Weymouth Training Weekend

Heads Together and Row are back from another training weekend and feeling more confident than ever about our preparations for the race.

This weekend we were rowing off Weymouth and weather conditions deteriorated, not for the first time this year, with higher winds and sea state than forecast.

Overnight we battled hard, while learning a thing or two about the debilitating nature of seasickness! We kept a good watch on our position and progress and by the early hours of the morning, we calculated that the conditions had made it impossible to row back into Weymouth Harbour. So we switched to our second contingency plan to row with the wind along the coast to the East and in to Poole.

Unfortunately, the wind kept blowing us towards the coast and after a few more hours of tracking our path and recalculating our route, on Sunday morning we called the coastguard for advice. We admitted defeat to the elements and graciously accepted a tow back to Weymouth rather than risk continuing in worsening conditions. 

A huge thanks to Her Majesty’s Coastguard (HMCG), Solent (part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency), and to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), Weymouth, who were completely brilliant. While every effort goes in to avoiding it, calling the coastguard for assistance is always part of our contingency plan. We, alongside other ocean rowing crews and everyone who ventures out in UK waters, are incredibly lucky to be able to call on the vital emergency service provided by HM Coastguard and the RNLI – the charity that saves lives at sea.

It was good to see many aspects of our two years of training paying off. We had a good passage plan and contingency options: our decision-making processes were strong and we had all the right kit for our journey. All in all a really positive experience which was not without learning but also highlighted our developing teamwork, resilience and adaptability. It was really good to see how much our confidence in rough seas had developed. We will be stronger and more confident competitors for it.


Did you know that the RNLI philosophy remains the same as it was in 1824: ‘to provide our lifesaving service using volunteers wherever possible, with voluntary donation supplying the funds needed to do so’? In 2017 alone 558 lives were saved, over 24,000 people were aided by RNLI lifeguards and there were 8,436 lifeboat launches. You can support them here.


Atlantic Row Fundraising Dinner

Join us for an evening of great food, great music and great company at our fundraising dinner in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire on Friday 29th September 2017.

See our ocean rowing boat and hear about the challenges we’ll face like 30ft waves, 40′ heat and each rowing 12 hrs a day 24/7!

For tickets, please contact Alison on headstogetherandrow@gmail.com or 07702 280360



Deferment to 2018 Race

We have reluctantly decided to defer our entry in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge until 2018.

We have taken this difficult decision following a thorough process over recent weeks to review our preparedness for a 2017 crossing.  We considered a range of factors including our boat, equipment and logistics, technical training, physical and mental preparation, risk and safety.  Ultimately we concluded that a 2018 crossing offered significant benefits in terms of these and other factors and it will enable us to be one of the best prepared and most successful crews next year – for ourselves, our supporters and our charities.

Two key external influences brought significant challenges to our campaign this year;

First, being let down by a supplier in May meant we did not secure our boat until July and that we had to procure a boat that required significant investment in terms of time and finance to bring her up to race specification. This in turn meant we have had much less time to kit her out and train in her than we would like.

Secondly, our skipper and a second crew member work in the civil resilience and emergency response sector in London.  The tragic events over the spring and summer meant that the time they had to undertake campaign and personal preparation was strictly limited for significant periods of time.

A combination of the above means we are not where we would like to be with three months to the start and, while we could potentially have gone in 2017, the extra year will enable us to be better prepared and to become more experienced, confident and safer as we face up to this extraordinary challenge.

We would like to reassure you that we are taking action to prevent the issues we’ve had this summer from being a risk for next year.  We now have a boat and most of the equipment secured and up to race specifications and will have formal agreements in place for all four of us to be released from work for the December 2018 crossing, regardless of external influences.  We are also going to invest in a reserve rower in case an unexpected event means one of us can’t make it next year and have a contingency plan should we need to go as a crew of three.

It is extremely frustrating to be pulling out within touching distance of the start line but we are in an excellent position for 2018.  We remain totally committed to the Row and will be a better prepared, safer and faster crew in a year’s time.

Thank you to our sponsors, family and friends for all your support so far and we look forward to working with everyone to make next year a roaring success.

Best wishes,

Ali, Jeremy, Justin & Toby

Time to talk on Time to Talk Day about why I want to row the Atlantic

On the eve of two more rowers’ arrivals in Antigua, including solo rower Gavan Hennigan who has brilliantly maintained 3rd place throughout the course of the race, I continue to marvel at what all the crews are achieving and look forward to our turn when we depart La Gomera this December.

As I write this, it is also the eve of Time To Talk Day, an initiative of Time to Change, run by Mind (one of our chosen charities) and Rethink Mental Illness.

Talking to more and more people throughout our Atlantic row campaign, there’s one question almost everyone asks – “Why?” This is nearly always followed by “Are you crazy?” or “Rather you than me”.

When thinking of whether to write this and of all the reasons I didn’t want to, it made me realise that not to do so goes against everything we as a crew are trying to achieve, namely to get people to open up about their mental health so that it isn’t a big issue or one that is stigmatised.

We are rowing in support of the Heads Together campaign to change the conversation on mental health and end the stigma. It is crucial that if people need help, not only should it be available, but they should feel confident and able to get it.  Why would you want to make someone who already feels anxious and alone feel afraid to speak out for fear of what people may think or how they may react?

So yes, particularly in my 20s, I struggled. I’m aware there are some people close to me who may come across this blog who do not know that – although it was probably obvious! I’ve felt desperate at times and very alone despite having lots of lovely people around me. I’ve felt low to the extent it looked like I was in a really bad mood. I wasn’t, but at the same time, neither could I just ‘cheer up’! I made drastic changes in my life to see if that helped; I’ve wandered around Australia alone for two months, changed career and lived in the Caribbean. All fantastic changes but they weren’t the solution to what I suppose is a muddle of the wiring in my brain.

Because I’ve been able to talk about it when out with my friends, I’ve got through it. I’m in a job I enjoy, live in a great place and still have lovely people around me. Although I may still have the odd ‘down’ day, I’m fine. Sport has also played a big part in that and rowing in particular, which I started at university. I like to have a project or a focus and this Atlantic Challenge is definitely that. I’m not doing this because it’s the latest ‘drastic change’ I want to make, but rather because I now know I can do it.

One of the great aims of our Atlantic campaign is to help increase awareness surrounding mental health in support of our two great charities, also involved in the Heads Together Campaign, Mind and Combat Stress. So, if this blog helps even a little on Time to Talk Day then we’re doing our job.

As well as an incredible physical challenge, this is going to be a tough one mentally too and I don’t want anyone to think after reading this that I’m going to crumble. If I, or any of us, do it’s because no one can know how they will cope with being on a very small boat in the middle of the Atlantic, not because they may have found life difficult in the past. I’m throwing myself wholeheartedly at this. Roll on December!

So back to the questions. ‘Why?’ Because it is important that this issue is hit from both angles; that those suffering should feel empowered to ask for help and that those who may be on the receiving end of that admission can cope with it. ‘Am I crazy?’ To want to row across the Atlantic, maybe, but as a person, no I am not. And as to the last, yes, it is me, not you, but don’t worry, I’ve dealt with it.

#TimetoTalk  #MentalHealthMatters  #thisgirlcan  #twac2017 #Atlanticrow

First boat trial

On a wonderfully bright but absolutely freezing Sunday, the four of us donned as many layers of kit as we could, while ensuring we could still move our arms, and headed to The Hamble, near Southampton. A round of hot drinks and a few envious looks at Toby’s bacon sandwich later, we were joined by Justin Adkin of Sea Sabre and Chris Martin of New Ocean Wave. Justin is currently building a boat we hope to charter for the race and so we had the opportunity to talk spec and see the designs. Our consultant Chris had kindly brought Isobel with him, our boat for the day, and fresh from her arrival back from Hawaii after the Great Pacific Race. So, having lulled our body temperatures into a false sense of security, out we went again to get the boat in the water and underway.

Jez studied the charts while the boat was loaded (more bags of clothes!) and prepared for the off. I tried out the bow cabin and was pleased to find that at 6’1″ tall I was able to stretch out fully. That said, the feet end narrows considerably so if sheltering in there with a crew mate during a storm, we’re going to have to take it in turns!

As we wobbled away from the pontoon, my ears pricked up when I heard Chris tell us there was no ballast in the boat and I had visions of tipping over and me sinking to the bottom of the Solent in my four layers of kit. I’m used to rowing in ‘fine’ boats like those at the Olympics which are a lot closer to the water and very sensitive to movement so it took a while for me to get my sea legs. I did get there eventually though and am reassured by the amount of movement there is without going over. During the race we will have several litres of bottled water in the bottom of the boat which will not only add to the weight and stability but will mean that, should the boat capsize, it will self-right.

Justin started off in the stroke seat with Toby behind him which, for those who don’t know, is actually towards the front of the boat as we’re going backwards! As the only one of us who could actually see where we were going, Jez steered us out of the marina. Justin and Toby valiantly battled with the wind and waves while Jez battled with the ‘traffic’. I’m aware from my sailing days that ‘power gives way to sail’ but am not sure where rowing boats fit with that and made a mental note to check. That said, once out of La Gomera, we’re unlikely to see another soul for 3,000 miles so that won’t be an issue.

Due to the strong winds we decided to head back into more sheltered water and Jez and I took over at the oars to do so. Having packed some dehydrated delights we moored on a buoy to fire up the jet boil and savour such specialities as chicken tikka, vegetable pasta and spicy beef. Water – check. Forks – check. Matches – oops! Another mental note for the list….

Before freezing our socks off completely we got back on the oars and headed back, while testing out the music speakers on board. Back on dry land and in possession of matches once again, we had our late lunch tasting session which was nicer than expected, although remains to be seen after weeks on end of eating rehydrated meals.

We had a great day on the south coast. Thank you so much to Justin Adkin for coming to meet with us and talk to us about the new boat. Also to Chris for bringing the boat and taking us out. We were also joined by [crew] Justin’s partner Jane who we’d like to thank for photography and the attached video.