Ocean Rower, high altitude climber

James Ketchell

It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve, if you just keep tapping away and you don’t stop when you’re feeling like you can’t be bothered, if you just hang on and keep making an effort I can 100 per cent guarantee that what you’re trying to achieve will come.


Some have said I take adventure to the extreme. Obstacles like avalanches, sunburn, freezing temperatures, storms and even illness don’t really faze me once I’ve got the idea in my head. In the last two years I’ve both rowed the Atlantic and climbed Everest to raise money for charities the NSPCC and Waterlooville-based ELIFAR, who find and purchase specialist equipment for disabled children and respite care.

When I was a teenager I was a bit of a ‘dork’. I couldn’t speak to women, I had no confidence. I then discovered the gym and at 23 started body building. It gave me a routine and structure and I started setting goals. I then started riding motorbikes and when I hit 25 I started thinking about rowing the Atlantic.

But disaster struck when I had a bike accident; broke my ankle and the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to do the physical activities I’d been doing up until then. It was them telling me I couldn’t which made me want it more. I thought to myself ‘right, you can sit and feel sorry for yourself or you can do something about it.’

It was when I was recovering in hospital I started planning the row. Soon I started approaching companies for sponsorship and I took a loan out to buy my Roswell and Adkin ocean rowing boat.

On January 5, 2010 I began my solo row across the Atlantic. The 2,700 miles from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean took 111 days, four hours and four minutes to complete and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t all plain sailing. I chose the best time of year to go but the weather patterns were all over the place. You rely on the trade winds to help you across and the North Equatorial Current. If you chose a good year, and you were very patient, then you could just sit, read a book, and the currents would take you along. But the winds were against me a lot of the time – the current wasn’t there, I even got caught in a storm for eight days and lost over 200 miles.

Not only that, I had a close call with an oil tanker, suffered from terrible sunburn and got bitten by a fish. And if all that wasn’t enough, I then ran out of food. Because the weather was so poor the row took a lot longer than it should have done. I expected it to take about 70 days so I took 100 days of food thinking I would have more than enough - I was 230 miles from Antigua when I ran out. That equates to about seven or eight days of no food. Luckily I had a satellite phone to call in a resupply, but it still took two days to reach me. That’s when I found out what it was like to be truly starving – all I had was water and no energy to burn for rowing. But it’s all character building. My days had consisted of rising at 7am for breakfast and a much needed cup of tea. From 8am I’d row for four hours, then have an hour’s break, then repeat until I’d done 12 hours. I’d stop around midnight and sleep for six hours and let the boat drift. Once I gained 20 miles overnight, but then sometimes I would turn on the GPS and I wouldn’t have moved at all.

I first caught sight of Antigua 30 miles out. It was night time, so I kept on rowing so I could arrive around midday the next day. Rowing into Antigua was the most amazing feeling – it was like being a celebrity for an hour, there were hundreds of people everywhere. It was Antigua Sailing Week and the rich and famous were onboard their yachts. I was rowing in on my little rowing boat and there were super yachts all around me, beeping their horns. People still ask me if he ever got bored, rowing day after day and it’s really not. Every day the sunset is different, the sky would be a different colour, the water would be a different blue. It was such a magical place.





Matt Colautti

Find out more about James’ Pushing Limits ultimate triathlon at www.jamesketchell.net and follow him on twitter @captainketch

View the Pushing Limits promotional video here

It was during my prep for the solo row that I was asked by a friend if I would like to climb Everest. I couldn’t resist another challenge. In October 2010 I went out to Nepal for a month to do a series of training climbs, mainly to see how I would cope with high altitudes. I hadn’t done a lot of climbing before that.

Four months later on 31 March I set off on my two-month expedition. I had to do training climbs from camp to camp to get used to the altitude and acclimatise. It’s so huge you don’t realise – it feels never ending. You climb for hours then look up and see how much further you have to go it’s very demoralising - but you have to get over it and keep moving. The weather hampered progress too; we tried twice to go for the summit and the first time we were called back because the weather changed. The second attempt was a lot better – it was just me and my Sherpa at the top.

The climb wasn’t without its perils. I witnessed an avalanche, had to step across tied together ladders to cross crevasses, a fellow climber became seriously ill at Camp 2 and the sub zero temperatures bit at my fingers. But that wasn’t the worst of it; I also picked up a lung infection going up the mountain, which really started to take hold as I came back down. I had to be helped down by two Sherpas and given extra oxygen. I didn’t know what was going on and I remember at the time being annoyed with myself thinking ‘why am I struggling so much?’ It wasn’t until I got back to the UK that I was told I had quite a serious lung infection. I was in hospital for five days.

It was the money I’d raised for ELIFA and the support I’d received that kept me going. I definitely had a life lesson. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve, if you just keep tapping away and you don’t stop when you’re feeling like you can’t be bothered, if you just hang on and keep making an effort I can 100 per cent guarantee that what you’re trying to achieve will come.

The next challenge is to really push things to the limit. I’m going to row the Atlantic, climb Everest and cycle around the world all in one year - 2013. The plan is for it to be interactive and to become a documentary. The next few years are going to be interesting. 2012 is going to be a year of planning and prepping to get myself ready, then I’ll look at getting underway in January 2013.


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