“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.
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!