There are over 200 islands off the coast of England and Wales – 262 to be exact. – and Ken Fowler has sailed around every single one of them! What started as a simple challenge to raise money for charity, soon turned into a mission which became an EPIC odyssey; and Ken’s Argo was his trusty RS Aero – affectionately known as Yoda. Over the course of the last four years Ken sailed 2,200 miles (the equivalent of an Atlantic crossing) and raised more than £70,000. As a result of these numerous accomplishments, Ken has been nominated for ‘Sailor of the Year’ at the British Yachting Awards. Voting is open until the 5th of November 2023. As the final week of voting takes place, RS Sailing sat down with Ken to reminisce on the journey and how he feels to be nominated for ‘Sailor of the Year’.
It all began in 2019 when Ken decided to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Oakhaven Hospice Trust by sailing around the Isle of Wight. Cancer Research is a cause near and dear to his heart, having lost his father to the disease at an early age. Following this first mission he set his sites on a larger task, sailing from one end of the UK to the other. He sailed 865 miles (1,392km) from Land’s End to John O’Groats and raised an additional £32,000. But he wasn’t finished. “While I was sailing down the coastline I went by all of these beautiful islands, but only on one side,” Ken says. So began the next stage of his mission, or as he says, “a small project to see the other side of the islands.” As it turns out, this was no small project. Ken initially thought there were around 180 islands and that it would take about a year. However, a growing number of islands and a global pandemic led to increased challenges to the already monumentous goal. Yet, the difficulties Ken faced also continued to encourage him. “Covid made it really hard to keep going and easy to lose momentum. But, during Covid, all of the funding went away from cancer research, but it’s not that people stopped having cancer,” Ken says. “I realized that cancer really needed the funding and that encouraged me to keep sailing.”
And keep sailing he did; all aboard his faithful RS Aero. For many, sailing around 262 islands in a 4-metre boat seems crazy, but to Ken it was ideal. “I love the boat because it is quite high performance, a little tippy, but so light,” he says. Being light came in handy. Many of the islands were hard to launch from, impossible to bring a dolly or car. But when the boat only weighs 33 kilograms it is easy to pick up and carry it wherever you need to go. “I would capsize it to go under bridges and carry it down beaches where you can’t get a trolly,” he says. “I literally couldn’t have done it otherwise.” Ken not only carried his boat across sand flats but across creeks and roads. “We would come up to a causeway and I would have to carry it across the road, it was probably the first time these drivers had ever seen a sailboat crossing.” Sailing a small and nimble boat allowed Ken to go places that most sailors can only dream of.
Recalling perhaps the more pleasant parts of the challenge, Ken says, “I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the most incredible wildlife. I witnessed rafts of puffins off Skomer in South Wales, pods of dolphins in Cornwall and have been escorted around the Isles of Scilly by the famous Wally the Walrus – who weighed 20 times more than my boat.” His favourite island? Cribinau off the southwest coast of Anglesey, in Wales. “It is a really small, solid wall island with just a set up steps that lead to a small church.” Aside from the natural beauty of the island, it represented a huge milestone in Ken’s journey; “Cribinau was my 100th island. It was the first time achieving a truly significant milestone that made me think ‘wow, this is really possible.’ “
Ken accomplished his feat in June 2023, absolutely smashing his original goal of raising £50,000. With everything said and done he explained some of the best lessons he learned along the way:
1) Preparation is key
“Things are never as bad as you think they are going to be if you do your preparations carefully,” Ken says.
2) Appreciate the world around you
“My favourite part of this adventure has been exploring the islands. I have done a little bit of sailing since finishing and I am trying to get back into racing but this has really changed me as a sailor; I sometimes miss watching the scenery and wildlife instead of focusing on rules and tactics.”
3) Remember to relax
Accomplishing something like this is incredible, but taking time to rest and relax is hugely important. “It is lovely to go sailing now because I want to, not because I have to,” he says. “Sometimes you can give so much and there truly isn’t much else to give until you recharge your batteries.”
After achieving such a remarkable feat it came as no surprise to anyone – except perhaps Ken himself – that he was recognised by the larger sailing community. British Yachting Awards are among those that were taken with the story, nominating Ken for ‘Sailor of the Year.’ His response? “It is such an honour to be recognised, especially because I am literally Joe average, just trying to do something amazing between normal life.” That is where the true remarkableness of Ken’s story lies. He is not a professional sailor, he was doing this on holidays, weekends, days off from work… all to raise money for an incredible cause and, as he says, “see the other side of the island.”
Voting is open until 5th November 2023, you can submit your votes by clicking here!