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.