Harpenden Rugby Club coach attempting five world records in the Arctic

Jeff Willis

Jeff Willis - Credit: Archant

A Harpenden rugby club coach is attempting five Guinness World Records in the freezing environment of the Arctic Ocean.

Top-down view of the boat

Top-down view of the boat - Credit: Archant

Jeff Willis, 56, who has lived in St Albans district for 30 years, was also the HRFC’s vice president.

Now, he and eight others are rowing from Norway to Svalbard then back to Iceland, for science and for glory.

Jeff, a single parent of three, said: “I’ve never tried anything this difficult before.

“One of the greatest challenges is temperature, which ranges from minus two to seven degrees.

Jeff relaxing

Jeff relaxing - Credit: Archant

“It’s also been quite eerie. For the first day or two we saw three or four ships, but the next four days we saw nothing, no signs of human life.”

When Cardiff-born Jeff spoke to the Herts Advertiser on Friday, the team had already rowed from Tromsø in Norway to Svalbard.

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This has made them the first team to row from the south to the north of the Arctic Ocean.

This week, the team departed for Iceland, which should secure them two of the world records: first row from the south to the north of the ocean, and the fastest row across the Arctic.

The crew at sea.

The crew at sea. - Credit: Archant

They set out to reach the northernmost latitude for a rowing vessel, and be the largest team to row the Arctic.

Jeff said: “There was some really tough competition to get on the team. I was very pleased and proud to win that place.

“It’s quite a team, and from all over the world. It’s a thoroughly international team.”

Jeff is managing a team which includes the world’s fastest ocean rower, Fiann Paul, Olympic gold-medallist Alex Gregory, and ex-special forces soldier Tathagata Roy.

The crew rowing

The crew rowing - Credit: Archant

The expedition is not just for glory, though. The crew are being accompanied by Dr Danny Longman from Cambridge University, who is studying the psychological changes in the crew during the expedition for his study on stress.

One thing that will surely be playing on Jeff’s mind is that his three boys are home alone.

The data communications worker said: “I need to get back while the house is still standing.”

The group are also fundraising to build a school in the Himalayas. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/thepolarrow

The crew and the boat.

The crew and the boat. - Credit: Archant

The crew

The crew - Credit: Archant

Jeff with the Explorer's Flag

Jeff with the Explorer's Flag - Credit: Archant