Katie Carr talks to Laura Hodgetts about how she took up her brother's challenge to kayak in every sea area of the Shipping Forecast

Moderate Becoming Good Later: kayaking around the Shipping Forecast

Like many sailing families, the Shipping Forecast was listened to so regularly in Katie Carr’s family home that it became a soundtrack to her childhood.

“Especially because in the late 1980s, early ‘90s, you couldn’t just look up the weather forecast online, it was something that was broadcast,” says Katie.

“My dad always used to turn up the radio and we’d have to be really quiet and listen to it, even when we weren’t going out to sea.”

The Carrs grew up in Rutland, “almost as far from the sea in the UK as you can get”, but spent family holidays on board their 23ft (7m) Hirondelle catamaran, cruising around the east coast of England, and further afield to the Netherlands, France, and Belgium.

3 people standing on a beach

Katie, Toby and Marcus Carr pictured in 2016 in Whitstable

Katie’s younger brothers, Marcus and Toby, were born with the rare genetic condition Fanconi anaemia, which affects one in two million people and leaves them highly susceptible to cancer.

As children, they were told that it was unlikely they’d live to 30.

When Marcus died of throat cancer in 2017, aged 38, it inspired architect Toby to take a sabbatical and find adventure.

Moderate Becoming Good Later: Toby’s challenge

Intrigued by the names of the 31 sea areas of the Shipping Forecast, he set himself the challenge of visiting each area by sea kayak, and documenting his journey.

Over the summer of 2018, with the help of a Churchill Fellowship Grant, Toby travelled to South-East Iceland, across to Norway (North and South Utsire), down to Denmark (Fisher), German Bight, through the Frisian islands, to the edge of the Humber.

After returning to work he used his free time that winter to visit the areas of Thames, Dover, Wight and Portland.

A man holding a kayak

Toby was an experienced sea kayaker before he started his journey. Credit: Michal Madera

In summer 2019, he kayaked in the waters of Biscay, Fitzroy and Trafalgar.

Starting in Brittany in France, Toby paddled out to Ushant from the mainland and braved the famous tide race at Raz du Sein.

Katie said: “After a few weeks exploring Biscay, Toby and his kayak took the ferry to Santander in Spain. The challenge he set himself was to paddle in each of the shipping forecast areas. While some were shorter journeys, others involved entire coastlines. From Santander, Toby kayaked more than 720km to Porto, to the Trafalgar sea area.”

She added: “Covid was in 2020 and he’d been hoping to do the Irish and Scottish parts then, but with travel restrictions it was impossible. So he set himself the challenge of paddling around Cornwall. From his home in Flushing, near Falmouth, he first kayaked to Plymouth.”

Crucial point

After sheltering from gale force winds in the Plymouth Sound, like many a sailor, he skirted the coast of Cornwall, rounding the Lizard and Land’s End.

Seeing a weather window on Sennen beach, Toby decided to attempt the 45km crossing to the Isles of Scilly.

Katie said: “In quite difficult conditions he went to the point in the sea where four different shipping forecast areas meet: Fastnet, Sole, Plymouth, and Lundy.

A woman in a kayak at sea

Katie paddling from Ireland (Malin area). Credit: Amy Walsh

“He returned to the mainland and managed to get a little way up the north coast of Cornwall in the Lundy region before stopping due to tiredness and having to go back to work.”

Toby was eventually diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away aged 40 in January 2022, two months after securing a book deal for Moderate Becoming Good Later.

Katie, 46, who has lived in Barcelona, Spain, for 22 years, said: “We’d talked about the book, but never about me writing it for him. He wanted to finish it himself. He’d written the proposal which had three sample chapters in it – not the first three. I looked at his notes and could see he really wanted to tell his story so I called the publisher and said ‘Please don’t cancel the publication, I can write it.

Continues below…

“Toby’s notes and recordings were so detailed that I could tell the story in first person, in his voice. He wanted it to be a travel adventure book that anyone can read and enjoy.”

She added: “When I first picked up notes, videos and voice memos it was quite hard listening to his voice, and also the notebooks smelt of his house. Emotionally it was really difficult, but it got easier and started to feel like I was spending an extra year with him at the best time of his life. When you accompany someone through end of life, it’s often hard to remember them how they were for most of their lives. This was a gift the book gave to me and others who knew him.”

Of the 31 sea areas, Toby had covered 17, leaving 14.

“After a year of researching and writing the book, I just wanted to get outside and on the water.” Katie said, “I realised Toby had also left me an adventure to complete and started figuring out how I could get to the remaining sea areas.”

A family sitting on a deck of a boat

The Carr family on board Hullaballoo in 1988 in Levington, Suffolk (Thames region)

She added: “The Shipping Forecast was part of our childhood, particularly Humber, Thames, Dover, and that’s why Toby chose it. And that’s also why it was interesting for me to continue.”

Having never been in a sea kayak before, Katie took a cautious approach to contacting kayakers in each of the sea areas, seeking experienced coaches who could accompany her on half- or full-day trips, so that she could balance adventure with family life – or try to.

She said: “Growing up half on a boat was really beneficial, it helps me see the possibilities of the sea, even though I’d never kayaked before. Seeing things as an adventure and knowing that if you take the right precautions, and use the forecasts, do the planning, look at the charts and prepare as much as possible, then it can be done. And that’s something that our dad showed us through sailing.”

A woman in a kayak

Katie in Toby’s sea kayak, launching in Dublin, Ireland (Irish Sea)

Talking to PBO from Ireland, where Katie had just spent three weeks with her family after visiting Wales and Bristol – where her challenge began – she had kayaked in Lundy, Irish Sea, Fastnet, Shannon, Rockall and Malin sea areas.

Katie said: “There have been times when I’ve gone out and thought ‘what am I doing?’ But then there’s a moment when you’re on the sea looking back at the land, it’s quite a different perspective, and one I remember fondly from sailing as a child.

“I love the way kayaking gets you outside even on days when you might stay in if you were on land. And if you’re on the water, it doesn’t matter that it’s rainy. You just put on waterproofs and get a bit wet.”

Local support

Katie added: “I had amazing weather when I was in Wales, and it was just beautiful. Pembrokeshire’s coastline was absolutely stunning and in Anglesey, we ended up in a pretty challenging sea.

I came off the water feeling pleased with myself for having managed it – and glad to have experienced paddlers with me.

“In most areas, I’m contacting local kayakers, who know the nicest places to go with the forecast given. In Ireland it’s been pretty windy so I’ve been looking for shelter, even though I haven’t braved 3m waves, I’ve been to some stunning places.

Moderate Becoming Good Later book cover

Moderate Becoming Good Later

“The other day I was out in Kerry in west Ireland, which is the Shannon region on the forecast. It was a grey, rainy day but I found someone game enough to take me out. We were on a river with a strong tidal flow, the water was rushing past, but we went in anyway. It was quite tough kayaking for me, but also exhilarating. Donal, my guide, knew the estuary so well and was so experienced, it was great fun.

“When I decided to do this I thought I can either wait until my kayaking skill is good enough to do it on my own like Toby did, proper expedition kayaking, or I could just get on and learn as I go with the help of other kayakers. For me. It’s just a different kind of adventure and I’ve just felt so welcomed from the first paddle.”

Shetland Isles finale

Katie was back in on the water in late August, paddling on the Scottish side of the Malin sea area in the Isle of Mull and around the Island of Kerrera.

She also bagged the Hebrides area paddling near Plockton and the Isle of Skye.

A woman paddling close to a castle

Katie paddles around Elean Donan Castle (Hebrides region)

She said: “There are still four paddle-able areas to complete. Tyne, Fourth, Cromarty and Fair Isle are already in my plans for next year. I’m keeping the Shetland Islands for the finale. The idea is to get to the Muckle Flugga, the most northerly lighthouse in the UK, which Toby saw from the ferry on the way from the Faroe Islands to Norway back on his trip in 2018.”

“That only leaves the four sea areas with no land, which I’m open to suggestions for,” added Katie. “If any PBO readers have ideas on how I can get out to paddle in Bailey, Dogger, Viking or Forties, I’d love to hear some ideas!”

The Shipping Forecast: ‘The soundtrack of our childhoodʼ

The Shipping Forecast is issued four times a day on BBC Radio 4 at 0048 and 0520 (long wave and FM) 1201 and 1754 (normally long wave only).

The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas.

The forecast contains details of gale warnings in force, a general synopsis and sea-area forecasts with expected wind direction and force, weather and visibility.

The music played before the 0048 broadcast on Radio 4 is ‘Sailing By’ composed by Ronald Binge.

From 2024, the Shipping Forecast will no longer be broadcast on long wave (LW) due to the closure of the LW platform operated by Arqiva – as it is obsolete technology.

A woman with red hair smiling

Katie is the co-author of Moderate Becoming Good Later (Summersdale 2023) the story of her brother Toby’s adventure around the Shipping Forecast areas. It’s priced £9.99 from all good bookshops. Katie hopes to write a follow-up book about her own adventure.

The Shipping Forecast will continue to be broadcast on other channels, including by HM Coastguard and on BBC Radio 4 FM and BBC Sounds.

Sailors are being encouraged to use NAVTEX to listen to the Shipping Forecast, as it provides coverage out to 270 miles.

HM Coastguard provides VHF coverage out to 30 miles and MF coverage out to 150 miles using its network of remote aerial sites around the UK coast.

The national Shipping Forecast radio broadcast will be 100 years old on 1 January 2024.

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