One of the race rules requires all teams to achieve 24 hours of rowing during the hours of darkness, with time running out we made this the primary objective of last weekend’s training in the North Sea off Hartlepool. So lunchtime Friday we locked out of the Marina and out on to the sea. We had previously planned our voyage and looked at the weather conditions and sea states for the weekend and had a large triangular route set in the chart plotter using buoys as way markers all of which we were content we could return to the Marina from in the worst likely conditions. This was essential preparation given the chance of some pretty strong offshore winds forecast for Sunday that we may have struggled to make headway against.
As the sun went down we began to experience some pretty good swells of around a meter or so but we had a light breeze and good visibility so where able to crack on and fall in to our planned on board routine. We know from all the daytime hours we’ve done already that we are happy with handling the boat and the actual rowing aspect but it is general life on board that we wanted to work on this weekend all of which is more difficult and takes twice as long when you turn off the lights and throw a healthy sea swell to the equation. So it was down to setting routes to waymarks on the chart plotter, using the AIS and using the VHF, especially when we had to cross the busy Tees shipping entry. All great experience at using the boats communications and navigation equipment for real, on the ocean and at night, it really helped raise our confidence in the kit and with our training and ability to put it in to practice.
Next up, dinner, again simple activities like filling and boiling a jetboil suddenly gets a lot more tricky in the small pool of light from your headtorch whilst bobbing around like a cork on the ocean. But boil it we did and dinner was served, a 1000 calorie chilli con carne. Freeze dried meals like these will make up the bulk of our meals on the crossing, once topped up with boiling water you have to wait around ten minutes for the food to rehydrate and I can tell you, after a few hours rowing that was a long wait indeed. I don’t whether it was just the hunger but it was a pretty decent meal that was gobbled up in less time it took to make. Now then, with a with a full belly and in darkness, so you can’t focus on the horizon and on a pretty lively sea state it didn’t take long for a couple of the team to feel a little green around the gills but we soon figured out a spell on the oars or getting your head down in the cabin soon helps that pass and gets you back in the game. The rest of the night followed.. row, eat, sleep repeat until the sun breached the horizon and lit up clear blue skies. 12 hours of darkness rowing completed, we were all still aboard and were exactly where we thought we were, a success and a real confidence booster.
We had the tide with us and pretty strong onshore breeze was building so we took the opportunity to lock back into the marina do some repacking of equipment and redistribution of weight to fine tune the boat and do some dry drills for some of the activities we had planned for that night and have a general tidy up before heading back out. The folks at Hartlepool marina have been supportive of us and Fred got us through the lock safely yet again. More hours of rowing in the daylight and yet again the sun started to come down over Hartlepool with some more beautiful skies for us to enjoy until the darkness fully fell. Although the sea was much flatter tonight with hardly any swell the winds were much stiffer but this was perfect and gave the perfect opportunity to row with the wind slowed by the drogues deployed off the stern followed by a spell into wind on the para-anchor. This is a large underwater parachute on a long line you deploy from the bow that stops you being pushed backwards by the wind too quickly. We would deploy this in the race when the wind was so strong on our bow that we couldn’t make forward speed in order to preserve energy and not lose to much distance while we rest.
It was whilst we sat on the anchor that we heard the radio crackle in to life, a boat further up the coast was letting Hartlepool marina know of a lone swimmer in the water that they were supporting. We immediately put 2 and 2 together, it was Ross Edgley, we’d been following his progress as he swims around the entire British Isles which will be a world first despite a few attempts in the past. Ross is a legend, sort of a strong man crossed with an ultra-endurance athlete backed up with a brain the size of planet he fully understand the limits of human physiology and ability. This provided us with yet another opportunity to try some skills we’d learned on the RYA courses and put the boats equipment through its paces. We used the onboard AIS, a system that communicates with other boats fitted with AIS to warn of possible collisions at sea, to identify Ross support vessel. Once we had the boat on our screen we could look up details about it including its MMSI, a special code that allows you to request communications directly with the vessel on a channel of your choosing. Unfortunately Ross’s boat wasn’t equipped to receive such a request so we tried an alternative method of hailing another vessel using Channel 16 which is the channel monitored by all traffic incase of an emergency. We initiated contact and moved straight to a clear channel to continue our conversation, we were spot on, it was Ross’s support boat, “Hecate” ships Skipper, Matt. He immediately suggested we rowed round the headland to meet them and row along side Ross for a while as he loves to get visitors to help break to monotony of swimming for 6 hours twice a day.. every day.. for the last 120 days. This was too good an opportunity to miss and provided yet another training point, we took Hecate’s position from Matt over the VHF, entered it in to the chart plotter and set off rowing. A good stretch into wind and we saw the light atop the mast of a catamaran on the horizon with the sun rising behind us, it was them. As we approached we could see Ross’s buoyant bag that he tows behind him with his GPS in and then we could make out his arms smashing into the sea. Under instruction from Matt we circled round so Ross could swim between the 2 boats for a while, when we settled into position we could see Ross was making 1.9 Knots…. Just incredible. As soon as he clocked us he made a bee line for us and greeted us with the most cheerful and resounding “Hello” you’ve ever heard with a smile beaming from his now heavily bearded and salt encrusted chops. We were able to speak to him for a little while in the water before he had to set off swimming again to warm back up in the freezing cold North Sea waters but we were blown away by the enthusiasm he had for our own challenge and through his embodiment of the old Royal Marines adage, “cheerfulness in the face of adversity” a sentiment very close to our man Glyn heart from his own days in the Corps.
We rowed alongside Ross for his next couple of hours swimming and chatted with the guys on the support boat, themselves all very experienced and incredible, inspirational people, as they darted about on their tender. As we escorted him along the coast we got to see a spectacular sunrise over the ocean, a porpoise followed us for a little while and a seal bobbing around off our beam. All in it was a brilliant and inspirational start to the day. After a few more hours on the water and with the wind building and a poor forecast for the afternoon we turned back to the marina and docked up in the marina. Tired after a weekend on the water there was no time for respite, all the rations we had taped in to individual day packs needed getting aboard and packaging in the watertight compartments on deck. Luckily we were buoyed by the awesome morning we’d had and happily worked away for a couple more hours of freeze dried meal tetris but we just about got all our meals in the hatches and all ready for shipping to the start line in just a few weeks’ time. While we’d been busy Ros and the crew had got their heads down for some well deserved sleep but on awakening they asked for a look round our boat Victory (thank goodness for the tidy up earlier on). Obviously we couldn’t wait to show her off so immediately invited them over, Ross isn’t aloud ashore until he finishes the swim so he got brought over on a tender and came aboard and we were lucky enough not only to have him write an inspirational quote in the cabin to help out when times are tough but also christen the boat for us with the worlds smallest bottle of Champagne.
“Be naïve enough to start but stubborn enough to finish”.
WHEN four burly blokes surround you and ask you to do a job for them it is difficult to decline.
Fortunately they are a quartet of top men who are aiming to break the world record for rowing across the Atlantic and they want some help with a charity dinner then the decision to say yes is easy.
Will Quarmby, Fraser Mowlem, Glyn Sadler and Duncan Roy will set out on their quest from La Gomera in the Canary Islands in December and attempt to get to Antigua in the Caribbean in less 29 days.
But before that they have had to train and raise enough money to compete in the challenge alongside holding down full time jobs and finding time to spend with their families.
Duncan Roy told me that the biggest challenge for most teams that want to enter the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is often not the epic row itself but raising the near £100,000 it costs to take part in the race.
I first met the Row4Victory boys at Welcome to Yorkshire’s stand at the Great Yorkshire Show last year when they told me of their ambitious plan to not just row the Atlantic in a tiny boat but to do it in a world record time.
It sounded a crazy idea and I wished them well, but not before introducing them to Welcome to Yorkshire Y30 member Nic Marshall, who said his firm, a growing Hull-based telemarketing business, called ResQ, would probably not be the best brand name for their boat to have emblazoned on it.
But the lads shared Nic’s sense of humour and a deal was struck for ResQ to become a gold sponsor of Team Row4Victory.
A year on I met the team again at the Great Yorkshire Show and learned that the diligence and ambition they have given to their training has also been applied to their networking in search of sponsorship.
Welcome to Yorkshire has backed the team and has helped introduce them to a number of great Yorkshire businesses that have become sponsors, including Harrogate-based business energy provider CNG.
Another gold sponsor of Team Row4Victory is Grantley Hall, the luxury hotel being created near Ripon in North Yorkshire by the Sykes family.
They not only sponsored the team but also offered Duncan Roy a job as director of Grantley Hall’s spa and elite performance centre.
As I said, these boys are both impressive and persuasive.
I have a reader of this blog to thank for getting the job to compere the recent Row4Victory charity dinner.
Entrepreneur Chris Lord, who founded shop display manufacturer Bartuf Systems, and a former British rallying champion, read about their exploits right here.
He then met them when they displayed their boat at York Races in July.
Talk turned to their upcoming charity event and Chris told them they should speak to me about compering it.
And I’m thankful that he did because the event, held at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate on a balmy Saturday evening in early September was wonderful.
That’s if you enjoy listening to me.
I introduced the evening, interviewed the team, profiled the charities that will benefit from their exploits, introduced the raffle and silent auction and then, slightly nerve wrackingly, conducted the charity auction.
However that was helped by having Duncan demonstrate the rowing machine which was among the auction lots.
I’m pleased to say that the event was a huge success and raised more than £15,000 for the two charities the team are supporting, the Royal British Legion and Soldier On! which both support ex-service personnel.
The team use the simple motto of:
You can’t help emotionally connect with what they are doing.
But you can also have some fun with them too.
When I introduced them, the boys were all wearing dinner suits tailored by historic Yorkshire clothing business Brook Taverner.
I said I knew that they are searching for a replacement for Daniel Craig as James Bond and we’d got four to choose from here.
When Glyn, Fraser, Duncan and Will came up to the stage for a Q&A session – pictured above – I said they looked a bit like a Yorkshire version of Il Divo, which the 220-strong audience liked.
And the Q&A took a lively turn when Nic Marshall’s wife and business partner Gill Marchbank enquired whether it was true that the boys would be doing most of their rowing naked.
They confirmed that was true and when I asked what they would be doing when mid-Atlantic on Christmas Day, they left us with an indelible image of them rowing starkers wearing nothing but Santa hats.
I don’t know if they have bells on.
Rather than just toss a coin for the traditional ‘heads and tails’ game, I came up with some unusual questions for the audience.
Surprisingly, my first question saw more than half the room sit down having got it wrong.
Having been to La Gomera, I was aware of its claim to fame as the setting out point for Christopher Columbus on his epic voyage of discovery.
But most of the room plumped for the alternative choice of Vasco da Gama.
It still gave me time to ask some questions about the history of Grantley Hall, CNG’s involvement in the Knaresborough Bed Race and also profile the challenges undertaken by Nic Marshall of ResQ – which include cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and, perhaps most impressive of all, swimming the Humber estuary.
The one man in the team who isn’t either a former or serving member of the armed forces is Will Quarmby, who runs Quarmby’s Deli in the village of Sheriff Hutton.
So I asked whether, last Christmas, the deli stocked a range of chocolate truffles shaped like brussels sprouts or kumquats.
(It was sprouts).
You have to get inventive in my game.
It’s called adding value.
I don’t care what you say missus, it certainly got the audience engaged.
However I didn’t think one part of my introduction would – when Duncan asked me if I could make an announcement that a room keycard for the nearby Crown Hotel had been found at the pre-event drinks reception.
Holding up the keycard I hastily suggested that we were thinking of putting it into the charity auction and I indeed, was considering bidding for it.
When a big bloke approached me with the words: “Yes, it’s mine,” I handed it over with a weak smile as the audience hooted.
IF Theresa May is considering taking any dancing lessons following her disappointing display of moves on her recent trip to Africa, may I suggest she consults Jacqui Hall, managing director of CNG.
She burned up the dance floor at the Row4Victory dinner and must be a contender for the Boogie Boss Awards – if there are any.
Now there’s a thought…
ON a recent trip to see clients in London my colleague Liz Theakston and I sat down on an LNER train and in the seats opposite were Gary Mcleod and Elaine Holmes, joint managing directors of successful Yorkshire travel company Traveleads.
We exchanged warm greetings and chatted about business, the economy and mutual contacts.
Just as the train was pulling into King’s Cross Station, Gary proffered me a fiver, and said: “Hope you enjoy your holiday, that’s for the mankini selfie shot.”
That was the prospect I dangled to readers in my last blog before my holiday in Greece.
I have to say I was tempted to take the fiver.
And the selfie.
If you can rid yourself of such imagery…have a great weekend.
By David Parkin
Director of Copa http://www.copasummit.com/
Here we will be keeping you up to date of our preparations, training and progress towards competing in the Atlantic Challenge in 2018.