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”.
Here we will be keeping you up to date of our preparations, training and progress towards competing in the Atlantic Challenge in 2018.