Interview with 14-year-old record-breaker Ben Edwards
PUBLISHED: 16:40 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 16:40 30 January 2017
Ben Edwards, a pupil at St Christopher School in Letchworth, has sailed into the record books as the youngest person to circumnavigate the North Pole
You took on the daunting Polar Ocean Challenge – 20 weeks and 13,500 nautical miles in freezing conditions – at just 14. Why?
On top of simply being attracted to the idea of an adventure, I wanted to raise money for Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust. I spent two weeks in Addenbrooke’s Hopital in Cambridge a couple of years ago with an inflammatory bowel problem. The incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis) is increasing in children and Addenbrooke’s is leading research into the disease in children.
The British crew was led by industrialist and adventurer David Hempleman-Adams. How did you prepare to meet the exacting conditions?
In 2015, I spent a month and a half on the boat Northabout sailing up to Svalbard, Norway, with some of the crew who joined me for the Polar Ocean Challenge. Before and after that, I did a number of Royal Yachting Association courses, including the competent-crew and sea-survival-skills courses.
What were the highlights?
Arriving in Upernavik in Greenland – that was the end of the Northeast and Northwest Passages. I got to see my mother again, spend a night off the boat, and was just relieved that the hardest part was over. I was wrong about that – the Atlantic was horrible.
Were there any times you felt in danger?
Absolutely – when we had to run away from polar bears after anchoring and waiting for the ice to break. We were also trapped in a hurricane in the North-East Passage north of Russia, with winds of up to 76 knots – equivalent to 90mph. Speeding in between icebergs at nine knots in the dark. And having nine-metre waves in the Atlantic at the start. But not enough to make me think I should get off.
You are youth ambassador for Wicked Weather Watch – what’s that?
It’s a charity set up by David Hempleman-Adams to educate young people about climate change. One of the ways it does this is by gathering first-hand evidence from people who have been to the high latitudes and bringing their stories and evidence back to schools.
David has been going to the Arctic for many years and has seen how the ice has decreased over this time. The first time Northabout sailed through the Northwest Passage was the year I was born. The crew saw ice every day and had real difficulty getting through. We saw almost no ice in the Northwest Passage. While it took us four months to circumnavigate the North Pole, 14 years ago they had to go so slowly because of the ice that it took a season to do the Northeast Passage and another to do the Northwest Passage.
Where do you get your sense of adventure and what’s the next one?
My sense of adventure has been definitely cultivated by my parents. Next, I’m hoping to walk to one of the Poles. But at the moment it’s GCSEs.
To support Ben’s fundraising goal of £20,000 for research into inflammatory bowel disease in children, go to act4addenbrookes.org.uk/supporter/benspolarchallenge