Ad­ven­turer re­turns

How an ex-Marine swapped war zones for calm of north Nor­folk

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - writes ROWAN MANTELL

HENRY CHAM­BER­LAIN has pa­trolled some of the most beau­ti­ful and dan­ger­ous places on earth. He has mon­i­tored war­rav­aged mountain bor­ders by ski and crossed African con­flict zones by camel. He sur­vived a car-jack­ing and sui­cide bomb­ing in Su­dan, took sci­en­tists to the Arc­tic and found ways to get food to the starv­ing.

But for his latest ad­ven­tures he has come home. Home to the ebb and flow of tides through creeks and salt­marshes on the north Nor­folk coast. Here he is pa­trolling shift­ing chan­nels and sand­banks and mon­i­tor­ing weather and wildlife, as he sails tra­di­tional wooden boats out to sea, or in­land through a maze of streams, mud­flats and marshes.

Af­ter trav­el­ling the world, first with the Royal Marines and then as a United Na­tions se­cu­rity ex­pert, Henry has dropped an­chor back in Nor­folk and set up an ad­ven­ture sail­ing busi­ness.

The Coastal Ex­plo­ration Com­pany of­fers peo­ple the chance to sail in tra­di­tional wooden boats. Ad­ven­tures range from four-hour trips to a day of sail­ing, for­ag­ing and sur­vival skills, fol­lowed by a chef-cooked gourmet sup­per and a night un­der the stars. Creek swim­ming, cockle pick­ing and even spear fish­ing can fea­ture, as well as learn­ing about nav­i­ga­tion by day and night, and on land and at sea.

Henry grew up, with two sis­ters and a brother, in a cottage on the Houghton

es­tate, where his par­ents made wooden jig­saws for a liv­ing, and he fell in love with the out­doors, ad­ven­ture and wilder­ness. The fam­ily some­times stayed at Burn­ham Overy Staithe wind­mill, which had once been owned by Henry’s great aunt.

Here Henry learned to sail and his pas­sion for the sea even­tu­ally saw him join the Royal Marines.

He be­came an ex­pert in sur­vival skills and for seven years trav­elled the world as a sol­dier and sailor be­fore re­turn­ing to univer­sity to com­plete a masters de­gree in wa­ter en­gi­neer­ing and de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter an in­ter­lude run­ning a jazz club in the Caribbean, he be­gan work­ing for in­ter­na­tional, in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In the Cau­casian moun­tains he helped mon­i­tor the bor­der be­tween Chech­nya and Ge­or­gia. “I would be up liv­ing in the moun­tains for a month at a time, and pa­trolling on skis in the win­ter,” said Henry. Be­tween pa­trols he was in a town which was at­tacked first by rebels and then by Rus­sian he­li­copter gun­ships. “That was quite dan­ger­ous,” he ad­mit­ted.

Then there was Su­dan, where his role in­cluded mon­i­tor­ing con­flict in the moun­tains be­tween the north and south of the coun­try be­fore the for­ma­tion of the new state of South Su­dan. Work­ing with a medic and a trans­la­tor, his job was to bring rebel and govern­ment leaders to­gether. “It was all about build­ing trust,” said Henry. “I did get car-jacked once but I man­aged to talk my way out and they left me in the bush.”

He came across some shep­herds who helped him through ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the mur­der­ous Jan­jaweed mili­tia. “It wasn’t one of the safer moments of my ca­reer,” said Henry.

In So­ma­lia he helped get over­seas aid to starv­ing civil­ians and ended that part of his ca­reer as deputy direc­tor of field se­cu­rity for the United Na­tions World Food Pro­gramme.

But, with two young chil­dren and need­ing more sta­bil­ity, he re­alised he could find ad­ven­ture, ex­plo­ration and wilder­ness in Nor­folk too.

“I knew I had to be out­side. I would be rest­less in a more of­fice-based job,” ex­plained the ex-Marine. “I love be­ing in­de­pen­dent and hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to work on the North Nor­folk coast. And cruis­ing around Wells and Blak­eney has its own chal­lenges. It can be just as dan­ger­ous. You can’t ever re­lax.”

Clients range from hol­i­day­mak­ers to sea­soned lo­cal sailors, fas­ci­nated by some of the in­land routes 46-year-old Henry

Be­tween pa­trols he was in a town which was at­tacked first by rebels and then by Rus­sian he­li­copter gun­ships. “That was quite dan­ger­ous,” he ad­mit­ted.

is discoverin­g. Wildlife ex­perts love the chance to glide through wa­ters and skies alive with spoon­bill, marsh har­ri­ers, egrets, oyster catch­ers and curlew. The boats might be sur­rounded by seals, seabirds or shoals of sil­ver fish. They can tack out into the open sea or nose down se­cret shal­low chan­nels into a low-lying land­scape of reeds, marsh, tiny sandy beaches and wad­ing birds. Soon Henry will have three beau­ti­fully-re­stored tra­di­tional wooden boats - a ter­ra­cotta-sailed whelk boat built in King’s Lynn in the 1950s, plus a Sher­ing­ham crab boat and Bran­caster mus­sel boat.

One of his ad­ven­tures is an in­no­va­tive and imag­i­na­tive food and drink de­liv­ery ser­vice tak­ing lo­cal pro­duce un­der sail from Wells to Yar­mouth, and then along the river to Nor­wich. Next year he might sail the Ouse to Ely.

He also of­fers cor­po­rate team build­ing and, with the Pur­fleet Trust, gives home­less peo­ple the chance to take part in three­day sail­ing ad­ven­tures. “Work­ing with the United Na­tions I have seen lots of dis­tress around the world, but there are peo­ple in need back at home too,” said Henry.

And then there are his smug­gling ad­ven­tures. Henry makes it clear that there is no ac­tual con­tra­band, but there is the chance to try sail­ing, nav­i­ga­tion, covert ob­ser­va­tion and clan­des­tine meet­ings, com­bined with wild swim­ming, hid­den wa­ter­ways and eat­ing and drink­ing lo­cal pro­duce in the land­scape where it was grown or made.

Above: The Coastal Ex­plo­ration Com­pany of­fers sail­ing trips rang­ing from four hours to three days, through creeks, marshes and open sea along the north Nor­folk coast Right: Henry Cham­ber­lain

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