One of Our Balloons is Missing

Clive Tully wearing Rohan trousers with Spirit of Cardiff, Portsmouth, 2003

This month Rohantime caught up with Clive Tully. Most of Clive’s 30 year career as a journalist has been spent travelling the world engaging in all manner of activities in the pursuit of a good story. We caught up with Clive just after he had finished putting together his first ebook “One of our Balloons is Missing”. An anthology of some of Clive’s more colourful adventures, available in electronic edition from Amazon’s Kindle store. We took this opportunity to ask Clive a few questions especially about his upcoming attempt at the round the world offshore powerboating record this autumn.

You’ve had a long career in Outdoor Journalism how do you view the Outdoor Scene today?

I was very lucky to find myself in outdoors journalism just at the point when a massive revolution was taking place in the late 70s and early 80s. Things like tents, walking boots and waterproofs had remained pretty much unchanged for the previous 50 years, and then suddenly a sea change took place as manufacturers took advantage of new materials, and designers started thinking about what they could do to make the outdoor experience safer and more comfortable. I like to think that I contributed to that revolution in my equipment reviews, because if I found fault in something, I would always come back with a suggestion on how to make it better. And as one of the younger reviewers on the scene at the time, I was also more open to radical new ways of doing things.

There’s no doubt that today’s outdoor scene is thriving, but I do worry that the number of people venturing into more challenging situations without the proper knowledge or equipment seems to be on the rise. More and more people are being plucked off the mountainsides by mountain rescue teams who are finding them ill-equipped and not really knowing what they were doing. And while I’m a huge fan of GPS, it also concerns me that we have a generation of people who rely on it solely, and wouldn’t know what to do if they had to navigate purely by map and compass.


One of Our Balloons is Missing an intriguing title for your new ebook. Is electronic publishing the way forward?

One of Our Ballons is Missing Kindle e bookThe book is an anthology of features that have appeared in newspapers and magazines over the past 30 years. The title story is about my taking part in the first ever hot air balloon meeting, in 1990, in Soviet Russia. It was being covered by a TV crew, but amazingly I was the only print journalist there. I was even assigned my own KGB minder, but rather far removed from James Bond stuff – he was a spotty youth with his belongings in a plastic carrier bag. He got very upset the day I gave him the slip in one of those huge Russian department stores.

I have to say when the Kindle first came out, I couldn’t imagine that people would cotton on to it as massively as they have. I still think you can’t beat the feel of real paper in your hands, and of course a paperback book comes out of being dropped onto a concrete floor a lot better than an electronic e-reader. But Kindles are very light, lots of people are using them, and just as Rohan broke new ground all those years ago, electronic publishing is definitely something we need to embrace. Read more on Clives new ebook


I understand that for all the 46 stories in One of Our Balloons is Missing you wore Rohan Clothing. How much Rohan Clothing do you have in your wardrobe.

I have a couple of those blue airtight plastic barrels used on expeditions crammed full of Rohan clothing. I did have a pair of original Mark 1 Rohan Bags (with the steel D ring), but I let the Rohan shop in Covent Garden have them to put on display when it opened a few years back. I hope they’re looking after them! I have a lot of other early models, including the original Jekyll and Hyde, and the Pampas, which most definitely was ahead of its time.


In recent years you have developed a keen interest in power boat racing.
Someone once said ocean race was like standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills does it also apply to power boat racing?

Not racing in the sense of against other boats – this was offshore powerboating, very long-distance, and yes, it is very expensive, so it’s all about finding sponsors with very deep pockets. It came about by accident. I’d badly injured my ankle on a trek in Kazakhstan in 1998, and as a result was unable to do any serious walking for about a year. I drifted into writing about various watery pursuits, learning to sail and so on, and it was then that I was introduced to Alan Priddy, who had just built the world’s largest Rigid Inflatable Boat (10 metres) with a view to attempting to break the official powerboat world circumnavigation record, which had just been set by a multi-million pound superboat called Cable & Wireless Adventurer.

Clive Tully up close and personal with an iceberg, during 2003 transatlantic

What started out as an intention for me to do just a short trip of two or three hours immediately became my joining the crew to take part in the first ever attempt to set a record for circumnavigating the British Isles. The only existing record was set by Steve Fossett in a sailing yacht – no powerboat had ever done it before. It was like a cash register going off in my head – I’d never taken part in a world record attempt before. The first trip out ended rather dramatically when we hit a semi-submerged container off Lizard Point, and had to be towed ashore by lifeboat. The second attempt a month later we ran into some seriously bad weather south of Ireland that hadn’t been forecast. On our way back to Portsmouth we spent a night in Torquay, and it was there Alan said “do you want to come round the world with us?” There was no “can you let me think about it for a while”. I just said “yes, please.”

We did a number of trips in Spirit of Cardiff, including setting the official powerboat transatlantic record from New York to Lizard Point. Ten years on it still stands. Sadly we didn’t get the level of funding we really needed to do the round the world trip properly in 2002, but we went ahead and did it anyway. It was an epic voyage – we blew up several gearboxes, had all manner of illness and injuries (the ride in a RIB is utterly brutal), we were arrested in Russia, and we had several brushes with pirates. It all made for a fabulous book (Confronting Poseidon) and TV documentary.


What trips do you have planned in the near future.

I’m off to the Faroes in April to do some hiking and birdwatching, but really everything is looking forward to my next big boating trip later this year. Alan Priddy is about to start building a wave-piercing superboat in order to have another crack at the round the world record in the autumn, which since the Spirit of Cardiff has been trimmed down to 61 days by the New Zealand boat Earthrace. We think we can do it in under 50. You can put your face on the cabin roof for just £10, so it’s a good opportunity for everyone to come around the world with me. Check it out at www.circumnavigationrecord.com.


We know you love to blow your own trumpet are you still into the jazz scene.

Clive Tully wearing Rohan on stage at 2010 Cromer CarnivalNot jazz, but rock. Back in the mid-70s I played bass guitar in a rock band that was very nearly famous. Life could have taken a very different turn if the Sex Pistols hadn’t come along and made record companies want to sign punk bands instead of musicians who could play with their instruments in tune! I still play for fun in a rock covers band called Firewire (www.firewireband.co.uk). For the third year running we’re headlining at Cromer Carnival on the 17th August. It’ll be a fabulous day, not least because it’s one of the few occasions where I can say I had the Red Arrows as my support act!

Contact Clive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*