It all starts with a book. One cold winter night, mother and daughter from the comforts of their snuggly bed and with a simple flick of a page, turn back time and travel over 6,900km across the Pacific Ocean on a raft named Kon-Tiki in the company of Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. It is such a powerful and legendary journey, they know that instant (they just do!) that something wonderful is about to happen-
‘Why don’t we build our own raft and go exploring love?’ asks an enthusiastic Mum. ‘But what are we going to build it with?’ responds the sensible human. Mum pauses to think for a second ‘How about, water pipes, old wood pallets and all things nice? ‘OK, but we won’t go on the Pacific Ocean, will we Mummy?’ she asks. ‘Maybe when you’re older. For now we will be the naughty canal pirates!’ ‘But mummy’ continues Athina in an alarming voice ‘you forgot the most important thing, what are we going to call it?’ The intrepid duo think about it carefully and to honour the raft that inspired them they agree to name it ‘Pontiki’ (meaning ‘Mouse’ in Greek.) Walt Disney would have been proud, he once said: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it. Remember that this whole thing started with a dream and a mouse’.
Next, mother and daughter must put a ferocious pirate-team together. A group of strong minds with vision, dream builders that make extraordinary things happen. Addi is known for her resourcefulness and positivity, she welcomes this challenge.
First, she visits the sustainability department at her workplace. The University of Leeds; a place where ideas thrive and people are given opportunities to grow. ‘The plan is simple’ she explains to the girl behind the reception desk ‘my daughter and I will build an eco-friendly raft from old office equipment and water pipes. Then the two little pirates will navigate across the Lancaster canal. It will be such a fun adventure! With your help we can reduce waste and challenge perceptions but I need you to give me some names of people who can help us source the equipment to build this.’ ‘Oh what a wonderful idea!’ she exclaims enthusiastically. ‘Let me get a pen and paper...’ She writes down a couple of names and asks Addi to stay in touch.
A few emails later mother and daughter are offered some of the equipment by the external partner; Over-2-Hills. Jo from the recycling team gives them a warm welcome and shows them to the stock available. It’s like Aladdin’s cave, so many ‘treasures’ everywhere. To complicate matters Athina at that precise moment in time overwhelmed with Aladdin's cave and all the 'treasures' she asks for extra furniture to build an eco-friendly car! They return home with a couple of broken chairs, plastic screens from old filing cabinets and leftover fabric to build a sail. The recycled car awaits another day-
For the floating device they actively seek their friends’ opinions. The Uni hasn’t got any in stock and it’s expensive to buy. Besides the idea is to reuse not to purchase. A friend suggests they visit a building site and ask for leftover cuts. Good call- Another offers to speak to someone they know (an engineer) who indeed proves very useful in calculating the exact size and number of pipes needed to stay afloat. In total 12 water pipes of 110m.
They visit Redrow homes in Leeds. Simon, the Site Manager listens carefully and says: ‘People sometimes ask me for stuff for their homes and gardens but I’ve never had anyone talking about building a raft before.’ He pauses to think about it, then picks up the phone and minutes later hands Addi a fluorescent jacket and a builder’s hat. Her heart is bursting with joy. Ian and Lee cut the pipes to the right size and load her car with everything she needs and more. They are a fine example of the incredible world of collaborating networks and making the most of the available resources.
Chatting to Ian, Addi says: ‘A Professor in History named us affectionately The Wombles for making the most of recycled material and for wanting to collect rubbish whilst we’re navigating.’ He looks at her in disbelief, his eyes widen. He rolls up his sleeve and shows her a big tattoo on his arm that spells ‘Womble’; that’s his nickname. What a coincidence!
The big question remains: ‘How does one build a raft?’ They know they needed a sketch. An intern from the School of Engineering would have done a splendid job but June is a difficult time for recruitment, they are all away. But seriously how hard can it be? They take matters in their own hands. Some paper, a couple of pencils and minutes later they have produced a masterpiece! It even has a washing line to hang their clothes for when they will for-sure encounter the torrential British summer weather and run out of knickers to wear!
They discuss their exciting plans with friends Kat and Dan, and the pair instantly offer to help them build the raft and to be their support crew. Kats dad is an engineer and he soon becomes a key member of the pirate crew thanks to his great knowledge and his massive garage! A confirmation that real friends suffer from the same ‘adventure syndrome’ they don’t need any encouragement; it’s in their DNA.
Recently the group attended one of Sir Ranulph Fiennes talks and Addi recalls him say: ‘Select a team based on character; not experience; you can’t teach character.’ Addi is happy with Kat and Dan supporting them; they are people of good character-
They meet in a picturesque part of York and begin assembling Pontiki straight away. Everyone helps with everything. Pallets are broken down, pipes are tied together. Addi is seriously impressed with Kat and her confidence with handling a double bevel sliding mitre saw (reminder to herself: Never mess with Kat!) They debate things and bounce ideas of each other. Their project aims to inspire Athina into engineering. She loves to make things and play with tools. It doesn’t take her long to approach mum and ask if she can help strip the planks off rusty nails. She is taught how to this safely and soon Athina returns with a big grin on her face and a clean plank in hand!
Days later the raft is ready to go for it’s first buoyancy test. A nearby fishery will do the job nicely. Kats' dad offers them one of his company vans to transport the vessel and Dan is the chauffeur. He drives carefully to avoid running over any grannies on walking frames, catching some fresh air on the side of narrow country roads!
Steve is expecting them, eager to see this famous raft. The day before Addi turns up with Athina and asks him: ‘Excuse me Sir, would it be OK if we bring our water pipe raft for a test tomorrow to see if it floats?’ The man with a large shotgun on his shoulder laughs in disbelief and turns to Athina for affirmation: ‘Is your Mum crazy?’ he asks with a smile and continues ‘Of course it’s fine. What time are you coming luv?’ Steve proves to be one their most enthusiastic supporters and hands on with lifting the heavy vessel in and out the water. He watches with anticipation as Addi jumps excitedly onto the raft and paddles her way across his ginormous ‘fish tank’. In her heart she has blind belief this is a genius idea. Trying to figure the best place to paddle from and to work out the best paddling technique proves a challenge. Kneeling in the centre of the raft moves it efficiently, but 6 full days of this? Got to think about it carefully-
That weekend TeamAA are invited to the BBC Countryfile Live show in Blenheim Palace to give a couple of public talks about their canoeing adventures and their upcoming raft challenge. The public is in equal amounts intrigued and inspired by their heart-warming stories and ambitious plans. The fearless duo hope they entertain and encourage other families to create their own happy adventures and to give canoeing a go.
A great place to chat to rowing experts and seek their expert opinions on the Pontiki raft. The nice Welsh lads teach Addi how to paddle in a figure-of-8 inside a traditional coracle and for now this appears to be the best navigation alternative for moving the raft forward.
People like to feel part of something bigger than themselves. The little pirates causing all sorts of mischief with their canal adventures will prove dreams do come true!