“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” John A Shedd
As a follower of our team I hope it won’t have escaped your notice that we, after a few months delay, finally have a boat of our own. So sit back and enjoy a guided tour from the comfort of wherever it is you currently are.
The other big difference between a pure and concept is the Bow (front) and Stern (rear) cabins. In a concept the Bow cabin is larger than the front giving a small sail area so providing some extra speed.
With the main structure of the boat covered let’s move onto where we will be spending most of our time, at least 12 hours a day, the rowing positions. Part one is the seat which is, as it looks, mounted on roller skate wheels. Being made of plastic and ceramic they are far more robust and durable than the standard runner design you might see on the machine at the gym. As we discovered at the Wonston arms rowing is a ‘pain in the ass’ so whilst these seats come with padding I can assure you we will be enhancing this. Once sat down our feet go in these footplates- which are fairly self explanatory. The many bolts and screws are for us to adjust them to the optimum position. The last of three are the metal riggers the square plastic gates, where the oars will sit.
You can see from the ‘aerial’ photographs that we have nine storage compartments on the boat four with square hatches and four with red circular ones. This is where we will store all our provisions such as food and water and anything we won’t need to hand. To give you some idea of scale that’s 35x 2 litre bottles of water.
This concludes part one of our tour. Part two will be a tour of the electronics and equipment that will be taken on the voyage. These haven’t been fitted yet and tomorrow our boat will be relocated to Portsmouth for the final stage of construction.
You may have noticed something else is missing - our ship doesn’t have a name. We want to give you the honour of naming her, and a competition will be announced in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on our website and social media for details!
Finally, almost as a post script, for your health and safety. Please don’t get too attached to this vessel. At the end of the race it will be sold to another team for another crossing in another year. But please take solace in the fact that all profits from the sale will go directly to our charities but more importantly this course of action will keep our boat where she is meant to be, crossing the high seas!
"It’s an axiom of travel writing that, if n represents the discomfort endured by the writer, 10n represents the pleasure enjoyed by the reader” Carrie O’Grady
If this quote is to be believe this blog should be a real treat as I recount the tale of the second Men of Oar 24 hour row charity event. Designed to simulate a days rowing at sea we would row two hours on and two hours off from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. But we would be racing the locals of the Wonston Arms! Four of use doing twelve hours each verses one hundred of them each doing a fifteen minute slot.
I say four but that rapidly became three as Sam had twisted his ankle the day before some eye witnesses say he fell (jumped) down a whole, others that he was push by the opposing team-but all agree the timing of the injury was convenient. So, there we have it 100 vs 3 in a 24hour row off.
There was a competitive element to the day but in truth the residents of Wonston and Micheledever have been our biggest supporters. Having made a donation for their 15 minute slot they were rowing in solidarity to help each of us through our twelve hours. This can be seen by the fact that the 2am to 4am slots filled up first, and that everyone got involved, from 84 year old Ernie to 17 year old Josh.
After a brief set up the row began with Matt Todd, the Wonston Arms landlord, sandwiched between Robin and Will who started the event with gusto setting a fine example to all those who would follow. I used the first two hours to help work the crowd a task in which I was able assisted(well actually they did everything) by the Men of Oar WAGS group. We had a raffle and an ice bucket challenge aka ‘simulating a wave’ by chucking a bucket of cold water on a rower for only £5. The desire of the Great British public, particularly husbands and wives, to throw cold water upon each other probably says something profound about society, but I don’t know what it is.
My first two hour row of my first even 24 hour row began at 2pm and I was immediately aware of my first mistake of the day wearing rowing lycra underneath my ‘Men of Oar’ t shirt- double layers as temperatures soared to the high twenties. This felt by far the longest of my stints despite all the people to chat to. As I approached the hour and a half point the pain of the sitting on a plastic seat was starting to tell and made the last half hour drag on and on and on. Oh the relief of standing up as Will arrived to take over from me, I was certainly left with the sense of foreboding about the remaining ten hours left to come.
After a quick shower and change I was back in the pub to help sell raffle tickets-this was the last time I though about anything other than my own world of rowing pain, besides our support team where doing a far better job. As my two hour break vanished it was time to hit the rower again. But this time I brought my secret weapon-a £4 pillow from Primark. It worked and with many a person to talk two this was my favourite two hours although my rowing speed dropped considerably during conversation I reassured myself this event was about publicity and not the competition-I am not sure Will agreed.
Some food and a quick snooze and I was back in for round three, 10pm to midnight, refreshed and ready to go. It was during this row that my energy levels dropped- I simply had not been eating enough nor had I done enough long rows in training. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that rowing was just a pain in the ass-literally as the effect of my cushion diminished. It was at this point Sam was completely forgiven for abandoning us as I got of the rower he had prepared a meal for me so I could eat quickly and go straight to sleep. He was completely unforgiven when he woke me up at 1.45am(very am) for my next stint on the rowing machine. The overused snooze button on my alarm clock was sadly missed. It had been a long time since I had been so tired that I longed for more sleep with such intensity, however Will was waiting so there was no option but to get up and get on with it.
My remaining six hours of rowing stopped being a physical challenge and became a mental one. The rowing had become nothing more than the will to carry one and the management of pain. We could not rest so changing the discomfort was the only option. Taking your shoes of to get different blisters, different arrangements of cushions on the seat, new hand positions and new rowing techniques. The changing of people every 15 minutes became my clock but-sorry for not being more chatty but I was in the hurt locker! So much so when Sam told me we had just been sponsored a whooping £5000 by Basingstoke Skip Hire and Southern Waste Management it scarcely registered.
The last hourupon me and crowds started massing for the inevitable sprint finish. I had been saving a little energy over the last hour for this moment and as the final 10 minutes approached our speeds began to escalate. Matt Todd, landlord extrodianer, was back in the rowing seat and closing the gap fortunately I had an ally in the crowd- his wife Lisa. She had raised £300 to throw not one, or two, but three buckets off water over her husbands head. I am not sure who was happier team Men of Oar for £300 or Lisa and the Crowd for the glee of drenching her husband/their local pub landlord. But the drenching of the opposition gave me the edge I needed to win the sprint finish and clock up 292km between myself and Will. To rapturous applause it was all over, although I was hardly able to stand after the exertion I was able to accept a pint, from somewhere, to toast our success. Or possibly drowning out the sorrow that this day was one 24hr slot out of the 50 or so days needed to complete the challenge : (
It was at this point that Robin, Looking rather fresh from his two hours rowing, thank the many people in Wonston who had helped us so far and most importantly for the crowd announced the winners of the charity raffle!
Following a massive breakfast, courtesy of Mig and Sarah, I was able to reflect on the warm welcome we had received from this local community who had truly accepted us as part of their family. It was a great feeling to be surrounded by so many people who wanted nothing more than for us to succeed.
Not that it seemed important, but we also raised £8000. Thank you.
Water water everywhere. Nor any a drop to drink.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Everyone knows consuming sea water is a death sentence and you can only survive a few days without water. So it should be no real surprise that the most common question on the subject of rowing the Atlantic (after ‘are you crazy’) is about getting enough drinking water. It is literally a question of life and death. This blog is therefore about the perils of staying hydrated at sea. Warning it’s going to get a bit sciencey!
If you cast your minds back to the school classroom you may remember ‘osmosis’ the movement of water from a less concentrated solution to a more concentrated solution through a partially permeable membrane, such as the walls of the cells that make up our bodies. It is the key to understanding everything in this blog. A quick google search will bring up a few good YouTube videos! In a nutshell, osmosis will occur to make the concentrations of a solution on each side of a membrane the same.
Drinking Sea Water
So what’s the big deal with drinking sea water? Our bodies contain about 9 grams of salt per litre of water, whereas a litre of seawater contains 35 grams, a much higher concentration. If you drink sea water osmosis will occur as water within your body’s cells moves out of the cells to equalise the concentrations of salt. The water leaving your cells will cause you to become more dehydrated than before drinking the salty sea water. It thus kills you faster than drinking nothing at all.
Getting Drinking Water
During our row we will not be able to drink the sea water nor can we carry enough fresh water on our small boat. Instead we will turn the oceanic water around us into drinking water by extracting the salt. A mechanical box of tricks, colloquially know as a water maker and formally as a seawater desalination system, will do this for us.
The water maker works by reverse osmosis. A pump takes in sea water and pressurises it to about 70 bar (1000psi) using a combination of valves and pistons. This pressure causes the naturally occurring osmosis process to reverse. This high pressure sea water is then channelled past a special membrane that is only permeable to water molecules, whereby a proportion of the seawater(about 40%)passes through the membrane to become drinking water and the remaining seawater (about 60%) becomes more concentrated and is discharged back into the sea. Modern technological advances have seen the evolution of the energy recovery pump, that extracts energy by de-pressurising the water before putting it back into the sea. All in all it requires about 5 watts of energy to make 1 litre of water, that’s the same energy required to fully charge your smart phone. This energy will come from the solar panels and batteries installed on our boat. We will also have a chemical fuel cell if there are a few cloudy days.
The water maker is a complex piece of machinery and its failure is one of the most common causes of teams dropping out, hence the detailed level of research into the topic. Most accounts of ocean rows include a section on the day ‘the water maker broke’. The author will usually rank that day as the worst. To conserve their supply they stop the sweaty and dehydrating business of rowing, sat dead in the water hoping not to become truly dead in the water…..
We as a team will be learning how to fix every part of the water maker and carrying plenty of spare parts. As a back up we will also have hand pumps to desalinate the water, they work in a very similar manner to the main electric water pump but the of energy comes from our already tired arms! As a further back up we will have 300 litres of bottled water in the bottom of the boat. This water also acts as ballast that will ensure our boat selfrights in the event of a capsize, so must be replaced as soon as it has been drunk with salt water then fresh water when everything is working again. In short, we want the water maker that is going to survive the longest, or it’s going to be an even longer journey.
Keeping it all in balance
The point of all this water is to keep us hydrated. Our bodies need water for many processes including transporting nutrients and oxygen, regulating temperature and getting rid of waste products. Research has shown that the losses of 2% of body fluid can reduce mental performance, which can include short-term memory, arithmetic efficiency, motor speed and attention. What is more 75% of muscle cells are water so athletic performance can be reduced by up to 20% by the same 2% loss. We require up to 2.5 litres of water on normal day but as ocean rowers we will need around 12 litres due to the amount we will sweat whilst rowing. We will also sweat out salt which include electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium. These chemicals are essential for the bodies blood chemistry, muscle action and transmission of electrical impulses in our nervous system; without enough electrolytes our bodies will shut down.
This means we cannot just drink the water we have produced as we will not replace the electrolytes lost through sweat. Moreover, drinking excess water will cause the osmosis process to move the electrolytes still within the body to leave the cells and equalise the concentration resulting in further loss of electrolytes. This causes a condition called hyponatremia, also know as water intoxication, which is the reverse of drinking seawater and just as deadly.
Fortunately, sports scientists have been working on the issue of maintaining the correct levels of hydration during sporting events and the product of their efforts can now be purchased in the forms of powders that can be added to plain water to ensure our bodies get all the replacement electrolytes they need.
In summary we will be harnessing the suns energy to take all the salt out of sea water with our water maker. We will then add some salt back in and drink it. I know you as a reader understand the importance of water but I hope having read this blog that you understand the pressure I feel when going out to buy a £5000 water maker later this week!
The first blog for a few months comes at the end of bowel cancer awareness month and along with my 18 month post operative check. Our blogs so far haven’t touched much on bowel cancer, so it seemed appropriate to give it a mention this month.
Since our last blog we have managed to bring several generous sponsors on board the Men of Oar campaign. Fuller’s have come on board as a Silver Partner, Joe and Mike of ECHP Services Limited and Connor Construction South West have committed as Bronze Partners, whilst Sub Sports have been generous in donating some much needed clothing. There is also some fabulous fundraising activity happening, not least thanks to the Friends of Men of Oar and Sue Bell in Micheldever who is organising monthly walks around the Hampshire countryside. Together, we have raised almost £15,000 for our charities so far and almost £10,000 towards our campaign. Thank you to all of you who have donated and helped, the challenge wouldn’t be possible without you.
In January we committed to having a boat built as well. Rossiters are preparing an Ocean 3 for us which means we’ll be able to have three rowers at any one time, and will get us safely across the Atlantic even faster! The training has been focused on doing long periods of time sat on a rowing machine (we call them ergos), to get us into shape for the 24 hour rowing challenge we organised, with more help from Fuller’s. Aiming to row some 500km on an ergo and raise over £2000 on the banks of the Thames before the annual Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race started, we were kindly supported by the staff from the Blue Boat in Hammersmith whilst we adjusted to the routine we will adopt when crossing the Atlantic - 2 hours of rowing, eat, then 2 hours of sleep, then repeat. I think we can all safely say that we found it harder than we expected. The most we had done prior to that weekend was one 2 hour stint in a day. Getting back on the ergo after two hours of rest certainly proved to be a challenge.
The chafage started early at around about hour 3 and after 4 hours of sitting on an ergo, our bums needed a cushion to ease the deep ache that had developed. And then the hands started to blister at about 10 hours in; just when the rain started and the crowds left the pub to go to bed. After 8 hours of rowing, as the sun was coming up, our joints were aching, blisters and chafage burning and our bums were in bits. Fortunately, our families and friends started to arrive with sudacrem, ibuprofen, bacon sandwiches (Thanks Nell) to keep our morale up, and some great sales technique to raise funds for our charities. Knowing how one day of rowing feels, the challenge left me reflecting on how we will get across the Atlantic, a journey that will take more than 40 times as long without the support of all those who came to help us.
The best part of sitting uncomfortably in the rain with someone who is going through the same thing is that you get to know each other pretty well, something soldiers find out early on in their career. I found out that Will’s favourite film is Lone Survivor. It’s a film about Marcus Luttrell, a US Navy SEAL whose team is ambushed in Afghanistan. As the title suggests, everyone but our main protagonist is killed and he manages to survive fire fights and being blown down a cliff by an explosion before crawling into an Afghan village with various wounds and injuries. He takes refuge in a family’s home, and hoping they will adhere to the Pashtunwali code of offering hospitality and protection to whoever crosses your threshold. Throughout the film, Marcus Luttrell recalls advice from his instructors during his training and selection as a US Navy Seal - “Whatever you have to do, just find an excuse to win, keep going”.
At 2 o’clock in the morning when I had to get back on the ergo in the rain, these words rang in my ears. We were raising money for two fantastic charities that day, and we came home with £2,500 towards the charities and our campaign! Excuse enough, but the sentiment also helps to focus the mind on the greater goal of rowing across the Atlantic, and why we are doing that. There are many hard times ahead, not just the rowing, but also everything leading up to the endeavour. Whether it’s coming home from work and having to send letters out to potential sponsors, or pushing that little harder in an evening gym session when I’d rather be at home with Steph. We need something to motivate us to keep going.
Men of Oar are aiming to raise £250,000 for two charities which are very close to our hearts– Bowel Cancer UK and Combat Stress; and also to raise a whole lot of awareness about bowel cancer and mental health and the importance of early diagnosis in both conditions. My particular hope is to highlight what can be achieved when bowel cancer is caught and the symptoms aren’t ignored – rowing the Atlantic!
I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in August 2016 at the age of 33. It was a fluke; I had a pretty graphic episode on the loo and despite NHS Direct’s suggestion that I should be fine, I decided to go to the 24 hour non-emergency doctor. She suggested it was likely to be haemorrhoids. Within four weeks, I had been diagnosed with Stage 2 or 3 Bowel Cancer. They couldn’t be sure. Due to deploy abroad with the Army, my diagnosis was accelerated – I was lucky.
When I had gone to the hospital that morning, I had expected to be told that maybe I had a stomach ulcer, or maybe it was a reaction to something I ate. Bowel cancer was so far outside of my expectations I had no idea what the symptoms even were. The nurses reassured me that it was common to make a full recovery, very common to survive, and that because of the position of the tumour, it would be unlikely that I would need a stoma. I had no idea how the disease would affect me when I left the hospital that afternoon. I was a 33 year old who had just landed his dream job in the Army and whose dreams of adventures and a family with his girlfriend of two years were yet to be realised. It was terrifying to think that these dreams could be snuffed out by something I had no control over.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. It is typically a slow growing disease and is easy to treat if it is identified early. The first sign are polyps growing on the inside of the bowel, which can be easily identified and removed during a colonoscopy. By the time it starts to interfere with bowel habits, it will require an operation to remove part or all of the bowel. If this is identified at stage 2 then it is still possible to remove the whole tumour and not require chemotherapy. Once the tumour metastesises, it becomes more difficult to treat because it spreads typically to the liver and lungs. Multiple operations and rounds of chemo can still provide a successful outcome.
Diagnosis is difficult, it is not like testicular or breast cancer that can be identified as a lump, it can only be identified through invasive procedures and scans or by noticing the signs. A persistent change in bowel habits, pain in the abdomen, blood in your poo, unexplained weight loss and tiredness for no reason. Even then, the symptoms are often passed off as haemorrhoids, as they were in my case, or an intolerance and by the time they are identified as cancer it is too late.
Looking back, I had been to the doctors about at least three of the five symptoms before I identified blood in my poo (I’m not talking about a bit of blood on the toilet paper when I wiped up, I’m talking about what looked like the contents of a bottle of port emptied into the toilet) and became convinced that something wasn’t right. I realise that isn’t the easiest sentence to read in the world, but that’s kind of the point. I managed to have a complication free operation to remove my colon and was followed up with chemotherapy that lasted for six months.
“Whatever you have to do, just find an excuse to win, keep going”. Marcus Luttrell’s words are worth heeding whatever the situation, but become all the more real when you are facing the daily battle of chemo, blood tests, and more operations. Just feeding yourself those little pills can become so difficult. Although they have no taste, they begin to taste foul, like your body is rejecting the poison you are feeding it, but you must. The dread of going back to the hospital for another infusion and the agonizing pins and needles you will feel for days or weeks afterwards. “Keep going”.
Like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones, but it shouldn’t be down to luck. In South Korea no one dies from bowel cancer, and Bowel Cancer UK’s aim is that the same should be true in the UK by 2050. Sad stories like George Alegiah’s highlight the issues people face when the cancer is discovered too late. I hope my case offers some hope that actually, that all important diagnosis is a lifeline rather than a death sentence. And I know with the money we raise for Bowel Cancer UK and Combat Stress, a huge amount of research and support will be paid for that will help many people.
“Find an excuse…keep going”. I know what my excuse is.
Blog 4-Race Day
“You are always stronger than you think. Don’t ever give up and remember things worth achieving are always worth the fight”
- Meredith Edwards-ultra marathon runner and ski mountaineer
Some of you may have noticed, and be wondering why, Sam is currently sunning himself in La Gomera. Is he 365 days to early for the start of Men of Oar’s Atlantic Race?
Sam is in the Canaries to pick up a few top tips from the 75 souls who are about to set off, in 28 boats, on one of the greatest endurance challenges on Earth, The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge 2017. For those of you not constantly refreshing Facebook in anticipation of my next Blog, they may have already left!
These 75 souls will spend the next 40 plus days rowing a 25ft long boat, laden with all their provisions, for 24 hours a day, in order to cross the Atlantic under their own power.
Race rules state that any external assistance during the race will result in disqualification. So the last few days will have been spent ensuring their boats are prepared and packed with absolutely everything they need for the voyage. Along with ensuring that all their licenses, qualifying courses and paperwork are in order. All of these preparations will have been conducted under the watchful eye of the Atlantic Campaigns team.
Atlantic Campaigns are the organisation who run the race. They have seven ocean rowing world records between them and will only accept the highest of standards. The Atlantic Campaigns team have the final say and, with a flick of the pen, can stop a team from competing. Naturally these inspections will be stressful for the crews, as 18 to 24 months of preparation hang in the balance but they are done with the best of intentions. It is only with good preparation that it is possible to complete such a challenge, and to do it safely. This external scrutiny is painful, but necessary.
These checks will include the array of GPS and radar beacons fitted to each boat. The primary purpose of this equipment is to ensure the safety of competitors and prevent collisions with large ocean vessels that may not be able to physically see the tiny rowing boat. This equipment allows each boat to be tracked for the entire voyage which means anyone can follow the race via the tracker on the event website:
The website also lists all the teams taking part in this year’s event. You will find the Men of Oar tab in the 2018 section.
With only a few hours to go rowers and spectators will be able to feel the palpable excitement in the air, the kind only to be found when so many have set their minds upon a single goal. One can only imagine the cocktail of emotions currently being felt in the harbour. Exhausted by preparations but thankful the plan has come together and thankful to all the sponsors and loved ones who have helped them thus far, there is still now everything to do.
Fear will undoubtedly be playing on the crews minds. Although inherently aware of the risks of ocean rowing I suspect fear of failure will be their real concern, anxious they have not done enough preparation or forgotten some crucial piece of equipment. But also distracted by the thoughts of the family they are leaving behind, family who will undoubtedly be more worried than the rowers themselves. Some will be embracing these feelings others putting them as far from their minds as possible.
All will be searching for the motivation that has driven them this far, be that raising money for a cause close to their heart, the wish to set a record or just the opportunity to set out on an adventure. I hope each of them they find the feelings of accomplishment, the heightening of emotions and the enrichment of life they are looking for.
What is there left to say? In the finest nautical tradition I wish them all clear horizons, fair winds and followings seas.
Godspeed to the rowers of 2017.
“Omne ignotum pro magnifico est”
“We have miraculous notions of everything unknown”
Hagrid is without doubt my favourite character from Harry Potter, due entirely to our mutual love and child like enthusiasm for large and dangerous animals. If Hagrid were to join us on the boat I am sure he would, like myself, be eagerly looking out for wildlife. As well as secretly hoping for a glimpse of the more ferocious and mythical creatures rumoured to lurk beneath the waves. With 14.1 million people tuning in to watch the first episode of Blue Planet II, I am confident it is not just Hagrid and myself who have an interest in what swims in the ocean.
Indeed our fascination and fear of sea monsters appears to be as enduring as it is old. In The Odyssey, written by Homer in the 8th Century BC, Odysseus is forced to sacrifice six of his crew to the six headed Scylla to avoid an even worse monster called Charybdis. The 13th Century Icelandic Örvar-Oddr saga describes a giant squid like creature called Hafgufa. The Norwegian word ‘krake’ meaning ‘fabulous sea monster’ eventually slipped into English as the now famous Kraken. A creature who appears in both Jules Verne’s 1870 classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
The references throughout history are not just fictional, the Old Testament refers to a terrible sea creature call the Leviathan, Aristotle discusses sea serpents in his Historia Animalium and in 1st Century AD Pliny the Elder gives a detailed description of a giant squid weighing 320kg and measuring 30ft found dead on a beach. What is more, maps and encyclopaedias of the Middle Ages, such as the Carte Marina, are so teaming with monsters it is a wonder that any sailor made it out of the Middle Ages alive! Many of what we consider to be mythical sea creatures appear on these maps, but presented as real animals. Even in modern times these accounts of encounters continue. A mass of people, including fisherman, military personnel, and tourists all reported seeing a sea serpent 80 to 100ft long, with a head resembling a horse in the harbour of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The reports were so wide spread that a group of local naturalists called the Linnaean Society formed a special investigation committee. But no conclusive proof was found.
With so many references through the ages, surely there must have been something behind the stories? Modern science has dispelled many old myths but in the case of monsters, myth is quickly becoming scientific fact.
Evidence confirming the existence of Krakens began to emerge during the explosion of commercial whaling in the 18th Century as sperm whales, who clearly share my taste for calamari, would spit out half eaten giant squid as they fled from the whalers. The unusual circular scars on sperm whales and stories of them battling with the Kraken did much to fuel public imagination. The existence of giant squid is no longer in doubt and a 28ft specimen called Archie can be found in London’s Natural History Museum. The fossil record gives evidence that squid have lived in the ocean for over 155 million years but these truly ancient creatures were only caught on film in 2005 by a team of Japanese scientists working in the Pacific. It is also known that sperm whales dive to depths of over a kilometre to eat the giant squid which can grow up to 43ft in length. The Southern Ocean also contains colossal squid that can grow to 46ft and are known to eat small whales, the silhouette of which look much like a boat when viewed from below. It may well be a case of mistaken identity that has caused attacks on shipping. In 2003 the crew of a yacht competing in the appropriately named Jules Verne round-the-world Trophy reported being attacked by a giant squid several hours after departing from Brittany, France. The squid purportedly latched onto the ship and blocked the rudder with two tentacles. For some context Captain Jack Sparrows ship the Black Pearl was 163ft in length and so the legends do appear to have drifted from fact, which is unusual given fisherman’s ‘renowned’ integrity when reporting measurements. But whilst Captain Jack would have been safe, our 25ft rowing boat…
The discovery of a real Kraken is a great example of how mythology and folklore can evolve from real events. Over-zealous retelling may muddle and distort fact and fiction but there is basis in truth nonetheless. The Kraken is not alone in being proved real. The Coelacanth fish was thought to have been extinct for the last 65 million years but was rediscovered in 1932 and again in 1998 when caught in the nets of deep sea trawlers. In both cases the Coelacanth was unchanged from the fossil examples.
The thought occurs that other ‘mythical creatures’ are waiting to be rediscovered. Despite David Attenborough’s best efforts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate 95% of the underwater world is still unseen by human eyes. With my most recent application to study at Hogwarts denied, the Atlantic Ocean now represents my best chance of finding a large, dangerous, hopefully friendly, fantastic beast. Don’t worry, as a progressive modern explorer I will ask for a selfie.
“We had flung down the adze1 from the top of the fall and also the logbook and the cooker wrapped in one of our blouses. That was all, except for our wet clothes, that we brought out of the Antarctic, which we had entered a year and a half before with well found ship, full equipment and high hopes. That was all of the tangible things; but in memories we were rich. We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
Ernest Shackleton. South 1919
So what exactly are team ‘Men of Oar’ doing? In a nut shell we will be taking part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. Where we will row the 3000 nautical miles2 from San Sebastian de la Gomera to English Harbour, Antigua. To put it into perspective, more people have been to space than have completed this challenge.
Most challenges have a quantitative element and we often seek numbers to authenticate our experience. The number 3000 only shows that we will have an experience, it doesn’t tell anyone about the experience itself; enter today’s blog.
The biggest part of this challenge will be the Atlantic Ocean itself. In the modern world we are used to shutting out the elements with our waterproof coats and insulated homes, but as rowers there should be no illusion that the Ocean alone will determine our fate. Our boat is not large enough to resist the power of the sea and so must travel in the direction the waves dictate. Nor do we have the physical strength to out-row the currents or the speed to avoid storms. It is not uncommon for ocean rowers to spend days just waiting whilst a tempest blows them backward, undoing days of hard rowing in just a few hours. The reality of the challenge makes the number 3000 meaningless, the distance and duration of our trip are at the mercy of the sea. It is however this unpredictability and our humbling vulnerability to it that will make our Atlantic crossing a true adventure, opposed to a mere feat of endurance.
Ocean rowing boats themselves are around twenty-five feet long and come in two classes; pure and concept. The defining features and relative merits of each class are too long for this post, but I will discuss them some other time. The boat is everything. It will contain literally everything we need to survive. The race rules clearly state that any outside assistance or re-supply is prohibited. We have what we take with us and that is all. I personally struggle with the fear that I have forgotten something, usually because I have, even on the smallest of journeys. This will be one of the many psychological adversities that we must endure.
Regardless of the actual level of risk an ever-present unease will accompany us throughout our crossing. From the fickleness of the ocean and the uncertainty of what swims beneath us in the gloom, to the nagging feeling that we don’t have enough toothpaste. The potential problems are endless, as is the concern it will generate in us as a crew. Add in the monotonous routine of two hours rowing, two hours off and only seeing three other living souls for the 50 days we expect the crossing to take.
I certainly feel the psychological burden will be the hardest part.
The other hardest part will be getting to the start line. Indeed it will take two weeks for our boat to be shipped from the UK to La Gomera. On top of the logistical administration there is also the cost. To buy a boat and the equipment is around £60,000 and the race entry fee alone is £20,000. This entry fee gives us access to experienced professionals, constant cover from a safety boat, medical support and other teams to share the experience with, so is a bit of a bargain really. We also want to raise £250,000 for charity. Getting this much financial support and corporate backing will not be achieved with ease.
Another advantage of doing a race, rather than setting out ourselves, is that it forces us to complete all the necessary qualifications as without them the race organisers, Atlantic Campaigns, will not let us go. We will be mandated to complete five separate courses including navigation, ocean first aid and the RYA Sea Survival course. On top of this Sam and I need to learn how to row and all of us will need to physically prepare our bodies for the challenge. Practicing beforehand and knowing what one is doing doesn’t fit with the traditional values of a British gentleman explorer, but in this case, they are essential.
The race starts on 11 December 2018, which gives us 412 more days from today to pull all of this off. I am confident the time won’t just disappear…
1. An ‘adze’ is a type of axe that was used as a tool for climbing in icy conditions.
2. 1 nautical mile is 1.15078 miles or 1852 meters. So our 3000 nautical miles is 3452.338 of the statute English miles you will be familiar with. The nautical mile was historically defined as one sixtieth of a degree of latitude but in modern times has been rounded to the nearest meter for its continued use in air and maritime navigation. Our speed whilst rowing will be measured in knots which is nautical miles per hour.
“Discipline is the bridge between dreams and accomplishment” Jim Rohn
What’s the best way to ruin a trip to the pub? Wait for your friend to order their food, that way they can’t escape, then tell them you have Bowl Cancer. Ensure they understand this is not a joke. Then just sit back, sip your pint and watch all positive emotions drain from them. This is exactly what Robin Drysdale did to me in The Bell near Marlborourgh last year, and I was rather looking forward to the steak and ale pie….
Luckily for me Robin is not the kind of man to be kept down by such news. His refusal to be anything but positive in the face of this diagnosis and his irrepressible good humour made the evening as enjoyable as any. Later during his recovery, and no doubt spurred on by this experience, Robin decided that it was time to make his dream of rowing the Atlantic come true; aiming to raise over £250,000 for Bowel Cancer UK and Combat Stress.
Many things just happen to us in life, cancer being a pretty bad one. It might be fate, the workings of some higher being or just the random occurrences of the of the universe, who knows. The stoic philosophers of ancient Greece identified this truth of our existence and determined that the events in our lives will cause there to be a difference in the way the world is and the way we would like it to be. It follows that our success in life will be defined by our ability to change the things we can and endure the hardships of the things we cannot. Consciously aware of this idea or not, to dream seems to be the natural state of the human race. We all spend hours thinking of the things we want to make our lives better and more fulfilled by changing that difference, it is just all too rare that we truly define what we want and then work to make that dream a reality.
This way of thinking has lead me to seek out challenging events that require effort to fulfil to achieve fulfilment, I find a lot of pleasure in working toward a clear objective. It will be no surprise to you that my spare time is spent trying to achieve difficult things like summiting mountains, running marathons and learning to play the cello. As I have gotten older I have found that it is less the scale or type of event but the people involved that define how we experience something and how rewarding it is. I have come to think it is those little connections you make with a stranger and the relationships you build with other people that make life worthwhile. Robin has an innate ability to make things fun, so when he needed a crew for his row I said yes, this kind of event is my thing. It is also rather hard to say no to a cancer surviving friend embarking on a noble cause, although I have not asked I am sure fellow crewman Will and Sam would agree.
After lots of discussions in pubs, attempting a team row on the Thames and most importantly the creation of some branded t-shirts it appears that Robin's dream is not only starting to become a reality but becoming the dream of others. It therefore now time for me to start my share of the task by fulfilling my promise of writing a blog.
I hope this blog will allow you as a reader to join us on this voyage of hard work and adventure and connect with the story in a way that makes a little bit of this journey your own. If that’s too much of an emotional commitment then please just hit the like button, share with all your friends, then donate some money through the sponsorship page, after all its all for a good cause.
MEN OF OAR
The Men of Oar Blog has been written to keep you, our supporters, up to speed with our progress through our challenge and inform you about some of the more complex aspects of Ocean Rowing. Although it is based on true events, the blog is written to entertain. We hope you enjoy-if so please share!