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!