Monday 20 May 2019

Rob and his tub reunited

Donabate adventurer Rob Dowling tells John Manning how he has been reunited with an unusual adventuring partner and what he is planning next

Donabate adventurer has been reunited with his beloved bath tub after more than three years of separation after he hauled the tub on his back up the highest peak in Africa.

Rob Dowling is know nationally and indeed, internationally for his unique adventurers that has seen him row that same bath tub, affectionately known as 'Sheila' down the Amazon before he carried it up Kilimanjaro.

At the end of both trips, circumstances conspired to separate the Rob from his bath tub on the journey home but somehow, now matter how long it takes, it seems they have a happy knack of finding each other again.

This time the separation has lasted more than three years but Rob is recently home from a trip to Africa in a bid to find 'Sheila' again so he can progress to his next epic challenge of circumnavigating the enormous salt flat desert of Bolivia, dragging the bath tub behind him..

After more than three years of separation, it took Rob just two weeks to find the tub, a find he can describe only as a 'miracle' and one that reinforces his belief that somehow he is fated to complete the four challenges with the bath tub he has set out for himself.

Describing how he made the unlikely find, Rob told the Fingal Independent: 'I went over a month ago. Basically she went missing three years and two months ago. I didn't have the heart to look for it for a while, I was just devastated at the loss and I had to concentrate on other things.

'I arrived in Kilimanjaro and met with this guy called Moses who I met three years ago when I did the mountain climb. He is sort of a local fixer. The people I stayed with before who minded the bath for me and they were deeply upset that I never received it - they assumed I had done. I didn't want to contact them and tell them I never got it because I didn't want to upset them.

'I had told them that a shipping agent would come and get it so when someone arrived to come and take it away, they weren't surprised.

'In a nutshell what happened was that the bath was taken by the shipping agent and brought to a warehouse. The person who took it, Daniel, moved on from the job soon after and left the bath in the warehouse. There was no paper trail, no records or anything. So, I tracked him down and we talked.'

He explained: 'The policy is after a year, unclaimed goods are given to what they call a contractor and he scraps it.

'I went to them and nobody had any records of where it went, the staff had all been turned around and nobody knew where it was.

'They directed me to the city dump and that was my low point. I was there talking to the scavengers, who make their living going through the rubbish and selling what they find.

'They told me that the dump was two years old and catered for 1,800,000 people so you can imagine the scale of it. So I didn't know where I was going to start but I gave out some posters, and they were all on WhatsApp would you believe and they talked to each other and I had set a reward and €500 was a lot to them so they said they would put word out on the scavenger network.'

The dump is in Arusha, in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. But as the scavengers searched, Rob was also fielding phone calls from all over the place, thanks to covering a vast area with leaflets promising a reward for the find.

Of course, many of the claims were bogus and Rob insisted on a picture before taking any claim seriously until one day he got a call from a woman who despite having no picture to send, was able to describe the tub in detail, including the metal frame that Rob had put around it so he could carry it on his back, up the mighty mountain.

He said: 'This Sunday morning I got a call from a woman and something told me this was genuine. There was no picture but I made an exception, there was something in her voice that told me she was speaking the truth. She was related to one of these contractors and she said that she knew the whereabouts of the bath tub

'There was no photograph and she said she wasn't able to send me one but she was able to describe the metal frame I had put the bath in so I could carry it on my back on the climb.

'So in the heel of the hunt it was maybe two, two-and-a-half years since she (the bath tub) left the warehouse. She was probably moved all over the place, had water in it at one point and there she was in the shadow of Mt Meru. I had images of her sitting in the shadow of a mountain and that had put me off the trail because I thought it was Mt Kilimanjaro, but it wasn't, it was Mt Meru.

'All I could find out about it that it was holding water for a year or two then it got moved again and damaged and it was no good to anyone anymore.

It was in a small village on the slopes of Mt Meru. There was a about 15 houses in the village and there she was lying on the ground.'

Rob had to restrain himself from showing the delight he felt inside as he feared the price of the reward going up he seemed too excited.

He said: 'My biggest problem was that I couldn't show how excited I was for the simple reason, if I showed how excited I was, they would want more money for it.

'But internally, I was elated. If you told me that I won 10 million on the lotto, it wouldn't have phased me, but that did phase me. I said to Mo, let's get this in the car now and get out of here.'

He paid over the reward and left, elated at the reunion and already looking forward to taking 'Sheila' on another adventure.

Rob's attachment to his adventuring partner is such that he could not even consider completing his next adventure with a replacement tub.

He said: 'Finding her again was a key to a very big lock and without this key, the project means nothing.'

The adventurer found a kind of validation for his mission in being reunited with the bath tub yet again.

'She has been returned to me and that shows me, at a higher level, that the spirit, the universe, faith, destiny, whatever you want to call it, wants me to start the next challenge which I will be taking on in February. Everything depended on finding her again.'

That challenge will be to become the first human to circumnavigate the Bolivian salt flat desert hauling a payload, namely a bath tub behind him.

The tub plus supplies will weigh around 130kg so there is a lot of training to be done before Rob can take this gruelling third challenge on.

He is working with a philanthropist with a charity in Peru to raise money for a surgical centre for street kids which Rob will dedicate his next challenge to.

He hopes to be ready to go to Bolivia in February and get organised locally before setting off on the challenge in the first week in March.

Rob will take on the challenge solo, only meeting with a support crew every seven to 10 days for fresh supplies.

The Donabate adventurer will take about 52 days to complete the challenge which will be the third in a four-part adventure that has so far taken up about 12 years of his life.

The final challenge will be the craziest of them all as he bids to fly the length of the Amazon in his bathtub, by making it the seat in a delta-wing trike.

I spoke to Paul Opp who has a charity called People of Peru. He is an incredible guy who works with street kids and he is building a surgical centre in Akitos for the kids.

Rob said: 'The bigger picture is that I have these unique set of four challenges that no other human has done and all of them were considered impossible until I started doing them.'

These challenges are objectively crazy and yet when you see what Rob has already done with his beloved bath tub, you would be a fool to suggest he will not complete both of them and now that he has found 'Sheila' again, nothing can stop him.

Rob is looking for corporate sponsorship for the challenge and you can contact him at

Fingal Independent