Tim Fitzhigham is the kind of chap that keeps on engaging in one kickass adventure after another one. And his next one involves a paper boat, the river Thames and a 383 year old record.
A 383 year old maritime record
John Taylor (24 August 1578 – 1653) was an English poet who was known as “The Water Poet” as he spent much of his life as a Thames waterman, a member of the guild of boatmen that ferried passengers across the River Thames in London, in the days when the London Bridge was the only passage between the banks.
Taylor was a prolific writer with over one hundred and fifty publications in his lifetime.
He achieved notoriety by a series of eccentric journeys of which his journey from London to Queenborough in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars was the most kickass.
This paper boat journey has been described in his poem “The Praise of Hemp-Seed. An excerpt from that poem:
I therefore to conclude this much will note
How I of Paper lately made a Boat,
And how in forme of Paper I did row
From London vnto Quinborough Ile show.
I and a Vintner (Roger Bird by name)
A man whom Fortune neuer yet could tame)
Took ship vpon the vigill of Saint Iames
And boldly ventur’d down the Riuer Thames,
Lauing and cutting through each raging billow,
(In such a Boat which neuer had a fellow)
Hauing no kinde of mettall or no wood
To helpe vs eyther in our Ebbe or Flood :
For as our boat was paper, so our Oares
Where Stock-fish, caught neere to the Island shores.
Taylor managed to float and paddle 50 miles from the City of London in his boat made from brown wrapping paper, before sinking at Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey. This was in the year 1620.
Tim Fitzhigham was immediately inspired when he read this ancient poem. Always up for an unconventional adventure – he had rowed a Bathtub across the English Channel after all – he started looking into making his own paper boat. Once he realised he could fairly easy build one with papier-mache he went to work…
In a paper boat down the River Thames
John Taylor’s paper boat journey on the river Thames had seen him paddle downstream from London to Queenborough, where the river Thames mouths into the North Sea. The 50 miles journey had set the world record for longest journey in a paper boat.
Fitzhigham decided to take on the record set by John Taylor in 1620 to raise money for Comic Relief. Better even, he wanted to crush the record once and for all. For that reason Fitzhigam started East – and upstream – of London in the town of Lechlade-on-Thames. His intended finish line was at the London tower bridge, 160 miles down the Thames.
Fitzhigam engineered a paper kayak entirely made from paper and glue. It was described as 85% paper, 15% seat and a whole lot of glue.
His paddles were also made from paper and resin, but had a layer of Kevlar added to improve stiffness.
Arriving at the London Tower Bridge
On March 12th 2003 at precisely 1pm Tim FitzHigham glided under Tower Bridge to become the first man in history to have taken a paper boat 160 miles down the Thames.
By the last day the Royal Navy, RNLI, London Ports Authority, BBC, London Fire Service and the Harbourmaster had all joined in and the river Thames was closed to all other shipping for the arrival of Fitzhigham and his paper boat. When he passed underneath the bridge the Thames Fire Ships (used at Churchill’s Funeral) sent triumphant fountains of water up into the air.
“We have done 160 miles and the boat is still looking good – I can’t believe it. Some pinholes in the resin led to the boat developing some rather soggy patches on the journey which had to be hurriedly repaired with gaffer tape but, for the rest, she’s really doing well. But we really have beaten the record – we’ve smashed it.” Fitzhigam said after his glorious arrival.”
The changing weather meant the final stretch was a little choppy and Fitzhigham said he was glad to be back on dry land.
“It was a bit concerning. The waves were a bit bigger than I thought they might be and there were a couple of moments when I almost went under.”
In recognition of his feat Tim was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen.