We facilitated another Charity row and this time it was for Bedford Daycare Hospice at the request of Suzanne Sharp, a personal friend who has been fighting her own battle for health over the last 18 months.
Suzanne has been a truly inspirational figure to so many people and it was an honour that she agreed to have her name added to ‘Lisa Too’ as one of our ‘ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things.’
The row this time was from Bedford out to The Wash – that was the plan with a view that Lisa Too would get her keel wet in salt water for the first time for many years.
The trip was approximately 86 miles with the last stretch from Denver Sluice near Downham Market, to Kings Lynn and out onto The Wash….best laid plans and all that!
The people carrying out the challenge are perhaps the most remarkable part of the story – remember we are talking about rowing the equivalent of a marathon each day for three days and the two lads stepping up to this are just 12 and 14 years old – Max and Sebastian Sogan.
Their involvement came via their father David, a good friend of mine and he was looking for a mini adventure for his lads and a good cause to support – from this the ‘B2Sea’ was born.
It was tough! Setting off at 10am on Sunday morning and finishing around 2pm on Tuesday afternoon with two nights asleep in the boat for the boys or in bivvy bags on the bank for Dad and I.
Due to various circumstances we missed the lock closure time at St Neots on Day 1 which gave us a four hour delay going into Day 2 and was something we were never going to catch up despite a huge effort on the oars from David, backed up by me and with the support of the boys as and when they were up for it. Dinner on the first night was on the riverbank near St Neots lock and compised of pilau rice mixed with boiled rice, added chicken tikka masala, a top note of chili con carne mixed in – finishing with beef ravioli – luxury!
We had a visit that night from Star Club Head Junior Coach Ally Satchwill and Jess Haines – bringing a welcome injection of extra chocolate, some chat, laughs and an opportunity to test the ‘binocular flask’ full of Macallan whisky – good work!
We had to row hard from the next morning, not least because of a perpetual headwind so the boat felt even heavier than usual; as a result the sheer physicality required was beyond what the lads really had available. However, when called to action they stoically stuck at their tasks be it on the oars or sat on the cabin roof steering for hour after hour in pretty miserable conditions and through part of the night.
There were the usual events aboard the boat ‘bubble’. Great moments of physical endeavour from everyone; some great laughs; use of the bucket; some tensions around getting things done; more than anything it strikes home how people start to find their place on board and settle into becoming expert at the things they are best at and the crew then pulling together.
The little things make all the difference from rations, setting locks, steering, rowing, attitude – and probably most challenging for my crew mates, my terrible taste in music….if it’s not 80s heavy rock it can’t be music so the AC/DC classic, Higway to Hell ended up with more than one meaning on board and a largely music free trip – you gotta keep people happy….!
That night we had a run in with the shallows in pitch darkness and as with all ‘capsize moments’ we could not see it coming and it happened at the worst possible moment – Seb and Max had been hanging on waiting for phone reception to go live on BBC 3 Counties radio – no reception, run aground, rudder pops off, all swap positions so I can lean out the back of the boat to get the rudder back on, the boys go out on deck…….and then we get reception and the phone rings. There followed a massively hurried interview as the phone gets passed from me to David to Seb – who then had 15 seconds to say thank you to the Beefeater to Daniel Lewis and get a check in for his birthday! Legend!
Day 3 started after Seb’s birthday the night before held in the Lazy Otter pub which we had pushed onto during the night to meet the boys’ mum, Judit who came along with Seb’s birthday cake. We also had Daniel Lewis of LWS Group join us for the essential job of towing the boat back the following day.
The Lazy Otter had plenty of alternative names offered up, The Mad Mongoose, The Furry Ferret, The Wild Weasel – it is best to say that the final alternative name selected is one that goes under the heading of ‘What goes on tour, stays on tour!’ – as does Seb’s ‘joke of the trip!’
Daniel was lined up to run a night of bushcraft for us but we were so late running and so exhausted from the days rowing that a meal in the pub was a much better option!
The following morning it was shift work between Daniel, me and David with 20 minutes on and 10 minutes off to try and keep the boat speed up.
The boys really stepped up to the mark on this section – it had been a featureless 14 miles of river and we had to find ways to maintain the boat speed. This meant all of us digging deep and Seb and Max jumped in for regular and far more intense rowing sessions than before to support whichever adult was on the oars with them.
To be honest it was pretty brutal and they handled this so well, jumping in and out of the rowing seats whoever else was on and whichever seat it was so we could keep the pressure on. As a result we relentlessly closed in on Denver Sluice, knowing we had missed our window for the outgoing tide and we would have to end the trip at the Sluice.
At a place called Ten Mile Reach, Daniel was picked up by Judit to go back and collect his truck and in no time, out on the water, we had reached the last few miles where Max and Seb stepped into the rowing positions yet again and rowed us into the landing stage at Denver Sluice and the finish. The boys stuck it out though and in the end we did not miss the tide by much – but that was still enough to stop us there – or wait 24 hours for the next safe tide which was a non starter – gallant effort springs to mind! We had to miss out the tidal part out to The Wash and to be honest I think we were all grateful for that – we were knackered!!
In parts we were tired, relieved, exhausted, happy, fractious, spent, glad it was over, sad that it was over; all the things expected at the end of an expedition. As we look back I hope we all get a great sense of satisfaction.
It looks like we will have raised something like £2,500 for people who need this sort of support – and from two young kids, 12 & (now!) 15 remember.
Yes, we failed to reach our original objective but as we say at Atlantic Experience, ‘We can only fail if we dare to try.’ Everyone on the boat dared to try and that takes courage to overcome our fear of the unknown, fear of what could be ahead of us, and find that courage within to go and do something ‘extra-ordinary.’ Well rowed Max and Seb!
Addendum: I am writing this nearly 3 weeks after the event and the ‘ripples’ the boys have generated from taking on the trip continue to touch people. We will be going back to the Hospice for a coffee morning to chat about the challenge and meet users of the hospice. More money continues to trickle in. An good friend, David Stimson who does great work for Young Enterprise and is a presenter on Secklow Sounds radio in Milton Keynes will be interviewing the boys live in the studio. All of this to me is further proof that talk is talk – action makes things happen, so let’s all go do something good!!
Big Thanks to:
Lisa Rowe for endlessly supporting my endeavours!
Suzanne Sharp for inspiring us
Daniel Lewis at LWS Group – stepping up to the plate again to help
Geoff and Luke at BBC 3 Counties Radio – for running the interviews with the boys
Stephen and Richard at the Beds on Sunday for great coverage and support
Kelvin, Dan & Julian at the Locks – Environment Agency legends!
Alan, Landlord at The Lazy Otter – great grub and a touching contribution to the funds
Kayleigh at Bedford Marina
Beefeater Bedford for a massive send off breakfast
Bedford School for some great sponsorship work
Jono and Metrosigns for yet more boat stickers
Everyone who donated – no matter how much; for me the standout contribution amongst so many was the teenage girl at Danish Camp who gave us her last £1.70 in change in her pocket
Last but not least, the B2Sea crew – David, Max and Sebastian – it wasn’t quite a ‘free for all death match’ but we certainly had some laughs!
Please take a moment to watch the video below and get a flavour for the trip…..it could be a Highway to Hell or it could make you happy…..!