One small dinghy, one epic adventure for charity fundraiser
Ken Fowler has set himself a task. He’s sailing his RS Aero sailing dinghy around the 204 islands dotted around the coastline of England and Wales.
So far he’s completed 94.
“Quite a lot has been really tough,” Fowler says, “it’s just the way some islands are.”
Fowler is attempting his epic endeavour to raise around £13,000 for Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice. Having lost family members to cancer, Fowler has been raising money with several challenges, this one aims to see him break his £50,000 overall target.
Taking time off from his job as an air traffic controller, Fowler taught himself to sail about ten years ago, initially by watching a few videos.
“I did a bit of self teaching after a friend gave me a Topper, watched some videos and got hooked,” Fowler, a self-proclaimed adventurer, says. “I enjoyed elements of racing, but realised having a dinghy means you can go places you can’t with other boats. It’s a new way of adventuring.”
With his latest project (he previously sailed from Lands End to John O Groats finishing 45 miles short due to foul weather), Fowler has discovered he’s fascinated by island history.
“The history behind some of the islands is really interesting, entertaining and educational,” he says and cites Deadman’s Island – Near Chatham, in Kent.
“French prisoners were held on prison hulks nearby and when they died they were buried on the nearest island,” he says. “As time has gone on, the island’s eroded and coffins float off. You can see teeth there.
“I’ve sailed over the oldest know battlefield in England which was on a causeway in Kent – Northney island – where the vikings tired to invade. And all the Cornish islands have smugglers’ history and stories.
“Every island has a different story and a different challenge to it.”
Those challenges come in many forms. Like Canvey Island which Fowler had to abandon because of man’s interference. “There are too many physical barriers to make it possible,” he says.
Others he has to reconnoitre in advance on a stand-up paddle board to make sure he’ll be able to get his dinghy around, like Portsea Island which is on his list for this spring.
Fowler says the hardest to sail so far was off Penzance.
“In terms of conditions,” he says, “going round St Clements and St Michael’s Mount was the hardest. It was a borderline sailing day, the waves were colossal. More people were taking pictures of me than of St Michael’s Mount as no one could believe I’d be out there in those conditions.”
He seeks advice wherever he goes from local sailors who he says have at all times been welcoming and helpful, although he’s had his eyes opened to the number of people who haven’t explored their local islands. “People get stuck in their routines,” he says.
Fowler’s plan is to finish in spring 2022, by sailing around the Isle of Wight. He’s completed this previously, not as part of this challenge, and sees doing it again as a fitting epitaph to the project.
“From the outside, islands can look really dull,” Fowler says, “but inside they’re intriguing.” That is, most of them are. He’s discovered the two most popular names for islands are either gull or sheep island which aren’t the most creative names, or intriguing histories.
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