"This naval officer pulled me aside and said, 'whatever you do, do not get on that boat with him in the Bristol Channel.'"
These are the words of sustainability campaigner Tammie Stevens, as we sit down to discuss her recent climate-focused expedition with husband Jason Lewis. Lewis, the well-known UK adventurer, is the first person to have completed a human-powered circumnavigation of the globe - and together - they make quite a pair.
From fighting off a crocodile on the coast of Australia to being held captive in an Egyptian prison on suspicion of espionage, Lewis has given talks at over 900 schools in 37 different countries to educate children on the climate crisis.
He’s already accomplished a 13-year trip around the world in 2007, but Lewis was keen to set his sights high again and undergo another ambitious journey.
Originally, travelling the world by human power was “a way to highlight what was possible without burning fossil fuels,” he says. “To use the journey to tell stories about sustainability and how very often people in far-flung parts of the world are being affected by our actions in the relatively affluent west.”
His latest adventure is taking place in his home country, the UK. With wife Stevens by his side, Lewis plans to tour the entire UK coast next April in a 30-year-old pedalo boat, named Moksha. The aim is to locate green projects around the country and profile individuals tackling climate change in unique ways, by travelling with a GB360 film crew in tow.
The couple have just made it across the Bristol Channel in one piece, after completing a pedalo trial run for the upcoming trip.
Navigating the Bristol channel: The trial run
In August this year, Lewis and Stevens navigated the canals from Oxford to Reading and then down to the Bristol Channel before pedalling along the South Wales coast as a ‘proof of concept’ trip, or as Tammie puts it, “they weren’t sure I could cut it”.
The pair faced some obstacles along the way, namely that Stevens is not fond of the ocean. “I’m scared to death of the water, it’s a big phobia,” she says, having never been to sea. “Before we left, Jason said, ‘well let’s just try on these goggles and just put your head in the sink.’ I had this nervous laughter and I couldn’t do it.”
Their pedalling journey meant that everything took longer and took a lot out of them both, energy wise. Navigating the UK’s various tidal systems proved to be more challenging than expected and lead to a precarious first night at sea. “When you are in an ocean, once you get away from the coast, you’re basically on a conveyor belt,” Lewis explains. “We ended up having to be tied to a cardinal buoy out in the middle of Swansea bay. This thing was like a big transformer – it sounded like it was breathing.”
To make the boat go faster, Lewis would pedal for three minutes and then rest for 30 seconds. “Then I would stand up and pedal backwards as fast as I could for 30 seconds,” Stevens adds.
For the eco couple, they saw their boat Moksha as a microcosm of our planet – it learns to live within finite constraints, like being isolated by water as opposed to space. “Just being on the boat has reminded me of living more simply, scaling down,” says Lewis.
“She’s still as powerful a story-telling vehicle as she ever was.” Moksha is steeped in history too, with an upcycled pedal seat from a former go-kart at the helm.
Cleaning the ocean from the bottom up
Throughout this year’s trip, the duo interviewed several people tackling climate change for a series of short stories that they will release on YouTube. One of them was Dave Kennard, a Pembrokeshire diver and founder of Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners (NARC), the UK’s first underwater clean-up group.
“We were going to some sites and the corals were just raked with angling equipment,” Kennard tells Lewis. To make a difference to the amount of waste, he set up the volunteer group in 2005 – initially by sticking up posters of SpongeBob SquarePants around his community asking for help from divers. NARC now clean up litter on the seabed, help local fisherman retrieve lost equipment, and rescue marine life, ranging from dog sharks to dolphins, trapped in fishing gear.
“One event that stood out more than anything else was two of us removing a washing machine drum off the seabed and a conger eel swam out,” says Kennard. Word Animal Protection estimates that over 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds are killed or injured each year from ‘ghost fishing’ – the term for fish trapped in lost or discarded equipment.
It’s donations that keep NARC’s volunteers diving in South Wales and combatting ghost fishing. “When I got home Monday night, I had a letter on my doormat from an old lady who’d given us a cheque for £750,” adds Kennard. “She has done it for the last three years now.”
Lewis and Stevens believe individuals like this can inspire others to take action within their communities when the global discourse around climate change is often too overwhelming.
“Rather than everyone waiting for some policy to come from Westminster, these people show that you can actually make a lot of change locally in your environment just by getting out there and starting a movement,” he concludes.
The UK-based trip seeks to show that regional solutions often trump national solutions, says Lewis, when it comes to building a sustainable future.