"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!
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!