Tim Fitzhigham is a comedian with a fascination for making jokes, sporty activities and bathtubs. Combining those passions he took a copper bathtub a pair of rowing paddles and rowed himself across the English Channel in 2005. All in the name of charity he battled himself through problems with blisters, sunburn and 100,000-tonne container ships and entered the record books as the first bathtub crosser of the English Channel!
An Entire Bathroom and a rubber Duck
But for Fitzhigham just a mere bathtub crossing was not comfortable enough. He preferred to have an entire bathroom at his disposal during the crossing and hence he added shower and some taps.
“It is basically a bathroom,” he said.”It is a copper bath with a lovely Victorian shower head, taps and a little pedestal. There is a flat bathroom floor and it just sort of floats. It’s got oars and I just row it along. The tub even has a plug, but the compass has been put in the plug hole, so hopefully it should stop it leaking. In the bathroom I will be happily accompanied by Bernard, the most adventurous rubber Duck in the world” Fitzhigham said.
The bath was built by Mark Edwards of Richmond Bridge Boathouses who also built the Royal Shallop Jubilee (some famous boat we at kickasstrips never heard of either). It was designed by multi-award winning designer Douglas Hynd and Tim on the back of an envelope after some pints down the pub. The bath taps and shower were supplied and designed by Thomas Crapper and Co. Ltd and the boat was launched by Thomas Crapper himself (great grandson of the original Crapper who invented the flush toilet).
The bath was named the Lilibet II in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, which was the Queen’s nickname when she was young.
The planned 130 mile row would start on the French coast and, after a big rowing effort Tim should reach Dover, move on round the coast of Kent and up into the Thames all the way to his final destination of the Tower Bridge in London.. His foolproof plan was inspired by “a plan devised by the Romans to use the tidal water and get up to London. This plan has never failed in the last 2000 years. But I have to admit that it also has been used only once in the last 2000 years”.
A First Failed Attempt (2004)
All great adventures have some sort of mishap which, in the end, make the adventure only more kickass! Same same for Tim FitzHigham and his goal of becoming the first bathtub crosser of the the English Channel.
On July 14, 2004, Tim made his attempt to row his Thomas Crapper fabricated bathtub across the pond part of the 2004 Sport Relief charity fund raiser.
However, a storm consisting of Force 6 winds resulted in the attempt failing, the bathtub being damaged and the Duck M.I.A. in the North Sea. Here is what Tim had to say about that dramatic windy day:
We received the go-ahead late on Monday evening to attempt the crossing. Tuesday morning started out really well; the weather was beautiful and I did the first half the channel in the bath in a time that would have been good in a normal boat. The minute I entered French waters the weather got much worse – I rowed on hoping that it might get better.
After 3 and a half hours more of rowing against the wind and by this stage the current had turned against me – with wave tops reaching 2/2.5 metres and winds gusting to force 6 the attempt had to be called off for safety reasons. The bath had developed a leak by this stage (no I did not take out the plug by mistake) and I was plucked from a sinking bath just in time for it to flip over. I dangled over the side of the support boat clinging to the arm of my support boat skipper and was eventually hauled on to the deck as the bath listed away from me to tip over. Immediately before leaving the tub I had to cut loose nearly everything (equipment and supplies) due to the bad weather. Thanks only to cutting loose the equipment and the brilliance of my support boat skipper (and a salvage firm) the bath is now back in Blighty. The bath is totally bent and out of shape with a great big hole in one side and we are all hoping currently that she may be fixable.
I was less than 5 miles off the French coast when we had to call the attempt off and due to the currents etc had rowed just shy of 20 miles to get there – half of this was through the storms.
There are now many conversations going on between all the various sponsors and me about how possible another attempt is. For now I feel fine and relieved to be here if a little on the tired side. If anyone knows any good remedies for cuts send them on.
I finished the whole day off with a nice long soak in the bath – oh the irony.
Finally, may I ask you all to remember Bernard my rubber duck who bravely went down with the vessel in the finest traditions of the British Navy.
He will be much missed.
The successfull bathtub crossing (2005)
In 2005 Fitzhigham tried again to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in a bathtub. This time he made his attempt part of the Comic Relief fundraising effort.
Tim set off from Folkestone, in Kent, at 4am. Almost seven hours later it looked like Tim would not make it again as the wind changed, slowing him down.
‘I could see it going the same way as last time,’ he said. ‘But I just knew I wasn’t going to give up.’
By this point his speed had sunk from four knots to one and he almost passed out three times. Thankfully, he’d received advice on how to battle through the pain from Olympians Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell, Alex Partridge and Steve Williams.
Tim found inspiration in his ‘imaginary iPod’ and was driven on by U2, Nirvana … and a few more upbeat tunes.
With France in sight Andy King, skipper of the support boat, asked where an exhausted Tim wanted to aim for and was told: ‘Show me a piece of land – any piece will do.’
He touched Cap Gris Nez, 35km from the UK, just after 1pm, shouting: ‘We’ve done it. I don’t believe it, I’m in shock – wow that was fun.’ Shortly after, he was heard describing the event as the worst few hours of his life.
Ever since that day Tim has been bragging about his bathtub mastery and bravery. Wisely people don’t take him too serious….but maybe they should cause after he had arrived in France Tim’s support boat brought him back to Folkstone and then he rowed another 200 miles around the Kent coast and up the Thames all the way up to the London Tower Bridge. There he arrived to a, well deserved, hero’s reception.
His marathon row raised more than £20,000 for Comic Relief and the Make Poverty History Campaign.
The Book: In the Bath & All at Sea
Maybe to brag a bit more about his trip and accompanying bathtub rowing record he later wrote about the experience in his first book, In The Bath, which got later retitled All At Sea.
All At Sea is a celebration of the epic absurd and record breaking bathtub trip he made. It is a great description of just how out of hand things can become from a very simple starting point and crazy idea.The book follows the author’s death-defying 200-mile journey in his antique Thomas Crapper bath – not just across the Channel, but around Kent – right up to the tremendous reception and huge media attention which awaited him under Tower Bridge. Tim met the Queen, and his bath now resides in the National Maritime Museum of Great Britain.
Such a kickass adventure indeed deserves a book
The Comedy Show
Being a comedian Fitzhigham’s had to use his crazy adventure story for a stand up comdey show too. He played it during the Edinburgh Fringe Comeday Festival and got raving reviews for it. Here is a short clip of what kind of bathtub talking he manages to do….
Fitzhigham in a paper boat down the River Thames
Fitzhigham’s love for crazy and original ventures was vented through another notable mission where the comedian -inspired by a 383-year old maritime record -paddled down the River Thames in a paper boat. Read the entire story about that kickasstrip here.
Other Crazy English Channel Crossings
Tim Fitzhigham is far from the most original badass English Channel crosser. Others include a crossing by flying with a bunch of colourful balloons (like the movie ‘Up’), by shuttle-bike or supersonic Jetpack. Find all of these and more in our English Channel Crossing section.
When it comes to bathtub adventures there is also a whole lot more to explore as other mad bathtub travel exploits have been undertaken in Northern-Ireland, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine and Peru. Find out more about them in our kickass ‘Bathtub Adventure Gallery‘