BEEP!! BEEP!!! BEEP!! As I slowly come to, I realise this is not a dream and I am in fact waking up on an ocean rowing boat just before 2am in the morning. Its dark outside and all I can hear is the sloshing of the water on the side of the cabin, which seems to reverberate around like a grand auditorium, and the rowing seat gliding back and forth like a metronome. Not that it was not already blindingly obvious, but it becomes apparent that this whole rowing an ocean thing will be hard work!
At the end of our last entry we were only a day or so from our first 24 hour outing on the boat. As you might have read, ones for trying to make things as tough as possible we decided that would be a good idea to do a 14 hour promotional row in London just before. This was a really tough day, but help raised a load of money for our charities and probably got out bodies in the right condition for our outing, stiff, uncomfortable and tired. As we set off to Burnham on Crouch, there was a sense of excitement with us both, but also trepidation. This would be our first full day out and first time rowing at night.
Rowing at night at any time is a lonely place, but in the middle of the Atlantic it is even more so, which is actually a bit safer. When we are rowing in the Atlantic, there is a very small chance we will see another boat at all, so is something we have to worry less about at night, which means we can just focus on rowing. Also the course you row, due to the expanse of the ocean, we have a bit more wriggle room, so to speak. The rough rule is you need to row roughly west until about half way, then you really need to start taking the course a bit more serious, to ensure we end up in Antigua to a hopefully packed English Harbour of people cheering us in. Just in case you are worried at all we have a number of pieces of equipment which ensure we will remain safe including an AIS (automatic identification system: An automatic tracking system used for collision avoidance on ships) and a top of the range GPS system which means we will be heading in the right direction.
When rowing around the coast of the UK, there are a few more things you need to watch out for other boats, buoys, wind turbines, rocks, sand banks as well as taking in to consideration the tides. We were however given a fairly safe route to track during the night, which meant we would be less likely to have any major issues. Setting off was great and we started to get some good miles under the boat. Our bodies were sore from the 14 hour promo row a few days before, but felt ok as we started to churn out our two hour sessions. Having already completed in the Race Across Europe and the Marathon des Sables, we have quickly come to terms that to do well in any endurance event you need to be able to handle your body throwing at you a mild to moderate amount of pain for a very significant amount of time. It is not enough for you to stop but more than enough for you to be in real pain for a long period of time. This longer outing also meant we could practice using some of the additional toys we have on the boat.
The first major piece we were keen to test out was the water maker. Having spoken to a number of people, this is a very simple bit of kit but can be temperamental, so we were keen to test it out, to see whether would need to do any repairs to it. With the batteries fully charged from our solar panels, we flicked the switch and were ready for everything to spring to life, but nothing happened. We both looked at each other a tad concerned but then we heard some noises and low and behold water started coming out of the tube on our deck. In sheer excitement, yours truly wanted to taste it straight away to see whether it had done its job of sucking all the salt out. What I had not factored in was that this had not been used for a while and the equipment takes a second or two to start working properly, so is safe to say what was meant to be glorious drinking water was a salty slime, which was highly amusing the Seamus, but not for me, lesson learned. Once all the slime got through, the water started running out and we were able to fill up our water bottles. This was a great relief and cheered us up.
Other bits of kit we were testing out and processes we were honing were things such as our safety lines and making sure we are always tied on, even when swapping over. We were also able to make our first hot meal on the boat with our Jetboil cooking system. It was quite unbelievable how quickly it works, which is great to know as we don’t want to be taking ages to make all our food out there. Overall things were going well, which is reassuring, however the rowing was tough. Partly through design of the route we chose, we were constantly rowing against the tide, which meant it was tough going, but good practice for when we are out in the Atlantic. It is better to train for the worst case and hope for the best, than have everything easy whilst training then jump in to the deep end so to speak.
As the sunset though, we both came a bit more aware of everything as we were entering the unknown a little. We continued rowing on our course which was great for keep our confidence and fortunately the weather wasn’t too aggressive. The only really hard part was the inability to really sleep for a long period of time and having to get yourself up for rowing another two hours. It is quite amusing the disparity in moods of each person during a change over. The person about to row is full of dread whilst the person who is just finishing their session has a sort of giddy excitement at the thought of getting into the warm cabin, eating some food as well as getting some sleep (even if a tiny amount). It is amazing how the sun can affect your mood. Rowing at night can be enjoyable but is tough going, as the sun came up, this really does lift your mood and gave us a sense that we had successfully got through the night and we were getting ready to fight another day. We continued on and eventually got back to the marina we had set off from the day before, both very tired but with the feeling that we were another step closer to rowing the Atlantic.
Our next big milestone will be a 3-4 day outing which we are in the process of preparing for, as well as an advisory inspection from the organisers of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, to ensure we are on the right path and have all the right equipment. Things remain busy as ever, but we look forward to keeping you up to date!