Flotilla with a flourish

You might have seen Sarah Outen in the papers – the “British adventurer” and “explorer from Rutland” who spent the past four and a half years travelling over 25,000 miles around the world by rowing boat, cycle and kayak.

During that time she cycled across the Gobi desert, paddled along the Aleutian Island chain and was forced to abandon her rowing boat in the Atlantic because of the threat of Hurricane Joaquin. On the final leg of her journey, Sarah cycled and kayaked from Falmouth to London, paddling under Tower Bridge on 3 November to complete her journey.

The press were out in force to photograph the conclusion of her epic journey, and a photo of Sarah popping a bottle of champagne graced the cover of several newspapers. You might also have seen a collection of tiny red kayaks in the background – what the Telegraph  called a “small flotilla”. That was, of course, the serried ranks of Chelsea Kayak Club out to accompany Sarah on her last leg.

Leaving Kew

Leaving Kew

Twelve of us met at seven in the morning in Kew, along with members of Rutland Canoe Club where Sarah learned to kayak as a teenager. Kit was prepared and our boats emblazoned with large flapping union jacks which meant we would be impossible to miss. The explorer herself was already out on the Thames and met us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, along with her friend and kayaking partner Justine Curgenven.


We were accompanied along the whole final stretch by a tag-team of RNLI crews, who looked as though they wanted someone to fall in to liven up their morning. And along the way Sarah was greeted by friends cheering from bridges and gaggles of schoolchildren with motivational posters. You could feel the love.

At some points Sarah was left alone, paddling at the head of our slightly messy arrowhead formation. But it felt wrong to intrude on what must have been for her a deeply private moment as well as a public one.



At the same time, it felt pretty good to be cheered over the finish line, even though we knew that our paltry four hours of paddling was just the full stop to Sarah’s four-year sentence. After a final lap around HMS Belfast, we paddled out under Tower Bridge to much applause and firemen on an emergency boat spraying their hoses 20 feet into the air.


Sarah had kind words for us afterwards – “What a special end to a mad and wonderful few years of journeying”. But it was special for us too, and a real privilege to be a small part of someone else’s big adventure.

Thanks to Alex for his organisation and for the logistics of boats and kit. Now does the club have any idea what we can do with a dozen union jacks?

Izzy Kaminski

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