A sailor has successfully circumnavigated all 262 islands around England and Wales and said his lasting memory from four years completing the 1,300-mile challenge will be the “genuine human kindness” he saw along the way.
Ken Fowler, from Mudeford, Dorset, began the challenge in 2019, taking time out around his job as a former air traffic controller to complete the mission in stages in a RS Aero sailing dinghy named Yoda – which he said was “the size of two bathtubs” and “about as wet as one”.
Having raised more than £66,000 for Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice Trust, on Wednesday the 57-year-old undertook his final voyage: a 13-hour, 70-mile sail around the Isle of Wight finishing at his home in Mudeford.
Mr Fowler, a father-of-two, told the PA news agency: “Yesterday I launched about 5:15am and landed about 6:45pm and that was my 262nd and last island – so that’s every island in England and Wales sailed.
“It’s been an amazing adventure, I’ve met some wonderful people who have been so supportive, I’ve seen incredible wildlife – having dolphins riding on the bow of your little dinghy, I’ve sailed past a walrus in the Scilly Isles, I’ve had puffins around me – and I’ve seen some of the most amazing scenery.”
“It’s been fantastic, and being in the busy country we live in, being out on the water in these places is very, very quiet and very magical and wonderful.
“Equally, I’m really relieved it’s over. It’s been nearly a four-year challenge to get it all done. It’s been a brilliant fundraiser.”
Mr Fowler raised money for two charities close to his heart: Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice Trust – a small hospice local to him – after he said cancer has “completely devastated” his family.
“My dad died of cancer when I was only 24 and he was one of six siblings – five of them died of cancer,” he said.
“It’s completely devastated my family. My mother-in-law died from it as well.
“I had a picture of her and of my father in the boat and they travel with me everywhere and they were inspirations to keep me going.
“That’s why we set out to do it, to raise a lot of money for charity, and it’s been just incredible.”
In 2017, Mr Fowler raised more than £37,000 for the two charities by sailing from Land’s End in Cornwall to John o’Groats in Scotland, but said he “wanted to raise the missing £13,000” to make it to £50,000 – which inspired his latest challenge.
“For anyone facing cancer, you don’t get to stop halfway through cancer treatment or facing it, you have to come out the other end,” he said.
“And I thought, if they can do that, which is way braver than what I’m doing in my dinghy, I need to find something that would raise the missing £13,000.”
Mr Fowler added that he has been “blown away” by the support he has received for his fundraising efforts.
“It feels really, really wonderful. I’ve just been blown away by people’s generosity,” he said.
“I think the main thing, a lot of it has come from people who have only met me when they’ve seen me sailing or I’ve met them on the beach when we’ve landed or launched.
“When you get complete strangers, who I’ve never met, being so kind and generous, that keeps you going.
“They are really long, tough days, driving to different parts of the country.”
He added: “The genuine human kindness I’ve experienced along the way has been one of the most memorable parts of the whole adventure.”
Mr Fowler said it took him “13 hours in total” and about 70 miles on Wednesday to journey around the Isle of Wight, which brought him back home to Mudeford.
“To sail home, I’ve been away from home so much in this adventure, and all the kind people local to me could come down and see it, and walk me home, that was just wonderful,” he said.
“A super fantastic end to a long, long adventure.”
He added that his wife, Fiona, has been “absolutely amazing” throughout his challenge as he said it has “involved a lot of sacrifice on her behalf and she’s been so supportive”.
“I came out of the water yesterday and just hugged her in my stinky wet suit. It was wonderful, she thought it was wonderful, it was absolutely magical,” he said.
Mr Fowler is now looking forward to resting after his long adventure.
“It’s been magical, but it’s definitely sucked everything out of me,” Mr Fowler said.
“I’ve given it everything I have, and probably more than I ever realised I have, but we’ve made it.”
To find out more about Ken Fowler’s challenge and to visit his fundraising page, visit: yodare.co.uk