As told to Jeff Moag
Published: Canoe & Kayak Magazine, May 2007
He’s had two paddlecraft sink underneath him in the North Atlantic—three if you count his punctured life raft—and remains the only person ever to paddle a kayak from North America to Europe. His resume is one of the fattest in sea kayaking. It includes a controversial circumnavigation of South Georgia Island in 2005, finishing just weeks after a New Zealand team slipped in to pluck the prize—yet he has almost no sponsors. So the former elite British soldier works in Iraq, guarding the life of an unnamed official that a great many people want to kill. As Peter Bray tells us from Baghdad, it pays the bills.
Not too bad, yourself? Had a good festive season. We had our own light show, so we say. You see the tracers coming over, and now and again you can see the rockets comin’ in.
We don’t class ourselves as mercenaries. A mercenary is somebody that will take money off anybody.
We used Kleppers in the Regiment. It’s an interesting boat, was designed by a German tailor. We’ve jumped with it, we’ve humped it over the blinkin’ mountains, and we’ve come off submarines with it. The first time you ever launch from a submarine at night, you change your underpants.
I spent 20-odd years in the army, 15 in special forces, and when I was relaxin’ I was doin’ the adventure side of it to get the adrenaline hit. I’d say combat is the higher of the two adrenalines, ’cause it can happen so quick. When you’re paddlin’, you know what’s going to happen ’cause you see it building up. But if there’s an ambush or a bombing, I’m here one minute then I’m gone the next.
The sailing terminology is you never step down into a life raft, you always step up into a life raft. Hmm, well, I stepped up into this one.
I found a floatin’ fish buoy, big buoy, and so, where there’s a buoy there’s a fisherman. So I latched onto that, and just started pumpin’ the life raft, icebergs going past and bloody cold.
The next summer I paddled the North Atlantic solo, east to west. Never been done before, or since. I had one night of stars and one day of sunshine in 76 days. I don’t know how many storms we had. And I never saw a boat until I got 300 miles from Ireland.
It was paddle for an hour and get a reward. I had 5 sweets and a Mars bar plus the food for each day, and if I paddled for an hour I could have a reward. It’s all about training your mind.
I spent three years teachin’ special forces on survival in close quarter battle, and the first thing you teach ’em is if you don’t work your mind, you’re dead.
England don’t get hurricanes. But they did that day. That was when we were rowin’ the Atlantic, four of us in Pink Lady. And we were smack bang in the middle of it. Two in the mornin’, and the next thing I know we’re upside down and I went, “Mark are we on the roof?” He said, “Yeah I think we’ve tipped up.” And we couldn’t open the hatch ’cause the pressure. We had to wait for our cabin to fill up with water, this is all in pitch black now; we can’t see each other. We got to the surface, and then I realized that the boat was actually in two pieces, and was just bein’ held together by the safety line.
We went to see the rescue crew later, because we were gettin’ a lot of hassle that we were very selfish, endangered people’s lives and all this. They said, “Bloody no, it was the best trainin’ we’ve ever done. Half the crew was sick, instruments wouldn’t work, and we learned lots from that.” If people didn’t go out there and do this you’d still be living with a flat world. The reason it’s not flat is ’cause somebody got in a boat and found it isn’t flat, it’s round. People have to do things to discover things.
When the Kiwis beat us to South Georgia, I was pissed off, yeah. There’s no animosity now, it’s just annoyance. They said they were going in January, then turned around and did it in October ‘cause they knew we were going in November.
I put the house up for the Atlantic, and I lost my house on that one. For South Georgia I didn’t have a house. I was homeless. So I figured, okay, I’ll go to Iraq and I’ll work.
We’ve got the Bering Strait hopefully this year. We’re having fun with the Russians at the moment, so it looks like it’s going from Alaska to Russia now. Oh they want stupid, stupid money to get a guy to stamp the passport.
I can’t paddle here, but I keep fit with swimming. There’s a pool in the I-Zed [the International Zone, later called the Green Zone] that was Saddam’s in the days. I don’t think he can swim at the moment.
People really think he’s a martyr. His people. Who are we to judge?