An account of the Roxy crew's 41 day expedition from start to finish. Please note this blog has the most recent updates at the top - scroll to the bottom to read the full story from the beginning.
After 41 days, 4 hours and 18 minutes, the Roxy Atlantic 2021-22 Crew arrived in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua.
Congratulations to the whole crew on a fantastic achievement - Lizzie Brown, Chris Starr, Nick Barrett, Tom Higham, David Ferguson, Damian Lawrance, Andy O'Reilly, Adam Ravenscroft, Simon Rowe, Graham Stuart, Neil Wittridge and Ocean Zhang. They left from Amarilla Marina, Tenerife on 5 December 2021 and successfully rowed the 2600 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in Antigua Yacht Club Marina, Falmouth Harbour on 15 January 2022.
Check out all the photos of their arrival in Antigua - with thanks to legendary local photographer, Ted Martin:
15th January 2022 - Week 6
We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.”
Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Worsley
That quote was said / written as the three men gazed down upon a whaling station, knowing they had survived an incredible ordeal. It would be an overstatement to equate our adventure to what those three endured, however we 12 certainly felt the weight of the challenge lift from our shoulders as we awkwardly set foot on the marina in Antigua.
“It ain't over ‘til its over” certainly felt like a good summation of how our 6th week on the ocean was spent. The previous week we had been lucky with the weather. Good winds and waves enabled us to eat into the remaining miles, giving us a fighting chance of being in Antigua between days 40 and 42. We had agreed as a crew we wanted to be in on Saturday 15th, well in time to clear customs – that meant Saturday morning. The weather and ocean were going to be kind but not forceful – conditions that meant solid, hard rowing to make sure we got the target mileage in, every 24hrs.
The final week saw hard work, strain and elation, disappointment and excitement, despair and hope as 12 individual’s “Why’s” ebbed and flowed to reality as we closed in on Antigua. Milestones, miles rowed and miles left to go, became our focus for each day as Lizzie updated the crew on progress at her morning briefing on deck.
Like previous weeks, this last one was marked by events that, looking back now, seem fitting for the “last mile” of a great 12 person adventure. One that was so surreal, I will leave for us 12 to tell individually. The other, for me, was seeing a French Yacht, heading to Guadalupe, get close enough to wish us luck and congratulate us with their accented “well done crew, magnifique” etc. Seeing other people nearby, as they jibed their way past us at a good pace, was a real lift and weirdly a confirmation that we were not alone in the world.
However, as Friday night turned to Saturday morning, at about 4am, the first lights of Antigua were spotted. As I emerged for the 6am shift and looked forward, I too gazed at the lights that weren’t stars, signs of humanity, signs we were nearing our destination. The brightening morning sun revealed the shape of the eastern edge of Antigua. Getting ever larger, we dug our oars in deep, each shift propelling Roxy forward towards Falmouth Harbour.
In some ways it seemed interminably long, the island passing by us so slowly, but we were making progress. As we neared 2 miles out, Lizzie spotted two vessels speeding towards us, our welcome home fleet. They were crewed with family members that had managed to make it out to Antigua. The lift for those with family and indeed the others was visible. I personally saw both Damo and Graham physically get bigger as they were greeted excitedly by their families. Yet we still had some rowing to do, but this time it felt different. We could now dare to allow our dreams to become reality as the island’s cliffs sped by and the beat and guitar riff from "Oh Black Betty" boomed from Roxy.
I don’t think I (or perhaps the other 5 rowing) will forget the sheer rush of adrenaline, as we raced our way towards the red buoy (Bishop Reef) that marks the official end point for such a journey. We were, as at the start of our journey, like men possessed, as we swung the oars back and forth in a fever pitch to cross that imaginary line that signified the end. And as we did, I think the emotion and indeed realisation that we had done it was finally allowed to settle upon the crew. We could now say we rowed the Atlantic Ocean.
The rest of the journey to the marina - to misquote a line from a movie - “well, that’s just geography.” The hugs, drinking a cold beer, tears, handshakes, phone calls home, waddling like drunken giraffe, is part of the personal story for each of the crew as we disembarked onto that marina in Antigua.
For the crew, it is also a journey that could only have happened because of the facilitation and support of some very special people. To the Rannoch team, who, as a result of their dreams and ambitions, have supported ours. Charlie, his team, and especially Nicola, both drove and managed a crew of 10 strangers to row the Atlantic Ocean. An achievement in itself.
To friends, colleagues, supporters, who helped, cajoled, encouraged and stepped in over a period longer than the 6 weeks, in support of our dreams.
To the crew, it is us that started and finished the journey, along with everything in between. It is us that held back or encouraged onwards when needed. It is us that are now members of a very elite club. It would not have been possible without our collective will.
To an amazing skipper and 1st in Lizzie and Chris, I know I speak for all the crew to say thank you for everything. You are a credit to both Rannoch but also to yourselves in taking on such a challenge.
Finally to our families, who (in my case) have supported us for over a year, as this dream moved from idle fantasy to standing on a marina in Antigua, in what seems now like a blink of an eye. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts to allow us 12 take on a challenge of immense proportions and come home to comfort and safety, with heads that can be held a little higher, shoulders that are a little broader, patience and tolerance a little more giving, heads a little wiser and hearts that can beat a little braver and prouder.
10th January 2022 - Week 5
The sense that our adventure is coming to an end is growing. With that, the anticipation of arrival is now more a part of the daily conversation on board. While the week had the usual row, sleep, eat repeat, we did have a thought provoking talk from Graham on the power of the sea. I sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah - thanks to the crew for listening.
Graham also added to the list of bums he remedied by cleaning Roxy’s hull!
It was also a week when we saw a couple dolphins. Finally!
It has been important to me that it is not just my interpretation of this adventure. I therefore asked the crew to give their thoughts as we enter the last number of days of rowing the Atlantic Ocean.
What a fantastic experience with a tremendous bunch of people, with the greatest respect to the sea always. Biggest high on the trip was big wave surfing with Damo. Seeing other people in tough times can be hard and that is when the encouragement of others really shines.
Good: The serenity of breaking down life to its most primal stages; eat, labour, poop, repeat.
Bad: poop bucket
Ocean rowing breaks down the body physically first and life in a confined space is a constant assault on the mind castle. No one is coming – it’s up to us!
11 men, 1 woman and a tiny boat. It's the world's toughest row. Try living under your staircase at home for 6 weeks playing Twister with two others, eating, sleeping, grooming. This will test any human being. Physical 50%, mental 100%. NOT FOR BLAGGERS.
We're here to cross the majestic Atlantic, this mystical ocean has produced thrills and spills of huge powerful waves. Yet the pure scale of the rising sun, impenetrable squalls, sunrises and sunsets all looked down upon by huge skies with Cepheus and Cassiopeia in their heaven. The depths and wizardry of this place match the celebratory highs of milestones passed. And the melancholy of remembering those left behind and departed, be they heroes of Penlee or orders lost to the oceans. Atlantic is imperial.
Constant movement. Huge skies and seas, which flatten from mountains of foam to a millpond tranquillity. Wind to blow away cobwebs followed by the cloying sauna of the cockpit and blistered road! Singing, conversations and new friendships. Unforgettable.
I've loved every single second of the last 6 weeks, even the ones I've properly hated. Ad astra per aspera!
I've got to live the dream I had on my bucket list. Thinking of my dad and family, especially my beautiful wife, made thus very doable for me. I even cooked for the two teenagers in this very tight space every day (don't tell Mandy). Watching the power of the Atlantic and it showing you who is the boss. Laughing and talking with 11 other people from different walks of life, I loved talking to the 3 guys we swap with every 3 hours. Laughing until I cried watching Nick clean the underneath of the boat and seeing the monsters coming up from the deep. And watching him kick his legs frantically to get back in the boat. And the little face with the goggles. The crazy 30ft waves that breached the boat and I was on the bucket. I was impressed the way the boat handled itself. Final word, it is tough but if you train hard you will enjoy it. Remember you have to row. The world's toughest row, 10 great people 1 great skipper and just Ireland’s oldest ocean rower.
The best things for me were the birds’ daily visit in the middle of the Atlantic 100’s and 1000’s of miles from land. They perform aerial displays and then move on, almost like they are keeping a watch over us. A challenge is trying to get 3 adults into a small hot space. Add kit, food for 6 people and it becomes difficult - a huge difference from the training row. Really struggled with this. However I will miss rowing at night with a plethora of stars, the moon rising and setting and the hundreds of shooting stars. Loved these rows.
Finally realising the dreams of a 15 year old boy and bringing in tow a mucker from the Army, having convinced him 4 years earlier [after several beers] that it was a great idea. From the overwhelming anticipation during the many months leading up to the row, to the thrill and excitement of the start of the voyage, to the gratification and bragging rights of arriving in Antigua and becoming a member of a very exclusive club ... Life has never been more simple; eat, sleep, row, repeat. Certa Cito.
Just another day in the office for Rannoch Adventure... Hardly that. Anyone who knows me knows my love for big skies. Here they are above an ocean that hurls everything at us - from enormous waves to surf down, with crested tops, to flat sea that make it feel like we are rowing in treacle. 11 men plus me from all walks of life, driven by a common goal to cross an ocean under oars. At times we laugh until our sides split, we share pain of blisters, sores and aching muscles and sometimes just share the silence of the night and its infinite stars or sound of the ocean.
I talked of my 3 North stars, guiding and protecting me as we have rowed across this vast world of water and sky. For me it has been the intensity of emotions that sometimes have overwhelmed. I would think of a moment with Laura, Emma or Leah, while sitting at the oars and this rush of feelings would lighten my head and my resolve would quicken again. I wish they could see the incredible clarity of the night sky or experience the rush of adrenaline as we fight through squalls of incredible power. However, that is part of my adventure just as I know they are part of me. We are indeed privileged to do this and be part of a unique shared adventure and I am thankful for that every time I go out to row.
And for my girls, a simple cypher for the last word. The clue is, just add 1 to this 4 letter word and that is where we will all be. 7, 14,12,5
2nd January 2022 - Week 4
We've now been at sea now for 28 days. No land or other people, just us 12 making our way across the Atlantic.
This week marked the crew's first Christmas aboard a rowing vessel from the middle of the ocean. It also the had the passing of 2021 into 2022 and we also crossed the line where we have just 1000 nm to go.
It was a week when the weather has been calm but winds are heading into us, thus it's slow going. This is where the right to say 'we rowed the Atlantic' is earned. These are the hard yards, the grind, dog days. Whatever your slogan of choice is, it equates to hard, relentless work through each shift. Row, eat, sleep, repeat or, my personal favourite, "put the white thing in the blue thing and pull". The inner reserves of resolve are needed, along with each other's encouragement when spirits seem low. Sometimes this can be a pat on the shoulder or a word or phrase of encouragement.
Apart from conversations, which helps us to bond as humans, it is the gift of music that we have cultivated. Conversation and dialogue may help reveal who we are as individuals, but as we've learnt on this adventure, it is music that reveals our collective humanity, goals and aspirations.
Music has no equal when it comes to motivating and elevating the crew to great feats of achievement. Whether it is an Ibiza beat or an aria, everyone responds. Some pieces of music seem to have a larger effect. A few evenings ago, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries came on. It is such a powerful piece of music, but to a boat crew in the middle of the Atlantic, it became a lightening rod, channeling the rhythm, drama and majesty of the piece into an almost frenzied rowing rhythm.
Equally, it can be the soft tones of a love song, reminding some of years past. Lying in the cabin, in a lovely half sleep, airs and tunes of home floated into my head and I must admit to feeling incredibly proud of my and Andy's Irish roots and a strong reminder of why we want to get back.
The special part of this week though was Christmas. This time Christmas signified not only the Christian holiday, but also a milestone in days on board. The day itself was initially taken up with calls to loved ones and family at home. As we each emerged from the cabin after a call, the step seemed lighter, the smile deeper. Personally, I made sure to check with my two girls that Santa had arrived and to tell them, thanks to the incredibly clear night sky, we all saw Santa shooting across from east to west.
That evening, while all the crew were up, we celebrated a type of Christmas Dinner, with Tom acting as MC with music, stories and an amusing and cheeky rhyme about an alternative Santa. Graham talked to us about the nativity and its importance, and I sang O Holy Night. To round off the celebrations, a can of coke for each of the crew was revealed. It may have have been warm but it hit the spot!
The week also saw the crew spotting tuna leaping powerfully into the air as they hunted down their prey. It is amazing to witness the power of these fish so close to hand.
We also saw whales, this time during the day and in full view. Certainly a couple were coming up for air and probably a good nose at this strange vessel awkwardly making its way across their home territory. I know I use 'majesty' a lot in these blogs but it seems like the only word that comes close to describing what it's like seeing such creatures in this setting.
We celebrated New Year's Eve with some more music and songs and the crew rowing at midnight sang Auld Lang Syne as loud as could be. We shared stories of parties and New Years of the past. Did we make resolutions? Maybe some did, but kept them quiet. For now, our resolve is focused on Antigua.
As per my other blogs, a little riddle for my North stars. And Now To Instill Good Attitude is where we are heading.
24th December - Week 3
It is hard to believe we have been at sea for 3 weeks. Tenerife seems a lifetime away now, as indeed do our real lives.
So what do 12 individuals, taking on such a venture, act like, given how close we are together 24 hours a day?
While I could break this down and say "Bob" is the funny one and brings laughter to the boat, that would demean the 12 people on board. There are subtleties and depth to each, in addition to compromises to normal home behaviour. These various shades wax and wane, depending on whatever is going on at that moment in time. But it's through the conversations, chat, banter that we get to see those shades of personality. I sometimes just listen to what I have come to realise is a most precious gift. The laughs, sniggers, words, curses bouncing together in the area over the boat, then lost to the wind.
One of the crew, Nick, has this wonderful method of getting a conversation going. He would pose a question like:
"You can have 3 people at a dinner party - who would you bring and why, what would you cook and drink?"
"Describe the painting that portrays your life."
This sets in train the most engaging of dialogues and can be deep or shallow. However, it serves to bring to light those shades and colours. We are not merely the funny one or the tough one. This type of experience surfaces or mutes traits that are needed for close quarter living and for all to get on. It is through these stories and laughter, conversation and debate that we allow ourselves to open up, giving glimpses of our 'other' lives ..... The pride in hard working immigrant parents, pride in daughters and sons in all they do, what would we say to our fathers or mothers when they were young, what the local pub feels like, what rowing in Lyme Regis at sunset is like, aspirations for a new career or travelling the world, working on a farm and growing watercress, an adventure with some dogs and a private jet, the memories of Christmas spent with a mum in South London, pride in a rowing club in Bray, sitting on a porch with a coffee, wife and the dog nipping at heels, skiing in Glencoe during lectures, embracing Iranian cuisine and chats with three North stars.
And if you think our journey is all beautiful sunrises and Kumbiya moments of self realisations, you would be mistaken. There are the humdrum airing of petty frustrations, silences and moments of anger. However we have all learned to just move on, get the next mile done, get the next shift done to get to Antigua and home.
Three moments took place this week that are noteworthy.
Firstly, Simon, on the night of its 40th anniversary, spoke in great detail of the Penlee RNLI disaster at sea. His soft voice carried across the crew as he explained in detail the series of events, the bravery of those involved and, ultimately, the tragic outcome for those involved.
On Sunday, Graham read from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verses 6 to 8. For those not familiar with the words, I would encourage you to read them. Whether you are religious or not, it talks of love and the power it has to give meaning to our lives.
I mentioned in the last blog of the incident with Nick. It seems so much better in verse:
When Nick met Moby Dick
T'was the twelfth of December,
A day to remember,
As Nick steeled himself for the task in hand.
Roxy's underside was grimy from barnacles and slime,
Brave Nick stepped up, a cleaning he would go.
Budgie smugglers in place, a snorkel on his face,
He tethered himself by the waist.
He stepped off the side with a plop and a slide,
Into the briny depths he went.
He set to his task, a sponge and a mask,
Setting dear Roxy's hull anew.
When all of a sudden his face turned leaden,
His eyes widened as if in a stupor.
"GET ME OUT OF HERE QUICK" yelled young Nick and he grabbed a rigger like a man possessed,
He floundered and quartered, seal flipped and squirted,
Determined to get out of the oceans water.
The crew obliged and flung him inside,
On the deck he lay panting.
We all sat aghast at what had just past,
Wondering what transpired beneath the waves of the ocean.
He opened his mouth and I promise this came out.
"It had fourteen eyes and sixteen tails.
With spikes for gills and spines like quills pointed with poison I am sure.
With one swish of its tails, it nearly set sail, rising from the depths to eat me.
It's eyes were all red and had pustules that bled,
Of green gunk and yellow custard.
It smelled of old hogs and the hair of wet dog, crew members it was a terrible sight.
And most disturbing of all was a tattoo it sported
"CHIPOTLE LASTS FOREVER."
The crew fell silent, lost in thought,
At what had just transpired.
And so here ends the story of Nick.
One of bravery and pride.
And if you think it a tad fantastic,
I would ask you to keep in mind,
The day Nick met Moby Dick -
The Gruffalo of the Atlantic.
As always I have a little riddle for my little girls. This one is based on a crossword clue, Emma an anagram for you! Where I am: I CANT CHEAT A NOTE.
17th December - Week 2
Wow, week 2 already. We are nearing the 1000nm mark as I write and it is such a strong milestone for the crew - we've become a little more acquainted with our watery host. We have begun to read some of her ways and rhythm over this time, and how she loves to surprise us, especially with a gentle splash just as you come off shift.
Before giving thoughts on the week, here is a view of our day.
The mantra from anyone that has crossed an ocean is row, eat, sleep, clean - 3 hour shifts every day. If you're not rowing, you are trying to catch up on the other things. When you are rowing, you are counting the minutes to when you can do the others. Groundhog day.
The other thing to note is the amount of effort required to do the simplest things. Imagine, if you can, having to eat, sleep, read and clean on a mechanical bull surrounded by water.
We've also done some boat admin. Two important jobs done this week were cleaning the decks (yes, that view you have in your head of those sea faring movies is a close approximation). Thank you to Ocean and Simon for putting in a couple of hours. Also the admin of 'food and rubbish management' helped us regain some space in our cabins. Our quartermaster Nick and co-skipper Chris continue to eek out space where there shouldn't be any!
Tom also got to go waterside and clean the underneath of the boat. He scooted along her underside while tied on, GoPro on his head when he got in, capturing shots of a few marine friends swimming nearby. However, no GoPro on his head when getting out, leaving us to imagine what wonderful sights it will see on its way down to that eerie blackness.
One of the topics of constant conversation was when would we see whales and other marine life. And, as if in answer, we were greeted by a gentle psst to our starboard side as two pilot whales broke the surface about 10 metres from Roxy. We could see their fins and large backs curve downward as they disappeared again for about ten minutes, reappearing over the next hour or so before heading off on their own journeys.
It was also a week where we caught our first fish. Tom had lures and a wind-in hand reel and, with some strong encouragement, caught and boarded a white silver fish. It flapped and then, with kind grace, Tom let it back to fight another day.
There was also the incident with Nick and "that fish" but you will have to come back next week to hear that story.
I hear you ask, why?
I described our first week as an assault on the senses. By now our senses have settled. They now focus on the incredible environment we happen to be moving through. We watch in awe as the Petrels skim and glide on wind and wave. An acrobatic marvel as they search for food or simply updrafts to keep them in the air. At night, they are bat-like, ghostly figures swooping over Roxy.
Or the girlish shrieks from Lizzie as we watch the flying fish glide across the water and, in 3 cases to date, land on Roxy.
As we are in the wax of full moon, the infinite majesty of the night sky is magnificent. The stars seem 100 times brighter and, because there are at least 2 watches over this time period, we all get to see how the various constellations move over the course of the night - something I had never seen before.
For us all though, it is the sunrise and the beauty with which she colours the sky in dawning a new day that takes our breath away most. Purples and greys give way to pinks, reds, oranges and finally the light erupts.
The vast expanse of the sky is also something we never get to see much in our normal lives.
If you're beginning to think this trip is either some kind of fiendish work rota or a deep transcendental experience, it's both those and more. There is so much laughter. Genuine, belly aching laughter.
And the two words "vegetable chipotle" - a meal that serves as a curse and a swearword.
Another routine I never thought I would see is the daily "Doc is in the house". Some of may remember visits to the school of a state appointed doctor. Students would line up to cough.
Here on Roxy, the crew line up and display the sores on their legs, feet and, as a final act, bottoms. Graham, our knowledgeable medic, dispenses advice and, most importantly, rubs iodine into our sore parts. This is both surreal, weirdly normal and hilarious, all at the same time.
Finally, as a promise to my girls, another little riddle. Given the time of the year, this is in the form of a charade: A place in Scotland, one word with two syllables. First syllable - "I did this to get somewhere quickly". Second syllable - sounds like what you do to a door.
12th December - Week 1
We left Tenerife at 10:33 on the 5th December. The wind was up and the sun was shining.
We'd all met at Roxy about an hour prior to our departure - our corner of the marina was a hub of active excitement. Charlie, Nicola and the families who had come to Tenerife were all there. We were ready - or at least as ready as we could be. The crew were keen to just get going.
After saying our final goodbyes, we rowed away from our berth, up the marina and then out into the sea. It felt like we were being catapulted away, everyone rowing proudly as the shore folk waved and shouted fiercely to wish us bon voyage.
Describing the first week of our expedition is a difficult thing to do as each of us, I am sure, had so many different thoughts and emotions. Certainly seeing the islands slowly disappear over the course of 2 days was strange as this would be the last piece of land that would be visible for a while.
I'd describe those first few days as "an assault on the senses". There were so many sights, sounds, smells and emotions. We listened to the sea and all her songs as the winds blew us south west. The first couple of days were punctuated by retching, as we desperately sought our sea legs. I will for ever remember Damo shouting "Roxy" as he threw up. At times, we rowed like men possessed, as we rode the wind and waves towards our destination, covering a great distance in the first 6 days.
There were milestones that we hit that week which galvanised the crew for the weeks ahead. Our first proper swivel left us very wet. We felt at first hand how Roxy handles at such times and how our skipper and co-skipper get the boat through these conditions. The dexterity required to save the very precious speaker was something to remember.
But it's the sunrises, sunsets and stunning night time display of stars that make this special and remind us why we're doing this. Also, the sight of a simple rainbow with its familiar colouring made magnificent against the usual blues and greys.
As for the crew, the banter, chit chat, laughter and little kindnesses and encouragements strengthen our resolve each passing day. It's an honour to be part of the team.
As a brief aside, I promised my 3 stars a little riddle per blog. For them and anyone reading - a place where her bay was enchanted by a mushroom?
5th December 2021 - And they're off!
Fair winds and following seas for the 2nd Atlantic Roxy crew who left this morning from the Canaries bound for Antigua.
4th December 2021 - Training and Preparation Week
If you have been keeping an eye on the Roxy Expedition Atlantic 2021-22 blog, this is the last land based blog there will be for a few weeks. The rest will be from the Atlantic Ocean as we plot and row our way across, until we hit land again in Antigua.
An important part of the preparation has been another week’s safety and boat training in Tenerife before we take to Roxy and push gently away from land.
As planned, we had dinner with the crew, other halves, Charlie and Nicola. The conversations and banter, seamlessly picked up from where we left off in September. We also got to see the newest member, Simon, in the flesh and welcome him aboard face to face. No easy task, but one which Simon carried off in a natural and relaxed manner, a testament to the man.
Charlie made a brief speech to the crew. His infectious enthusiasm for what we are doing and what he and the Rannoch team have created, is as keen as the day we met in September. His dream, and the reality he created in Rannoch, forms such a launching pad for our dreams and that of others. But to fulfil this dream of ours also requires a significant amount of logistics, planning and management.
As we have come to expect, Nicola coordinates all these items into well executed plans. A demanding role that allows us to focus on the row.
It is difficult to distil into relatively few words what this week has meant to the crew and support team. The week, is for us all, marked by milestones, highs, lows, questions, answers, nerves and confidence, all concentrated into a few short days. This yin and yang of seriousness and comedy were constant bedfellows. As an example, one of our crew who shall forever remain nameless (Nick), is asked to bring out an EPIRB (a device for emergency contact). On doing so he, in a maneuver of genuine slapstick, trips and drops it into the water. For those that don't know, on being immersed, it sends an emergency signal to a global rescue base. He, who shall not be named (Nick), nimbly scooped it from the water before it got a chance to send its signal. Thank goodness Nick hasn't been given the role of head of comms on this trip.
While the week was about getting together for the off, it was the safety training that took priority. This was conducted by a two time Atlantic rower (solo and on Roxy) and RYA instructor. Dawn is that fantastic combination of teacher, comedian and coolly serious advisor on all the things we need to do in order to get across safely. Her experience and that of others was distilled into simple, specific instructions, which I can sum up now as “Clip on”, “Stay with the boat”, “Keep watered, clean and fed”, “Look out for each other”.
Humour is such an effective foil against serious situations. As the lessons detailed serious situations, delicious and truly bellyaching eruptions of laughter broke tensions.
The other critical objective of this week, was for us to re-enforce the team dynamic. Considering we have only been in each others company for less than two weeks, we have shared stories, innermost thoughts and feelings that I believe can take years in other situations. Such is the intensity of the week. This bonding is the one skill, lesson that cannot be taught. It comes from the reality of what we are doing, but also the fact that these other 11 are very special people, whom I can already call friends and who give me confidence in my ability to get across the Atlantic. I will also have to give a special call out to a very recently homegrown addition, namely Tom’s moustache. Apparently it can't be left on the dock so will be with us for our journey.
The week also calls for a leader and seconder who will, over the course of the trip, act as mentor, guide, parent, confidante, navigator, motivator, Skipper and her No.2. They are two of the calmest people I have met and it is a privilege for the crew to be taking this adventure with them. Thank you Lizzie and Chris.
Finally, this adventure is as much about the people we are leaving behind, who have put their faith and trust in the faith and trust we have placed in ourselves. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, partners, friends, children and grandchildren are an integral part of this journey. Without their support this would be a hollow adventure. They elevate its meaning.
Mariners have used the North star as a guide to where they are going. I am lucky to have 3 especially important North stars, who I am sure will act as a guide for us all as we adventure our way across the Atlantic.
September 2021 - Training Week
12 row an ocean
The question on everyone’s mind and lips, that first meeting in September 2021 in the Yacht Club in Burnham was “Why”.
Of course there were the usual pleasantries – where are you from, what family have you got, what do you do for a living. But the real question we wanted to ask beyond the polite conversation was why are you doing this.? Each of us had already explained to Charlie and Nicola as part of our interview and acceptance to this adventure.
This time was different. Sharing the why with your crewmates felt different, even more important.
Over the 40 or so days on the Atlantic we will have to remind each other of our why’s as we battle across an unforgiving ocean. We have all explained this to our families and friends and in most instances they don’t get it. However this group does. We get it, even if we don’t understand it.
Our first meeting was at the launch event for the training week, with some of the Talisker crews (or TWACS). Charlie and Ian spoke, proudly and excitedly congratulating us for getting to this stage. The atmosphere felt a bit like being at some kind of speed dating event. Everyone seemed to be talking really quickly and there was an excited nervousness at the start, which gave way (over a couple of beers) to good conversation and sharing of stories of other feats or adventures had.
The Roxy crew drank and ate together, tentative conversations at first, giving way to belly laughs on subjects, I am sure the editor will remove. Toasts to the adventure and importantly the week of rigorous training ahead were shared. We are a varied bunch, which is the way to have it. Each, bringing a different perspective, skill, experience to the whole thing. However, we all have a common goal, to row across the Atlantic and over a beer in Antigua answer the question “That’s Why”.
Formin, Stormin, Normin
A psychologist called Tuckman, back in the 60’s, developed a theory on how the dynamics of a group of individuals move through different stages to become a team. Thus was born the Forming, Storming, Norming theory of team development. The Roxy crew are definitely into the forming phase, a phase where we are each assessing the other, forming bonds, getting a sense of strengths and weaknesses. This may seem rather cold and calculating but it is one of our evolutionary traits that provided us with an edge i.e. the ability to form groups to overcome a particular problem.
The first briefing by the Rannoch team (to us and TWAC people also), was a detailed walkthrough of the major things needed to get relative novices from one side of the Atlantic, safely and hopefully with smiles for most of it. For all of at the briefing it was great to hear and truly sense the experience of the Rannoch crew. Scenario, question, what if, what about were thrown at the team, who either had been through it before or gave a view on how it could be solved.
This was also our first formal introduction to our skipper and no.2
Lizzie, our skipper for the trip, personifies a steely calmness. No drama, straightforward and as an RNLI volunteer for many years, obsessed with safety.
Our no.2 is Chris, a man who I would swear has sea water in his veins and the knowledge of many years floating on it in various vessels.
The gentle introduction row (upstream on the River Crouch), felt somewhat like the description from an English or American novel set by a river during the high heat of the summer, it was all shimmery heat and gentle lapping of water off hull as we all got the chance to feel the pull of water on oar, through as yet uncalloused hands.
Our second and longer row, was out to the cardinal, beyond the mouth of the river Crouch, just as the river becomes sea. It was also our first introduction to the shift system, something that will become our tick and tock as we cross the Atlantic.
However we still had our 48 hour row to do and that was almost upon us. Some food, drink and stories to share before we would take on that challenge. Every day is a school day and the next, felt like our first real test.
Steelman forward, Jellyman backward
It can be interesting to watch an idea germinate, wax, then wane and suddenly get voiced as a way of making simple a new and complex idea. Charlie Pitcher, who started and runs Rannoch, was explaining to us how to successfully row this 3 tonne boat, across the Atlantic with maximum effect.
“Think of it as a giant pendulum”. Makes sense.
“Imagine the momentum in the 3 tonnes of boat being propelled forward”. We imagined.
As Charlie then explained and showed us how to row to get this affect, the idea had come to life.
“Steelman forward”, he shouted as he punched forward.
“Jellyman backward”, making a scuttling motion with his hands and fingers.
It made sense and for many it will stick as an image we will take across the Atlantic. However we did have the prospect of our 48hr row first, in our proper 3 hour shift pattern, out into the North Sea.
There was certainly some nervousness as we stood on the pontoon loading Roxy for the trip. People dealing with it in different ways, laughing through it, quiet, talkative, contemplative, telling jokes. All the different mechanisms to help you prepare, laid bare. Rituals can be a powerful way to help deal with impending stressful situations. Yuri Gagarin famously stopped the bus taking him to his rocket to take a piss, undoing all the meticulously buttoned flight suit, on the wheel of a bus. This has become a ritual for most space pilots since then (regardless of country). I think now, a couple of months out, what rituals we will all or individually perform to help us deal with that defining moment of setting foot on Roxy that last time before getting off again in Antigua.
The trip itself was relatively uneventful, but was a brilliant learning experience for the whole crew. The objectives of getting a good understanding for the mechanics, rhythms, physical and mental requirements for our trip were I think met by all. The realities of how difficult the challenge will be dawned and I am sure slopped and slewed inside us all. Importantly the bonds we had begun to forge, strengthened again. Shared experiences, such as rowing past the famous Radio Caroline boat (made even more famous by the move “The Boat that Rocks”). Our boat was sharing stories we’d heard or imagined of orgies, drugs and rock and roll on the water. Whether it was chat about “THE BUCKET” or listening to the lilting tones of Andy as he sang some songs from home, or remembering top 10 movies from the eighties, we each found ways to get through the hours. But more then that, we found things to enjoy and take from the journey, things to remember for when we are digging deep mid Atlantic.
The morning after we got back, we had our final debrief. Things we need to consider over the next couple of months, suggestions for the boat, other forms to be filled all came up. As we all bade each other safe journey home, that mix of excitement, nerves and realisation that the next time we will set eyes on each other will be in the Canaries when we get to put into practise all we have learned over the last week.