Reverse Viking row for Mental Health

England to Denmark row with UK Marines in support of students' mental health during COVID lockdowns
UN Goals 3 4 17

The Reverse Viking Row was a straightforward project to pick up an ocean rowing boat in England that Christian needed for his on-going “Did the Chinese, like the Vikings, visit America pre-Columbus” project. As usual, the project was also used to crowdfund for a good course.

The row fundraised USD16,700 of seed-money for the Ranum Bubble for UWC students, which was a pop-up safe location at Ranum Efterskole College in Denmark, where stranded UWC students from challenged backgrounds and countries could come together and study on-line until COVID restrictions allowed them to travel back to their individual UWC colleges around the world. The Bubble ended up existed for the full 2020/21 academic year, providing lock down relief for a total 27 students and 5 teachers, thereby contributing greatly to their mental health and bringing them to IB graduation. The Bubble initiative was recognised by the UWC International Office as making UWC history.

The IB graduates at Ranum Bubble for Stranded UWC Students together with Principal of Ranum Efterskole College, Olav Storm
The IB graduates at Ranum Bubble for Stranded UWC Students together with Principal of Ranum Efterskole College, Olav Storm

The Reverse Viking Row also provided 4 UK Marines with a practice row in preparation of their later successful Trans-Atlantic row. The reason to row the Eider River as opposed to the more obvious Kieler Kanal to traverse from the North Sea to the Baltic was to celebrate the 2020 Centennium for parts of Schleswig-Holstein being voted back to Denmark in a referendum after having been lost to Germany in the war of 1864. This may well be the only time in history that a border has been decided by referendum. The Eider River once served as the border between Denmark and Germany, so rowing it during the Centennium was meaningful.

The Reverse Viking Row crew
The Reverse Viking Row crew

Left to right: Atlantic and Pacific ocean rower Chris Martin, Christian Havrehed, Marine David ‘Brucey’ Bruce, Afghan veteran Will Schweppe, and Marine Sam ‘Nutty’ Edwards. Missing Afghan veteran Juniour Mcilhiney.

The Reverse Viking Row took place 8-20 August carefully navigating Corona restrictions. The row started in Lowestoft, England. The plan to row across the North Sea directly to Denmark was abandomed due to unusual strong easterly winds. Instead the boat was trailered to Holland where we rowed a bit, before trailering the boat again to Tönning, the North Sea start of the Eider River in Denmark. From here a continous row to Copenhagen was completed.   
Complete route for Reverse Viking Row
Complete route


Detailed route in Denmark for Reverse Viking Row
Detailed Danish Route


Ranum BubbleSeed money raised: USD17,600

Corona lockdowns hit everyone all over the world, causing suffering and mental health issues. Some UWC second year students were hit particularly hard. They had been selected for a 2-year residential international experience in on of 18 schools around the world, and suddenly they were stuck in their home country, say Honduras, and had to follow on-line classed in, say China, so an 8AM on-line class China time would start at midnight in Honduras. On top of that power cuts and lack of fast speed internet would further frustrate these students, making on-line studying close to impossible and causing a great strain on their mental health as they were unable to study effectively, thereby jeopardising their chances of getting into good universities on scholarships.

Christian and Mariana Arrobas, both UWC alumni and with children at UWC schools in India and China, decided something had to be done to improve the lots of these UWC students. Christian approached his old sailing buddy, Olav Storm, the Principal of Ranum Efterskole College in Northern Denmark, to ask him if he would be willing to provide a venue for these UWC students. Olav, being a stong UWC supporter, jumped at the idea and the Bubble idea was born. Pelham Lindfield Roberts, the Principal of UWC Changshu in China, also came on board since China’s COVID restrictions were severe, and there was no chance of his international second year students being allowed back into China. With the seed money raised from the row and Pelham’s ongoing support, the Bubble ended up existing for the full academic year 2020/21 and 9 students even ended up sitting their IB exams, kindly hosted to Hasseris Gymnasium, an IB school close to Ranum Efterskole College.

In total 27 stranded students and 5 stranded teachers spent time at the Bubble, ranging from a few months to the full academic year. They came from the following countries:  Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Equador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Honduras, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Marcedonia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, USA, and Zimbabwe.  Visit the Ranum Bubble for Stranded Student FaceBook page to learn more. It was quite a ride!

“I want to recognise Christian and Mariana:- they remained in the background, but in countless hours of volunteer work they enabled this “first” in UWC history: a UWC Bubble far away from, yet deeply connected with UWC Changshu. They embody the best of what our UWC students as UWC graduates will come to experience: the UWC journey does not end with graduation, it continues for life.”

Jens Waltermann, Executive Director, United World College, International Office


Due to Corona travel restrictions Christian bought “Pito” unseen over the internet. That was a mistake. Pictures of her had looked OK, but in reality she was in a poor state, with leaking hatches, extensive rot in the deck, fiberglassing done on top of paint, a hull as smooth as a cheese grinder with peeling antifouling, an above waterline paint job that must have been done by a kindergarden art class, water in the oars, and a rusty boat trailer without working brakes and proper paper work.

The state of “Pito”

The purchase deal was that Christian should be able to step into the boat and start to row the Pacific Ocean. Christian had expected the boat to be in tip top shape, but you can start rowing the Pacific in anything – even a bath top with a missing plug. What Christian had forgotten to specify was that he should be able to cross the Pacific safely, not just leave shore. It cost Christian eight months of work and a lot of money to completely overhaul “Pito” and transform her into a seaworthy ocean rowing boat, now called “Yantu 2”. Live and learn…

“Pito” having finished the transformation into “Yantu 2”