Oar-some Richmond adventurer attempting record-breaking solo row around Great Britain

It was nine years ago when adventurer James Ketchell was told he may never walk again by doctors after a motorcycle accident. 

But through sheer determination and positivity, since then the 34-year-old has become the first and only person to row across the Atlantic Ocean, successfully summited Mount Everest and cycled 18,000 miles around the world.

Now James is attempting a new record — to become the first person to row solo around Great Britain — a challenge which he began on Saturday June 25 at Tower Bridge.

The 2,000 mile journey will be an epic battle against tides, erratic winds and cargo ships and ‘Captain Ketch’ — as he is affectionately known by his fans — is hoping to do it all in 60 days.

“Surprisingly I have some butterflies in my stomach which I didn’t think I would have,” he said. “I think it’s because I really want this.”

I’m stood with James next to his boat in St Katharine Docks before he sets off down the Thames and clockwise around Britain.

He says he’s nervous but he certainly doesn’t look it. His demeanour is calm and personable but incredibly focused on the challenge afoot.

He shows me the boat where he plans to live for the next two months. It’s a Rannoch design and currently holds the record for the fastest solo Atlantic crossing, set by Charlie Pitcher in 2013.

Row 3 JamesKetchell2016_Gili_4100SET SAIL: James is ready for whatever the sea has to throw at him 

“Charlie attempted to row around Britain last year but ran out of time due to business commitments,” James said. “So I asked if I could use his boat.”

It’s an awfully cosy space to spend 60 days at about 10ft long and 3ft wide with a solar powered device that makes sea water drinkable and a small sleeping compartment in the back.

“I actually sleep in the bottom of the boat. It’s like a coffin,” he grins.

And what will he eat?

“I’ve got 75 days’ worth of dehydrated food — like the stuff Tim Peake the astronaut was on.”

It’s a big commitment and a lot of hard work but it’s all in the name of charity.

Sponsorships for James’s challenge will go to Over The Wall — a charity founded by the late actor Paul Newman that provides therapeutic recreation camps to help children with life-limiting illnesses.

“I’ve seen the work they do and it’s amazing,” James said.

Row 2 JamesKetchell2016_Gili_4038ALL ABOARD: James has a lot of support behind him 

Just then Charlie Pitcher himself shows up and it’s all systems go. He lays out his tools on the jetty and sets to work — that’s when James informs me that there’s a hole in the boat. Good start.

But nobody seems to be worried — this is just a minor issue and easily resolved. Apparently.

James is no stranger to hiccups on his challenges and things do not always go to plan with the adventurer having gotten in to life-threating situations a couple of times.

In 2015 he made global news when he had to be rescued 250 miles off the coast of Australia while attempting to row across the Indian Ocean with a partner.

And in 2007 he fell off his motorcycle at 100mph on a track, breaking both legs and badly shattering his ankle.

His injuries were so bad that he nearly lost his lower right leg but for a last minute decision by doctors.

The prognosis was that he would have a life-long walking impairment and would never be able to continue his active physical lifestyle.

But James remained positive and it took two years of physio before he learnt to walk again.

“I had this goal to row across the Atlantic and every day that’s what I thought about,” he said.

“That gave me a reason for why I would get out of bed and do my physio every morning.”

James completed his goal in 2010 after which he developed a taste for world conquering challenges.

Climbing Everest and cycling around the world soon followed leading Captain Ketch to invent what is often dubbed ‘the ultimate triathlon’, which is the title of his book on the experiences.

Despite all his globe-trotting, James is no stranger to Richmond — and the borough has played a big role throughout his life.

He used to rent a room in the area and still enjoys training there, rowing on the Thames or spending long days riding his bike in Richmond Park.

“I have family in the area, so I’m up all the time,” he said.

Row 4 Joe and rowerTHUMBS UP: Good luck James!

But what about his fans? James does a lot of motivational talks for various causes, does he get many people telling him they’re inspired by his story?

At this question James becomes very modest: “I do get it sometimes but I would never ever think that I inspire people because that’s for other people to decide.

“It’s just what I do and if they find me inspiring it’s up to them.”

To support Over The Wall or for more information about what they do visit their website

You can also donate James’s record journey on his Just Giving page at:

Images courtesy of James Ketchell, with thanks

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