This Sunday, May 7, at 8 a.m. PT, a team of British military veterans set off on a long-awaited expedition together — paddling over 2,000 km along the Inside Passage waterways from Washington state up to Alaska.
The eight-man team of wounded veterans (and one civilian) — whose team name is Forces of Nature — will kayak for approximately 90 days to complete the 2,000km/1,300-mile tidal route up the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Northwest coast. They’ll start in Steilacoom, Wash. outside Seattle, and end in Skagway, Alaska, paddling to raise awareness and funds for the military charity, The Not Forgotten.
The team is made up of a number of friends who met through an Ocean Rowing challenge in 2016 and a few others who joined along the way. Forces of Nature initially came together for a planned Amazon kayak expedition in 2019, with the aim of paddling the Amazon in 2020.
But due to COVID-19, delays, and the volatility of the region post-COVID-19, the team decided to choose a new location for their paddle. Team member Cayle Royce put together a presentation of other options, which included UK, European, and North American alternative trips.
“The team was instantly excited about the Inside Passage route and unanimously voted to explore the challenge further,” Neil Heritage explained to GearJunkie via email.
The Inside Passage may prove to be a difficult challenge — thanks to factors like weather, tidal flow, high rainfall, wildlife, remote locations, and challenging navigation.
Oh, and the fact that the entire team is choosing to paddle the length of the Inside Passage route unsupported. Meaning the team will carry all equipment with them, including enough food to travel for two weeks. All in their sea kayaks. The team will then stop at their pre-posted resupply boxes along the route to collect more food and equipment.
Meet the Team
Cayle Royce, Team Skipper
Cayle spent 10 years in the British military, deploying to Afghanistan as a sharpshooter as part of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force. He was injured when he stepped on an IED in 2012, losing both his legs above the knee. By rowing across the Atlantic Ocean twice and skippering one of the teams, he has accumulated 95 days at sea in a rowing boat.
Royce was part of the first disabled crew of four to row any ocean, and the first double amputee to row an ocean more than once.
Theo Jones, Navigator and Project Manager
Once upon a time, rowing the Atlantic was the hardest challenge Jones could think of. Then he did it in 46 days. After that adventure, Jones looked into how he could get more time on the water. He has navigated himself all over the world while working on superyachts for the past 10 years.
He currently works as a Navigational Officer aboard a superyacht, though he is taking a break to paddle the Inside Passage. In addition to his rowing accomplishments, Jones has summited both Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya.
Barry McKenna, Team Doctor
Originally from Northern Ireland, McKenna decided to study engineering (sponsored by the British military). Shortly after, he spent a few months in the hospital with a condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. McKenna then went to the Headley Court Defense Services Medical Rehabilitation Unit (a military rehabilitation center) and then went into the army.
After leaving the army, he worked for British Aerospace and finally switched it up again after a few years to go to medical school. McKenna has 24 years of experience in emergency medicine and general practice. He now runs a mental health charity that provides access to services for PTSD patients.
In his spare time, McKenna has racked up paddle experience with several canoe marathons.
Neil Heritage, Team Media Director
Neil Heritage spent 11 years in the British military, deploying to Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and two tours of Iraq working as an electronic specialist as part of a bomb disposal team. He was injured, losing both legs above the knee following a suicide bomb attack in November 2004. He now works as a fitness instructor on a residential boot camp course.
Like teammate Theo Jones, Heritage has also rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, completing his traverse in 51 days. He’s also the first double amputee to summit the Matterhorn. While Heritage is in charge of media as he is paddling with the team, he can only update the world on their progress when he has a phone signal and is able to do so along the way.
Shaun Rodgers, Safety Officer and Kayak Instructor
Shaun Rodgers is a British Canoeing leader and an advanced guide living in Cornwall, England. He has mentored and trained coastal and advanced guides from around the world. He’s also completed Arctic survival training and REC level 5 first aid training. He has guided expeditions and coached sea kayakers around the world, including in the UK, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Israel, Iceland, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
Rodgers began training the Force of Nature team for sea kayaking in 2022. He’ll join them on the expedition as Safety Officer and in an instructional capacity.
Other team members include boatswain Marty Wilson, Markus Strydom, Taff Hewett, and Tom Richardson (UK Support Team).
And while we’ve whittled down their official titles here, they each have a number of responsibilities on the expedition, the team noted. Especially given the length, difficulty, and unsupported nature of the journey, they will all have multiple roles and responsibilities.
Why Paddle the Inside Passage?
For the Forces of Nature team, the answer is simple: give back to the charity that has supported each of them over the years — The Not Forgotten. Secondary to that is enjoying the challenge and all the wonders, wildlife, and scenery the Inside Passage has to offer.
“In addition to raising awareness of [The Not Forgotten] charity and the fantastic work that they do, the team is also passionate about raising awareness for the many injured veterans who still need this vital support,” Heritage told us. “As a team, we know that we are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to undertake this challenge. But we are also very aware that many of our colleagues still require support and will for the rest of their lives.”
So far, Forces of Nature has already raised over £125,000 pounds of their £250,000 fundraising goal.
Follow the Expedition
Just before their departure Sunday, the Forces of Nature team left us one final note: they’d love for people to follow their expedition, or “challenge,” as they call it. The team would also be grateful for any messages of support and encouragement along the way. And they’ve got some 1,900 km still to go…
Give the team a follow through their Instagram, Facebook, or website tracker if you want to stay in the know and show support! And if you want to support their cause more directly, you can donate to the Forces of Nature campaign on the Just Giving website.