The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, who telephoned the crew on the final stretch of their journey across the Atlantic with land almost in sight, described their achievements as:
“The most stunning example of courage, grit and determination that the Army has seen for a long time”.
Brace yourself! This interview will leave you feeling inspired, refreshed and everything in between. Unless, of course, you’ve already met someone who’s completed the world’s toughest rowing race – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – rowing across the Atlantic with a team of wondered ex-servicemen and finishing in 3rd place ahead of a raft of able-bodied competitors.
The only person to have rowed and sailed across both Atlantic and Indian Oceans, James Kayll, ex-Army Captain and Ocean Adventurer, is one of a kind. So if you’re an adventurer, an aspiring adventurer or you’re simply looking for a new challenge, this interview may be just the inspiration you need.
And if you’re unsure you’ve got what it takes, whether physically, mentally or otherwise, reading about James and his injured rowing colleagues Corporal Cayle Royce and Corporal Scott Blaney may seriously shift your limiting beliefs.
Over to you, James…
Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?
I was an Army officer for 9 years serving in a regiment called the Light Dragoons where I twice served in Afghanistan. During my military career I was able to develop a love for ocean rowing which saw me take a crew of wounded ex-serviceman across the Atlantic in a rowing race. I have now left the Army and I work for KPMG in Canary Wharf.
What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting On This Path?
I grew up in the countryside and love the outdoors. Most men in my family have served in the Army at some point so that was probably in my blood… I have travelled loads and done a lot of sailing in my life, including some significant offshore racing and ocean crossings.
What Inspired You To Adventure?
I relish challenge, the excitement of the outdoors and the natural environment but above all I love the ocean, the tranquility, the power and the unpredictability. The ocean inspires me; she keeps calling me back!
What’s Your Greatest Motivator?
My last two adventures have involved wounded ex-Army colleagues. After rowing across the Atlantic together, I helped organise a flying expedition up the Rift Valley in Kenya which saw my colleagues flying across African skies in custom-built para-trikes. The wounded servicemen are my greatest motivator, or certainly were for my last two expeditions. They are utterly inspirational people.
Can You Tell Us More About Your Atlantic Adventure?
Our Row2Recovery crew, which comprised two amputee and two able-bodied soldiers, set off on 3 December 2013 to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. After an exhausting 48 days, 9 hours and 13 minutes at sea, we touched land on the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua, securing third place overall. Our 4-man crew was made up of me, Captain Mark Jenkins, Corporal Cayle Royce and Corporal Scott Blaney. Corporal Royce was wounded in Afghanistan in May 2012 when he stepped on an explosive device which resulted in above-the-knee amputation of both legs and the loss of several fingers on his left hand. Corporal Blaney had to have an above-the-knee amputation, also as a result of a bomb-blast in Afghanistan, in 2007. Despite their injuries both service personnel are committed to still enjoying life to the full, and that’s why they took on the Atlantic challenge.
Was Your Adventure Across The Atlantic All Plain Sailing?
It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing. At the start of the race we had to cope with two weeks of storms and in mid-December the Row2Recovery boat capsized in the middle of the night when two 60ft waves crashed into us and we and much of our kit were thrown overboard!
What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?
I have been very fortunate to have had some amazing experiences so it is difficult to select a highlight! I’ve led soldiers in battle in Afghanistan, I’ve rowed and sailed across various oceans, swum with a whale in the Indian Ocean, camped in the bush with Masai warriors in Kenya… But the one moment that stands out was arriving in Antigua at the end of our trans-Atlantic row. We arrived just after dark and were escorted into English Harbour by a few small boats but as we entered the harbour it erupted with the noise of super yachts sounding their foghorns, classic yachts firing their cannons and four or five hundred people celebrating on the dock.
We let off some flares in front of the crowd and they wet wild, screaming and waving flags as we rowed in the last few yards. The exhilaration and pride I felt during this small moment of my life makes it my biggest adventure highlight, emphasised by the fact that I had a crew of amputees and we had had a pretty rough crossing! Finishing third out of 16 crews - considering we were without 3 legs and a hand was beyond all expectations and made the moment even more special. You can read more about our adventures on the Row2Recovery Atlantic Blog.
What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?
The biggest challenge was fundraising before rowing the Indian Ocean – it took 2 years and it was demoralizing at times feeling that you might not reach your target.
How Did You Manage To Build Your Adventure Following / Get Sponsors?
I am not a full time adventurer so can’t really claim to have any following but I have had various sponsors over the years. I think you should never underestimate the value of gifts in kind. This is where you are loaned or gifted items of equipment by the manufacturer. Sometimes this is much better than trying to raise the funds separately to pay for the equipment. Otherwise I think sponsorship is all about linking your expedition to the values and standards of a corporate. It is about finding synergy and overlap so a corporate can relate to what you are doing – coupled with a good PR plan.
What’s Your Favourite Adventure Event?
What’s Your Favourite Product?
I have been sponsored by Kiehl’s a few times so I recommend their products but from an all round adventure perspective a jetboil is an awesome bit of equipment! Small, robust, compact, light and boils water super quickly.
What’s Been Your Favourite Adventure So Far?
If you are looking for a life changing adventure and something that will challenge you both physically and mentally to the extreme then I would recommend the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. This is a 3,000 nautical mile rowing race across the Atlantic. It is a race as well but you will make some great friends within the fleet and have a great time in La Gomera during the preparation before the start. The arrival in Antigua is also spectacular! Not to mention the bit in the middle; it will test every ounce of your ability, your team, your boat and your commitment. You can watch a promotional video for The Talisker Whiskey Challenge below.
What’s your Unique Selling Point?
This changes for each expedition and I don’t think I really have a USP. I aim to row and sail across the Atlantic, the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Two down one to go…
How Do You Build Your Fan Base?
What fan base? Maybe you can help…..?
What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?
Cayle Royce’s father thanking me for giving his son the opportunity to row the Atlantic.
What Advice Would You Give To Budding Adventurers?
The hardest thing is usually getting to the start line, the adventure is your reward and it will be worth every minute of your preparation, fund-raising and late nights writing sponsorship proposals!
What’s Next For You?
Ideally rowing the Pacific but I currently have another adventure ongoing in Canary Wharf…
How Can We Contact You?
@jameskayll on Twitter
What’s Your Favourite Quote?
I was chased by pirates off the Horn of Africa whilst sailing from India to Djibouti in 2005. We out-ran them and then hid using the cover of darkness…
Watch James Chatting About His Experiences