Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 01:13 UK

Charity kayaker's final strait

By Mark McGregor
BBC News, Manchester

Eric Innes
Eric Innes has carried all of his equipment in the kayak

Armed with a soggy map, a GPS navigator and a determination forged from 22 years in the Armed Forces, Eric Innes is on the home strait of an epic kayak voyage around the British Isles.

There is no support team behind him. There is no slick public relations operation. No-one books him a place to stay every night.

Instead the 47-year-old, from Kirkham, Lancashire, sleeps mainly under canvas, buys food and drink every five days and, apart from the odd chat with well-wishing strangers, is alone in his quest.

He will not get into the record books, the 1,700-mile (2,736km) round trip has been completed before, and he is certainly not in it for the personal glory.

'Life changing'

"My son [Garrad Innes] is in the Armed Forces and I went to watch him in his medal parade after he returned from a tour of Afghanistan," Mr Innes told the BBC during a paddling break in Llandudno, north Wales.

"It was whilst seeing this parade and all the injured soldiers - some of them with limbs missing - I decided I'd like to do something for the boys.

"It's frustrating. The other month it was 18 killed. We hear about the soldiers killed but the soldiers injured are probably three or four times as many.

"They've lost limbs it's life changing injuries. It's not just a case of patch them up and get them back."

Having paddled in a kayak from Ireland to Scotland and back while serving in the Duke of Wellington's regiment (now part of the Yorkshire regiment), Mr Innes thought it was the obvious way of raising the cash.

The initial target he set was modest: £5,000 for the Help For Heroes charity.

Eric Innes
Three months is quite a long old haul by yourself
Eric Innes

But as he contemplates the final stretch of his three-month journey, which will see him leave Formby Point on Saturday headed for Blackpool, the total now stands at more than £13,000.

The fund has been rising steadily since he set off on 6 June - D-Day - and it is the rising death toll in Afghanistan that Mr Innes believes is fuelling support.

"As soon as you mention Help For Heroes people are willing to bend over backwards," he said.

"I've pulled in on some beaches sometimes at five in the morning, said hello to someone and as soon I've explained what I'm doing they've come back with bacon butties and flasks of coffee."

Every morning Mr Innes waits for a favourable tide and drags his 17ft (5.2m) Nordkapp kayak down to the water's edge and sets off on a six-hour paddle.

When the tide starts turning against him he looks for a spot to pull-in, hauls his vessel out of the water and sets up camp with his tent, petrol stove and portable radio.

Mr Innes has had company along the way and been offered overnight stays in military camps around Britain as well as bed and breakfast, often from complete strangers.

Burnt lips

But although he praised the "absolutely fantastic" generosity of people, he describes getting back into the mindset of being alone as "horrendous".

As well as coping with the loneliness Mr Innes has braved shipping lanes and has been rolled on more than one occasion by "angry" surf, losing maps and his lucky cap in the process.

But he added: "The biggest problem I've had is burnt lips from the sun and the wind and salt water. I've tried umpteen concoctions of lip balms, sun blocks - nothing seems to work."

Mr Innes was speaking from an RNLI launch ramp ahead of a long paddle to Prestatyn. From there he will head to Formby Point on Friday, before completing the final push back to Blackpool on Saturday.

Waiting for him on the seafront will be family from his native West Yorkshire, friends from Kirkham and ex-Army colleagues.

Despite their excitement Mr Innes said what he was most looking forward to about the journey's end was "just relaxing at home".

"Absolutely relaxing. Not having to worry about a tide or this or that. But there will be a few parties as well I'd imagine.

"I'm totally looking forward to it now. Three months is quite a long old haul by yourself."

Print Sponsor

Trek raises 2,000 for soldiers
10 Aug 09 |  England
17m raised for wounded soldiers
05 Mar 09 |  Surrey

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