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Plucky paddleboarder battles 'washing machine' sea in failed world record bid – but leaves Highland Hospice buoyant with £1800 boost


By Val Sweeney

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James Fletcher completed the 21-mile open sea crossing of the North Channel.
James Fletcher completed the 21-mile open sea crossing of the North Channel.

An Inverness man has missed out on claiming a second Guinness world record after crossing the sea strait between Northern Ireland and Scotland on a paddleboard in conditions akin to being in a washing machine.

But he is delighted to have raised almost £1800 for the Highland Hospice.

James Fletcher, who made the 21-mile open sea crossing of the North Channel, or "the Sheuch", from Donaghadee to Portpatrick, had hoped to do it in about four-and-a-half hours.

But after being pummelled by waves and battling against strong tides and winds, the exhausted 39-year-old finally made it ashore after seven hours and 21 minutes.

Mr Fletcher – who set a world record of four hours and 33 minutes for a prone paddleboard crossing of Loch Ness last year – remains undeterred and has vowed to attempt the North Channel record again.

James Fletcher attempts to set a world record for crossing the sea strait between Northern Ireland and Scotland on a paddleboard.
James Fletcher attempts to set a world record for crossing the sea strait between Northern Ireland and Scotland on a paddleboard.

The planning manager for Forestry and Land Scotland, who lives with his wife Kate in Blackpark, said he and his support team took a gamble in what they thought was a good weather window but with conditions in the North Channel being fickle, found himself paddling upwind into rough seas.

"The strong winds to the south also turned the sea into a washing machine," he said.

"Basically, I had very little, if anything, in my favour on the conditions front for a quick paddle.

"Strong tides pushing north also meant a 38km rather than 35km paddle so it meant seven hours and 21 minutes of fairly intense and rough paddling.

"I also ended up with a rather nasty bout of sea sickness.

"I found out a lot about myself and my ability just to hang in there and stick at it when it all seemed against me."

Although he could have got back in the support boat, he decided to continue, becoming only the sixth person to do the crossing.

"I can’t really describe the freedom you feel being out in the open sea taking on something like this but I guess this is the stuff adventure paddles are made of," he said.

"It’s the wild open sea so I didn’t expect it to be easy, perhaps just a little bit more favourable."

James Fletcher (right) with his wife Kate and Mark Georgeson, who provided support during the paddleboard crossing.
James Fletcher (right) with his wife Kate and Mark Georgeson, who provided support during the paddleboard crossing.

Mr Fletcher, who lives with a heart condition, undertook last year’s Loch Ness paddleboard challenge to raise awareness for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young, raising more than £2500 then. Despite not getting a record this time, he was delighted to have raised money for the hospice.

"I’m not done with the North Channel yet," he said.

"I will be making another attempt at some point in the future but next time I’ll be waiting for better conditions and see if I can get near that record of six hours and 10 minutes.

"Until then it’s a live goal completed for me.

"I had a goal of doing it. I explored it. I did it. I discovered a lot about myself on the way and raised money for a good cause – I’ve got to be proud of that!"

Mr Fletcher has set up an online fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/northchannelpronepaddleboardchallenge.

World record holder for paddleboard crossing of Loch Ness to attempt another record


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