Polo continues to be first love, but Bobby Dundas has turned his attention to extreme challenge business after conquering the Atlantic Ocean.
Trans-Atlantic rower, professional polo player, and aristocrat. They are three aspects to Bobby Dundas which summon up images of a swashbuckling character from yesteryear. But Dundas, 31, the 10th Viscount Melville, is an intriguing, thoughtful man who epitomises the very spirit of Britishness. Polo may be a dangerous, adrenaline driven sport, but of all his accomplishments, ‘Trans-Atlantic rower’ is a moniker high on his own CV.
“It’s not often I have been called that but it’s something I’m very proud of,” he says. “I haven’t worked hard to be a Viscount, but I have in the polo world. I got to a certain level I’m happy with and the rowing is something that only 468 people have ever done – rowing across an ocean. I’m super proud of that.”
The Viscount rowed across the Atlantic ocean in a 3,000-nautical-mile race two years ago, thirteen teams competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, Dundas sharing the 21ft (7m) boat with former England polo team captain Henry Brett, and fellow polo players James Glasson and Fergus Scholes.
Bitten by the bug, he has now set up an extreme challenge adventure company, whose key words are ‘Challenge, Wilderness, Diversity, Camaraderie and Philanthropy’. Next month, the first race, ‘The Norwegian Challenge’ will take place. Dundas explained what has brought him to this point.
“The Atlantic polo team is what we called ourselves. Riding the waves is harder than riding a horse. You can’t prepare for it. It’s a mental challenge more than a physical one. Obviously you’ve physically got to row a seven metre boat across the Atlantic, but it’s the mental stability of working out exactly how you’re going to get across two months of solitary confinement with three other men who are naked a lot of the time.”
He says it is the hardest thing he has ever done. “We did it in 48 days and 7 minutes. To condense it and put it in a nutshell, in 24 hours you’re rowing for two hours on and two hours off every single day. The only time we did not row for two hours on and two off in pairs was over Christmas where we took a break for four hours.
“There is no way of anybody contacting you. There were three people in the world who had our satellite phone number and they knew better not to call and waste our battery. If you’re a religious person, you’re basically in heaven a lot of the time. You’re in an incredible place in the world that no one has ever been.
“We were all horsemen. The only person who had ever been out to sea was James Glasson. He’d done part of the Atlantic in a catamaran. Not one of us had ever rowed before in our lives. We’d never set foot in our boat until we got down to the Canary Islands. We actually came out of harbour and couldn’t work out how to turn it left or right. We crashed. We were novices. We got called the Jamaican bobsleigh team, or the equivalent, by all of the marines, the army, the RAF, the professional rowers. They all patted us on the back as if to say it’s really nice you’re here, we just hope you make it across.”
They won the race. It was hairy, though. Like the 72 hours they were battened down and in the tiny cockpits in a ferocious storm. “We did capsize a few times, and Henry and I were both thrown into the water. The boat is then basically flying upside down a 40 foot wave and you are basically being dragged under the water. In real time it’s less than 10 seconds but it feels longer when you’re in it. It feels like the end. It’s impossible to get your bearings. It’s pitch black.”
The storm days were horrific. “It’s like a coffin. Imagine being huddled up in a Japanese bamboo cage. You can never stretch out. We were in that for 72 hours without any water or food. We couldn’t open the hatch door because the storm was so bad. That was five days into the race.”
No wonder Dundas is proud of himself and his three polo mates. But it has only given him an appetite for more adventure.
“It’s your own personal wanderlust, a pioneering expedition,” he says. “Not many people have done it before. It’s not the first man on the moon, or the first man rowing the ocean, but this land is so over trodden and overdone… nobody has the exact perfect mould of the rowing boat yet. It’s constantly developing. It’s an exciting time to do something that has that wow factor.”
Educated at Marlborough College, Dundas found he loved playing polo at the Wiltshire school. It had never been in the family, like so many inveterate polo players.
“My mother always wanted a daughter. She stuck two young boys on horses from a very early age, kicking and screaming. I finally found what I loved doing with horses and that was polo. That was through school. I started when I was 16.
“I didn’t go to university. I wanted to go straight into polo,” he admits. “I was quite naughty at school and left a year prematurely. It was a mutual agreement. I left and decided I wanted to take the route I did. I loved horses. I was 17. I had about four or five horses, probably making a couple of young ones. We had a small bit of land, probably 35 acres. We had some stables. Nothing grand, nothing huge. No exercise track or school or anything like that. Just something I could use to house the things I loved.”
Dundas embarked on his own equivalent of a Masters in polo, traveling to Australia – even taking part in rodeo – and played high goal polo there, and then in Argentina. “I learnt the trade and then applied that back in England,” he says. “At that point I went up a handicap every year from about 17 to 21. I gained a three at 21. In that period I was playing 18 goal and 15.”
He played in Melbourne, at Ellerston, lived with gauchos in Argentina. “Everything was being ploughed back into the investment of the horses. I was thriving at that point, for sure. I think I was alright. A lot of costs were taken out because I was able to stable my horses at home. I was definitely doing well. I had a lot of jobs, I was busy.
“I love bringing on young horses. I got into breeding. I did a lot of that. I’d go to the sales and buy young race horses.”
Then, before the 2013 season, he went to Barbados and played there for three months. “I set up a place there. ‘Cow’ Williams is probably one of my favourite polo caricatures. He’s a great guy. He’s obsessive about the sport. I’ve worked for him for three years on and off. It’s amazing how the sport flourished on such a small island with just 300,000 people and 100,000 of them being tourists at any given time.”
Now, though, Viscount Melville is feeling the pull of the wild again. He’s back into another character – the adventurer. “I’m on a sabbatical from polo. I’ve still got seven or eight ponies. I’ve got two three year olds that Mark Tomlinson is looking after. I’ll do two tournaments, keep my hand in. I’ll play in Barbados; I might do another thing somewhere else. Apart from that, I’m basically starting up an expedition company and that doesn’t really afford weekends away.”
The adventure company owner has his juices flowing again. “From spending two months in a completely foreign seascape that was the Atlantic Ocean and coming through literally death-defying situations and getting to Antigua is a feeling that nobody will experience unless you’ve done something like that. I experienced that organic drug and I felt it needed to be bottled up and given to as many people as possible for all the right reasons.
“I wanted to work out how to distill two months of rowing an ocean, and everything that goes with it, into a week-long expedition trip for everyone who doesn’t have the time. It’s an expedition but people can also complete it. The challenge is a set length. Each person can either compete it or just complete it. Everybody has their own threshhold and goals.”
Another awesome photo from the N60 test run #Norway pic.twitter.com/ykD0Oo4rXX
— IGO Adventures (@IGOadventures) February 1, 2016
IGO N60 is a cross-country Quadrathlon race covering the breathtakingly beautiful one hundred mile landscape between Hemsedal and Geilo in Norway. Embedded in the heart of a land synonymous with adventure and home to the Heroes of Telemark raid, the race spans across a snowy paradise that has earned the respect of countless polar explorers and the British Special Forces.
The route, designed by head guide Rune Abrahamsen, will allow competitors to explore the best of Norway’s untamed wilderness and witness immense natural beauty whilst completing the four disciplines.
From the moment they sign up, each team of two to four competitors will be supported by a team of experts. Beginning with a full physical assessment at Surrey Sports Park, each racer will receive expert guidance to ensure they are fully prepared to compete or simply complete. IGO is a fully comprehensive elite experience and everything is covered, from flights to fat bikes.
· Day 1: Touring and Downhill Ski | 15 miles | Race time 4-9hrs
· Day 2: Fat Biking | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-8hrs (followed by husky dogsled)
· Day 3: Cross Country Ski | 26.2 miles | Race time 4-9hrs
· Day 4: Marathon Run | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-6hrs
“I’m restless in that I don’t enjoy sitting down in a chair in an office day to day,” Dundas smiles. “I want to be outside and living life. A guy called George Bullard, who is IGO’s ambassador and is becoming a famous explorer, worked out the average we get to on this planet is 71. If you times 71 by 365 you don’t get that much. It’s what you do during that time that really counts.”
Like the first Viscount Melville, Henry, who helped abolish slavery, the 10th Viscount Melville is charting his own route as a modern pioneer.
Visit www.igoadventures.com for more information