In Depth: Royal guardian to sail Atlantic alone - KMSP-TV

In Depth: Royal guardian to sail Atlantic alone

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He put his life on the line for a local charity that helps children around the world, and Richard Lett will cross the Atlantic Ocean in a one-man sailboat in just a few months. Trish Van Pilsum talked to him about that journey -- and the adventure, romance and royal connections involved.

Few things sound more British than the Royal Western Yacht Club, and that is where an Englishman wearing a Twins cap can be found. It's also hard to find more regal relatives than Britain's royal family, and Lett has spent a lot of time with them too. While it may seem strange to find a sea-faring sailor like him puttering around on an old houseboat on the still-frozen waters of the St. Croix, for Lett, it's a testament to the power of love.

"I'll get these all greased up," he said.

While telling his story, Lett baits the hook, so to speak, with royal reminiscing.

"I was doing some diving with William, Prince William," he recalled.

In fact, Lett spent 15 years protecting the royal family, staying especially close to the princes as they grew up.

"They go on and live their lives as pretty ordinary teenagers, and actually, I gained a huge amount of respect for their confidence, naughty as they were on occasion," Lett said. "I think it was fantastic.

He was invited to the royal wedding but declined, opting to use his expertise to run security instead. He can be seen watching over the bride and her sister.

"I worked with the London Metropolitan police, Scotland Yard for 32 years," he told FOX 9 News of his background.

Yet, when he speaks about his past, he has one message he hopes to share above all.

"It is really important to volunteer," Lett insisted.

For Lett, volunteering and adventure seem to go hand-in-hand. For example, he was once teaching kids how to dive in the Caribbean and ended up spotting three men who were lost at sea. When he participates in races, he also maintains a practice of naming his boat after a charity he hopes to benefit.

Later in May, Lett will race across the Atlantic Ocean by himself in an event called the Ostar. It begins in Great Britain and ends in Newport, RI.

"I start in Plymouth and head through the isles," he confirmed.

Fewer people have completed that trip than those who have climbed K-2.

"The farther north you go, the smaller the world is," Lett explained. "So, you reduce your course."

There's also more ice the farther north you go -- as in icebergs.

"I have to see how fit I am and see what the iceberg situation is to see whether I go high or low," Lett continued.

In total, Lett expects to spend 25 days at sea -- 21 if all goes well -- while he traverses 3,000 miles against prevailing winds in one of the smallest boats in the race. He has no crew, and that means no solid night of sleep.

"My intention is that I will sleep and close my eyes 20 minutes every hour," Lett said.

If he gets into trouble, the nearest boat may be 2 to 300 miles away.

"The sea temperature is 4 to 10 degrees," Lett said. "I think it is ever so important that I stay on the boat. If I don't stay on the boat, then I think time is really critical."

That boat he hopes to stay aboard now bears the name "Pathways to Children."

"Pathways to Children raises money that funds orphanages and schools in India and Africa -- primarily in India right now," Lett told FOX 9 News.

Lett knew nothing about the Minnesota-based charity until he traveled to Mumbai with Prince Michael, of Kent, in 2010. The prince was there to console the families of victims of a terrorist bombing, and Lett was there to protect him.

"My mind was on anything but love, I suppose," he recalled.

Margaret LeClair, who owns a health insurance brokerage company and is a director for Pathways to Children, was also in Mumbai. She was returning from a trip to India with students when the two crossed baths at a hotel. They shared their stories over a couple of hours and parted ways, not to see one another again for two years.

Lett was taken with LeClair's volunteer work -- but also with something else. They e-mailed over those two years, but never spoke on the phone.

"Maybe it's the equivalent of 100 years ago, writing letters but with instant gratification and delivery," LeClair posited.

In London, things were getting interesting. Lett was working security for the Queen's Jubilee, and -- of course -- there would be another royal child to protect because Kate is pregnant. Yet, when Lett came to Minnesota to see LeClair two years after their chance encounter, he decided to leave service to the royal family and start his own.

"I had to clear the decks for Margaret," he said.

The two plan to be wed inside an old English manor on May 19. One week later, Lett will embark on this trans-Atlantic race.

For now, he's sailing as much as he can in the hopes that anything that will break will do it now instead of in the middle of the journey.

"His autopilot gave out a couple of days ago," LeClair said.

The two stay in touch via Skype so that he can reassure her the problems he's encountering now are a good thing.

"It means I'm preparing all these things, learning more about the system," Lett explained.

He also tells her how people are noticing, and asking about, Pathways to Children.

Online resources:

- Pathways to Children http://www.pathwaystochildren.org/
- Richard Lett Racing on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RichardLettRacing
- OSTAR 2013: http://ostar.rwyc.org/?cat=38

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