Atlantic Row Sponsorship

Crew participation sponsorship sought

Interested in sponsoring my participation in this expedition?

Please contact me for a personal chat:

Simple online sponsorship JustGiving - Sponsor me now! Text donation code: SLAW68 How to text a donation

Basic information

The total cost of individual participation in this challenge is £20,000 for each crewmember, to include:

  • Crewing fees
  • Flights to/from entry/exit countries
  • Accommodation and subsistence costs while on land at either end
  • Communications expenses while aboard
  • Sustenance and specialist clothing while aboard

As a self-employed entrepreneur, I will be putting up £3,500 of the total costs. The rest I must raise externally in the form of individual and company sponsorships.

How you can help

There are many ways you can help me and the Avalon crew:

  • financial sponsorship
  • product/services sponsorship
  • charitable donations

In return for your support, we can offer any/all of the following:

  • Your logo on the hull of Avalon
  • Professionally written PR content for your website/blog/newsletter/social media campaign
  • Professional press release write-up and dissemination to relevant media
  • Press photos of the crew (including Skipper Leven Brown) wearing your logo
  • Stand-alone mention in an on-board blog and accompanying tweets during the expedition
  • A pre- and/or post-event talk for your employees/members
  • Bespoke editorial articles, tailored to your industry and highlighting your sponsorship of the expedition
  • Named sponsorship credit in the associated documentary film
  • Linked mentions on:
  • Crew cooperation in related and relevant research projects
  • Fundraising towards mental health causes


Unlike sponsorships, which will be used to pay for individual participation in the challenge and/or production of the supporting documentary, all monies specified as donations are VAT free and will be forwarded to Mind, a mental health charity. Donations will generally be anonymous.

Sponsorship packages

While we are happy to discuss your specific needs, here follows some examples of the level of sponsorship you might expect for various contributions:

Green Sponsor: £100 + VAT

  • Email newsletter expedition updates with access to “Over The Next Wave” general social media content
  • Permission to syndicate, and/or re-publish in its entirety, social media content (inc. video, images and copy) produced by Sarah Lawton under the banner “Over the Next Wave”
  • Linked sponsor mentions on:
    • Ocean Row Events Facebook page (1482 Likes)
    • My www.adventure-mum blog (>550 subscribers)
  • Association with our fundraising towards mental health causes

Blue Sponsor: £250 + VAT

  • All Green Sponsor privileges
  • A professional press release tailored to your company needs and disseminated to relevant local or global media (list produced using a professional media system; Vocus). This can link your company to:
    • the Guinness World Record attempt
    • scientific projects to improve analytical biosensor technologies in cooperation with Cranfield University and the University of Leicester
    • the UK governments Talking Therapies scheme and Time to Change campaign
    • charitable fundraising activities for Mind and Rethink Mental Illness
  • Your logo (linked to your website) on the Ocean Row Events sponsor page

Bronze Sponsor: £500 + VAT

  • All Blue Sponsor privileges
  • Press photos of the crew (including Skipper Leven Brown) standing in front of the boat and wearing your logo on a professionally printed T-shirt (to be paid for separately)
  • A professionally written, bespoke 800 word editorial article, tailored to your industry and highlighting your sponsorship of the expedition, for you to publish wherever you wish

Silver Sponsor: £1000 + VAT

  • All Bronze Sponsor privileges
  • Stand-alone mention in an on-board blog and accompanying tweets during the expedition
  • A pre- and/or post-event talk for your employees/members
  • Named sponsor credit in the associated documentary film

Gold Sponsor: £5000 + VAT

  • All Silver Sponsor privileges
  • Your logo on the hull of Avalon
  • Strategy and content for a month-long bespoke PR and marketing campaign produced in cooperation with your own marketing and sales teams. This must focus on your company’s sponsorship of the Atlantic Row but can include press releases, newsletter articles, editorial article production and placement, social media content across multiple platforms, photography, and potentially even video.

Science Sponsor: £TBA + VAT

  • Participation in scientific data collection
  • Data reporting
  • Cooperative PR efforts

Equipment/Resource Sponsor: Equipment/Resources to be used in preparation for or during the expedition

  • Product specific sponsor mentions and content provision as outlined above, equal to the value of the goods

Service Sponsor: Services to be used in preparation for or during the expedition

  • Service specific sponsor mentions and content provision as outlined above, equal to the value of the goods

Product/Service Sponsorships

Instead of money, how about providing goods and/or services to our expedition?

Here is a list of just some of the things each member of the crew will be looking for:

  • Pre-expedition support
    • gym membership
    • personal training
    • sports coaching
    • performance/health monitoring
    • home rowing equipment
    • physiotherapy/massage
  • On-land Expedition Support
    • Accomodation at departure/arrival sites
    • Meals at departure/arrival sites
  • On-Board Expedition equipment/resources
    • sports clothing
    • communications equipment
    • high energy dried foods
    • ration packs
    • wet wipes
    • medical kit
  • Press coverage/PR
  • Specialist camera work

About Corporate Donations and Sponsorships


Companies – but not sole traders or partnerships – that give money to charity can deduct the value as a ‘qualifying charitable donation’ from their Corporation Tax profit. Donations to charity by sole traders and partners may fall under Gift Aid scheme for individuals provided all the conditions of that scheme are met.


Sponsorship payments that a business makes in return for something from the charity are treated differently for tax purposes from simple donations. If a charity agrees to give your business something in return for the sponsorship payment(s), then the whole of the payment is considered a ‘taxable business supply’ for VAT purposes. This means that the charity may have to account for VAT on the money it gets.

Sponsorship is a way for businesses to obtain the commercial benefit of bringing their name, products or services to public attention. Sponsorship costs are subject to the ‘wholly and exclusively’ test as with any other expenditure. This means that if there is a non-business purpose to the sponsorship (even if there is also a business purpose) no allowance is due.

Generally, any payment your business makes to a charity in return for advertising and publicity is treated as a business expense if your company gets a reasonable return from the charity for its money. However, there are some situations when it may not be completely clear whether a payment you make to charity is:

  • a donation
  • a sponsorship payment that’s a business expense

Some payments can be a combination of the two.

For this reason, we are offering clearly defined opportunities to either donate to our associated charities and/or sponsor crew participation.

Simple online sponsorship JustGiving - Sponsor me now! Text donation code: SLAW68 How to text a donation

Expedition launch announcement: Atlantic Ocean Row 2014

At last, I’m ready to announce my next major expedition!

Over the Next Wave: Atlantic Ocean Row 2014

  • An Atlantic Row world record-breaking attempt
  • A documentary film to challenge mental health stigma and raise awareness of Talking Therapies
  • Science projects in association with Cranfield University and the University of Leicester
  • A sponsorship opportunity delivering professional marketing materials tailored to your company
  • An opportunity to inspire your employees to face personal challenge head on!

Follow me and the rest of the Avalon Atlantic 2014 ocean rowing crew as we face own personal mental and physical challenges throughout an attempted record-breaking row across the Atlantic. Read about the associate cutting-edge science project and charitable fundraising activities.

While extremely physical, ocean rowing is widely recognised as 90% mental challenge.

Conditions aboard will not be comfortable, far from it. Crammed into a small boat with eight other adults and exposed to salt water and potentially extreme weather, the crew is likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, slow starvation as their bodies struggle and fail to replace calories, trepidation and seasickness.

During the first week at sea an ocean rower’s body will go into a form of shock as it adjusts to the new environment and unrelenting nature of the duties. Each crew member will row for two hours, then have two hours off – with the ninth shift offering a glorious four hour sleep in between – for the entire journey, non-stop!

Once we start, wind and current will prevent us from turning back for any reason. There is no support boat, and only one life raft as a last resort.

 “There but for the grace of the trade wind, go you and I. None of us knows what lies over the next wave.” Sarah Lawton

My pledge

I, Sarah Lawton, 46-year-old entrepreneur, wife and mother, am taking on the Atlantic Ocean Row (Dec 2014) to:

  1. beat the 30 day barrier for rowing across the Atlantic
  2. break three current Guinness World Records
  3. carry out scientific data collection towards improving biosensor technologies
  4. raise awareness of Talking Therapies for mental wellness
  5. produce a documentary to challenge current stigma associated with mental illness

Never having set foot in a rowing boat prior to signing up for this challenge, I shall be sharing my story from the very beginning. With blogs covering an introduction to rowing at my local club, my first rowing lesson on The River Ouse, crew selection, sea trials with the rest of the crew, my on-going training and – all being well – on-board communications during the actual crossing.

The Crossing

A nine person crew will board Avalon, a 45 foot long, carbon purpose build four-position rowing boat and attempt the 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to Barbados; the Trade Winds 2 route.

The expedition will be led by Skipper Levin Brown. With three times Guinness World record-breaking rows of the Atlantic under his belt, Leven is widely regarded as the world’s finest ocean rowing skipper and is renowned for having a knack for choosing the right people for his crew.

World Record Attempts

  1. The fastest crossing of the Atlantic on the trade winds 2 route
  2. A sub 30 day time – this is the 4 minute mile of ocean rowing
  3. The longest distance travelled in 24h record
  4. The most consecutive days rowing over 100 miles.
Simple online sponsorship JustGiving - Sponsor me now! Text donation code: SLAW68 How to text a donation

New elephants, new adventures!

There is certainly a lot to catch you all up on. I don’t know where to start! What I will do, for now, is list as much as I can here as a reminder to myself that I owe you at least a tale or two about these matters. That way, you can all hassle me a little to cover them as I move forward with my NEXT BIG ADVENTURE! Which is indeed a big one and may become a little distracting. However, there are some really great stories to tell from the past few years as well, so do remind me to let you in on the following:

  • The Great Indian Elephant Safari – a trip to the Manas National Park in Assam, India. A new company and an opportunity for any one of you to experience a similar sort of journey to the one I had in Nepal!
  • Canyons & Craters, Namibia 2013 – a six week expedition to the wilds of Damaraland in the Namibian desert. Me (Chief Science Leader), Sam McConnell (Expedition leader and desert guru), a bunch of adventure leaders and science leaders, 5 trainee leaders, and more than 50 16-19 year old Young Explorers (YEs)! Yes. Quite a tale that one.
  • Medieval Roundhouse Build, Arran 2012 – a beutiful island, an unusual conservation project, some scientific fieldwork and a climb up to the top of Goat Fell
  • Destination Cyprus – a week in Spring, some stunning walks, but a strangely lonesome experience in a large, luxury spa with no other guests but me!
  • Destination Barcelona – a fabulous long weekend away with my other half and a great reminder of how fun Europe can be
  • Destination Algero – exploiting the rediculously cheap flights on a new Ryanair flight path
  • Destination Brighton – the joys of a stolen weekend in good old Blighty

A new dawn, a new day

So, how do you restart a blog having dribbled to an embarassing halt half way through what you hoped would be a full story?

Er…. deep breath. With apologies… And….

“Take two!”

A new dawn, a new day, several expeditions and adventures later about which I have every intention of catching you all up on at some point! In the meantime, I shall reskin this site and begin buidling on what is already here to help promote my latest, greatest and slightly daftest expedition plans!

Expedition Elephant chapter twenty six: Camaraderie and competition

The following morning was Thursday and Jack had encouraged some of us to get up at the crack of dawn to head up river and look for evidence of Rajim following the sighting made by Jack’s bird group. As the main group was planning to take the elephants for a bathe in the river later that morning after a late breakfast, this seemed like a good plan. Tessa and I therefore agreed to join Jack, Susanna, David D-W and Captain Sarah and Bhim was assigned to guide us.

Tessa’s log: Earthdate 19 April 2012

Temperatures: 06:00  24°C    14:00  38°C    19:00  31°C

06:30 Bhim, Jack, Tessa, David DW, Susannah, Sarah A, Sarah L – walk up river to try to find Rajim´s footprints and/or dung from yesterday. Footprints (20” = were found on other side of the river (by dint of wading across), but no dung.

The lure of camaraderie

I admit at this point that the idea of a long walk before breakfast would usually have been a difficult sell for me. However, I found that getting up was a lot easier in Nepal than at home. The attraction of waking up in a tent to the sounds of the forest and the warmth of the sun always made it easy to hop out of bed and embrace the world.

There was, of course, the added attraction of this particular group of individuals. How could I not be persuaded to join them? Jack was a lovable rogue, Sarah easily admirable and always good for a laugh, and of course Tessa, my best and most trustworthy buddy. Being generally quiet, yet surrounded by an air of growing contentment, Susannah remained deeply intriguing, and David D-W could draw images that looked like photographs using a pencil! My heart rose at the mere memory of his abilities and he carried himself with such charm. I was already a huge fan. Although his wife will be pleased to know that I was reserving my own natural flirtiness for both Jack and Sarah.

There is definitely something intoxicating about sharing such an emotionally explosive, extreme adventure with a relatively small group of people. In my opinion the bonds formed during a ‘work hard/play hard’ scenario of such intensity are some of the most cherished. These relationships may not last beyond the trip but at the time the people you find yourself waking with, walking with and working with, seem like the most fascinating you’ve ever met. Those who were strangers until you met at the hotel, quickly become like family. Which is just as well as you occasionally find yourself trusting them with your health, safety and well-being.

Placed in this type of situation I would be described as ‘gregarious’ and ‘transparent’. Which is a nice way of saying ‘gobby’ and a little flirtatious. My mother describes me as a social butterfly and my father hangs his head when forced to remember my antics as a young woman. When it comes to life, the universe and absolutely everything, my husband and sons know there is very little I’m not willing to talk about squarely, openly and in-depth.

This approach to life can appear somewhat brash to some. To others it can be anything from amusing to down-right embarrassing. Peter, a true gent from a generation expected to be seen and not heard, quietly revelled in the novelty of it. To young Jack and Sarah it was an invitation to be as open and honest in return. And herein lies the real benefit to transparency. The more open you are, the more other people will reveal of themselves to you. Under these circumstances certain types of people will reciprocate with bright-eyed joy in the freedom of it and there begins what will feel like a meeting of minds. Mutual appreciation will ultimately turn into mutual attraction. Pheromones go crazy. Chemistry flies. Married women find themselves having to have serious talks with themselves on a regular basis. Trust me, I’m an expert. Luckily it is this bit I like best. The really naughty stuff seems unnecessary in comparison. This is what is known as ‘love of the chase’. It saves many of us from being truly bad. Sadly however it does not prevent us from making complete and total idiots of ourselves occasionally… but that was all still to come.

So, when asked if I might join a walk along the river with some of my most precious new friends I jumped at the chance. I wanted to spend as much time with these people as I could. And I guess I was also a little interested in finding elephant footprints and even dung too.

Competitive by nature

We took a jeep as far as we could before going on foot, through the head-high grasses along the bank and down to the water. As a group we followed Bhim along the river’s edge. The pebbles under our feet threatening to twist our ankles with every step and the further we went the larger and looser they became.

We soon reached the area where Jack’s team had spotted the bull elephant the day before. We scouted around for some time but found nothing of interest. The terrain on this side of the river was not conducive to footprints and there were no signs of any elephant droppings. All we found was some rhino dung that looked at least a few weeks old.

Bhim suggested that the other side of the river would be a better bet and, leaving us sitting in the morning sun on the pebble beach, he began to wade across.

The river was fairly wide and the water rose to thigh height at its deepest. Bhim used his walking stick to keep his feet from being swept out from under him as he forded the middle section which ran fast. We all watched him as he crossed, shielding our eyes from the sun with our hands so we could keep up with his progress.

With time to contemplate, I gave myself another layer of suncream whilst listening to the quite conversations going on around me. Jack and Tessa had already begun to discuss the possibilities of their following in Bhim’s footsteps across the river. Captain Sarah and Susannah were chatting with David about life at home.

It wasn’t too long before Bhim had crossed the river. He was clearly used to carrying out such feats. Within minutes of him reaching the other side he had scouted the far bank and was yelling across at us that he had found both footprints and dung. That was all the incentive Jack and Tessa needed. They were off!

Tessa simply waded into the water in her shoes which were designed specifically for being able to do just that. Jack had to take his boots off, string them together and hang them round his neck. This set him several metres behind Tessa from the outset but his competitive streak was in full play and they were both clearly aiming to reach the other side first.

Sarah and I agreed that there was more than a little part in both of us that wished someone would fall in. I had my video camera at the ready. Sadly however they both reached the other side without incident and disappeared into the greenery beyond.

Behind the curtain

They were gone for some time. I began to worry about the time. We were going to be late back to camp. It also occurred to me as we all sat looking across the river that we were rather exposed. I turned and sat watching the forest behind us instead, just in case. Time ticked on. The conversation between my companions evolved. David was sharing details of his life. His story was deeply personal and deeply moving. Although he talked directly to Susannah, both Sarah and I listened intently.

It can be shocking to peek behind the curtain of someone else’s life. When we first meet someone we learn of the most obvious things about them first and can fall into making assumptions about their lifestyle. We tend to imagine others’ lives as more glamorous than our own. We fabricate truths that must then stand up and be tested when the facts are revealed. Occasionally we are not too far from the truth but this is rare. More often than not, real life is nothing like our imaginings. And sometimes reality stops us short and we gasp and watch our preconceptions crumble to dust. In these moments we learn. We learn to appreciate the person baring themselves to us. And we learn to appreciate our own existence. Mine at least can seem sheltered and cushy when compared to the harsh experiences life has seen fit to throw at others.

David is an artist. I had looked up his website and seen a book of his work following our first meeting during the briefing day in January. He is, in my opinion, quite brilliant at what he does. Not only is he is an artist but an explorer too! I had therefore, instantly fabricated my perception of his lifestyle around those facts and assumed a fair amount of glitz.

That morning, on the beach, David described his daily reality. It was so far removed from anything I had imagined that my entire perception of him underwent a dramatic shift. I had admired his work before. Now I admired him as a human being.

Late home again

Eventually Bhim, Jack and Tessa reappeared from the brush and used sign language to let us know they would walk back along their side of the river and cross over where it was narrower. So we set off over the pebbles to meet them.

We were not as late back to camp as I had expected to be. But we were late enough to get an earful from the Colonel. On the plus side, Jack and Tessa’s excursion had won them some clear footprint data and several dung samples to add to our growing collection.

Lesson no. 29: When left waiting on a river bank in tiger territory, don’t forget to look behind you

I’m back! I’m back!

Sorry about the long wait folks. I’ve had a lot on my plate.

I’m now up and running as a freelance copywriter, journalist and social media expert. See my website at if you’re interested to know more.

Most importantly of course is that i’ve managed to carve out some time to start writing my story about Nepal again…

Hang on to your hat! Here it comes… the second half of what is clearly turning into a book. :)

Short interlude…

Dear readers

As things are taking longer than I hoped they might, I thought I’d best let you all know that I am having to use every hour I have away from my formal employment to set up my new freelance business. Please bear with me. As soon as I have everything sorted I shall get right back to writing the account of my expedition.

In the meantime, please feel free to let me know what you think about the work so far.



Expedition Elephant chapter twenty five: All creatures great and small

Photo by Duncan Sharp

After our exciting sighting (what a lovely phrase) of the herd on Wednesday morning, we spent a very hot few hours back at camp while the sun was at its height. At around 14:00 the temperature rose to 38 degrees in the shade.

Tessa’s log: Earthdate 18 April 2012

Temperatures: 06:00  24°C     14:00  38°C    19:00  32°C


  • Waterholes group – Sarah A, Sarah L, Tony, John E, Mandy, Barry, David DW, Susannah
  • Fishing – Rajan, Carolina, Cathy, Peter
  • Birding – Bhim, Jack, Villa, David R
  • Survey – Duncan, Siv, Graham, Tessa

The waterholes group saw One-tusk.

Survey group found the herd again, which was rather close to the road we were on. The matriarch got quite excitable, but eventually moved off. Bhim Gaj then appeared following them.

The fishing group saw Gangetic dolphins again – probably 2 of them.

Some of the birding group saw Rajim.

The beauty of small things

Over lunch we discussed what each of us would most like to do that afternoon and were split into the most appropriate groups as a result. While Carolina and Cathy decided to take the opportunity to join the fishing group and go for a swim in the river, Jack initiated the idea of taking a group bird watching and, while he took Bhim as a guide, he took on the role of group leader as part of his leadership training. Tessa elected to go out with the survey group.

I elected to tour the watering holes again because I hoped the heat would draw a lot of animals to drink. As it turned out, the largest living thing we were to see throughout most of that afternoon were insects, although I did spend a few intrigued moments poking at a dead boar that lay in the muddy waters of one hole. It was odd to see such a meaty carcass simply lying about, although I suspect it didn’t last long following our visit.

As there was nothing larger to distract me, I was able to focus on the rather stunning insect life. In Bardia insects tend not to appear shy, but instead suggest adjectives such as ‘flouncy’ and ‘in your face’. Butterflies are many, varied and beautiful. Dragonflies buzz about in crazy bright coats of Ferrari red and iridescent blues and greens. Beatles are either madly bright in colour, skittering around the forest floor like animated hundreds and thousands on acid, or ominously black and massive, buzzing through the forest at chest height like enormous airborne tanks.

It made me realise how easy it is to become pre-occupied with the larger mammals and forget about the tiny lifeforms that were all around us, all the time. It is too easy to reduce these creatures to the footnote that requires you to pack heavy-duty insect repellant.

Caterpillars would find their way onto our hats and shirts and into every piece of equipment we possessed. The air was full of long-legged, brightly coloured beasts that would flit past, land on a leaf and either disappear into the background as it shut its wings or loom hugely in front of our eyes as we strolled along, daring the birds to try eating it despite the fact that it’s colours screamed ‘poisonous’!

Every tree in the forest is host to insects of some sort. There are the vicious fire ants that would get people hopping and yelping in their houdas if our elephants took us through any elephant-height fruit bushes. Or the snazzy shield beatles that wandered up and down the tree trunks, their backs sporting the most incredible designer patterns.

In addition to the glorious host of bugs that flew around the forests, some of the most exciting insects were those found around camp and which I had only ever come across on wildlife programs before this. Exotic beasts such as praying mantis, hornets and scorpions had my full attention.

One lunchtime, Siv and Duncan arrived at the mess lodge brandishing a photograph of a large, black scorpion they’d found sitting outside the entrance to their tent. I had to fight back almost as much jealousy at not having seen this spectacle myself as I had when I’d heard about the tiger being spotted. I was however hugely gratified to be rewarded a visit by a stunning, pale green praying mantis the next evening. It landed on the mat right outside tent no.9. I remember looking at the little alien-like thing in all its perfection and finding it odd that it looked exactly like photographs of itself. Even in reality, this spectacular creature was almost too weird to be believed.

Throughout the expeditoin Susannah spent tireless hours putting together a butterfly list, while Jack tried multiple times to set up successful insect traps to catch further nocturnal specimens. These traps became more and more extravegent, eventually becoming a bed sheet suspended in mid air and lit up using a collection of UV insect lights taken from each of our tents. Unfortunately none of his initial efforts worked well at all and his most successful trap attracted two enormous brown mantis which then spent the evening eating every other creature that dared to land. None of us could work out why Jack’s methods failed, but it was a lot of fun watching him try.

The excitement of massive things

Following many hours traipsing from waterhole to waterhole, we found ourselves on our way home in the jeep. The evening light was just beginning to fade and the temperature had dropped to a more reasonable 32 degrees.

Once again, those of us sitting in the back stopped chatting abruptly as our jeep squealed to a halt and the guide pointed into the depths of the high brush we had just driven past.

There stood an elephant, watching us.

It was the bull with one tusk. He stood alone in the brush chewing grass and watching us from about 15 meters away. We all grabbed our videos and cameras and started filming him. Through my camcorder lens I watched as he contemplated the situation for a few moments. Suddenly, without any warning, he was charging us. Hari yelled at the driver to go. The jeep jolted forward. We were all knocked back into our seats. I kept the camcorder running as we were bounced about wildly in the back of the jeep staring at the massive elephant running headlong at us. This time, he really meant it and there was a moment when my thoughts turned to the scene in the movie, Jurassic Park, when the ground shakes as the T Rex bears down on the tiny landrover.

Lucky for us the jeep engine had been kept running. Lucky for us we had stopped beyond the elephant. And lucky for us, once it got going, the jeep was faster than the elephant. Not more than fifty meters on, One Tusk decided we weren’t worth the effort and slowed to a halt. We too stopped. But this time at a much greater distance away.

We waited and watched until he crossed the road behind us. This gave us the shots we needed, from shoulder to ground, to get his height measurements.

When we got back to camp we were to find our elephant sighting was to be trumped once again by the survey group. They had seen the entire herd, with Bhim Gaj, crossing the road as they made their way home. The birding group had also seen a lone bull from a distance, later identified as Rajim, and the fishing group had yet another sighting of Gangetic dolphin.

Tony had been with us for the charge of One Tusk and stood in the mess lodge, video camera in hand, ready to share the footage with his wife. While she had spotted the brown hump of a dolphin as it surfaced briefly in the river, Cathy had yet to see an elephant.

“I don’t believe it,” announced Cathy in wild frustration. “I missed the elephants again. All I got to see was the bloody dolphin.”

“Don’t you dare!” said Tessa in dangerously dark tones. “Have you any idea how many people would give their left arm to see a Gangetic dolphin. Do you realise how rare they are? Don’t you dare complain about having seen one. You should count yourself as lucky.”

The whole mess lodge went quiet as Tessa gave Cathy an unequivical ticking off. Cathy sat in stunned silence for about three seconds before turning to Carolina, who sat next to her.

“Well that’s a bit of a cheek!” she declared. “Who gave her the right to talk to me like that? Perhaps if she’d missed every elephant sighting to date she’d understand. We are here to see the elephants after all.”

There was an awkward hush as Tessa kept glaring at Cathy and Cathy, her back turned squarely away, muttered to those sitting next to her.

“Calm,” I said to Tessa. “Sit down. It’s not worth it.”

Tessa sat. If she had been an elephant her ears would still have been flapping slightly.

“Mmmmmmm….” she said in tones of slatey grey.

“Tell me about your sighting,” I asked in a blatant attempt to switch the focus.

Tessa’s face immediately lit up.

“You should have seen it,” she said in delight. “There was a tiny baby and it fell into the ditch at the side of the road and couldn’t get out. We watched it as it worked out how to escape. It was ridiculously cute.”

If I were wicked, I might have believed that Tessa may have been speaking a little bit louder than usual. Perhaps just loud enough to ensure that Cathy could overhear everything she said. But luckily no one rose to the bait.

The spat was over. We all went back to our dinners.

The next day, Tessa apologised to Cathy and the air was cleared. But it also helped that Cathy was very careful never to grumble about having spotted dolphin again. In fact, she was less grumbly about her daily experiences altogether from that point onwards. She did, however, make Tony promise never to go out without her. They were to share whichever experiences they were lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to live through from then on.

Thankfully Cathy did eventually get to see both lone elephants and a herd.

Lesson no. 28: appreciate the Gangetic dolphin or risk the wrath of Tessa

Expedition Elephant chapter twenty four: Everyone’s gotta eat!

After our amazingly busy day on the Tuesday, the following morning felt like a return to ‘routine’. We awoke at 05:15 once more, to be ready for a 06:00 departure. Even at that time in the morning it was already 24 degrees centigrade and the winds had died away to nothing leaving us all having to deal with the realities of more traditional Nepalese conditions.

So what, after only three full days in the jungle, did my perceptions already class as ‘routine’?

Tessa’s log: Earthdate 18 April 2012

Temperatures: 06:00  24°C   14:00  38°C  19:00  32°C


  1. JBS, Mandy, Villa
  2. Duncan, Siv, John E, Cathy
  3. Barry, Carolina, Sarah L, David R
  4. David DW, Peter, Jack
  5. Tony, Tessa, Angus
  6. Graham, Sarah A, Susannah

06:00 departure by jeep to the elephant pick-up at Gaida machan. Elephant safari picked up lots of tiger trails including remains of kill, but no tiger.

Our jeep found the herd near the road, with Bhim Gaj. The other jeep found a one-tusked bull not far away.

Evidence of a kill

After our usual early morning snack of tea and peanut butter biscuits, we all got into the jeeps and headed off to meet the domestic elephants. This morning I was back on Saraswati, with  tall, slim David Read beside me to balance Barry, who sat next to Carolina behind me.

It was a relatively uneventful safari. There was one point when our phanit and Hari became excited and we found ourselves following some fresh tiger tracks, but this chase fell into confusion after about half an hour of searching. Having been joined by Raj Kali, we were sent to scout a small path along which a boar had clearly run soon before. However, that too led to nothing and it was on our way back from this fruitless trail that we spotted the back leg of a deer lying in a grassy glade. Fresh tiger kill, and it was no more than four meters from where the tiger tracks had first been spotted. If we had turned right, instead of following the path straight ahead, we would have caught the tiger feeding. Sadly we had been unlucky. Now, all that remained were a few bloody bones, bits of plucked hide and a skinny hind leg, complete with hoof.

Saraswati stood as we took photographs, but she was still uncomfortable being around this area. It stank of tiger.

The rest of the morning was spent in semi-trance as we scouted up and down a riverbed. I was on the side of the houda nearest the bank so had a fabulous view of the dry cliff face that stretched up above our heads. When the waters had been high, the river had sliced through this land, dragging away the layers of pebble strewn sand in which the jungle had grown. Trees clung to the cliff edge, roots half in the bank, half hanging loose, creating fantastic shapes, all creeping and twisted.

As Saraswati plodded along the natural river valley I was able to look back up the gulleys left in the bank by rivulets that had run perpendicular to the main flow. These were crisscrossed by roots and full of animal burrows. Dark, deep holes of all different sizes suggesting residents that might range from voles to porcupines. Even sloth bear are known to dig, although it wasn’t until days later I was shown clear evidence that a particular hole had been made by a bear. At this point, my experience extended only to porcupines.

David Read was a quiet companion. A retired carpenter from Chippenham, David had been on a previous expedition with JBS and had helped construct a watchtower to aid wildlife conservation in Burma. Interestingly, for this expedition JBS had paired David up to share a tent with young Jack. David had also been asked to ‘look after’ Jack. Unfortunately, this was a task born to disaster and poor David, who took the responsibility seriously, was to receive the disapproval of his young tent mate who had reached exactly that point in his life when the very idea of being ‘looked after’ was perceived as an insult.

Throughout this trip, I admired nearly every single decision JBS made with regards to his team. I was clearly delighted to be paired with Tessa and not just because we got on so well at a personal level. Pairing us up made us stronger as a team than we would perhaps have been as individuals. I blush at the idea that I might be of any aid to Tessa, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that having Tessa around made me more efficient on a daily basis. I was also impressed by the decision to pair Susannah and Captain Sarah. What might have seemed an odd pairing at first, became a clear boost for both of them. Sarah’s practical streak balanced Susannah’s calming influence beautifully. However, I’m afraid that the David Read / Jack pairing was to turn into a small drama that had both of them winding each other up until, by the time we got back to Kathmandu, there had to be a subtle rearrangement of hotel rooms to ensure no one ended up like the deer, nothing but a skinny, bloody leg lying in a grassy glade.

I, however, found David R perfectly enjoyable company on the back of the elephant and we sat side-by-side in companionable silence for most of the ride. It was calming. It was hot. There were times when we were negotiating the jungle branches. There were also times when we walked in open grasslands and had to suffer the direct sun. This was all classic elephant safari experience now. This was almost routine.

A hungry herd

Around 11:00ish we met the jeeps by the road and dismounted the elephants. Rather than bother with ladders at this point, our phanits simply asked the elephants to lie down as close to the jeeps as they could. All we had to do then was extract ourselves from the houda and step off onto the jeep seats a few feet below.

Soon we were heading back to camp for our brunch and to get out of the increasingly hot sun. We all sat in a slight daze as the jeeps drove. Now used to the jostles and jolts of the jungle tracks, our bodies relaxed and simply going with the flow of the vehicle.

I was in a jeep with JBS and Ram Din. They sat up front with the driver. There were perhaps six more of us in the back. Two rows of three, our knees intertwined in the middle of the vehicle, backpacks tucked under the seats and our legs, cameras always accessible round our necks.

Suddenly Ram Din pointed forward at a bush and the driver ground to a halt. The bush was right next to the road. It rustled wildly and parted to reveal a massive bull elephant. We all stopped making noise and sat staring at the enormous animal, less than twenty feet in front. A noise to our left then drew our attention to the large group of females and babies, all standing munching on leaves and staring at us from a group of trees about fifty feet into the jungle. We had come to a halt directly in front of them.

A few moments of concern as JBS and Ram Din assessed the situation. Luckily the bull, who was later identified as Bhim Gaj once again, decided we were of no harm and turned his back on us, delving deeper into the thick bush he was slowly devouring. This meant the other elephants were also relaxed about our presence. They too were far too busy eating either to worry about us, or move away. Ram Din instructed the driver to switch off the engine. JBS took up the radio and quietly informed the other jeeps. We all got our cameras and videos out and arranged ourselves as quietly as possible so we had the best view we might each afford.

“Take a video,” whispered Ram Din. “We can see their eating habits. This will make an excellent video.”

Typically, my video was still out of action at this point. All five of my batteries had been sent up to the lodge to be recharged. I did however have my camera and was using the video on that.

We watched the group of elephants as they tore down a tree, ripping the branches from it and devouring in a matter of minutes every bit of green it had spent so many years growing. A tiny baby elephant, the same one I had spotted the previous day being helped across the river between two adult females, stood under its mother suckling from her as she munched on leaves. It was a wonderful experience watching them from the relative comfort and safety of the jeeps. They stayed there eating for nearly fifteen minutes before slowly drifting off into the deeper forest.

After some time a second jeep arrived. JBS and Ram Din frantically tried to wave them down but they stopped right in front of the bush where Bhim Gaj was hiding.

Luckily, we didn’t see the bull again. He may have followed his herd, although he may also have remained in the bush to keep an eye on us all. No one from the second jeep was daft enough to want to check.

Just as we drove off, I spotted another tree being pulled down from the distant treeline. It reminded me of a scene from the American TV series ‘Lost’. One minute the tree was there. The next it was gone… almost as though some great beast had plucked it from the ground!

Upon our return to camp, we discovered that the second jeep had also spotted a lone bull elephant. This one had only one tusk and had also been grazing close to the road, not far from the main herd. It was interesting, from a scientific perspective, to note the two bulls and there relative relationships with the herd.

Over lunch stories were told, notes were made and photographs were shared. Once again, having been in the one jeep that had got all the way back to camp without seeing anything, Cathy was spitting bullets.

Lesson no. 27: Never ask someone to ‘look after’ a nineteen-year-old who has just spent four months travelling alone through Australia and Borneo

Expedition Elephant chapter twenty three: A dangerous encounter

Photo by Graham Lydiatt

What a day we had had so far! A raft ride, a buffalo cart ride, a school visit, a home visit, an elephant football match and an elephant safari. Not bad for one day. No wonder we were all tired and slightly bedraggled by the time we met the jeeps that evening. However, it turned out that, despite the fact that I’d totally run out of video batteries (sod’s law), this amazing day was not over yet…

Tessa’s log: Earthdate 17 April 2012

Temperatures: 07:00  24°C  19:00  30°C

The trip back was made on the elephants as far as one army camp, where we were picked up by the Landrovers. On the way back, we found the herd of wild elephants again – 27 counted – in a meadow heading for the river. Another good sighting. The bull Bhim Gaj was still with them.

Stalking the matriarch

I had jumped into the first jeep alongside Rajan, Tony, Duncan, Graham, Tessa, Siv, Susanna and Jack. We were first off, with JBS and the others following in a second vehicle some way behind.

We hadn’t gone very far when Rajan made the driver stop. He indicated a trail of damaged vegetation.

“Look,” he said. “Many wild elephants walked this way. Shall we get out and follow their path?”

“Yes,” we agreed as one.

Rajan got out of the vehicle and walked through the brush towards a line of trees in the distance. We followed him as quietly as we could; a trail of tired expeditioners, cameras at the ready. The sun was low in the sky making the entire world glow golden. The brush turned from dry grass to the clipped, charcoal-brushed stalks of a month old burning. The woody remains crunched under my boots and left black streaks on my trousers.

We had walked for a few hundred metres when Rajan stopped suddenly and raised a hand indicating for us to freeze. He raised an arm, pointing north.

Following his outstretched finger with my eyes I saw a cloud of dust in the clearing between one row of trees and another that ran parallel, perpendicular to where we stood. Between the trees the land had begun to replenish itself following the fire, lush green grasses rising up between the remnant stalks of the old forest.

Rajan put a finger up to his mouth; ‘Quiet!’. My eyes focused on the dust cloud and eventually picked out the grey blob that quickly took on the outline of a large elephant. A second elephant stood some way behind her but the animal closest to us was large and looking directly at us.

“Stand still,” whispered Rajan. “She’s the matriarch. Get ready to run if I say run.”

We stood, frozen to the spot. I lifted my hybrid camera and aimed it ahead of me. I took a few shots without even looking at the LCD screen. My eyes were on Rajan and the elephant. The elephant continued to look directly at us. She looked edgy.

Suddenly, and without any warning, she charged towards us.

“RUN!” yelled Rajan, already bounding back towards us.

We turned and ran back in the direction of the jeep. The next few moments took on a peculiar slow motion. The world around me seemed more detailed and somehow brighter as my senses were heightened by the chemicals that washed through my body, helping me escape the danger.

I remember as I turned away from the charging animal that I was able to note that the second jeep had joined ours on the road. The second team had started out on the path to join us. They too had heard the warning call and were turning tail back to safety. Then my eyes were on the ground. I watched my feet. I was focused on the ground where my feet were going to land. My brain calculated the territory under which each step would fall. A dip in the ground ahead – I lengthened my stride to compensate. A fallen log – I leaped over it. Each footfall crunching through the clipped tops of the old grasses. I was running. I was aware that I was running.

My brain suddenly became aware of its own focus.

“Oh my god,” said an inner voice in a weirdly calm way. “This is me. Right now. Here I am running away from a wild elephant. How crazy is this? Am I over-dramatizing this situation?”

I found myself wondering if running was still necessary. I slowed slightly. My peripheral vision caught sight of Rajan passing me by on my right hand side.

“Shit!” I thought less calmly, and quickened my pace again.

I could hear the others running ahead of me and beside me. I ran.

The whole scene lasted only seconds. We probably didn’t run more than 70 metres. But, inside my head the time extended into a crystal clear memory I shall cherish forever.

Rajan, now ahead of me, stopped abruptly and looked back. The elephant had stopped. We all stopped too, turning to watch her. She had established the upper hand and was clearly much more relaxed about us being there. We were prey rather than predator. She could make us run like rats if she so wished. She snorted in disgust and turned away, hustling her herd ahead of her in a northerly direction.

Being stalked by the matriarch

“Do you want to follow them?” asked Rajan.

“Yes,” we all said. At that point we hadn’t worked out the relationship we had with our guides who were bound to ask our permission, and bound to take us where we wished to go. From our perspective, they had the knowledge and were therefore in charge. From their perspective, we were in charge. This slight mismatch meant we were about to make a crazy decision. We were however, comfortably oblivious at this point.

We had total faith in Rajan. We followed Rajan. Rajan followed the elephant herd. Not one of us turned round. If we had, we would have seen JBS waving at us furiously to return to the vehicles. Ultimately, it was JBS who was in charge of all of us. We were his responsibility. But we did not look back. Rajan was in front. The elephants were in front. Our eyes were firmly ahead of us.

We were following a rough path that was half way between the two parallel rows of trees. The elephants dispersed to the right, disappearing among the lusher growth.

Rajan stopped and turned to us.

“The elephants are going to cross the river,” he said. “Do you want to try to get behind them to watch them cross?”

“Definitely,” we said.

Rajan, ever the willing guide, indicated that we must be very quiet and follow him as closely as we could. He then turned and ran. We ran. One by one we ran between the two rows of trees. Those to our left were dry, brown and stood apart. Those to our right were green, bushy and closely packed together. The grass beneath our feet got greener but the old burned growth spiked persistently through the new vegetation. The elephants were no longer in sight.

Again, my memories slow to a crawl. I was running. Rajan was about thirty feet ahead. Tessa was behind him by about twenty feet. I was behind Tessa by another ten feet or so. I could hear others running behind me. One hand held my recording equipment against my chest so it wouldn’t bang up and down as I ran. I occasionally hit the camera shutter button hoping for a lucky shot. I was exhilarated from the previous encounter with the matriarch. I was happy. The world was still glowing gold in the evening sun. The ground under my feet was bright, bright green.

As I ran I glanced to my right.

There, among the trees stood the matriarch. Staring straight at me. I was running directly across her path. She looked furious, her ears flapping madly, her eyes boring into me.

“Holy crap!” I thought with an almost comical inner voice. “There is a good chance we shouldn’t be doing this. Here I am again running in front of an elephant. I’m even closer this time. Oh dear. Should we be doing this? I should look ahead. If I don’t look ahead I might trip but I can’t stop looking at the elephant. She’s very close. She looks pretty angry. Drat. I need a pee. I wish I’d gone for a pee before getting on the jeep. But if I’d gone for a pee I wouldn’t have been on the first jeep with Tessa and Jack. I wouldn’t be having this amazing experience running away from the big, angry elephant. Oh dear. The pee is coming out a little. Can I afford to stop running so I don’t pee myself? If I stop running I could brace my muscles a little and stop my bladder letting the pee out. I’m still staring at the elephant. She’s still staring at me. I don’t seem to have run very far past her yet. I think I should keep running in case she charges me. I’m going to have to keep running. Hey! I’m a real expeditioner on expedition. How cool is this. I’m going to have to pee myself to stay safe. This is a true adventure. I’m running away from an elephant. I think I may be doing something a little stupid. Drat. Another little bit of pee escaped. I hope I can stop running soon.”

Somehow I managed to drag my eyes away from the elephant staring at me from across not far enough.

With eyes forward once again the distance I covered seemed to increase and time found a more realistic pace. Another one or two hundred feet and we rounded a clump of trees that sat in the middle of our path. This gave us enough cover to slow down and as soon as we skirted around the copse we could see a break in the treeline on our right, revealing the river.

We peeled off and each found a spot on the river bank. With a clear view south, downstream, we were able to see the herd.

A herd of expeditioners watch a herd of elephants

The next ten minutes was spent in silent wonder.

There they were. The entire herd. Peacefully crossing the river in groups. Young ones protected by older ones. Tiny ones literally held between two adults to ensure they weren’t knocked off their feet by the current.

As they stepped into the water they would take a long drink. A swathe of pebbles just off the near bank gave them the opportunity to stop awhile and simply stand, waiting until their comrades reached the far side safely. Then the next group would follow them across. The occasional youth swishing the water with a trunk irresistably. Knocking back a trunkful, splashing their heads, sides and backs with the cooling water.

One young elephant was so busy drinking that he didn’t spot his mother and sisters depart. Looking up he realised they were almost at the other bank without him. With a nasal squeak he set off alone, rushing through the water until he had caught up with them. He reached out his trunk to make contact and howled a protest at having been left behind.

Having run out of camcorder batteries I had reverted to my camera. Luckily, I remembered that is too had video capability and was able to take some footage as well as stills. As I settled into filming, the previous inner turmoil calmed and was replaced by total awe. Cameras clicked all around me as my colleagues recorded their own versions of this incredible experience.

The moment became so peaceful that I was soon able to take in my surrounds as well as appreciate the elephants. I spotted Duncan perched out on a tree that stuck out from the bank. He was crouched with his long lens aimed at the herd. He looked the image of a wildlife photographer. Tessa sat next to me, her camera clicking away furiously. Behind me I could sense Graham’s calm presence. He took fewer photos, preferring to simply watch and appreciate this event in the moment. In between were others, strung out along the river bank, relatively evenly spaced, each respecting one another’s right to appreciate this moment as an individual.

Jack turned and smiled at me. I smiled back enjoying the act of sharing too.

I relaxed further and allowed myself to move from the immediate squat one takes when in a rush to get the shot. I sat firmly on the ground. Calm enough to begin thinking about getting more stability. Remembering to slow my breath so as not to shake the camera. Considering the light.

The elephants continued to cross calmly. Those who reached the opposite bank disappearing in dusty clouds, backlit by the sinking sun.

Then a single large female appeared from the near bank. She was huge. When this elephant reached the bar of shingles her elder sister joined her, even larger. This was the matriarch. She made a point of looking across at us. Letting us know that she knew we were there.

The two huge adult females crossed to the other bank.

“How many did you count?” whispered Graham.

“Twenty-seven,” said Tessa with great authority.

“Yes,” said Graham. “Me too.”

But then came yet another elephant. Even larger than the previous two. This one with the tusks and a great bulbous skull lump indicating that he was a male. Walking with the herd, but slightly apart from them.

He was enormous.

I used my camera again to video him but, as I did so I fumbled in the pouch that was clipped to my belt and took out the range finder. As he reached the shingle he was fully visible, shoulder to foot. I aimed the range finder and hit the button to take a reading.

“138 feet,” I said to myself. Just to be sure, I also unzoomed the camera completely so I knew I’d have a shot of him with no complicated optics messing up the measurement. Of course, I had Tessa a few feet away. Which meant I could easily have got away with not bothering with any of this. Tessa is ultimately reliable. I knew she would have the height data covered. But I was here to do a job too so felt satisfied knowing that I was able to carry out the task, even under these ridiculously exciting circumstances.

The bull drank copiously. He splashed himself. He stood grandly in the evening light. He strolled across the river, up and over the other bank. He was magnificent. We decided later that this was Bhim Gaj.

What a sighting!

A well deserved telling off

We walked back to the waiting jeeps. Following one of the guides who was under the impression the jeeps would drive to meet us, I ended up in a group that were still walking down the road as we overheard JBS reading the riot act to those who had already returned.

He was, quite rightly, angry that we had all put ourselves in such danger.

That evening, he read from his book ‘Mammoth Hunt’. It was an extract (p103-104) from the ‘Close encounters’ chapter and covered a similar incident. That time, the elephant had not stopped charging.  Miss Alexandra Dixon had been chased, caught and tossed by a bull elephant, his tusks penetrating her hip and leg. Luckily Dr Chris Thouless had managed to save her life. A heroic act for which he was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry medal.

During my expedition interview with JBS he had told me the same story.

“How silly she was for getting so close to the elephant,” I had said. “I wouldn’t expect you to save me if I did anything that stupid.”

How quickly I had forgotten my own judgement when faced with a choice between excitement and safety.

I was ashamed.

Lesson no. 26: When escaping a charging elephant, make sure you run faster than the man behind you