One year later… Ardleigh reservoir, Suffolk
The morning air was clear. A stiff northeasterly blew unchallenged across the Broads from the North Sea, slicing to the bone through our meagre wool jerseys. We’d been at the reservoir since dawn, waiting for the boat builders to arrive with the recently completed hull. Today was a big day. By the end of it, we would know two things: whether the strange-looking contraption floated, and whether a customized propeller could move it though the water.
Chris had called the night before to say they’d run into a few technical difficulties. The trailer lights had died in the middle of Bridport, about the time they’d worked out that eight pounds between them wasn’t near enough to buy fuel for the 275-mile journey to Suffolk. Towing a three-tonne trailer plus the hull, Hugo’s long wheelbase Land Rover made eight miles to the gallon at best.
“Lucky we ran out of petrol opposite the Toll House pub,” chuckled Chris, sounding happy at the turn of events. “The landlord’s given us a lock-in. And bitter’s only eighty-eight pence! Oh yeah, and we’re calling round to see if anyone’s got an AA card––”
The line went dead. Whether cheap booze or the Automobile Association amounted to a solution would remain a mystery until they showed up – if indeed they ever did.
It had been a busy year since meeting up in Paris. In the spring, Steve had left his job to begin planning the expedition full-time. Four months later, I followed suit by dissolving Ballistic Cleaning Services Inc., bringing to an end nearly a decade of pedigree cleaning care. To the great relief of our families, the idea to kayak from Scotland to Canada had been shelved early on. A call to the Maritime Museum in Exeter to enquire whether they knew of an ocean-going row boat for sale had produced a far more sensible way of crossing the big wet bits.
After listening to Steve’s ambitious circumnavigation plans, the curator, a naval architect by trade, offered to design a human-powered vessel from scratch. Calling on his extensive knowledge of the twenty or so rowing boats that had crossed the Atlantic since 1896, some of which were displayed in the museum, Alan Boswell drew up the blueprints for a twenty-six-foot craft, powered by propeller, with enough storage space to sustain two people with food and provisions for up to 150 days without resupply.
“Another advantage of a pedal-powered vessel,” Alan wrote in a follow-up letter, “is that since you will be cycling across continents, you will be fantastically fit for pedalling, but not for rowing, when you get to the ocean sections.”
Connecting with Alan had been the first in a series of lucky breaks, elevating the idea from drunken talk to at least drawing board status. David Goddard, the museum’s founder and director, generously provided a storage shed for the boat’s construction. The icing on the cake was reconnecting with my old childhood pal, Hugo Burnham, recently graduated from the prestigious wooden boatbuilding college at Lowestoft. Along with his friend Chris Tipper, also a newly qualified shipwright, we now had a relatively inexpensive way of building what commercial boatyards had quoted £26,000.
Further bolstered by the donation of otherwise pricey hardwood from the Ecological Trading Company, one of the few businesses in the country importing timber harvested only from sustainably managed sources, construction commenced. Four months later, a cold-molded hull, comprising strip cedar planks sealed with epoxy resin and overlain with hardwood veneers, emerged from the workshop.
It was time to stick it in the water.
The Times and The Daily Telegraph had agreed to turn up and run picture stories, announcing our plans to the wider world for the first time. Publicity was all-important to secure the sponsorship needed to embark on the expedition proper.
All Rights Reserved – © 2012 Jason Lewis