all time, and I was sick once again. So it hasn’t gone away.’

Tongue-in-cheek, I ask if he’s worried about his next ocean adventure, this time with Saga. He laughs, ‘Well I’ll put lots of those patches on, but I’m not sure if they’ll really do the job. I just hope that the waters around the Canary Islands are kinder to me.’

Sir Ran is referring to his upcoming cruise this November aboard Saga Pearl II. Having previously joined a Saga cruise in search of the Northern Lights in 2015, this time he’ll be swapping the chill of Norway for sunnier climes, on an itinerary calling at the Canaries and Madeira. Are they islands he knows well?

‘My family are half South African and half Brit, so when I was just a few months old I was aboard the Winchester Castle ship going down to Cape Town. Obviously I was too young to remember that one. But I do recall when I came back aged about 11 or 12 on another ship, and we stopped off at Madeira. It’s a stunning place.’

Having seen so much of the world, I wonder if there’s anywhere he’s yet to visit? ‘Believe it or not I’ve never been to China or Mongolia. I would really love to see the Mongolian desert.’

I ask if it’s a place he’ll visit as part of a new expedition. He is tight-lipped, ‘I can’t talk about any plans, unfortunately. What I do is a competitive business, and believe it or not there are people out there who love to get there first. So everything has to remain secret.’ It just adds to the mystery of the man.

As well as expeditions and writing, he has now forged a career as a lecturer and speaker. What does he have in store for Saga’s guests?

‘I’m looking forward to talking about my 40-plus years of exploration. I’ll be covering my life and my attempts at breaking world records, in hot and cold countries. I will also show a film of the first-ever vertical journey around Earth, which is narrated by the late Richard Burton. Of course I’ll also be there if people want to ask questions, which always makes me happy.’

Sir Ran famously became a father at the age of 62. How has he managed fatherhood a little later in life? ‘I find discipline hard, and to be honest, my wife is really much better at it. When I’m on expeditions I’m pretty good at discipline. I have to be. But when faced with trying to reprimand little Elizabeth, well that’s more difficult.’

Finally, when asked what he considers to be his greatest achievement in life, of all of his records and accomplishments, Sir Ran once again returns to his family. ‘Having two incredible wives, my first marriage for 38 years to Ginny, and now Louise. I’ve been very lucky. So that’s it, not so much achievement, but amazing luck.’

Find out more about this cruise here Jewels of the Canary Islands.


Portrait of Sir Ranulph Fiennes © Levon Biss