Hello, I'm Laurence and I'm from Cornwall in the South West of the UK. I grew up near the water and I try to get in the sea as much as possible, mostly to surf and kitesurf. However, over the next few months I will be well out of my comfort zone, both metaphorically and literally. I will be rowing up the Danube, against the flow of the river.
When I am not rowing I work as an expedition guide and lecturer in the Arctic and Antarctic. I have a background in glaciology so I spend quite a lot of time talking about ice, but I also enjoy exploring the geology, cartography, oceanography, and landscapes of the high latitudes with people from all walks of life.
I will start this journey at the mouth of the Danube, on the Black Sea in Romania. The boat has been shipped to Tulcea on the edge of the Danube delta. From here I will row the last 90 km to the sea, before turning and beginning the long row upstream. The Danube is 2,800 kilometres long and gets progressively steeper, and therefore faster, as you go upstream. I have two months free before I have to work again in the Arctic and I will row as far as I can in that time. I will restart the challenge after the summer season. In the autumn the river flow is reduced and hopefully the upper-reaches of the river will be easier to row. I have several plans depending on how difficult it turns out to be.
Plan A: Row the full length of the Danube into southern Germany, drag the boat 20 km across the river divide and into the Rhine, and then shoot down the Rhine to Holland, finishing on the North Sea coast.
Plan B: If the river is too fast in the upper-reaches then I will row two thirds of the Danube to Kelheim, where a canal links the Danube to the River Main and ultimately the River Rhine. This provides a bail out option, but is still a long way up the Danube and there is no guarantee I can get that far!
Plan C: There is no Plan C, I hope I won't need one.
The idea for this trip has been simmering for a few years and I still can't think of a good reason not to try it. It was conceived after a solo cycle across Europe, from Nice to Copenhagen. I started thinking about different challenges on our continent. I hit on rowing, and specifically the Danube. It is the second longest river in Europe and it flows through countries I have not yet had the opportunity to visit. A little digging showed that a handful of people have rowed and paddled down the Danube, including an epic recent adventure across Europe by kayak. Whilst it would be fun to emulate that trip, it was not quite what I was after. I have decided to attempt the river the wrong way, from sea to source, against the flow. I like the idea that it will be hard, and the very real possibility of failure is somehow enticing. It is also a nice combination of mental and physical challenge; every metre of progress is won against the flow of the river.
I have no idea if it is possible, but either way, I hope it will be fun.
Another major motivation of the trip is the opportunity to raise money and spread awareness for a good cause. There is no worthier cause than Médecins Sans Frontières; their doctors and staff work in the most difficult and troubled areas of the world, helping people in dire need, and saving lives every day. I have the goal of raising 4000 euros for MSF, a euro for every kilometre of the Danube and the Rhine. If you feel able, please donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, and help them to continue their amazing work.
I have limited experience rowing. I learnt to row dinghies at a young age and messed around in sailing boats a lot as a kid. However, my formal rowing experience consists of a single taster session at a rowing club in Copenhagen last year, and one session of coached coastal rowing in Dorset.
I have been working on expedition cruise ships for the last year and opportunities for training have been relatively limited. However, the last boat I worked on in Antarctica had a Concept2 rowing machine in the bowels of the ship and I managed to train a few times a week over the last two months. This was a little challenging as the Southern Ocean can be pretty rough and we work long hours. Training was generally either late at night or very early in the morning.
In summary, I have little experience and limited training. I will be improving my fitness and working on my technique as I head on up the river.
I will be using a lightweight coastal rowing boat. This is a balance of speed and stability, and with just enough space to carry the essentials. The boat I will be using is a LiteRace 1X made by LiteBoat, a small French company.
This will be a self-supported trip, I will be buying supplies from local shops along the way and camping on the banks of the river as I go. I have been pretty strict about what I pack, limiting myself to the essentials, a tent, sleeping bag, stove, and one change of clothes.
I have no formal sponsors for this trip, I am self-funding using every penny I have scraped together over the past year working in the high latitudes. This is not an intentional decision; I approached some potential sponsors months ago, but they decided (perhaps wisely) that the risk of failure was too high.
In the interests of full disclosure I should say that Mathieu and Grégory at LiteBoat have very kindly given me a club discount (~10%) in return for photos and text from the journey.
It would be tempting to ask for crowdfunding support along the way, but I think this would be disingenuous. I should be able to manage on my own resources; I am very fortunate to have a job that I love and which pays just enough to be able to do things like this in the off-season. I would kindly ask that anyone wanting to show their suppport donates to Médecins Sans Frontières, thank you.
Please feel free to get in touch through Instagram or Twitter; leave a comment or send me a message. Alternatively, you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — I anticipate having very intermittent internet access, so please bear with me. My friend Kimberly will also be monitoring these emails and she may be able to help answer any questions that arise.