28 days at sea!

A picture of us at sea – a few days before we were swimming instead of rowing!

The Atlantic Rowing Race fleet has been at sea for 28 days – the same time our challenge was rowing for. The lead boat has continued to be Latitude 35 after their early tussle with Row4James they have stretched out a lead of 117 miles, ahave rowed just over 2,000 miles and have just 547 miles remaining until they row into the harbour in Antigua in a week or so’s time.

To put that in perspective they are around the same distance to the finish as we had on our fateful day after the same amount of time at sea – we had however started from Tarfaya in mainland Africa, something like 415km/258miles further east!

Adding further perspective to the ocean rowing challenge are the boats at the other end of the field – the solo  Daryl Farmer has now covered, wait for it….461 miles so has an enormous 2,092 miles still to go; 99 miles ahead of him is another solo of Dmytro Rezvoy who has just under the 2,000 to go. It is worth pointing out that from 5 January up until yesterday it appears that Daryl had been blown backwards some 20 miles….imagine what that must feel like…! (Check this out using the slider at the bottom of the Race Tracker on the Talisker site – click here) At their current rate of progress, therefore, both men are looking at well over another 100 days at sea. That seems insurmountable if nothing else due to the rations they will have on board their boats.

Next up are 32 Degrees North, a pair with 1735 days to go and the female solo rower, Elaine Hopley with 1656 to go – both have a monumental challenge ahead with potentially at least another 50+ days at sea.

There is then a pack of crews, albeit spread over 200 miles with the all girls crew Atlantic Endeavour with 1421 miles to go and the remarkable boat of this years race, Soulo Gav in overall third place with 1218 miles to go – and that is a solo boat rowed by endurance athlete Gavan Hennigan. Check out Gavan’s website to see more of his remarkable story – including his comeback from drugs and alcohol addiction, genuinely extra-ordinary.

Below are the positions today – this is a screen shot – another week to go and the first crew could well be popping the champagne – keep watching….!


Sean Usher – ThamesRower2016

Not smiling so much anymore - yet this is where we earn our acheivement

It’s not easy to sum up two days on the Thames onboard Lisa Too with Ian Rowe and his team. Inspiring , challenging , educational , physical and fun all easily spring to mind however the experience is much more than that.

Offered the chance by Ian when an experienced rower had to pull out with an injury I jumped at the chance without really knowing what I was letting myself in for.  A  look at the (very detailed and planned) route showed Henley (home of rowing) , Windsor (home of a big castle) , Marlow (home of a big suspension bridge) and Boulters Lock (where I’d taken part in a sponsored walk previously) , These were all places I’d seen before but only from dry land.

At 5.30 in the morning on Day 2 of this years Thames Row I climbed on board with two very experienced rowers not knowing what the next two days would bring. We set off to the first lock , only a five minute row away but five minutes later I realised the reality of my “of course I’ll step in’ decision. I really wanted to pull my weight whilst onboard but very quickly knew that that would mean trying to learn a lot very fast.

Ian and Mark were brilliant , teaching, encouraging and pointing out improvements I could make and I was very determined to learn from both of them. I know they were being kind, I know my steering wasn’t particularly straight and it offered little encouragement knowing Julia and Simon (Read Simon’s account by clicking here) who’d rowed the day before were equally keen to see ALL of the river. At a lock somewhere before Henley things got even more serious with David joining us. Ian and Mark had spent the first couple of hours letting me know about ’the machine’ and he certainly lived up to the description. I really wanted to row Henley Straight and after a brief stop for coffee just under Henley Bridge, a cabin sleep for Mark (which gave us one of my favourite pictures) and a welcoming smile from Julia  the team were kind enough to give me the oars.

14080036_1146334592079737_3937758275970301686_nTeaming up with David we powered down the straight and to me rowing this bit of water in a boat that was rowed across the Atlantic whilst listening to Ian talk about his own amazing experience on the same ocean and being coached by Mark and David is something I’ll never forget. Many hours later , tired and in need of a beer with me on the oars we rowed into the Oakley Court Hotel moorings to more smiles and chance of a well earned rest.
Highlight of the evening had to be when I explained to the waitress about our challenge and the fact that I was sitting next to a man that had ‘rowed the Atlantic” . Very calmly and matter of fact she simply said ‘That’s great , my dad and grandad have done it too!’ This allowed us the opportunity for a great evening of gentle ribbing and constant wondering if we could find anyone else who’d done it too ,
needless to say we didn’t .
droneovercourseDay 3 (and my day 2) again saw us up at 5.30. The Thames was absolutely beautiful , misty but calm and bathed in the rising sunshine which by the end of the day we’d be cursing. We pushed on hard today, following Ian’s detailed timescale which he told us he’d written with a special antique river abacus.  I tried to keep the pace but also knew that the experienced amongst us were moving the boat much quicker (and straighter). I
have to say a huge thank you to Ian , Mark and David here. It would have been easier , quicker and more direct to only put me in the important seats when they had to but to their credit I was allowed to take my turn and again this allowed me to row up to the finishing line.

img_4903Rowing is hard , you use your legs a lot , you need to keep your arms straight ( no Sean STRAIGHT !!!), locks are narrower than extended oars , the seat moves backwards and forwards , experienced rowers like to row the shortest route ( no Sean STRAIGHT) and steering in a straight line is hard but wow it really is an experience I will never forget and one I haven’t stopped talking about since.

The whole experience with Ian and Lisa Too was an honour ,  it is almost impossible to begin to understand the physical and truly amazing challenge Ian set himself on the Atlantic but after a couple of days of being onboard you come away thinking what your next challenge could be.

Huge thanks to everyone , please invite me back next year.

Read the story of the whole trip by clicking here.

Below, Lisa Too in her original guise – being rowed across the Atlantic by double Olympic Rowing Champion James cracknell and TV adventurer Ben Fogle:


Gallery pics from the trip:

If you would like to be considered for part of all of a trip next year, let us know with the form below:

ThamesRow2016 – personal insight from Simon Draper, novice rower, ocean boat rower.


Coaching……’OK, row’.

I went to a charity do at a brewery and ended up rowing an ocean going boat down the River Thames. Strange how a Friday evening in the company of Ian Rowe can turn out.

I was so enthused by Ian’s inspirational speech that I bid a tidy sum in the charity auction to join the crew on Lisa Too for a day on the Thames. I would like to say it was purely Ian’s motivation but I think it also had something to do with the Charlie Wells craft lager I drank during the evening.

Julia, who was also equally inspired to bid and win, and I next met Ian and Lisa Too at the beginning of August to go over the proposed details of our row. My immediate thought that evening was does Ian ever stop talking. We eventually got some questions in and it transpired that the plan was for the two of us to join Ian and another able rower for the first day of the 2016 Thame Rowe with the option of a night on the river bank in a bivvy bag and a bit more rowing in the morning. Of course under Ian’s magic spell on that warm early August evening we both thought this a great idea. Unfortunately! Come the weekend to start the row towards the end of August the weather was not being kind and Ian hurriedly recalculated and rescheduled his plans and now we were to set off from Abingdon on Sunday 21st no bivvy required for me.

Now the rowing bit, talk about being dropped in at the deep end or in Lisa Too the stroke seat was where I found myself when we pushed off from Abingdon Marina. Ian was looking down at me from his steering position and behind me sat the Bedford Modern School Director of Rowing, Mark Bavington so I was expecting expert tuition. What I got was, “ok row”.

Ian’s inspirational phrase is “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” and he truly believes and expects it. Here was an ordinary 60+ guy rowing a boat that had crossed the Atlantic, down the river Thames with a real oarsman following my stroke. Brilliant.

Steering is far more pressured and difficult than you might think - and you really, really do not want to get it wrong!

Steering is far more pressured and difficult than you might think – and you really, really do not want to get it wrong! Note the refreshments!

We made good progress to the first lock where Julia took over Bav’s seat and us novices propelled Lisa Too down the river at a fair rate according to my GPS device of 3mph. The real rowers were by this time drinking beer and telling stories that can never be retold off board! The names Max and Sebastian come to mind. (Read their story on board here)

When the beer had been drunk the two professionals took over and under my rudder control manage a mile in eleven minutes which made Julia and my twenty minute miles look quite ordinary. Steering the boat is another task that you are expected to master instantly. I must have been doing a good job because I got lots of encouragement about straight lines, keeping to the windward side and avoiding overhanging obstruction.

The steering position is the best seat on the boat. You get to see all that is ahead of you down the beautiful river, have a feeling of control and get to hear the views of real rowers on their cox spelt with an X.

All too soon we were nearing our destination but not before Prosecco and cake on the river bank with a lovely family and heavy rain for the last mile.

The crew joined Sean (Read Sean’s account by clicking here) who had been supporting us down the river for a couple of rewarding beers before it was time for me to leave the party and make my way home.

It was a unique day I will not forget. My thanks to  Julia for sharing the experience with me, her boundless enthusiasm makes any time in her company a pleasure. Sean for his support and the biggest smile in Bedfordshire. Mark Bavington for his patience and humour and most of all to Ian Rowe who really can make ordinary people do extraordinary things. I rowed a boat that has crossed the Atlantic down the Thames.

For the full story, start to finish, of this year’s ThamesRow, click here.

Below, Lisa Too in her previous guise – rowed across the Atlantic by double Olympic rowign champion James Cracknell and TV adventurer Ben Fogle:


Check out the video below for more on the boat and James’ and Ben’s epic trip:


Lisa Too – formerly Spirit of EDF Energy


Spirit of EDF Energy was famously rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2005 by double Olympic Rowing Champion James Cracknell and TV presenter/adventurer Ben Fogle; they won the pairs race that year in 49 days 19 hours and 8 minutes.

It is a never ending job to keep the boat ‘seaworthy’ – she is comparatively old, made of plywood and had sat outside for the best part of a decade so had made good friends with wood rot and water – the former turned plywood to dust and the latter delaminated it so it was useless.


It was a significant job to turn that around – especially as an amateur learning as I went along; a lot of people helped – both with practical work such as Daniel Lewis and LWS Group, materials with Tony Stevens of AES Construction and Woodfines Solicitors with funding. The latter continue to help and without them and everyone else who helps we would not be able to do all of the charity events we do and give Spirit of EDF Energy a new life as Lisa Too, helping others ‘cross their oceans’.

Ben_JamesIf you get chance to look at the boat take a moment to consider that – 7 weeks on board, totally self-sufficient, no outside help, the on board toilet facilities, rowing 2 hours on and 2 hours off day and night. There was a lot of naked rowing too! James and Ben encountered some of the worst weather conditions for an ocean rowing race and at one point were capsized, the boat being tipped over end to end with Ben ending up in the water – they were very lucky to survive and be able to continue their row.

I acquired ‘Spirit’ in 2014. She was in a very sorry state with the plywood completely ‘shot’ in large areas of the boat. After 18 months she was back on the water being used for my professional speaking work, charity events, corporate team building, and not least, just going rowing!


I was given the boat by Will North and Dan Howie who in turn had been given her by James Cracknell; Dan and Will won the pairs race in the Atlantic Rowing Race and attributed some of that win to my coaching whilst they were at sea – offering insights into the marginal gains that over time make all the difference be it rowing the ocean or in business!

I renamed the boat ‘Lisa Too’ after his wife although the boat still carries the original name, Spirit of EDF Energy.

Where I can I take the boat with me for speaking events as I believe experiences will always add to simply just hearing about something; our Atlantic story is very powerful, it takes audiences through highs and lows, laughter and tears. To then see a real ocean rowing boat up close and personal can have a significant impact. Wait until you see her – better still come for a row on her.

I have also used her for three charity rows to date and you can read more about each of these below:

Thames Row 2015

B2Sea 2015

Thames Row 2016

If you would like to book me as a speaker for you corporate or school event, or would like to join one of our ThamesRow crews then please get in touch below:




ThamesRow 2016 – MacMillan and Crohns Charities


The Team – Simon Draper, Mark Bavington, Ian Rowe, Julia Templeman.

This year’s ThamesRow was originally going to be more of a private jolly for a bunch of us rowers – a leisurely paddle down the river with plenty of stops for cook ups, pubs and relaxing. That started to change after I spoke at a MacMillan fund raiser and offered a day on the boat for their blind auction; it was almost a throw away offer and I did not really expect anyone to step up to the plate – how wrong I was as Simon Draper and Julia Templeman scuppered the plans by bidding for the trip – and their bids meant that I felt obliged to change the plan. I am really glad I did and as is always the way with this sort of thing you get the unexpected which is a big part of doing it in the first place!

As we got closer to the date a close family member of mine was diagnosed with Crohns and so we added in raising a few quid for the Crohn’s charity as well – once again Simon and Julia were brilliant as they happily took this on as well even though they were on board for MacMillan – hence the trip was for MacMillan and also for Crohn’s – spot the purple t-shirts!


Mark and I explain to Simon and Julia that rowing is not all hard work….!

First off thought was the weather – wow! talk about unseasonal as on our planned start day we had 22+ mph winds gusting to 42 miles per hour.

It was quite clear quite quickly that leaving under those conditions was not a clever thing to do particularly in the twisty early sections of the river and with novice rowers on board; the risk of being blown uncontrollably into the bank side or lock sides and landing stages was way too high. The windage on these boats is significant and even with experienced rowers on board they can be tricky and so we made the call to postpone rather than risk damage to oars, gates, the boat itself and worse still to the people on board. Being sat in the rain, a strong wind and gales is a recipe for hypothermia even in the ‘summer’!

We therefore dropped the first day and set off from Abingdon Marina on Sunday at around midday, reaching the new first stop of The Swan at Streatley ahead of schedule not least to the largely prevailing tail wind that was still blowing at over 16 mph with occasional gusts.

Simon Draper and Julia Templeman were magnificent on board and we wanted to give them the best experience we could. Coaching from Mark Bavington in particular as Director of Rowing at Bedford Modern School was always going to be good and I am always happy to throw in some ‘When I was on the Atlantic..’ anecdotes of course.


Simon and Julia – day finished at The Swan at Streatley – note the wet weather gear.

They picked it up well and moved the boat well; plus once given the ‘reigns’ to steer with from the roof of the stern cabin they also had a chance to get an insight into the life of a river rowing cox – essentially keep the boat straight, touch the rudder as little as possible and as gently as possible or face a tirade of grumpiness from the actual rowers moaning about the boat being slowed down or going a bit further than they should! Julia was particularly impressive and resilient in this department – she had to be!!

The first stage was from Abingdon to The Swan Hotel at Streatley and we had some good contrasting weather on the way – tailwinds, sunshine, cloud and then the rain. One of the great things about the row is the support you get along the way from people simply waving and saying hello – often with some comment about ‘Aren’t you lost? Shouldn’t you be on the sea?’ through to those that invite you in to have a drink, food and a netter. This happened first with a great bunch of people near Moulsford who were having drinks in the lawn of a spectacular riverside property. In no time we were moored up with glasses of Prosecco and plates of cake pressed into our hands. What great, down to earth, people they were – even when we asked if we could use their ‘facilities’ we were offered to go up to the big house, or make it easier on ourselves and have a pee behind the summerhouse! Summerhouse it was!

Below – a tiny excerpt of Julia and Simon in action:


Day 2: Three men in a boat – Sean Usher steps into the breech – rowing here with Mark

It was then back into Lisa Too and head off to the Swan, just as the heavens opened! The Hotel supported us really well via their superb Racquel who helped us with mooring overnight, a good rate on a room for the guest rowers whilst Mark and I could ‘snuggle’ down in the stern cabin for a ‘good’ nights sleep. Before turning in though we had a chance to take on some decent isotonic drinks and a great meal and in no time at all we were up and about a 5.30am for the next stint down to The Oakley Court Hotel.

Simon (Read his story by clicking here) and Julia left the boat at this point and Sean Usher came on board – big courage to step in when a regular rower had to drop out and Sean said he’d be up for it – what ‘it’ was he was not entirely sure but we had said that Day 2 and Day 3 were going to be a different kettle of fish once us former, and current competitive rowers got on the oars and someone said, ‘Go!’ It was game on then.

David Sogan, current Captain at Star Rowing Club and a great supporter of Lisa Too and Atlantic Experience showed what pulling together was all about. As we were getting underway on the water at 6.00am he had just left Bedford to drive to The Oakley Court Hotel, then he’d get a taxi to whichever lock we had reached and then come on board for the rest of the trip – brilliant and generous of him.


David ‘The Soganator’ Sogan comes on board – now it is four men in a boat and an increase in pace. The strain may be beginning to tell….

David met us in Reading and the pace picked up again as our instincts to ‘make the boat go faster’ took over and Sean started to get a better appreciation of what the ‘it’ in ‘I’m up for it’ was actually going to mean – essentially this was going to be trying to learn to row and also to steer a boat for the first time ever in the company of increasingly tired, fractious and driven rowers. He loved it!! Sean properly stepped up to the plate and I am still not sure that he gives himself full credit for just what he achieved in what is a pretty white hot environment of pressure from all angles whether you are rowing, steering, jumping off the boat to set locks, jumping back on, trimming the boat and all the time with the edgy drive to push the boat on relentlessly.

We rowed into The Oakley Court Hotel around 7.30pm, well ahead of schedule not least because of the lock keepers on the way and the generosity of other river users letting us jump the queue at locks and sneak in behind the bigger vessels. It’s great to see that human generosity in action – it often seems in short supply these days!

The evening at Oakley Court was fantastic – we met with Duncan Souster of the Jubilee Sailing Trust to look at
options on the next ThamesRow with them, had a couple of drinks something to eat and a general all round great time.


Jubilee Sailing Trust logo proudly displayed on Lisa Too’s washboard – it’s good work.

Around midnight myself, Mark and David retired to the river bank with a bottle of port, broke out the cooker on the boat and proceeded to cook steak rolls and bacon rolls washed down with port – by 1am or later it was a very convivial time – but also we were very aware that the alarm would go off at 5.30am for the final stretch to Teddington and it was going to be headwinds and scorching sunshine.

Sean, Mark, David and I climbed aboard, re-acquainted our now very uncomfortable backsides with the seats and set off for the finish line. The atmosphere in the boat was now very different as it felt that we were now very much against the clock, in racing mode and it was going to be pretty brutal.

Sean, as the novice was brilliant with this and accepted that he would not be able to move the boat as fast as any combination of the three of us rowers but stepped up and did his stints to give us breaks and steer the boat – it is not easy to give full credit on that front, Sean was unknown to us at the beginning, had no rowing knowledge, did not really understand what was ahead of him except that it was going to be tough – he just knuckled down and took it all – pretty legendary!

Early on it became apparent that there was a severe and growing need for coffee – be that physiological or psychological and we got progressively more grumpy and short tempered the longer we went without it.


Atlantic storytime in the Oakley Court library!

Mark summed up the mood the best by stating in no uncertain terms that even his friends didn’t like rowing with him and he made it quite clear why that would be – clearly the response was to give him as hard a time as possible whilst avoiding a complete swearathon meltdown – we struck the balance well. It think they call it ‘conflict resolution’ and it applied to all of us!

What a brilliant session though – we had close to nine hours rowing in unrelenting head wind and blazing sun with no escape from it and just drove the boat on. Breaks at every lock were so welcome as we tended to row in a pair between each lock; that changed with the last couple and we swapped out as each one of us ran out of petrol in turn.


Danny and Jackie – almost certainly saved lives with coffee and biscuits!

The highlight was the lovely couple just through Chertsey Lock who after a shouted hello from us – and a very cheeky request for a coffee – invited us to stop and in no time had sorted out mugs of coffee and chocolate biscuits – Danny and Jackie were just superb and we had a great short break nattering with them before gingerly easing onto the rowing seats and getting off for the last stretches.

It seemed an age but eventually we were heading into Kingston and the final stretch; we knew that Daniel Lewis of LWS group was going to meet us at the slipway to help get the boat out and tow us back home. Sean’s partner, Julia was also going to meet us with food and drink so there was something to aim for. Sean lead the last charge down the Kingston Embankment and we could then hear and see Daniel welcoming us in. What a relief.

It think we stumbled out of the boat in some level of shock – we had not really eaten, were dehydrated, sunburnt and had had very little sleep – but we had made it! Quickly we turned to simply getting the boat out, on the trailer and sorted for towing. Not much was said as we were spent – Julia was a welcome smiling face and doubly welcome with food and drink.

Sean and Julia were once again superb as they now were going to drive David back to The Oakley Court to get his car before heading home which added a significant amount of miles and time to their journey and Sean was as spent as everyone else – really great work and properly pulling together.

You can still donate here by clicking here a few quid can make all the difference:


The finish – we were spent. The last day in blazing sun, headwind and heat sucked everything out of us.

So the thank yous:

The rowers for bending the oars – Simon, Julia, Sean, Mark and David.

Ally for taking the truck back on Day One and dropping the trailer off.

David for driving to Oakley Court, getting a taxi to us, smashing the rowing and then having to get back after it all. Legend.

Mark for taking endless opportunities to make us laugh.

Daniel Lewis – a massive thank you for getting involved as usual and driving down to get the trailer from Oakley Court then come to pick us up and tow us back home – just in time for rush hour too. Brilliant.

Everyone who donated

Everyone who offered help and support along the river.

Friends and family for backing us.

All the partners, supporters and donors who have their names on the boat and help keep her little slice of history afloat.

Lisa Too for carrying us, and my Lisa for standing by me – again! x

See you next year, and if you want to get involved, get in touch!


IMG_4662There is no need to go out on the ocean to have an adventure and to see some truly wonderful sights – they are around us all of the time.

To me an adventure is simply doing something new and outside your comfort zone – and ideally sharing that adventure with someone else!

Here we are building a canoe from just three sheets of plywood – two boats will be made, one for me and one for my great friend, business owner and bushcraft expert Daniel Lewis.download

It has been great working together and the first boat is nearing completion – there has only been one small error on the way – not cutting enough panels from the ply sheets and other than that it has gone smoothly albeit a little slowly – much of that slowness down to us working together and discussing how we do the next bit.

The second boat wirte_img_large_86ll progress much faster…..we hope.

After that – what next? Well that will be mini adventures be it a paddle up the local river for a
few hours, an overnight paddle, a few days in the Lake District and even one or two abroad, maybe the French Ardeche region.

The adventure though starts with building your own boat – the banter, the thinking, the setbacks, the steps forward all in achieving something new and at your own hands – I for one cannot IMG_4720wait to get the boats out on the water!

It has been red hot in the boat shed at times too – much like it was ‘when we were on the Atlantic’ and you just have to crack on and do your best – even if everything feels much harder.

We are getting there and will be afloat soon. Get in touch if you’d like your own boat built for you – or build one with us.

In the meantime, good work with Daniel Lewis!

Have a look through the gallery below to see how we have been getting on: