“Prepare to be extra pumped up after reading about Charlie tackling various solo (and competitive) challenges, how he is able to push through and stretch himself, and an anecdote about why he keeps a couple of yellow (rubber) ducks.”
Leigh Lim: Hey Charlie! Thanks for taking the time to share a bit about yourself. What impresses me the most about your web presence is the logo you have chosen. Did you have a lot of input in the design?
Charlie Martell: We (I use ‘we’ as my challenges are very much a team effort. While I’m rowing, others are continuing with PR, advising me on weather etc) have been using the same designer for both my Pacific 2012 and The Charitable Adventurer logos respectively.
After having given the designer a brief, he then came up with about five different designs, then we started the ‘back-and-forth’ of what we liked or disliked and what we like to try or to change, until we came up with a logo which we felt worked.
I would say the designer had approximately 80% input, with the remaining 20% coming from my team and I.
LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with tackling challenges?
CM: The creation of a team to tackle the 2005 Polar Challenge was as a direct result of the Ocean Fours Rowing Race being delayed two years. Disappointed by this, I decided that no matter what, I had to take part in and complete a challenge without further delay. So I created Team Commando Joe and three of us raced on skis (pulling sledges) to the 1996 recorded position of the Magnetic North Pole.
This took a certain amount of training and planning as you would expect. My team was made up of former British Commandos, whom had all served and operated in the Artic environment before. The key learning point from this challenge was to trust your equipment and your team (I suffered snow blindness, but my team kept me going. One of the team members suffered an injury to his ankle, we split the kit between the two of us and carried on going).
LL: With snow blindness, do you take conscious steps to prevent being afflicted during future journeys/challenges?
CM: Speaking from experience, snow blindness is incredibly painful but certainly in my case the damaged cells repaired themselves quite quickly. It really is a case of protecting your eyes with suitable eye wear, preferably polarised glasses/goggles.
LL: Was there something specific about rowing that endeared you to taking it up?
CM: I think the first time I heard of ocean rowing was during my school days when I learned that the father of one of the pupils had rowed the North Atlantic West to East, in 1966. There was no specific thing as such, but I did feel and still do that it is a huge test of one’s mind and body. I doubt I was thinking that before rowing though!
LL: If you were to put together a ‘development plan’ for someone who is interested in tackling challenges that stretches them (the way it did you), what would it look like?
CM: I think there has to be a desire within oneself, even if dormant, to want to undertake a challenge. So, a development plan would start with exploring one’s own capabilities. In rowing terms, some opt to throw themselves in feet first so to speak and row the Atlantic as part of one of the organised races. It’s unlikely that these people have never done something challenging beforehand.
Perhaps a series of build up challenges would be suitable, which is certainly how I approached my challenges and is a journey I would recommend to others.
LL: Would you say you stick to a specific rowing style?
CM: Yes… get the oar in the water and make the stroke count. Seriously though, I suspect other ocean rowers might agree that given the variable conditions one faces out on the open water, one’s rowing style might adapt stroke by stroke.
Imagine sitting on a Swiss Ball and it can move in any direction at any time… that’s what it can be like on an ocean rowing boat. Now imagine being on a Swiss Ball, moving in any direction at any time and you’re trying to row… Style adapts to conditions.
LL: How do you prepare for each of your challenges?
CM: The preparation was different every time, but the underlying factor is healthy body, healthy mind. So fitness is essential. My challenges have not required superhuman strength, but have required a strong and positive mental attitude. When the chips are down, accept it, laugh it off, learn from it and move on.
One of the most import aspects of preparation is ‘team support’. Many people may be under the illusion that a solo rower does everything themselves, when in reality the support from the rest of the team creates the conditions for the rower to row. Ensuring one has a good, strong, reliable support team is critical to the success of the challenge.
LL: Regarding fitness, what are some low impact workouts you tend to include in your routine?
CM: I prefer to do a mix of fitness training, including mountain biking (which is low impact until you fall off) and CrossFit. When I can, I go for a swim and also use the ergo. Given the opportunity and facilities, I would swim every day.
LL: It’s interesting that you touch on that (healthy body, healthy mind), and it certainly supports the “mind over matter” saying. Though some people do just think that they can will their body to do anything! Do you give your mind a workout too?
CM: A very good question. My personal way of trying to strengthen the mind is when I have a spare few moments in the day, I try to think of myself on the challenge, for example sat in my rowing boat, surrounded by water, no land at all, heaving away at the oars, making slow progress against wind and current, uncomfortable, blisters, sores, hungry, silent…
Try to imagine the emotions and try to come to terms with them on dry land. I feel this took the edge of the mental state somewhat. I also try to think through these emotions when doing physical exercise.
LL: How has your diet (and eating habits!) changed over the years?
CM: Whilst training, I might be considered a bad boy. I don’t worry too much about what I eat, but tend to eat what I want whilst using a bit of common sense. I don’t eat fast food regularly, but I will aim to eat fruit and/or veg daily.
On the ocean, fresh fruit and veg might last up to a week maximum, then you really are into ration packs. There are numerous manufacturers supplying some great freeze-dried meals, one my favourites being porridge made by Expedition Foods.
LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as adventurer?
CM: Personally speaking yes I think it is discipline, coupled with motivation and also a sense of always wanting to do more, to push my personal limits a bit more each time. I do wonder if I was a millionaire, would I have the same drive and passion.
LL: Do you think you’re the guy who always will say: “I’ll stretch myself as much as I can (because it improves you as a person), rather than, I’ll find ways to make myself more comfortable”?
CM: Ordinarily, I am the guy who says, “I’ll stretch myself as much as I can’. That said, in recent times this has been tempered with comfort and spending time with family and friends. I would like to think that if I was bequeathed a large some of money, I would help family, friends and several charities as well as look after my own family.
LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to train?
CM: Absolutely, this morning being one of them! I find that at times like this I give myself a quick talking to and remember why I am training… in order to be in the best possible condition prior to undertaking either further specific training, or to be ready for the challenge itself.
LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics during your adventures and when you train/prepare?
CM: I would like to think that I have been but I’m sure someone else might show me how to do something better, quicker, easier, so I/we are always learning how to be more ergonomic.
When someone does show me a new method, I feel like a child at Christmas again – amazed and thankful.
LL: Are there key things you do when you train to prevent injury?
CM: I think the key for me here is to do the basics such as warm up/down and stretch off etc. It’s also important to listen to your body. If it’s screaming in pain, then is it because of lack of fitness, or is it due to injury. If it’s injury, stop. If it’s due to lack of training/fitness then I keep going until my brain wins and says stop.
LL: Do you still get colds and flu?
CM: I don’t normally suffer from a cold or flu, but obviously on occasion a bout of man flu can cause a ‘man down’ situation when I depend on my wife for sympathy and to nurse me back to health again… (as if that’s going to happen!)
Training in the cold, ensure you start cold as you’ll soon get warm/hot and ensure you have a warm layer, including a hat to put on after training. I’m referring to UK/temperate climate, so the steps I take may not be the right steps to take in colder or warmer climates.
LL: Are your recovery sessions different after you train?
CM: Generally yes. Different training normally requires a different recovery session. If I’ve been sat on an ergo for 30 mins at medium pace, then I would expect my recovery session to be relatively short. If I’ve done a long session, whether out on the mountain bike, out for a run, or a long session on the ergo, then recovery session will be longer and possibly more muscle group specific.
LL: Are there specific conditions/areas that you’d be reluctant to tackle?
CM: My comfort zone really is the water. The ocean is a dangerous place but I do feel comfortable out on the water and I respect the power of what water can do.
If I was to truly leave my comfort zone, I would be tackling a mountain or two (with an experienced guide/expedition leader such as Kenton Cool). That said, I’m not reluctant to tackle a mountain but I would be more concerned for my safety than being on an ocean.
LL: What sort of signs do you (and your team) look-out for to ensure that conditions to tackle a challenge are suitable?
CM: Well, prior to departing Japan in my bid to row solo across the North Pacific Ocean, the weather conditions were not great for several days. However, a small weather window did present itself and we decided that I should take my chances.
In this case my shore support leader, Tony Humphreys, was checking weather data throughout the preceding days, particularly looking for favourable wind, tide, current etc. I took the chance and it paid off. I rowed about 30 miles offshore from Japan relatively quickly and was far enough offshore that when the weather changed for the worse, it had little effect on me and I could continue rowing east.
LL: Do you get fired up more when you are racing in real time?
CM: I’m more fired up for races like the 125mile Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race, a non-stop endurance event which I have completed twice in a folding kayak (Klepper style).
Kayakers see other kayakers throughout the race, but on the ocean you may not see another row boat until the end. On the ocean, I find I’m normally fired up at the start, the halfway point and definitely towards the end!
LL: What kind of gear do you bring along with you?
CM: Some of the equipment required on an ocean rowing voyage includes items like spare oars, spare seat parts, para-anchor, para-drogue, basic tools, comprehensive first aid kit, satellite phone, outdoor camera/s, snorkel and mask, spare seat cushions, flasks, watermaker maintenance kit, lots of rations, clothing, sense of humour, music, books, more sense of humour.
LL: What sort of Maintenance do you do on the boats you use?
CM: Maintenance normally includes ensuring the watermaker is working properly. No watermaker, no water, no cooking = challenge over. Keeping the hull free from barnacles and weed is important as this slows the boat down.
Other maintenance might include personal maintenance, blisters, sores etc all need looking after – prevention better than cure.
LL: How many cameras do you use when recording a challenge?
CM: I took three cameras on the Pacific. 2 x GoPro and 1 x Oregon Scientific. All cameras were able to [be] fitted outside, with the GoPros fitted to the safety rails and the Oregon fitted above the stern cabin.
All cameras were removed at the end of the day to download video/images and to recharge batteries. I have to say, the Oregon outperformed the GoPro with ease!
LL: Did It!? (Outperform the Go Pros) Was it the ATC9K? (I had a look at the product offerings of Oregon Scientific, and they have a wider range of products compared to GoPro — plus, seems like the price is about half of GoPro as well!)
CM: In my view it did outperform GoPro, yes, primarily on the battery life but also because it has a wireless remote control and a screen to watch playback – with GoPro you have to pay extra for these. I think the video quality is similar, but perhaps not better (perhaps not noticeably different) and as you say, it was cheaper.
LL: What’s the story behind the yellow duck!? (Found it at 2:21 in this video)
CM: The yellow duck was one of a few small, lightweight, gifts from Mr Ben Goss, the Chairman of the charity ‘Give Them a Sporting Chance‘, whom I was raising funds for. It was on board for morale purposes.
I think by the time I started my row across the North Pacific, I had three small rubber ducks glued into my cabin. On a ‘down’ day, I could look at the duck and think of Ben. Think of what the charity has done and continues to do. Think of what an inspiration and role model Ben has been for me and no doubt many others.
The simple things that remind me of friends and family back home help get me through the ‘down’ days.
LL: I noticed (3:33 in this video) that there are written messages inside your boat. Is that a tradition for each of your adventures?
CM: Prior to departing from New York, to row across the North Atlantic Ocean, numerous friends wrote messages in our cabin. Messages of support, love, maybe even a joke or two. These have an immense morale value and it’s something I encouraged friends and family to do with my solo ocean rowing boat, ‘Blossom’, prior to departing from Japan.
There were quite a few messages as you may have seen, one particularly strong one was from a former WW2 Prisoner of War, Mr Alistair Urquhart (who wrote the book I would recommend you to read, The Forgotten Highlander).
Alistair has been to hell and back more than once and he paraphrased Winston Churchill’s words of ‘Never, give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy’.
LL: One of the tricky things to get right is finding the right people to accompany us in journeys. Do you have a method of evaluating (and vetting) individuals who’d be a good fit to join you?
CM: For Team Commando Joe, for all three challenges (Arctic, Atlantic, Desert – I didn’t undertake the desert challenge due to prior commitments), I chose people who had one common background… They were all British Army Commando trained personnel. I knew that with their training, I knew that they could and would keep going, no matter what the conditions.
For my support team one of the best and perhaps easiest decisions to make was to ask Tony Humphreys to be my short support leader. He has a wealth of experience and doesn’t hold back on saying what he thinks.
I have met some incredibly inspirational people though my challenges and through my voluntary charity work that I now have a list of people I could ask to join me on a challenge and who would probably say yes!
LL: With sponsors, you have a number of them. Did you get to a point where you’ve had to say no to a sponsorship offer?
CM: Unfortunately, I have never been in the position to be able to turn down sponsorship. The process of getting sponsorship is particularly difficult for some and relatively easier for others. It really rather depends on three factors, who you are, what are you doing, and what does the sponsor want.
One soon learns to take the negative responses, but at first it’s hard. It’s important to remain positive. If you can’t remain positive through the sponsorship process, how do you expect to remain positive when things aren’t going the way you want during your challenge? The process is, I feel, a lot more about who you know than what you know. Your family and friends are your best ambassadors and can champion you in their respective circles.
LL: Thanks for allowing your self-portrait to be used for the Q&A. It looks really good! Are there times when you schedule in some time to take photos? (Or was this a rare one, that you wanted to do a self-portrait for use online? Did it take much planning to capture this image?)
CM: Taking pics on the ocean, I don’t normally set aside time for it but when you’re rowing one thing you have a lot of is ‘time’… time to think mainly. So, I often thought what would people on land want to see. Sunset? Dawn? Birds? Waves? Ships? etc. So, aimed to send pics as and when whatever props were on hand at the time.
LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting blog entries?
CM: Normally it depends on when I think I have something valid to share. I plan to update my blog monthly in due course.. I hope I don’t bore any readers! 😉
LL: Are there certain things you could ‘go on talking’ about?
CM: Oh probably yes… I do enjoy talking about ocean rowing but would much rather be in a position to do it (or a challenge) once a year. I do enjoy presenting my adventures to schools with the hope of inspiring a few to try new things.
LL: Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?
CM: I don’t listen to enough music. I enjoy music and really should listen to it more often.
My taste, like many others I suspect, is rather eclectic. In no particular order, I enjoy some of the ‘hooked on classics’ tracks, pipes & drums, Genesis, Anastasia, John Legend, the list goes on… and one of the tracks I enjoyed on the ocean a few years ago was Kelly Clarkson’s ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new music?
CM: Not usually, but I have asked friends in the past to send me their preferred music choices when training, so that I can take these tracks with me on a challenge.
LL: Where do you go for inspiration?
CM: I think sub-consciously some inspiration has come from my Grandfather and my father. Modern day legends such as John Ridgway, Ranulph Fiennes, Brian Thompson are also inspiring.
I do get a huge amount of inspiration from those whom are less fortunate than others, yet still manage to beat the odds and undertake huge challenges. Row 2 Recovery is one example and another is Natasha Lambert (aka Miss Isle).
LL: What’s your view about social media?
CM: Social media can be incredibly positive and informative. There are some great tools to try to inform people about challenges and the obvious platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are great for this. If/when I finally stop doing challenges, I will probably reduce my time on social media too.
LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?
CM: Twitter, facebook, snapchat
LL: Do you currently post at any Forums?
CM: I don’t post in any forums for a number of reasons and one of the key ones is that old chestnut… ‘time’! Not enough time in the day.
I would much rather meet people to discuss issues, or perhaps speak over the fun rather than writing in a forum where the message can be so easily misinterpreted.
LL: When someone meets you for the first time (reads about you, or watches you on an interview) what sort of message are you hoping they’ll take with them after chatting with you for an hour or so?
CM: Looking to inspire others is my reflex answer. My hashtag, or perhaps should I say the hashtag I prefer to use is #InspiredToDoMore
LL: Are you interested in technology?
CM: I do like new gadgets if they are ergonomic, otherwise I’m not so keen.
I use a MacBook Pro for day to day use which I have had for four years and just like it was when it was new. Easy to use, clear screen and never crashes. Technology on my boat I do take seriously. I use a Panasonic Toughbook, which I link up to my Fleet Broadband (FB) 150 unit to send emails, images, videos and to receive emails. I normally have two or three cameras on board as well as an e-reader.
LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?
CM: I would like to mix it up a bit next time and taking requests to talk about specific topics is a great idea. I would focus on one video a week on average, of about 30 seconds long.
LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?
CM: Probably the one where I’m wearing my military uniform, doing a piece to camera, for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second for 2012, Diamond Jubilee. It made the news in the UK and we were lucky enough to receive a thank you from Buckingham Palace too.
LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?
CM: On the ocean the best way is by twitter (I think!). On the ocean it was tough and time consuming (answering individual questions and emails) and it has been a good learning point. Next time, I must keep responses limited due to time taken up replying.
LL: What are your thoughts on YouTube and Vimeo, have you noticed distinct differences in terms of managing and sharing videos?
CM: I have no preference. Alex Fine covered my Pacific 2012 challenge and he suggested using Vimeo, while I was posting on YouTube. I think YouTube has more users – but I could be wrong – so I would prefer to use YouTube for that reason.
Charlie Martell is an adventurer based in Cirencester. You can find his videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and can reach him through the first form below. He is currently planning for future adventures and open to speaking invitations from schools and organisations (both Profit and Non-Profit).
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (August 2014 – January 2015) between Charlie and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)
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