Home Outdoors Barry Hayes – Brymbo’s Very Own Superhero

Barry Hayes – Brymbo’s Very Own Superhero

by Love Wrexham Magazine
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Barry Hayes Wrexham Superhero
Barry Hayes at Brymbo Steelworks

[Barry Hayes Wrexham Superhero]

It’s hard to imagine, Barry Hayes is the guy who’s been across two oceans and just completed a 550-mile row from Tower Bridge to the Eiffel Tower. He’s so reserved and humble, I couldn’t stop thinking how similar his two personas were to Clark Kent and Superman.

And true to form, it wasn’t the thought of rowing across thousands of miles of ocean that filled him with fear; it was the thought of talking about it in public. When he finished the first row – the one across the Pacific in 2014 . People were urging him to relate his experiences and even though the first time he did it was only in front of six people, it made him physically sick!

The reactions to his seminars were so positive. However, it showed him that he could combine his experiences and relate them effectively to people. He found his ‘silly little stories’ prompted people to go off and do life-changing things themselves.

Amazingly, speaking companies were not particularly interested in taking Barry on as a speaker even after his row across the Pacific. For the Indian Ocean row, however, they had better camera and recording equipment and were able to capture a lot more amazing moments from that journey. This footage attracted a lot of coverage and more companies have contacted him to speak for them.

[Barry Hayes Wrexham Superhero]

How It All Started

Barry’s adventurous nature has always been evident: when he was 14, he walked from Chepstow to Prestatyn! What really inspired him were the stories his father, a sailor for many years, would regale him with. Tales about his exciting and varied adventures inspired Barry to want to be in the military too and experience the same exciting lifestyle. He was diagnosed with epilepsy and was unable to join up. Even this didn’t put him off and he decided that he too would be in a position to tell his son about his adventures one day. He just needed an idea…

One night after a session in the pub, he went home and started looking through the internet at blogs of various explorers. He found one by the British adventurer, Alastair Humphries. Who had taken part in a rowing race across the Atlantic, he was talking about Philip Cavanagh who wanted to take part in a similar crossing of the Pacific. He was also looking for volunteers. Barry applied there and then to join the team. He then met up with him and together they decided to form a team.

Amazingly, Barry hadn’t done any major long-distance rowing before attempting the Pacific crossing. Also, his first taste of rowing in open water was near Southampton and didn’t really go according to plan. The boat didn’t have a rudder and the high winds meant they had to be rescued by the local harbourmaster! His second time in Cardiff bay didn’t go so well either. They crashed the boat into the Millennium Stadium due to the strong winds!

One rescue and one crash! Hardly the best preparation.

Preparation for the Pacific Row

The weeks leading up to the Pacific row again weren’t ideal. Still holding down a full-time job meant that he had to make 3.30am starts to get into shape. There were many times they were awake until midnight, fruitlessly trying to find sponsors because the money was essential. They ended up having to sacrifice their training to try and drum up more money. This meant they started the row having done virtually no training and facing a 2,500-mile journey.

In his words, they were ‘four fat lads who liked pies and beer’ and they only got the boat a week before the row!

None of Barry’s crew had ever rowed in anything like that before and they weren’t tipped to do very well in the race. They were also aware while lining up for the start that all the other crews were heavily funded. Whereas they had paid for their whole operation on a shoestring. As it turned out, a lot of the other contestants didn’t even manage to finish unlike Barry and his three crew. They ended up making the California-to-Hawaii crossing in record time beating the pre-race world record by 19 days (yes, that’s NINETEEN days!).

The Pacific row had been hard, but the Indian Ocean was much longer (3,750 miles), much harder… and much rougher. They had to wear full wet-weather gear all the time as there were waves continually breaking over the sides of the boat, hitting the rowers full in the face even causing whiplash in some cases. He showed us some footage of the waves and they were genuinely terrifying.

Barry Showing Us A Flying Fish!

[Barry Hayes Wrexham Superhero]

The Latest Row

His latest row in May this year was quite short by his standards: from Tower Bridge to the Eiffel Tower. It came about when an old friend who had heard about his ocean-rowing trips approached to pitch him the idea. His friend’s company do a charity event every year and had decided to go with a rowing challenge. The friend immediately thought of Barry as someone who could support the trip.

The boat they chose, was an old-fashioned Cornish ‘gig’ with huge, heavy wooden oars and fixed wooden benches to sit on. This was very different to the high-tech carbon fibre boats with sliding-seat units that Barry had previously been in. What made the event particularly gruelling was the people involved were not experienced rowers and synchronising the rowing was a huge challenge. This was difficult because of the cumbersome oars and how so many people were rowing at the same time.

Those oars took a heavy toll, especially on people’s hands. Gloves are often not practical on a long row as they are always wet and stop blisters from turning into callouses which is the best protection against wear and tear from oars. These callouses take a while to form. However, there is an intensely painful initial period of open wounds and blisters. As Barry points out, his fellow rowers were essentially ‘pen pushers’ (in the nicest sense of the expression). They didn’t have the ‘ocean-rowing skin’ that Barry had and the palms of their hands were left in absolute tatters. In one case, the flesh actually starting to putrefy.

Adventuring is a costly business: the Pacific row was mostly self-funded. It cost an incredible £87,000 of which sponsors paid only £14,000 and the rest came from loans and credit cards. It’s taken Barry five years to pay off the loan from his credit card. To which, he only settled the final bill a few weeks ago.

You Saw What on the Water?

The Indian Ocean row was fully sponsored and had better technology. This meant better communications and their photographic equipment included a drone. Although the cost of uploading this video information and using the satellite phone came to £6,500!

While he was rowing across the Pacific, he realised how lucky he was to have his partner, Emma, who he calls ‘the best thing in the world’. After a few years of going out, he needed to ask her to marry him. However, because Barry had to spend so much money to fund his trips, the wedding has been put on hold. The money owed is starting to dwindle now though so they can start thinking about it more seriously.

The plastic pollution on the Pacific was very noticeable even though curiously a lot of it sits just below the surface. This appeared to have had a profound effect on the wildlife. They only started seeing animals after 25 days in when the plastic started to disappear. They encountered creatures such as pilot whales, swordfish and sea turtles.

There was plenty of fauna on the Indian Ocean – almost too much! The flying fish were a particular problem; they were quite big and one knocked a crew member off his seat! The Irukandji jellyfish – 11 times more poisonous than a King Cobra – were all over the place. At one point they kept getting caught on the oars – very dangerous! They also saw flying squid and lots of whales. Some of which would change direction and come and investigate the boat. They would nudge it, swim around it and surface next to them and watch them intently with one huge eye.

With his family at Brymbo Steelworks

What’s Next

So what does the future hold for Barry? He has, of course, more adventures planned. He’s going to support an Atlantic row in January and is intending to row the Indian Ocean again in 2020. ‘Oh’, he suddenly remembers, ‘I’m doing a 100-mile ultra-marathon at the weekend’ as if he’s doing the weekend shopping. He damaged his IT band and the subsequent pain in his hip, his knee and ankle, coupled with the row to Paris has meant he’s not been able to train properly for three months. Barry says ‘I’ll run as far as I can run, walk as far as I can walk, crawl as far as I can crawl and then cry for help’.

I’m afraid I forgot to ask him where he kept his cape…

Barry has his own website which you can access by clicking here.

We hope you enjoyed reading about Barry. For more stories about local personalities, click here.

[Barry Hayes Wrexham Superhero]

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