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

Atlantic Challenge Quiz Night, Friday 22nd September, London

Greetings to all of our wonderful friends and supporters.

Our next social event is a quiz night at the historic Doggett’s Coat and Badge pub overlooking the Thames in the South Bank, London. We would love you to join us on Friday 22nd September for a night of riveting entertainment (there will be almost no questions about rowing) hosted by none other than our very own Rob Coleman!

Rob Coleman (comic, writer and ocean rower)

We welcome teams of up to six or individuals who would like to join a team – all will be found a friendly group.

Tickets are just £3 per person (or £5 including a donation to our charities). Please confirm your team name and number of people in advance by emailing Toby or letting us know on our Facebook page. We’ll send you our bank details by return for ticket payment, or for those off the grid we can arrange payment on the night.

Doggett’s is a fitting venue, taking it’s name from Thomas Doggett, the organiser of an amateur London Bridge to Chelsea rowing race on the Thames. As a pub it has everything you might expect – famous for its range of real ales and quality pub food – available to order to your table before or during the quiz.

You can arrive anytime (they open at 9am!) or join us in the ‘Thomas Doggett’s Bar’ from 6pm. We will start the quiz as soon as everyone is sitting comfortably – aiming for 7pm.

Doggett’s

We look forward to welcoming you on the night. If you’d like to whet your appetite, the recently released promo for this year’s race is linked below.

 

 

Tablers to row the Atlantic for mental health

 

HTaR 24hr training session, April 2017, Isle of Wight

We’ve had some fantastic support for our Atlantic row from the Round Table, with the fine gentlemen of the Billericay Round Table amongst our core sponsorship partners to date. Through our engagement with them Jeremy and I were sold on the concept – ‘having fun with a great bunch of mates and trying something new, whilst also supporting thousands of local charities and individuals making an enormous difference to millions of lives every year’.

So much so that we’ve become members and will be looking to get a lot more involved after the small matter of raising funding, preparing for, and taking part in the world’s toughest row across the Atlantic in December!

You can read more about our Atlantic row and our journey with Round Table on their website here.

 

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

12 brave crews embark on the expedition of a life time

Ali and I spent a few days in La Gomera for the start of the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge this week. Our mission – to learn what we could from the start of the 2016 race in preparation for our turn on 12 December 2017. This blog captures a few of the things we learnt.

First a word on the island that will be our home for two weeks of pre-race scrutineering and final preparation. Most crews don’t venture further than the small harbour town of San Sebastian. They are here for one reason only with a singular focus on preparations for their race. We however, had a bit more leisure time to explore. La Gomera is a volcanic island, typically Spanish despite being 1,000 miles from the mainland. It is brown and green, 14 miles wide, one mile high, and in the words of Douglas Adam’s is ‘mostly harmless’. Its charm lies in the fact that the one hour ferry from Tenerife is enough to put off the vast majority of tourists. Furthermore, no bugger, barring a few skirmishes, has bothered to mess with it since 1489 when the inhabitants faced defeat at the hands of the Spaniards.

It is the perfect place to unwind – ideal for the 12 crews in their final days of mental grounding for the daunting 1-1challenge ahead – 3,000 miles of ocean until they next reach sanctuary in English Harbour, a safe haven frequented by the British since the 17th century.  When the crews left the sun-drenched serenity of La Gomera this morning they were on their own at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean, some for 90 days or more if mother nature is unforgiving.

The crews departed in five minute intervals, turning their backs on the comfort, security and space afforded by their temporary island home. Watching this highly emotive spectacle got me thinking.  As much as I love my crew mates, thinking about two months at sea with Ali, Jez and Justin in a space not quite big enough for us all to lay down at the same time (and that’s before you subtract the space for three buckets that we will share to meet all our bucket related needs), I find myself apprehensive about how I’ll cope. It was also the first time a glimmer of justification for attempting a solo ocean row had ever crossed my mind – thankfully it passed swiftly out the other side – something for a future life time perhaps.

2

The start of the race was everything it should be. Subdued excitement. The crews were visibly itching to get going as they waited on their boats inside the harbour wall, poised to take that first stroke… Hordes of well-wishers were brimming with excitement manifested in the form of cheering, flag waving and mortar-esque fireworks.

Family and close friends appeared more reserved. I’m told some families come out to La Gomera for the final few days then leave before the actual day of departure, not wanting to witness the visual spectacle of their loved ones rowing out to sea knowing there is a chance they may never return.

greydepart-flags

Meanwhile the Atlantic Campaigns’ team were working away in the background making sure the crews were in the best possible state of readiness. I’m certain that safety is their top priority and the final handshake with each crew member before they left the marina struck me as particularly meaningful – ‘this is it, the stage is set, you are ready – safe passage.’

Then, one by one, finalthey rowed out of the harbour and disappeared over the horizon. I’m very much looking forward to the feeling of leaving all the commotion and emotion behind and settling into the row – everything else will be out of sight, out of mind, and the only thing left will be row, eat, sleep, repeat.

So, what did I learn? I have a lot to do before I’ll be ready. Departure day is a milestone to look forward to, but it will be difficult to let go – of the side of the marina pontoon, and of loved ones. I owe it to myself and to them to give me the best possible chance of making it to the other side. The boat and equipment will be 100% shipshape – that’s a given. I need to spend a fair amount of time in 2017 learning to be comfortable with myself and with Ali, Jez and Justin in confined spaces. I also need to prepare myself physically. Of course, I’ll be doing a massive amount of rowing training. But while swimming training in the waters of the Canary Islands, I concluded that I also want to be able to swim away from sharks faster than any of my crew mates!

4