Row like you’ve never rowed before (or ever will again)

Before we’re allowed to leave La Gomera, race organisers Atlantic Campaigns quite rightly insist that we do all sorts of courses so that we’re as safe as we can possibly be out on the ocean. These include Sea Survival, First Aid, VHF Radio and Navigation.

Navigation is interesting as it’s one of those skills which we’ll use a good deal more when we’re training than during the actual race. Rowing off the coast of the UK, it’s clearly vital to know the location of hazards, the depth of water at high tide and how far we are from rocks. At certain points, being ½ mile out in our calculations could make the difference between clear water and an uncomfortable landing.

Once we’re out of La Gomera, however, and until we get close to Antigua, being 10 miles off course will make very little difference to anyone.

Which is why our rowing training tends to be much more technical and navigational than the actual race will ever be – you don’t get many cliff faces looming out of the gloom at you 1000 miles of the west coast of Africa.

Talking of training … we had our second weekend of 2018 out on the boat at Easter and the weather was unnecessarily spiteful: bitterly cold, biting winds and driving rain accompanied us pretty much from start to finish. As a result, we spent a good deal of time learning how to move about and handle the boat in trying conditions rather than laying down a massive mileage.

It’s all part of the process of course but we hope that we won’t be needing quite so much warm kit for the race itself as we did off Mersea Island in April. Although we are proud to have maintained our record of bringing rain to every training session we’ve ever done.

A Different Class

It’s the time of year when not many important things happen. Or rather, lots of important things happen, but none of them are terribly newsworthy.

We’ve spent the last few weeks painting the boat, replacing kit as necessary and making her ready for our first weekend outing of 2018 over Easter, by which point we very much hope we won’t have to break the ice with our oars.

All that, however, pales in to insignificance when compared with the fact that the 2017/18 race was completed in record time, with the last boat arriving in 70 days. It’s an astonishing feat, and one that had a lot to do with some tremendous rowing and strong winds, but also the fact that there are two different classes of boat, one of which is considerably faster than the other in the right hands.

In their basic design, the classes, Pure and Concept, look very similar. A fours version of both will be about 26′ x 7′ and have the same basic shape and layout, with much of the storage under the decks and a cabin at either end for down time when not on rowing duty.

The main difference, however, and the one which makes a Concept boat so much faster, is that the larger of the two cabins is at the bow end of the boat. This gives them a huge advantage when it comes to windage and therefore in theory makes them a good deal quicker.

I say in theory, because rowing a Concept isn’t all sunshine and skylarks.

Concepts have a lower freeboard. This means that in following seas (i.e. most of the time) you’ll get wetter as there is less protection from either the freeboard or the stern cabin. They are also generally less stable.

Getting in and out of the bow cabin – never fun at the best of times – is even less joyful on a Concept. With the smaller stern cabin, you’re immediately exposed to more of what the Atlantic has to offer and there’s less chance to admire your surroundings.

And our boat? It’s a Pure. This should give us a slower but more stable crossing. Time will tell!

Welcome on board Henley Business School!

We’ve had some good news this month – we have a headline sponsor!

Henley Business School have signed up to work with us on a research project focusing on developing individual and team resilience over time. The project will consider both physical and psychological health as well as nutrition. Henley researchers will be following our training, tracking performance and resilience markers and documenting performance during the race itself.


Alongside the money, which is critical as we get towards the sharp end of the project, the partnership with Henley fits beautifully with our desire to raise money for mental health charities and awareness of mental health issues. We couldn’t pass up th
e opportunity to be part of a research project to better understand the effects of rowing an ocean on our psychological and physical health.

From Henley’s perspective, this research offers the opportunity to investigate resilience in a different setting. Resilience is a key characteristic of high-preforming leaders and teams in the workplace and by working with us throughout our preparations and during the race, they hope to gain a better understanding of a resilience model where cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, metabolic, cognitive and emotional health are clearly linked in their contribution to sustained high performance.

While there’s still plenty of fundraising to be done, the partnership with Henley takes us one step closer to the start line.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, records have been tumbling during the current race. Thanks to a combination of strong winds and some phenomenal rowing, the Four Oarsmen obliterated the World Record for a fours crew, becoming the first people to row the Atlantic in under 30 days, while an extraordinary effort from solo rower Mark Slats saw him cross the finish line in under 31 days.

While both these boats are of different design to ours, being much more efficient in the wind (of which more in the next blog) to row that hard for that long is frankly awe inspiring.

Meanwhile, 19 year old Oliver Crane became the youngest to row the ocean solo, another brilliant achievement. I’m not sure what I was doing at 19, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking of rowing an ocean. Just extraordinary!

Back and forth we go

A rowing machine in full flow doesn’t make an attractive noise.

This may be why my partner Jane limited me to 30 minutes on it on Christmas Day.

In theory of course I should have been out on the Atlantic and not going back and forth in the living room watching repeats of The Bill. Circumstances, however, dictated that rather than being several hundred miles off the coast of Africa, and giving Jane the peaceful Christmas she was rather looking forward to, I ground out another few kilometres, literally closer to space than the sea, while DCI Meadows nabbed another wrong ‘un.

It’s been a funny old week. Dot watching on the website tracker as the small flotilla of rowing boats crawls across the Atlantic has been hard, while seeing crews post pictures of themselves in Santa hats makes me wish more than ever that I was out on the ocean.

But there’s work to be done. Toby reckons there’s 11 days of labour to be carried out on the boat before she’s finally ready for the journey and we need to get our training hours in and perfect our routines for eight weeks at sea.

Plus there’s still the small matter of paying for it all.

So on I go: back and forth and back and forth. Dreaming of December 2018, hatching ideas to make money, planning ways to get us and the boat to the start line, and hoping that next year Jane will get the festive season she deserves.

Envious eyes to the south

At time of writing, it’s just 12 days until the start of this year’s race, and we’ve been casting envious eyes at the activities of the 2017 competitors as they and their boats arrive in La Gomera for the final preparations.

Ali, Jez and Toby, lucky things, are all going out for the start, on a ‘fact finding mission’ but some of us have to work, so, whatever.

As winter arrives, it does require a certain leap of faith to believe that in 377 days time we’ll be on the start line ourselves. We had a big planning meeting in London last weekend and, as I left home in the half light at 7am, it was – 2 and snowing. During the drive down, Gomera in December 2018 felt a very long way away indeed.

But then this is what it’s all about: you put in the hard yards now and you’re rewarded as the date gets closer. As it turns out we had a very productive time and it was, as always, great to be with the team working towards such a mammoth goal. I came away with a spring in my step.

They’d better bring me back something nice from The Canaries …

It’s all in the action

With the boat safely tucked away in London for the winter we’re starting to look at other pieces of kit and how best to deploy them.

One of the most important items is a throw line. It’s not much to look at, 15-25 metres of weighted 8mm rope in a bag. In an ideal world it would sit quietly in the boat for the whole crossing and never be needed.

Should one of us have the misfortune to go overboard, however, the throw line might just save our lives. A good and accurate throw will enable the person overboard to grab on and be dragged back to the safety of the boat.

It’s something we’ve been practising a good deal on dry land and will do a lot more of once we take the boat back out on the water in the spring. We need to get the rope high enough to miss the waves, low enough to not be caught too much by the wind and upwind enough to drift in to the overboard rower.

There’s clearly a lot of fun to be had while trying to ‘rescue’ a rower lying on some tarmac about 20 metres from you, but there is a serious point to all this. As Skipper Toby says. “You might only have one chance to get it right.”

Brian, you have a lot to answer for

One of the features of our rowing training (and indeed almost all of our outside events) has been that the weather has been consistently poor.

Last Saturday, however, it surpassed itself by bringing Storm Brian to our base in Christchurch. While big waves and winds might well be a feature of the crossing, on the Atlantic you’ll generally have plenty of room for manoeuvre. In Christchurch Harbour and Southampton Water there are a number of expensive boats and sharp rocks in the immediate vicinity, and given that an ocean rowing boat is not the most nimble of craft, we thought it best to stay on dry land.

So instead we went to a cafe and continued our extensive planning for 2018. At the time of writing our adventure is only 414 days away, and while we’re in a good place, there is still a huge amount to be done in terms of kit, boat prep and rowing training.

The boat is now in London, where we can spend the winter making it pretty much race ready, before taking it back out on to the water in the spring.

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