Harpenden Rugby Club coach attempting five world records in the Arctic

PUBLISHED: 13:35 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 02 August 2017

Jeff Willis

Jeff Willis


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

Top-down view of the boatTop-down view of the boat

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 relaxingJeff relaxing

“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.

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.

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 rowingThe crew rowing

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

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Recently we, as a family (minus two of the kids), visited The Lodge RSPB reserve in Sandy, Bedfordshire. I had never been before, which is perhaps amiss of me as a birdwatcher as it is the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB and only 45 minutes drive from home.

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