Sunday was an incredibly special day as not only did we achieve our biggest mileage yet (85nm!) we rowed through the 1000nm to go point. What a feeling!
Unbeknownst to the others, my watch had discovered a stash of Dairy Milk about a week ago during a deep clean of the cabin. Inspired by Boris and his procurement of Easter eggs and ginger nuts, we held on to this and hid it to share at the 1000 to go point (a very tricky task in a small boat full of hungry rowers).
With a blow on a horn that we have in the cabin for reasons I’m sure have something to do with professional sea-faring, the 1,000nm achievement was announced and the chocolate handed out on deck to the amazing rowers. It was actually quite an emotional moment, not least because most of the chocolate on board already consumed had tasted like fibreglass (the inescapable and unfortunately inedible flavour of “boat”) - this tasted like pure, creamy, Dairy Milk. Bliss.
Over the past three days we have been really enjoying the wavy conditions, and have managed to get some serious speed up surfing the big seas. Thursday brought us to 1573 nm and by 5pm, Friday I officially started the switch to counting down in my notebook (>1200!), and Saturday got us to less than 1100 to go.
Despite this progress, some shifts have felt sluggish, and mileage less than expected. There is a display screen on the back of the boat, showing us our course, latitude and longitude, and most importantly speed. We joke that the speedometer is a random number generator, as sometimes you can feel as if you are putting in no effort at all and it soars, and other times you are powering your oar through the water for a meagre 2kts. My mood seems to be set by whether the screen reads above or below 3kts - anything with a 2 is miserable, and anything over 3 pure delight. I thought I was free from servitude to the erg screen, but seem to have simply switched 500m splits for knots...
The heavy and technical rowing conditions can also be frustrating, and I feel it hardest when I can’t row well (or at least, as I well as I think I should be able to!). But the brilliant thing is there is always the next stroke to focus on, even if you are like me and you catch 10 crabs in a row. The tough conditions continue to bring out the best in us (sans crabs), with some heroic efforts from every crew member on the oars, in the soaking wet.
The waves themselves are still a marvel; mountainous peaks that pile up and up and topple around us, with the most jagged forming Alpine tops that catch the sun and turn to bright turquoise crystal as they splash downward. If a deep blue wave is full of seaweed, it has the odd effect t of looking like a mobile aquarium, such is the gradient and clarity of the walls of water.
The fun and games continue alongside the scenery, of course. The “name musicians game” has descended into "yell out car makes and models" at random.
Cabin drama too. On our way in from a night shift, Dawn, Louise and I smelled fish as we tried to settle down to sleep. Uh oh. Dawn had just wafted her sleeping bag around, I had removed my jacket and Louise her shoes exposing her socks. Could one of us be the culprit?! As we frantically sniffed ourselves and our belongings, Louise moved a dry bag from the lower berth to reveal a flat as a pancake flying fish that Ted had obviously- naturally- slept on for his entire off watch. We quickly frisbeed it into the sea - rest in peace, crisis averted.
And in other news, Rupert has 31 blisters on one hand, and has become a professional protein shake mixologist (to be fair, I think he was one already).
The biggest waves came during the day on Saturday, much to our delight. More ocean rowing tips for big seas: miss strokes if there’s no ocean to catch, don’t put the oar in at the highest speeds as this will actually slow the boat down, don’t worry about keeping in time(!) Riding the waves is amazing, with the oar out of the water leaning bodies into the wave, zooming down between 5-10kts (our max boat speed is now 10.4!! Love it). At one point I ask how big we think the waves are and I get a yell back from the cabin “100ft” so we’ll go with that(!!) At least that’s what we’ll be telling you all in the pub on our return...
Occasionally there are absolutely humongous waves that require a shout from the stroke seat “big wave!” for everybody on board - cabin and deck - to brace. Ideally the rowers should take a huge powerful stroke and then lean back to ride the wave. On one such occasion, I was at the front of the boat, saw the massive wave approaching and shouted the warning. I braced myself, one hand on the oar and one hand on the safety line and the wave drove under the back of the boat. As it crashed behind me I checked I was all in place: still in my seat, still holding blade, still dry. I looked behind to see if everyone else was fine and it seemed like all the rowers had survived. As I surveyed the forward cabin I noticed one of the seat covers start to move, only it wasn’t a seat cover, it was a sopping wet blue t-shirt, being worn by the now wettest person in the entire world, Cat. She had been relaxing in front of the cabin door, exactly where the wave crashed down. She had a book in her hand, which was now also the wettest book in the entire world. A hilarious disaster, probably the worst soaking of the trip. So far.
Ok, so now we really truly are over halfway and it feels like it! And guess what?! THE WIND IS HERE!!!
Yes, overnight the wind picked up, the waves mounted, and the speed cranked higher. So, tricky, technical rowing conditions again, and life on the boat returns to being inside a washing machine. The waves are big enough to slide us side to side as we sleep in our cabins, and knock us flat as we row (Boris and Sian went over like skittles). It’s more fun than scary I promise, and we all feel very safe, if a little hyped up! We are hoping for even bigger conditions soon.
There are a few techniques to deploy when rowing in rough seas. It’s important to feather the blade (turn it parallel to the water) if a wave threatens to grab it, that way you can slice through the water and avoid being hit by the handle. As the wind is behind us, most of the waves nudge us at the back, but sometimes we have confused seas, and the waves come from every angle, sending us rocking like a seesaw. I think it’s like trying to row whilst riding one of those mechanical bulls at the fairground. It hasn’t happened yet, but if a big wave comes to hit us side on, we’ll all have to clear our blades from the water to avoid any undue stress to the oars and outriggers. Roxy has an ingenious design in that the outriggers aren’t fixed. This means that when - inevitably - a blade gets stuck in a wave and the rower “catches a crab”, the whole outrigger will lift and the oar handle will rise and release. This really helps in the trickier conditions. Night time is a whole other ball game, as you can’t even see the waves, but a good tip is to take shorter strokes with a very pronounced tap down (lowering your handle as much as possible on the recovery up the slide, to get the blade as high as possible). And hope for the best!
Our fastest speed so far in this little section of wind has been 6.8kts. Our fastest speed ever this trip is 9.1kts - looking forward to breaking this target. We are now counting down miles to go, and that feels really good!
Today we were greeted by an incredible sunrise. A smattering of grey paint-splatter clouds, silhouetted against a luminous pastel backdrop, cornfield yellow blending up to silver blue. The still-hidden sun lit the backs of the clouds in pale pink, which gradually turned more golden throughout the shift, until the entire scene looked as if it had burst from the sun as it rose up. I know there’s only so many hammy sunrise descriptions people want to read about so I’ll stop there. A photo is not forthcoming of this sunrise, as we struggle to hold oars let alone cameras on the early shifts, but I know the chief photographers captured the equally stunning sunset today, so hopefully that will make up for it.
I forgot to mention, we cleaned the boat again since I last wrote about it, and this time I faced the perils of waves, cold, and marlins and went in to scrub. Absolute major props to my crew mates who have done this task multiple times (Rupert being probably the keenest diver, donning a snorkelling mask and scrubbing right underneath boat each time, although special mention to all crew who were willing to jump in before the climate got warmer!!). It is hard work - the sea gets inside your head, the boat rocks and threatens to smack you, and the scrubbing is arduous with limbs unable to go where you want them to go.
I didn’t see a single creature whilst cleaning the underside of Roxy, but I did take time to just float with my head under the water, staring out through begoggled eyes into the deepest blue I’ve ever seen. The total vastness was staggering, and despite the seawater giving me a sore throat, I felt totally cleansed when I jumped back on the boat (assisted by Simon who made a gentlemanly step with his leg).
We have done 1344 nm after exactly 3 weeks at sea. We have celebrated passing the halfway point about three times. Probably because there are two half way points (time and distance) and also because we love a celebration.
Firstly, Boris unearthed some ginger nuts from the depths of the forward cabin (legend) and handed us each one to savour. We discussed how incredibly differently we treated this biscuit as opposed to any and all consumed in the first week! It was a truly dreamy biscuit that I took about 5 minutes to finish.
Secondly, Dawn roused us into a heroic halfway cheer during her weekly news briefing. Not sure what our nautical mileage was at this point but it felt close enough. Dawn also made a video to commemorate our halfway achievement, with the cool fact that the closest people to us right now are astronauts (well, apart from maybe Abramovich (see below) - but he’s not eating freeze dried food like us and the space guys, so I’m not counting him).
Thirdly, we actually passed the nautical mile halfway over Monday night - again in understated fashion as we all concentrated on rowing our hardest during the tricky night shift.
The wind is coming soon and after passing halfway, suddenly it feels like we are rowing down hill!
Hello again from what feels like the least windy Atlantic crossing ever undertaken. It really is getting like ground hog day out here... to let you know the level we are at, there was much excitement over some floating seaweed. (Although I should say we are still encountering stunning scenes: movie-like evenings where the silver ocean blends seamlessly into the sky, or pairs of seabirds treating us to an airshow flanking the boat).
Happy with the slow-ish progress (65nm in the last 24), still looking forward to the stronger wind. Everyone is enjoying themselves and enjoying the slog.
Just as we think we might be getting fed up with the seaweed and flying fish, something comes along to deliver a bit of excitement. A yacht popped up on the AIS and from contact with one of the other ocean rowing boats in the vicinity, we heard that this was one of Roman Abramovich’s super yachts, a mere 65 nm due south of us! We’ve been told this one has a swimming pool on board. Unfortunately we didn’t pass close enough to see it, so again no cheese procured (we were actually rather hoping Abramovich might toss us some caviar and champagne). I wonder how Chelsea F.C. is doing ...?
By midday Sunday, we’ve done 1285 nm and are reeling in that halfway distance target. We are thinking we are past the halfway point time wise. But who knows given the conditions! We’ve been told there is no point on the Atlantic Ocean where the winds are greater than 15 knots right now. Incredible.
The waves livened up a bit today on the morning shift - hopefully a taste of things to come, although the weather report received toward the end of the weekend suggests a handful of days of 12-15 knots and then back to light winds.
And another exciting encounter - this time it was a cargo ship, passing within 5nm of us in the night time. We raised them on the radio, and they altered course to stay well clear of us. We could see their navigation lights pass by our starboard side as the ship overtook Roxy. We’ve seen 5 or 6 other boats now and still no cheese gained. We will keep trying.
The lack of wind continues - no change to the forecast and we are looking at these conditions until the middle of next week. I’ll just pre-write the blog until then I guess!
Easterly winds, very light, slow going, we continue to row.
We did dive the boat to give the underside a good clean. This has allowed us to pick up a little bit of speed; it is amazing how quickly the build up of sea life on the hull drags our speed down.
The waves are gentle and lazy. They look like they come towards us in slow motion, yawning and lethargic and barely pushing the back of the boat. There is hardly any wildlife - the odd Arctic tern (any big fans of “whose line is it anyway” might know why seeing these sends me into hysterics). It’s the little things in the boat at the moment. But none of us are bored!
We do have ways of keeping ourselves amused through the monotone rowing. There are various games to be played on the oars. A few of the shifts are running through the alphabet naming musicians and bands. I think they might nearly be done, and I thought they would never finish given the huge music knowledge onboard. This game has added an hilarious quirk to the quieter shifts; after a long period of silent, contemplative rowing, someone (and in particular Boris has quite the comic timing) will blurt out the name of band, seemingly from nowhere. There is talk of going through song titles next... (send help).
We have also taken to talking extensively about food. We fantasise about what meals we are going to enjoy when back on land, and basically anything sends us groaning hungrily, from slap up steak dinners to simple white bread. I personally dream of having 10 takeaways in 10 days upon return to the UK (we’ve heard this is the current quarantine requirement), and have planned these orders out in intimate detail.
We’ve had the weather forecast up until Sunday - variations on easterly winds but still no increase in strength. Looks like Charlie will have some more time to work on his catch phrases.
People continue to put in heroic shifts on the oars; we still achieved 64nm in the last 24 hours. There has been very little variation in conditions and nothing but open ocean and a few flying fish to keep us distracted. Ted has made some custom ugg boots from his sheepskin rug, and is singing us opera on deck. A wave broke into the aft cabin last night and soaked all our sleeping bags, but to be honest it was almost nice to have the damp for once!
Whilst the conditions are lacklustre, please enjoy this special guest blog from Mark.
Life on Roxy - the view from the Judge!
Hi, Mark here.
As we push toward Antigua I thought I should share some views on life on board Roxy from the perspective of the crew judge. I was not given this post as a result of any aptitude for the job but because at 61, I am the oldest crew member.
It is my job to be alerted of recalcitrant behaviour by crew members, and to try cases at our weekly court hearing. Suffice to say, with this lot there is no shortage of cases to be heard.
So far we have tried one of younger crew members for losing a bucket (that served a very important purpose!) overboard and we have prosecuted our head fisherman for fishing irregularities (ie not catching any!).
Crew members are inevitably found to be guilty and the penalty handed down is both relevant and funny. Eg for losing the bucket the perpetrator was asked to write ‘I promise not to lose the **** bucket overboard’ 50 times on the replacement bucket!
The court process is just one of many diversions on board Roxy. I continue to be amazed at the spirit of this team. After a tough first week, we have developed a level of resilience and confidence that is second to none. This is underpinned by a desire to be kind to one another and a fantastic sense of humour. I spend a good proportion of my day laughing and I am proud to be part of this crew.
Meanwhile I’m preparing for the next court hearing. A couple of crew members have demonstrated an extraordinarily bad dress sense and need to be brought to justice. I’m on it :)
In rather undramatic fashion, in the middle of the night last night, Charlie, Ted, Rupert, Sian, Boris, and Mark rowed us right through 1000 nm. GET IN!
Despite the conditions (with the word 'unprecedented' being mentioned a lot), when we do get a bit of wind, we are able to row up to 3.5 kts - it’s still hard work but even that modest speed feels like flying!
Still a hard slog when the wind is down though, and during the day we are now getting temperatures up to 30 degrees (35 degrees in the cabin). It’s tough, but the trade off is a slightly easier life off the oars - we can hang clothes, open hatches, have items on deck, and move about the boat more easily than if the sea were rougher. I think lots of us would be up for sacrificing these benefits for a bit of boat speed though! I would even go back to the perma-damp for half a knot!
A sailing yacht dropped by today for a visit!!! The SeaLife Sydney - about the same size as Roxy - appeared on the horizon during the 0730-1030 morning shift.
It looked to be drawing gradually closer, and sure enough, soon it was within waving distance. We couldn’t raise them on the radio, nor had they appeared on AIS (what I like to call air traffic control for boats). It transpired that they had been trying to call us for 4 hours, and were fearful of what they were going to find (dead bodies!). We joked that they might be pirates as they approached, and how much cheese we thought we could get out of them, and I felt quite nervous at the thought of an interaction with another vessel.
As they popped up on AIS, and on the radio, of course they were friendly and happy to chat. They had come from France and were heading to St Maarten and we offered them a race, but regrettably there was no replenishment of our dwindling cheese stocks. They also kindly passed on some weather information; the unusually light conditions we find ourselves in are set to continue. Both the yacht and Charlie commented on how utterly exceptional it is to have so much calm at this time of year; there have been weather systems sitting north sucking all the faster conditions away, leaving us like a floating brick with nothing to do but tough out each shift.
It’s very much looking like Charlie’s bold arrival prediction is set to be revised, but he’s come up with a new phrase for when we do finish: “We rowed it, not blowed it”. Tenuous?
Happy Easter from all of us on Roxy!
At officially 2 weeks at sea we have reached 892 nm, and are gunning for the 1000 mark, if a little slowly.
Thursday evening saw another fabulous sunset and plenty of dolphins leaping around the boat. We almost felt spoiled at this point, and actually two crew members achieved the no 1 no 2s of their entire lives this magical evening.
The wind has been very weak, and we are just chugging along slowly. It’s hard going, although the conditions are calm (in the ever-great words of Ted: “why are we rowing on Lake Geneva?”) so we really have to grind out each shift to achieve modest boat speeds. It’s like doing a 3 hour erg at max resistance, only at least this erg moves us slowly across the ocean.
Everyone is stepping up to the mark and rowing really well. Pain management and injuries remain under control, although everyone is suffering a bit. Hands and bums seems to be the main victims, and actually I am glad that others on the boat have encountered swollen hands - I can put my own enlarged digits down to some sort of ubiquitous ocean rowing illness, rather than a foolishly attained sunburn! Further symptoms of this ocean rowing illness include a horrible bum rash, inability for cuts to heal, bruises absolutely everywhere, and soft tissue aches in soft tissues we didn’t realise we had. The cure for everything at the moment is Sudocrem, applied liberally as if one is icing a cake with buttercream. This blog isn’t sponsored by Sudocrem, but it probably should be!
Easter weekend also brought some excitement in the form of flying fish Friday (extending to flying fish Saturday and flying fish Sunday in fact). I was hit by a flying fish whilst rowing in the dark (quite an experience), and they keep on jumping into Simon’s bed (perhaps they are sick and realise there is a vet on board?).
Sunday moved us through the 800nm point, and Boris (who I should say for the purposes of this blog is the one and only Ian) brought the gift of mini eggs. We had two each and they were absolutely the most gorgeous Easter eggs I’ve ever tasted. More than enough to keep the spirits up :)
10 Days At Sea
The last night of March was the darkest yet, with the moon shielded by clouds. With the (limited) lights on the instrumentation, looking out to sea was staring into utter darkness. But this total blackout was broken by some powerful bioluminescence that crackled around our blades just like embers - honestly like poking a bonfire. I felt like some sort of ocean rowing wizard. Ciara commented that this is the only good reason to catch a crab - it lights up the water way better than the perfect stroke!
The sunrise was spectacular in the morning, and it had to be to make up for a poor night of sleep. At some point in the night - and I was half dreaming - Charlie made radio contact with another vessel. It was very strange to hear another voice and the hiss of the radio but we passed with no incident.
I also lost my headband in the cabin. 6 people are sharing a space smaller than a double bed and combine that with exhaustion and not thinking straight, if you put something down and lose track, it is guaranteed to instantly evaporate (this with an alarming regularity that makes me question my sanity). Dawn’s headband has also suffered the same fate - we wonder together on what day of the voyage they may make a reappearance, or if they are lost forever.
As for progress, we have that north easterly breeze lightly tapping us along, up to 632nm as I write. We have been preparing ourselves for the gigantic swells that we’ll face in the coming days. The boat is feeling good!
9 Days At Sea
We are up to 546nm at midday, with 59 covered over the last 25 hours - getting faster!
Tuesday night brought some very difficult choppy rowing with the boat rocking side to side, making it very difficult to get the oar in and row effectively. This left me feeling exhausted and frustrated. But the good thing about ocean rowing is you are never more than three hours away from a nap! And that cures everything. That and the sunlight of the first day shift, which has never failed to lift my mood.
As if the stillness of the ocean yesterday wasn’t enough for us, we had another magical experience today with a pod of little pilot whales. Mark spotted a fin lolling out of the water and soon we could see the whales all around us. They circled, and lined up, popping their heads out to give us the once over, so close that we could hear the spray from their blowholes. They seemed so... personable! We were all watching them intently and after swimming around the boat a few times, they headed off into the distance, leaving us to resume our rowing.
We’ve actually seen lots of wildlife (dolphins almost every other day!!) and all wish we'd brought some sort of guide to Atlantic fauna. The other day there was an enormous red-brown octopus chilling at the surface and daily there have been little birds (brown/white and grey/white) following our boat, slaloming and diving around the waves. No marlins as of yet though!
8 Days At Sea
Today we rowed past the 500 nautical milestone to cheers and a tenuous rendition of that Proclaimers song!
We were really looking forward to the favourable wind, although we knew it wouldn’t be that strong, but something altogether more magical happened today. The wind was exceptionally calm, and the ocean followed suit.
Stepping out on to deck in the middle of a calm ocean is something I will never forget. The water looked soft and silken, with all the harsh edges subdued into mellow undulations. The sun lit the water to sapphire blue, and as we peered over the side of Roxy, we could see shards of golden rays penetrating the crystalline depth.
To quantify that depth, at that moment we could have jumped out of the boat and completed a 5km run down to the seabed with hundreds of metres to spare.
We all came to a stop and lifted the blades out of the water, to experience the most intense silence I've ever heard in my life. Nothing but pillow soft ocean extending to the sky, and an intense sense of our own presence in the empty scene.
It’s hard to find the words to describe the impact of this scene; the sea looked kindly and reassuring in its gentle billowing, and inviting like fresh sheets on a giant bed, filling me with the largest sense of awe and calm.
It seemed a shame to disturb the water with our rowing, but we set off again keen to continue progress and sing that song again at the 1000 mile mark.
One Week At Sea
Today marks exactly one week since we launched from Tenerife, and it’s been a fantastic day of rowing. In honour of this day, I have put on a clean t-shirt.
Overnight, there were some rough conditions, with waves hitting us side on and sweeping over the deck. One massive wave knocked us off course, and Dawn had to jump from her rowing seat to grab the rudder to hand steer us back on course. She recovered control quickly so the wind was behind us and we could row up some speed. Although we were never in danger, it certainly added a bit of excitement to the nightshift.
The daytime brings a weather update - north easterlies - YES! But light winds, so although the wind is in the right direction for the next few days, it will still be a tad slow going, if more pleasant. It’s also been sunny today, so the Sisyphean task of drying our clothes has resumed. Dawn has been drying her socks for 3 days and they are wetter than ever. She also seems to have hydrophilic salopettes, which are suspiciously left in precarious positions on deck...
We passed 421 nautical miles at midday and the crew are all very excited for the next week rowing the ocean. Bring on the north easterly breeze!!!
One week at sea
Guest blog from Louise:
At 11:13 am on Monday 22 March, we pulled out of the marina into the wavy chop, all our oars clashed and against each other, the music was blaring, Ted was doing his Instagram live stream, as was Rupert, and all I could think of was ‘we look like a load of numpties hardly able to paddle between us’.
Once we started to get away from Tenerife the sea state became a little calmer and we settled into our three hour watches. After a day or so of quite fun rowing we then had an afternoon when everything got quite blowy and the waves got quite big. It was actually really fun and I think all of us girls agreed this is what we had signed up for and we were absolutely loving it.
Unfortunately, the wind direction wasn’t helpful to our course so even though we were really enjoying the conditions, we were being blown back towards Africa and not heading in the direction we wanted. So we had to put the para anchor out.
We ended up having two nights on anchor with a row in the daytime in between. The nights were absolutely hilarious with five of us squeezed into each cabin that sleeps three - I don’t think any of us have ever laughed so much.
The part of this journey that I’m enjoying most is the human element - particularly after being deprived of human contact through Covid. I feel incredibly privileged to be here enjoying this and I’m eternally grateful to be given this opportunity.
If anybody reading this is sitting on the fence about whether or not to challenge themselves I honestly can’t encourage you enough to sign up and do something like this it really is life changing.
Para Anchor Part 2
Am pleased to report we have all gone insane followed a second night on anchor! We changed the system so the watch was shorter and the sleeping longer. This meant some poor soul had to squeeze into the 4th berth (filled with important things like snacks and lifejackets). The weather looks like we are going to be here a few more nights, and if so, prepare yourselves for some esoteric content.
We are all in brilliant spirits and have kept the mood lifted on the boat. I am really grateful to, and in awe of, all my crew mates, who have pulled together and shown their incredible characters. Big love on the boat already!
As there’s not much progress to recount, I’ll just leave you with a word on the equally hilarious and bizarre closeness that is has developed on the boat. There’s not much space in the cabins, even less when you factor in being on anchor. There’s also a lot to do in this small space with regard to the holy trinity of going to to toilet (bucket), making food, and sleeping. There have been situations where all of the above have been occurring simultaneously within a metre square. It is amazing how quickly you can get used to this in the middle of the ocean, and the absolute tears of laughter it brings!
If this sounds a tad unhygienic, not to worry. The amount of Sudocrem, wet wipes, and hand gel flying around the boat means that we are going to come back cleaner than we started.
Two final thoughts - at the time of writing, there are circa three crew members left to use the bucket. And on a more pleasant note, a butterfly landed on Roxy today!
Days 6 and 7 = No More Anchor!
On Saturday morning, we started rowing on the 1030 shift and have kept rowing ever since (it’s now Sunday lunchtime) - that means there has been no more para anchor!!! We’ve now done 355 nm and are all thrilled to be rowing again but the conditions are hard with the wind and waves coming from around the north and hitting us almost side on as we track south west.
Everything is so damp, and trying to sleep in the soaking cabin last night was tough. We have damp beds, damp clothes, damp shoes, damp socks, and still no way to dry!
But there have still been things to keep us laughing. It’s a lovely warm day today, if choppy, so we are taking the opportunity to attempt to dry out some gear (although every time something gets dry, a wave tends to break over the boat and soak it through again). It’s a bit like rowing a floating clothes horse.
There was also the most incredible sight on the night shift. Two full moons on the ocean - one in the sky and one in the aft cabin. We really are bonding out here.
Aboard Roxy, we are sticking to GMT (or ‘Roxy time’) all the way to Antigua. This means our shifts will appear constant so we can plan our lives but each will experience a slightly shifted time of day in reality, so we’ll all get sunrises and sunsets. Each day at 12 noon we plot our position on a chart on the roof of the aft cabin and it’s really satisfying to watch our progress. We are actually on track to reach the Cape Verde islands pretty soon... anyone for a pit stop?
The Para Anchor
Thursday morning, our 4th day, started out with some favourable winds and good speed in the boat.
The waves were a lot more dramatic - up to 3 metres - and we had a good few sessions getting absolutely soaked. What is especially delightful is putting on the same wet socks and trainers every 3 hours because there is simply no way to get these things dry in wavy conditions. But these wet conditions mean a faster boat and we were up to 230 miles on the odometer by the evening shift.
Despite this, we were facing changing winds and soon it became apparent we would have to deploy the para anchor. As we rowed, the wind strengthened and we were in danger of being blown off course. The para anchor, literally a parachute launched into the water from the stern of the boat, holds Roxy in place into the wind and reduces any motion in the wrong direction in unfavourable winds. With the anchor deployed, we were able to maintain the boat pointing north, and continue travelling slowly south overnight.
We were all worried about what people at home would think, seeing the boat turn around and slow right down, so some crew took the opportunity to phone home on the satellite phone.
Life on para anchor is quite an experience. The conditions are bumpy and windy, and it’s hard to face being virtually at a standstill, unable to row. We took up a watch system, with 4 people out on deck at a time for the whole night, rotating with others in each cabin. Conditions were cramped and cold, and with the boat rocking dramatically and waves splashing over deck, it was a real test in resilience.
The four on watch created a a huddle zone at the fore of the boat - the most sheltered from the wind - and Boris lashed the modesty panels from the bucket toilet (no one was using them for their intended purpose!) to each side and we cuddled together to maintain a watch.
Already tired from our first few days of tough ocean rowing, we all had very little sleep and it was an exhausting night. But it did give us time the next morning to reorganise the boat, dry out wet clothes in the sunshine (everything is miraculously better in the sunshine) and have some recovery time, before attempting to row again.
On Friday we started rowing once more, and two shifts had a go on the oars, but as I write this the conditions and our course have become too unfavourable to continue rowing, and the para anchor is currently being deployed again for the night.
I should probably also mention that we did a fantastic man overboard drill when the ship’s compass decided it had had enough of us and jumped into the water - some deft steering and quick witted rowing brought Roxy around to our stricken compass which was plucked from the waves by Ciara to a massive cheer from everyone else.
It's now Saturday afternoon and we're back rowing again and able to row through the night which everyone is really pleased about. We weren't looking forward to another night on para anchor! Louise, Sophie and Dawn have been in stitches ("OMG I haven't laughed so much in ages!") playing a game of 'let's see how much bad music we can play before someone complains'.
Roxy went on para anchor at 20.45 last night as the NW winds forced them to stop until the weather changed. They are hoping to make some progress today, but it may be a few days until they can pick up good speed again.
The first 24 hours at sea
Quick update from the ocean, we are all doing great! There’s some seasickness but the sufferers are trooping on! We made 70nm in our first 24 hours.
Ocean rowing is hard - each stroke requires multiple variables to be taken into account and uses a lot of concentration, especially as we get used to the feel of the boat. It was a little choppy on the way out from Tenerife and it’s as if Roxy herself responded to our excitement as we negotiated the first ocean waves of the crossing.
The inaugural night row went well – the moonlight was beautiful and we caught a glimpse of bioluminescence dashing around our oars and scattering over the deck like sparks. This was followed by a pod of playful dolphins as the sun rose, breaching all around our boat. Unreal scenes for the first day of a transatlantic crossing and we are all looking forward to what else is in store, whales being big on the hit list.
Pain management is OK – no major injuries but some sore muscles and, as mentioned earlier, a little seasickness amongst the crew. Personally, I’m (Sophie) pretty euphoric that I’m not seasick so far. I do have sunburnt hands from forgetting to put sun cream on in the excitement of departure - they are swelling at an alarming rate!
The weather and the sea have both been fair and most importantly, Simon is having a great birthday and Boris makes an absolutely incredible birthday cake which we enjoyed on the dawn shift with fresh coffee fresh off the jet boil.
The next 24 hours were not as joyful as the first. Lack of sleep, aches and pains, and seasickness have all been taking a greater toll on each of us and the boat has felt heavy due to the lack of wind. That said, we are quickly picking up on the surfing technique required to row the boat down the waves and get a boost of speed – wait for the wave to lift the stern and then row hard!
We are aiming to eat as much of the food as soon as possible to reduce the weight of the boat and help us glide along. We generally have 6 people rowing at a time in a shift pattern of 3 hours on, 3 hours off.
Onwards and upwards!