New year sees us as far from the end as we are from the start, truly the point of no return is upon us.
On the surface nothing looks any different, we haven’t seen land since day two just never-ending seas in their various states as far as the eye can see or massive black night skies peppered with a billion crystal clear stars. It’s still mostly stiflingly hot, scorching sunshine by day and somewhat cooler at night whilst staying humid and uncomfortable in the small, sweaty (and increasingly smelly) cabins. The routine is well established and has the odd effect at making time pass really slowly in the short term but fly past in the longer term. Each cycle of four hours feels like a day, you wake, you eat, you row, you wash, you eat and you sleep. A full days’ worth of activity that you happen to carry out six times in 24 hours. It makes a day feel really long but we find ourselves wondering where the weeks have gone and the milestones seem to come round quickly, quarter of the way, a third, Christmas and now a half.
Beneath the surface though the difference is immeasurable. We are no longer beginning this challenge but finishing. We dare to start counting down the days and miles rather than up. We are no longer getting further away from our loved ones but closer. When you think you’ve given your all you can find reserves in new depths to think your now going home and back to family and friends.
The first half has brought us an entire range of emotions and experiences. Rowing away from the start line was the most exhilarating moments of our lives yet the was also an odd, uneasy feeling along with it. The first 3 or 4 days are a blur now, it’s weird but none of us can recall much about them now. In the military we call this time the shock of capture, this is when we are trained to try and make for an escape as this tends to be the most successful chance to get away you’ll have. There is no escape on an 8-meter ocean rowing boat, there are no options, you simply must just row. As if to compound these feelings we were suffering from some vicious sea sickness, cold sweats and forceful vomiting which is draining at the best of times never mind when your rowing 12 hours a day. Sipping on liquid meals and water we got through it and one by one we came good, slowly starting to crave real food to eat. Well within the week we were cooking meals and eating on deck in all but the very worst conditions without a twinge of nausea, a feat that seemed impossible just a few short days before. You can feel the food and it calories go to work, you recover faster and can work harder on the oars. You start to notice your body more, as you get tired at night and start to slow down you eat a snack bar and within minutes the carbohydrates have you back at the coal face, grafting away. You start to learn to time these peaks on troughs of energy to coincide with your break to help assure a quick decent in to your short sleep, every second starts to count.
We have had days at time of rolling swells the size of houses coupled with winds to our stern helping push us along at speed, rowing hard to catch breaking waves that boost the boat to double and triple its speed briefly in a noisy rush. Then by contrast we’ve had days of total and complete calm. Not a flutter from the flags on ensigns, not a ripple in the sea, just a mirror flat lake of mercury. Now your rowing every single meter with no help from Mother Nature or Neptune and it’s like rowing in custard. It does come with a silver lining though! If anything breaks that perfect surface you spot it immediately. It’s during these conditions we saw a pod of dolphins 30 or 40 strong heading in the opposite direction to us, we saw a small family of whales cross to our stern and saw fish deep in the crystal clear waters of all sizes, shapes and colours.
The calm also provides the opportunity to get in the water and clean the hull, an essential task to remove and prevent the build-up of barnacles which silently rob you of boat speed if left unattended. Will and Dunc bravely volunteered to be the first into the abyss. Stripped to their underpants, goggles primed and in place, safety lines fitted, checked and double checked in they went. In what must be a one in a billion chance Duncan landed straight on an unseen jellyfish and sprung straight back out of the water with a good sting to the forearm. Glyn’s field medics training clicked into place though and dealt with the situation in seconds. It’s testament to Duncan’s strength of mind that he was back in the water in minutes to finish the job he’d started, undaunted.
We encountered a couple of small technical problems in that first couple of weeks, an oar collar broke, some brand-new bearings seized overnight in the sliding seats, a row gate popped and we had an airlock in the water maker on our first run just 24 hours in. All of which were dealt with calmly and quickly and again, within minutes we were operating as normal.
The largest obstacle faced by the team had been the intense shin pain suffered by Fraser, probably and over use injury due to letting technique drop off with the effort and tiredness of the relentless regime. A few days of complete rest and a course of pain killers and anti-inflammation drugs have seen him make a steady, phased return to the oars and all seems well. The whole episode though went to show what a great team ethos there is, both on board and with the support team back home. Duncan, Will and Glyn our in extra hours on the oars to retain as much boat speed as possible as a three. Fraser took over all other jobs keeping the boys fed and watered, the boat ship shape and clean and running the navigation. No sooner that the news broke at home and we were receiving remedial advice from physiotherapists and RAF PTI’s and technique tweaks from experienced rowers to help protect the affected muscles. At the time of writing though Fraser is back in the shift pattern and the lads are back on to 2 hours on 2 off.
1000 miles done coincided with Christmas Day and was like the best present you could hope for. Such a significant chunk of the journey done, a third of the way there. Although the weather was turning back in our favour throughout the day (thanks again Santa) we took advantage of the relative calm at lunch time to take 10 minutes off from the oars all together, share a mince pie, open our secret Santa gifts and make the phone calls home to our children, wives, girlfriends and families.
We are lucky enough to be able to get the occasional update from the support team back home, affectionately known as the Homefront. News from home and updates on the other teams we befriended at the start line really help to boost morale and the lads all enjoy updating the team with news from their loved ones. One of the best boosts though comes with news that what we are doing here is having the desired effect and that people seem still be supporting us.
Every click on that donate button or text donation is fed back to us and we’re continually blown away by the unwavering generosity of the people who hear about what we’re doing for the Royal British Legion and Soldier On! and feel moved to contribute. What we’re going through is insignificant compared to the pain, trauma and loss felt by some of the people these 2 incredible charities help every day of the year.
Get on board today by supporting Row4Victory by sponsoring or donating - please visit www.row4victory.com/donate or by texting 70070 with the code ROWV59 followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10.
For more information about the race: taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com
Here we will be keeping you up to date with all our musings pre, during and post competing in the Atlantic Challenge race that started 12th December 2018.