It’ll be easier when there’s nothing to hit
Atlantic rows and training rows don’t have a lot in common.
Atlantic rows don’t have shipping lanes to contend with. Or wind farms. Or harbour walls to avoid. Or the option to scuttle back in to port if the wind gets a bit uppity.
For all those reasons, training rows tend to be less about mileage covered and more about learning how to live on the boat.
Things you take for granted on stable, dry land, such as cooking, cleaning, getting about and going to the loo, become exponentially more difficult when undertaken on a constantly moving object.
Our plan last weekend was to try and learn more about all those things and by and large we succeeded.
Leaving the cozy confines of Hartlepool Marina is always a slight shock to the system, but setting out on Sunday afternoon for a putative 48 hour row the sea was calm and the winds in our favour.
Our first achievement was to finally reach the Tees Wind Farm, but as the wind shifted it soon became clear that we weren’t going to get much further. Also obvious was that night time rowing, with one on manual steering and one on the oars, was going to be a bit stressful with two shipping lanes, shallows and unyielding brickwork in close attendance.
Back in the marina overnight, we regrouped and were out on the water by 4am, with calm seas and a startlingly lovely sunrise our reward.
8 hours in, however, and the wind had changed again. 4 hours of hard graft into a headwind took us no further (the para anchor would definitely have made an appearance in the Atlantic) and so back to the harbour we went.
Despite our curtailed days, however, we made good progress. The bucket and cooker both had their sea christenings, we moved up and down the boat with relative ease and took naps in both cabins.
Most importantly, the new rudder, a beautiful and practical piece of woodwork lovingly crafted by Tom and his dad Mike, worked a treat.
All in all, a successful few days. Bring on the next session!
Batten Down the Hatches
Anyone who watches a healthy amount of home improvement programmes will tell
you the importance of storage space. If you want your 2 bed detached to resemble a
minimalist Grand Designs masterpiece you need to hide away your trinkets in some neat little cubby.
Such is the case for us in our 2 bed detached (from dry land) rowing boat.
Everything needs to be neatly tucked away, safe from being tripped over, soaked by
seawater or cooked by the sun.
There are 17 hatches on the deck which each provide access into compartments where we store our food, ballast water, spare parts, sun cream and more food. It’s really important that these hatches are good and watertight as we don’t want things getting wet, and we don’t want to sink.
The existing hatches on Trilogy were not filling us with confidence. They were badly faded from UV light exposure, several of the screws holding them down were not stainless steel (and barely even screws anymore) and the amount of sealant used around them was not as generous as one would hope.
Fortunately, Hayley at Whale Pumps had generously provided up with 18 new hatches, and James at SikaFlex had offered to send us out a box of SikaFlex 295 UV marine-grade sealant. Combined with some shiny new stainless screws and a free weekend we had all the materials needed to make Trilogy shipshape again.
Preparation is key with all these things, and fitting the hatches was no different.
Unsurprisingly the old hatches were removed with alarming ease, and we then proceeded to sand and fill any imperfections in the deck. We then used SikaFlex’s Aktivator and Primer before applying a generous bead of sealant and, with a satisfying squidge, screwed down
the new hatches.
Tight squeezes and brisk winds
Thanks to the amazing kindness of the folk at Hartlepool Marina, Trilogy has a new home; tucked securely away at berth 1A.
She’ll be based there for most of the summer and we’ll be sallying forth in to the North Sea on a regular basis as we up our training hours, acquire our sea legs and learn to live on the boat for extended periods without killing each other.
Before all that, however …
The entrance to the Marina is via a slipway with a gate just wider than Trilogy herself, an that, combined with an unkindly positioned brick wall, meant getting our beloved boat on to the water without dinging her proved quite a challenge.
Word quickly spread around Hartlepool that outdoor entertainment had restarted earlier
than expected and before long we’d drawn a crowd.
Just as we were about to start selling tickets, a kindly local with knowledge of these things stopped by and with a combination of his advice and some deft reversing from Jim, Trilogy was afloat and ready for action.
We were joined on our first foray into the waves by Nutty and Brucey, 50% of the Cockleshell Atalantic Endeavour crew and 100% excited by the prospect of more ocean rowing. With their help we squeezed out of the protective lock (gates again just wide enough if taken with care) and into the North Sea.
We acquitted ourselves well for a first outing. The wind was a bit more brisk than we were hoping for, and a freighter which Justin confidently predicted would keep going straight in to the Tees promptly turned right, causing some minor consternation, but the boat was solid, we all rowed well and came back into the Marina buoyed by the experience and looking forward to some more hours on the water in May.
Survival of the floaty-est
Traditionally ocean rowing as a challenge was very much a pursuit undertaken by eccentrics. People with a dream, lots of enthusiasm and varying amounts of cash. They would often build their own boats, plan their route and acquire the skills necessary using books, others’ experiences and their own attempts and failures with very little in the way of formal requirements. Although things have moved on since, it is still largely possible to jump in your boat needing little more than your passport for when you get to the otherside.
However just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should and as a team with limited nautical experience we decided that we would feel better if we got a handful of formal qualifications. Our latest certificate proudly displayed on the fridge is “Certificate of Proficiency in Personal Survival Techniques”.
The joining instructions provided by HOTA (Humberside Offshore Training Association) included two very pertinent pieces of information 1) Lunch would be provided 2) We were going to get very wet. On arrival we were instructed of all the very thorough Covid precautions in place, signed our lives away, submitted our lunch orders and got on up to the classroom for a morning of theory.
The theory covered lots of useful information such as types of flares and how to use them, the way to launch a life raft, the various types of life jackets (they even make them for animals, should you find yourself in a ‘Life of Pi’ scenario) and much more. Although not specific to ocean rowing there was plenty that would be relevant to us should, heaven forbid, we ever need to use it.
After a good lunch it was time to move on to the practical side of the course. I would choose to describe this element of the course as mildly stressful good fun. Having donned our ‘drysuits’ we first had to prove that we were able to tread water and scull across the pool by climbing down the ladder into the water. This was the first and last time we would use the ladder to enter the water. Successfully not drowning moved us on to the next task of jumping into the water ‘abandon ship’ style with a lifejacket on. Although gravity does a lot of the work for you there are several important skills, such as ensuring you don’t knock yourself out when hitting the water.
With our instructors satisfied that we could get in the water they moved on to showing us the best way to get out in the form of being rescued. The key components of this were forming a huddle or circle with other survivors which could then be used as a chain to swim to the laftraft and climb in. We had the slightly more challenging task of doing this whilst wearing Covid-safe face coverings which were very prone to misting up, but as the saying goes; train hard,
race survive easy. Our final skill to learn before assessment was how to right an upside down liferaft. This involved climbing on top of the liftraft, grabbing on to the ropes, standing up and falling in backwards flipping the liferaft over. Quite physically demanding but, as we have all been following Jim’s workout regime, we all were able to do it.
The final assessment was repeating all we had done in the pool with the added fun of doing it in the dark, with loud stormy sound effects and enthusiastic splashing from the instructors followed by a pop quiz on the theory we had learnt earlier. Happy to say thanks to the great team at HOTA we are all much more knowledgeable and confident about staying alive at sea and had arguably one of the best days out in a long time.
Ocean rowing preparation in the time of Covid
Watching the boats start to trickle into Antigua as this year’s TWAC wends its way to a conclusion reminded me that it’s not just the ocean section of an Atlantic row that’s difficult.
Getting to the start line is an often overlooked but equally hard part of the challenge. Preparing the boat, preparing yourself, raising the money, sorting out the transport, taking the courses, buying the kit, finalising the paperwork etc etc are all enormously time consuming, and often stressful, underakings.
The prep is hard enough without adding a pandemic in to the mix, and reading between the lines in the run up to TWAC 2020 it seems that there was a lot of last minute uncertainty over how (or even if) the race could go ahead safely.
Covid is something that’s been dogging our preparations too. We’ve managed to fit in some repairs and on water sessions, as well as completing a lot of our courses, but inevitably the lockdowns and other travel restrictions haven’t made it easy to do the practical work.
Fortunately our lovely Trilogy is in pretty good shape and arrived with a fair bit of kit, so we’re not too far behind the curve.
And of course there’s still plenty we can be getting on with from the comfort of our own homes. We’ve been working on our media campaigns, sending out countless letters to potential sponsors, keeping on top of Facebook and sorting out budgets (there are disturbing numbers of zeros to the left of the decimal point). Plus the physical training, of which more another time.
We’ve also managed to push the great work done by our charities, Our Blue Light and Surfers Against Sewage: raising money for these two terrific courses is an integral part of our adventure.
Next up for us – Covid permitting – is some sea survival training, so to find out just how hard it is to haul yourself in to a liferaft from the sea, come back for the next blog!
Like all the best adventures, this one was hatched in a pub …
The idea of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean first materialised over ten years ago when Tom and Jim rowed at Chester University. It duly made an appearance at every Christmas get-together, but it wasn’t until the start of 2020 Tom and Jim agreed, with neither of them getting any younger or fitter, that this would be the year to put their plans into action. They also acknowledged that undertaking the adventure as a duo would likely result in someone being thrown overboard, and tackling the crossing as a four would be preferable.
Jump forward three months to a nameless pub in country Durham (chosen for its proximity to the A1) and Tom, Jim and Justin were meeting for the first time. Tom had first contacted Justin to enquire about the boat ‘Trilogy’, in which Justin had previously rowed as part of a four-man crew in the 2018 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Despite being advertised as up for sale, however, it was clear that Justin was having second thoughts and there remained an itch that needed scratching. The idea of doing an independent mainland to mainland crossing was enough to tempt Justin out of ocean-rowing retirement and become the third member of the crew.
Whilst being perfectly feasible to cross the Atlantic as a team of three, four is the optimal number, and Tom had a feeling his old schoolmate Rob would be keen. As Tom and Rob had previously cycled around the world together, Tom knew Rob was an obvious candidate, and he didn’t require much persuading. A quick text, 24 hours to think about it and Rob was in! Which is how a school rowing coach, a stand-up comedian, a paramedic and a bike mechanic became an aspiring ocean-rowing crew!