Katie Carr completes book Moderate, Becoming Good Later for her late brother and Rutland adventurer Toby Carr and takes on his Shipping Forecast odyssey
The sister of an adventurer whose life was cut short last year is to complete the epic seafaring challenge he never got to finish.
Toby Carr died from cancer, aged 40, having explored two-thirds of the 31 shipping forecast areas in his sea kayak.
Katie Carr, 45, has picked up where her younger brother left off – and has also finished the book Toby started writing about his travels, Moderate Becoming Good Later, which was published this month.
Toby set himself the challenge in homage to childhood sailing holidays on the east coast and to his late father who insisted on reverential silence whenever the Shipping Forecast came on the radio – even when at home in Barrowden.
It also followed the loss of his brother Marcus to cancer in 2017, aged 38, which acted as an alarm call for his own life.
The brothers were born with the rare genetic condition Fanconi anaemia, which affects one in two million people and left them highly susceptible to cancer.
Around the age of 12, Toby and Marcus were told they were unlikely to live to 30, although both lived full lives beyond this terrible prognosis.
“The one thing that gave him the kick up the backside to get it started was the death of our brother Marcus and from there Toby just got things rolling,” said Katie.
“The kayaking was part of this idea of trying to live as full a life as possible in the time he was given.”
With the help of a Churchill Fellowship Grant, he kayaked around South East Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Norway, Denmark, and all the way round the coast of Germany and into the Netherlands in the summer of 2018.
While returning to work as an architect that winter he completed more UK areas, and then in 2019 he paddled around off the coastlines of France and Spain to Porto, covering the latter 720km leg in around three weeks.
Toby moved to Cornwall on his return to the UK and in the summer of 2020 completed the Cornish legs before intending to finish the job the following year.
“Toby was a fun-loving adventurer really, but also a very normal bloke,” Katie said.
“He was very much about ‘come on let’s go outside, let’s get involved’ and trying to get everybody to come along, which probably came from growing up in Rutland.
“We just grew up running around the village and having a wonderful time.”
At the same time, Toby began charting his experiences and discoveries in a book.
Cruelly, three chapters in, and just two months after securing a hard-won publishing deal, he died on January 10, 2022, his story left unfinished by the cancer which had also taken Marcus.
However, Katie refused to let the disease have the final word.
Thanks to extensive notes, voice recordings and videos that Toby made, she was able to complete the book, in her brother’s voice.
“When I first picked up the stuff it was hard,” she recalled.
“It was quite hard listening to his voice, and also the notebooks smelt of his house and stuff, so some of it, emotionally, was really hard, especially in the beginning.
“But it’s also a very healthy thing to do in a way. He died of cancer which can be a horrible, long, drawn-out end.
“The person disappears or fades away and it’s not very nice when they were such a strong personality.
“So this was like spending an extra year with him at the best time of his life, when he was out there on his adventures.
“I realised that’s what I could give back to everybody who knew him, and a lot of people who didn’t, that we could recreate Toby, in a way, in the book.
“Not as a mausoleum or monument to him, but as a story.”
Katie has lived in Barcelona for the last 10 years, but following publication, she returned home to Rutland as part of a nationwide book tour.
While here she held a book signing at Walkers, in Oakham, followed by a launch event at Rutland Sailing Club.
“The book’s written by me, but in Toby’s voice and hopefully captures him as the narrator of his own story,” she added.
“It’s a storybook really. It paints scenes and hopefully takes people and their imagination out to these wild places.
“It’s intended to be for people who just like a good story, a bit of an adventure and be whipped off to a few different places around the world.”
But having completed the book, more unfinished business remained.
“One of the key messages of the book is getting people involved in nature and getting people outdoors, like a call to adventure,” Katie said.
“When I got to the end of it I thought ‘actually that’s exactly what I feel like – I want to stop sitting at my desk typing, go out and have an adventure’.
“The adventure was already there, I just never considered it because I’d never been in a sea kayak before, but then I thought ‘there’s a way of changing that, isn’t there!’.
She first set foot in a kayak in January, but within two months she had navigated Toby’s kayak around the Bristol Channel leg.
Pembrokeshire and Anglesey were completed in May, while the areas around the coast of Ireland will follow in July, and the west of Scotland up to the Hebrides in August.
She hopes to end the siblings’ joint odyssey next year, ticking off the Tyne area, up to Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in the spring before finishing up at the Shetland Islands in July, at Muckle Flugga, Britain’s most northerly lighthouse.
So what would Toby have made of this?
“I think he would have said ‘be careful’,” Katie laughed.
“I wish I had told him. He never knew I’d taken on the book either and so he died with the book contract knowing he would never write it.
“I think he would be delighted that his book got out and his story was told. And then he would be really excited that I’d been inspired by his story, got involved in his adventure and at the same time pulled a whole load of people along with me.”
Both the writing and following in Toby’s paddle strokes have been a cathartic experience.
They have allowed Katie to deal with her grief and family loss in a uniquely personal way, adding a positive full-stop to a dark chapter.
“One of the things I learned is that it’s really therapeutic to be able to turn something which is ugly and difficult into something which is a work of art or which is beautiful,” she said.
“I think that’s what Toby did with Marcus’ death and what I’ve done with his with the book. But it was also worth finishing the adventure as well.”
Moderate Becoming Good Later (Summersdale) is published in paperback and ebook and available at £9.99 online from Amazon, Waterstones and Bookshop.org, and at local bookshops.