James Bowthorpe with his garbage boat ()James Bowthorpe with his garbage boat () © Copyright

All aboard the bin boat

British adventurer James Bowthorpe built a boat out of garbage he found on the streets of New York and rowed it 315 miles. We asked him how. And why?

James Bowthorpe lives for adventure. The Somerset-born furniture maker has cycled around the world in what was then a record 175 days and has both hitchhiked and cycled his way from coast to coast across America.

His most recent project was to build a boat out of discarded materials found around New York City in 12 days. He then rowed 315 miles from the source of the Hudson River in the Adironack Mountains (called Lake Tear of Clouds) all the way to NYC. Starting in October and finishing in December, he did not go merrily down the stream – ice, snow and grade four white water proved far from a rower’s dream. 

“I try to come up with something that is both a challenging physical engagement with the world and also has a purpose that interests me, or that I believe in,” Bowthorpe says.

“Without that ‘interest’ part, I wouldn’t leave home, because if I just wanted a physical challenge I could go to the gym or run a marathon.”

Hudson river ()


The thinking behind the project was about connecting the wilderness of upstate New York to the city and highlighting wastefulness by building a serviceable boat from the stuff other people have thrown away. He wanted to make a case for more sustainable products, in a world where so many items are discarded rather than re-used.

Despite the cold and the inherent danger of traversing white waters in a homemade boat, there was still time to enjoy the ride. “Imagine you are climbing a mountain,” he explains, “or going down a previously unknown path, or descending rapids in a boat made of scrap. You don’t have time to think about your daily worries. It’s a sense of temporarily departing from myself, if that makes sense.”

His trip is now being made into  a documentary with a soundtrack by atmospheric Scottish songsters Mogwai. The scenery is breathtaking – snow-covered landscapes, heavy grey skies and frozen waterfalls.

Building a boat from scrap material was tricky, but packing for the trip was a simpler task. “It’s good to not have too much stuff,” Bowthorpe says, “especially as we are surrounded by it on a daily basis. Electronics need chargers, clothes can be washed and the ‘just in case’ items add weight. Safety is paramount and I packed things that would keep me warm, dry and fed. Boy scout stuff.” 

Tudor North Flag Watch  ()


James Bowthorpe used Tudor’s North Flag as an essential part of his tool kit. See what Tudor has to offer at www.tudorwatch.com


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