An account of the Roxy crew's 42 day expedition from start to finish (scroll down to the bottom and work your way up to enjoy the full story)
So my last blog left you on Sunday 2 May, with only 60 nautical miles left of our journey. As you no doubt know by now - we made it!!! I am delighted to be writing to you not only from dry land, but from my flat in the UK, having spent a whirlwind week of “recovery” in Antigua.
Those last 60 miles were some of the most intense of the entire trip. Though the mileage fell away rapidly, and the boat took on the mood of the last day of summer term at school, there was still some tricky rowing to be done. In particular the last night shift was hard, and it felt like some sort of poetic justice or closure when I got soaked on shift and had to pull on damp clothes to row again the next time around.
It was quite strange to see light pollution on the horizon, first coming from Guadeloupe to our right as we rowed, and then, tantalisingly, from Antigua behind us. We craned our necks and stood up from our seats to catch a glimpse of land; eventually, gradually, as the dawn broke, we could make out solid ground. As we rowed steadily closer, the blurred mass grew larger and gained definition; my first thought was how intricate and granular the texture of land was, standing out from the slickness of the sky and sea.
Before we knew it, we had drawn level with Antigua and were rowing along the coast. The land smelled incredible, sweet and earthy, and I gulped it in as we ploughed along. The adrenaline was pumping and the rowing felt so easy - you would never believe we’d been on the oars for the previous 42 days.
And then another tremendous boost - we were joined by some boats carrying the family (support crew!) of some of the rowers, who brought banners and banged pan lids and cowbells and threw petals and laughed and cheered and my goodness what a feeling!
There was absolutely nothing that could stop us now. As we came closer and closer, with that devilish screen now counting us gloriously down to zero, the sea changed colour as it shallowed, from sapphire to emerald, and Charlie steered us past the official finish marker (which didn’t feel like finishing as we couldn’t stop rowing!!) and into the bay.
The wind was not with us, and we had to row very hard to keep the boat moving - no time for hugs and kisses - but nothing really mattered anymore as the euphoria of the moment carried us through the heaviest rowing of the expedition, right up to our parking spot in the marina.
The next endeavour was to step off the boat and onto land. As I disembarked, the wooden floor seemed to lurch and sway, as if I was drunk or had been on a trampoline for far too long. “The pontoon must be unsteady” I thought to myself, but no, I was assured it was very solid. My legs felt like a Jenga tower with several key blocks taken out and I was grateful to have people around to escort me onto the land, where a feast of pizza, fruit, desserts, and Coca Cola awaited.
Everything on land was surreal and I was convinced I was going to wake up, with Dawn’s alarm blaring, and have to get ready for another rowing shift. But it was all very real: the Roxy crew rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. Incredible.
I would like to take this opportunity to profusely thank you readers for following along. It’s been an unbelievable privilege to be able to blog our journey. It has been impossible to fully convey the thoughts and emotions that the crew went through, and there are several (well, more than several!) experiences and incidents left unmentioned, but I hope I have done justice to the maximal adventure that is rowing an ocean with 12 totally next-level people.
I couldn’t leave this blog without thanking the numerous people who enabled all the content - I would like to say a massive thank you to:
Ted, for all the effort sending the blog back to HQ (and also thank you for the morale boosting puppet shows out of the cabin door with the satellite device! And the puppet shows without the satellite device come to think of it...)
Nicola, for publishing the blog (and editing and proofreading my exhausted brain’s tenuous output). The whole expedition, let alone the blog, couldn’t have happened without Nicola’s tireless work behind the scenes. A million thank yous from me and the crew.
The guest bloggers, for their hilarious and poignant posts (and for giving readers a break from my repetitive phraseology and dubious nautical knowledge, pretty sure I’ve used terminology from Star Trek rather than Rannoch training...). Anyway! You were all absolutely brilliant!
Louise, for cooking most of my meals and doing most of my washing up, thus enabling me to draft these blogs!!
Dawn, for looking after us all. Her inimitable energy has saved me (and the blog!) on many occasions - her reaction to exhaustion is to dance and sing with joy, and the whole crew is very grateful. She is both incredibly brave and incredibly kind and we love her dearly.
And of course, to Charlie and the whole Rannoch Adventure team for making this whole adventure possible.
Finally, I would just like to end with a thank you to the entire Roxy crew. 11 beautiful people (not counting myself as beautiful as I didn’t wash my hair for 6 weeks), expertly led by Charlie, who have absolutely changed my life. I cannot express how much I adore you guys or thank you enough for the love and kindness that you showed me and each other - I hope this has shone through in the blog. We did it!!!!!
After 42 days, 2 hours and 30 minutes, the Roxy Atlantic 2021 Crew arrived in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua.
Congratulations to the whole crew on a fantastic achievement - Charlie Pitcher, Dawn Wood, Louise Brown, Mark Collins, Ciara Burns, Sian Davies, Rupert Fenby, Sophie Hibbin, Ted Jackson, Ian 'Boris' Kentfield, Simon Lyddon and Cat Withers. They left from Marina San Miguel, Tenerife on 22 March 2021 and successfully rowed the 2600 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua on 03 May 2021.
The crew were welcomed by a flotilla of smaller boats and enjoyed a well deserved Rannoch Adventure reception at the Antigua Yacht Club.
Check out all the photos of their arrival - with thanks to legendary local photographer, Ted Martin:
We’ve only gone and caught a bloody current!!! 10+ mile shifts each time we get on the oars at the moment. (If you are watching the tracker intently, we promise we have not put the emergency motor on!!). It’s 72 miles in the last 24 (and part of that was very slow, so we are really flying now).
I woke up early (middle of the night really) Sunday absolutely exhausted and with none of the usual alacrity, I was doubtful if I could make it out on deck let alone manage a shift. This all changed as soon as I got on the oars; the conditions were fabulous.
As the shift progressed and the sky lit up with the sunrise, we were bathed in the calm colours of the dawn: pale blue, silver, pastel oranges and pinks - unbelievably soothing. A pair of seabirds whizzed by, chattering gently away to each other. A cargo ship steadily made its way across the horizon. The rowers were silent and contemplative, listening only to the peacefully repetitive sound of the blades whooshing through the water.
The rowing was uncomplicated, and the waves gently picked up the back of the boat and pushed us onward. We reached speeds of 3.5-4kts with ease, but the conditions were sedate and the waves benevolent. It was wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for better conditions for our penultimate day.
As I write toward the end of Sunday afternoon, the conditions seem to be holding, which means we should be in Antigua within 24 hours. It doesn’t seem real! Right now looking at the display, we have 60nm to go. It is going to rush by. Arg!
The next blog post I send you will (fingers crossed) be sent from dry land, and I very much look forward to writing this final post. Apparently, after you row an ocean, you don’t get a hangover when you drink. We’ll see about that...
Today marks 40 days at sea. Sort of unbelievable. I feel like an ocean rowing Jesus.
We have done 62nm in the last day, which is a little improved from the crisis shift of the day before. The total distance to Antigua is 2800 in nautical miles, and our total distance is estimated to be around 2840. For this to be within 40nm is amazing, and a real testament to Charlie and Dawn.
Since that crisis shift, and deploying a regular seaweed clearing strategy, our rowing has become more focused, more determined. Special and MASSIVE thanks to Simon, Rupert, Charlie, and Boris who dive into the ocean regularly during their shifts (including during the dead of night, when the sharks come out... da dun... da dun...) to clear seaweed from the rudder and speed us home :)
I must say, I am really exhausted. Friday night was the hardest row for me so far.
I am having some pretty unfavourable feelings towards the seaweed. It is amazing how much difference a tiny build up on the rudder makes. But when some catches your blade the extra drag and weight is so noticeable. This seaweed has become more and more of a problem in recent times in the Caribbean, due to climate change.
For a positive: Bird life is on the up as we near land, and we had a spate of intense bird activity. More and more terns(?) circle our boat and chat away to each other with voices that sound like squeaky oars. We also saw a giant dark bird soaring way way up, it looked like the bat symbol to me, but we have named it “the pterodactyl.” It has become a regular and welcomed visitor.
At one point, a whole flock of birds surrounded the boat and started attacking the water. We saw brightly coloured fish - turquoise and gold - just below the surface, far too big for the birds to have a chance, like any of us trying to eat the enormous freeze dried cottage pie. It was fantastic to see a flash of colourful wildlife in the ocean. I’m told that this was a mahi mahi, with iridescent fins that appear to shine out from the sea surface.
As we know from this trip, very surprisingly fish don’t seem to desire to stay in the ocean and the latest demonstration of this was a not-flying-fish deciding to jump on deck in the middle of the night. It was very flat and brown, quite large (about the size of a hand) and lolloped right up beside me as I was rowing. At first I didn’t notice it was a fish, just that some of the shapes on deck had changed in the dark. Then it gave a few more lacklustre flops before Simon swiftly scooped it up and placed it back into the ocean like the pro veterinarian he is. I must admit my first thought was that we should have eaten it...
There was also a huge rain shower - the biggest yet - which I was fortunate enough to experience from inside the cabin. The rowing shifts were drenched but it looked like great fun. Charlie even shouted for some shampoo.
Due to the unprecedented length of calm conditions, and hence our slower than expected progress for this row, we’ve had some concerns about the food supplies. But don’t worry about us! We’ve got plenty of additional nutrition to get us to Antigua in the form of protein shakes,
We are pretty much running on excitement and adrenaline leading up to the finish. My last supper is looking likely to be a scrambled egg, as is everyone’s! We have a lot of egg leftover... can’t imagine what the issue with freeze dried scrambled egg could be?
Wednesday into Thursday of our final week saw us cover 65nm. Our favourite daily mileage...
And good news: the boys in our cabin have found some snack packs and extra chocolate!!!!! And we’ve opened a new flavour of protein shake that is simply divine.
We also saw some terns(?) in full on display mode, diving, one caught a fish and dropped it but rapidly spun down to catch it again. There were a pair visiting us and the this is first time we’ve heard them “talk”, gently murmuring to each other on the wing.
Thursday into Friday was a different story. We had a bit of a crisis shift, only achieving 58nm. It’s been brutal on the oars, slogging it out for less than two knots - terrible déjà vu - and so close to the finish too. There are still lots of mixed emotions about finishing. Whilst I count down our mileage enthusiastically, I am no way desperate for this incredible experience to end.
We have now cleaned the boat again, which has given us a bit more speed, and someone now quickly dives under the boat every shift to clear the rudder of seaweed (I can’t believe I was ever complimentary about this stuff).
On Friday afternoon, we passed through the 200nm to go mark, cue Dairy Milk. I’ve been really buoyed and motivated by all my crew mates in these recent tough days (well, in fact throughout the whole trip, but it’s felt particularly significant of late).
With this in mind, I need to tell you all about my trainers. I caught a massive crab one day, a crab so big that it ripped the sole clean off my trainer. I had done a slapdash job repairing it with sports tape, but when that started literally falling apart, Ciara, ever resourceful, sewed my show back together with finesse I couldn’t have even managed on land. My 15 year plus year old Nike’s are now better than ever. I was going to retire them after this trip, but I think now they’ll have to stay with me as a momento (sorry, yes, that’s another pair of battered running shoes to take up space in the hallway). Thank you Ciara! :)
Mileage first: 65nm in the last 24. And passed the 300 in the evening. It’s really motivational to see a 2 in front of the distance - like entering the penultimate stage of a 5k erg test where you know you are actually going to make it!
Although we’ve been a little bereft of wildlife of late, the sunsets and sunrises have more than made up for it. Dawn and Ciara have been giving exotic names to all the colours they see out on the ocean, which is keeping us entertained. Farrow and Ball watch out.
And actually, we did have an Arctic tern try to land on the boat. It circled and circled and kept eyeing up Roxy, looking for a suitable perch. It would get within metres of extending its feet to land before bailing out and soaring back into the sky. Many of us extended our arms as potential landing sites for the tired tern, and as it hovered it really did feel like it might take up our offers. But eventually it gave up, and flew away into the distance, leaving us to row on.
Our course over the ground is really good, with Charlie and Dawn keeping it optimised, so we feel as if we are swooping into Antigua with the efficiency of our friends the seabirds (if not the speed). And even more excitingly, the boys found an undiscovered stash of snack packs and extra bars of chocolate!!! So all good on Roxy :)
Starting this blog with a huge well done to the overnight shifts, who had a mare of a time with course, waves, and conditions.
Other than the few overnight toughies, we’ve been having some nice rowing, with some better boat speed. We’ve passed the zone refereed to by Charlie as “spongey” where the seabed shallows and causes the water to become a little chaotic and messy to row through.
We are now through the 400 to go mark, with 68nm done in the last 24 - we are all very happy to see this improvement.
And another absolutely stunning sunset display over the ocean kept it all worthwhile. This time, the bright orange sun looked as if it were slowly lowering itself into the water, whereupon it bobbed up and down with the waves as it submerged.
The moon also wants in on the action: after the sunset, a deep orange moon rose in the sky opposite, broad and fiery and particularly spectacular. I had already settled in the cabin at this point when I heard cried on deck “wow look at the moon!”. Unfortunately, I had already pulled my shorts down and coated myself in Sudocrem, but such was the level of exclamation on deck that I decided it was probably worth staggering out of the cabin with my shorts around my thighs to see this moon! And I was right. I was quite proud of keeping my layer of Sudocrem, my balance, and my dignity all fully intact. (And my crew mates were not treated to two red full moons at the same time).
Welcome to what is really now our final week (fingers crossed!). Due to our slowing speed, it’s been 7 days to go for about 5 days(!) That’s been hard.
On the plus side, we are greeted with a bright, shining moon every night, as if it is guiding us into Antigua on the night shifts.
Sometimes the rowing is good, sometimes hard, but it always feels like progress.
On the minus side, my sore bum is getting worse. In fact, right now as I blog, Dawn is delicately applying cream to my sorest spots. I love the Roxy crew.
But please Spare a thought for my crew mates who are worse. We have two creams in addition to the ubiquitous Sudocrem being used for members of the sore bum club. Metanium (a thick paste for nappy rash - we have nicknamed it plutonium) and Flamazine (something for burns - also affectionately known as “flaming arse cream”)... I’m not at the flaming stage yet, but a few of the crew are. Perhaps this is a nice time to ask for readers for those sympathy charity donations?
Plop! Wriggle wriggle, and whirring akin to a strimmer on amphetamine.
I’d just started the 12-3 am shift, dressed in waterproof smock in anticipation of the usual dowsing. As an exception, I’d left the collar flap open a little for air.
It took my sleepy addled brain about a nano second to realise what had happened ......
I'm not normally a squeaky sort of a girl but from deep inside, I let out an involuntary, primal scream that covered the octaves realising that, against millions of odds, a flying fish had decided to seek refuge from some nocturnal predator inside the tiny gap left by my open collar. What are the chances?
My scream was met with cries of ‘what’s happened?‘ from my crew mates. ‘A flying fish has gone done my smock’ I cried back.
As you’d expect, much concern ensued in the form of raucous laughter.
‘It’s not f***ing funny, guys’ I said instantaneously, realising they were the wrong words to utter.
‘Yes it is‘ in unison.
‘Is the fish ok?' asked Charlie for comic effect.
‘I couldn’t give a f*** about the fish‘ came my reply.
A frantic disrobing followed, each layer coming off with care to avoid squashing my fishy companion.... flying fish smell. Nothing found with only one place to look.....
I gazed inside my bra and was met with a dead fish eye gaze back from my cleavage. One dead fish and disembodied wings scattered. Nice.
Visitor removed. What else is there to do after such a surreal encounter but keep on rowing with a resolve to never yawn with my mouth wide open again. Just in case.
Starting the next shift at 6 am, I was met with ‘Morning Fishytits’ which echoed around the boat, my new moniker. Thanks Ted, I’ve been called worse!
By Sian Davies
The hard rowing has showed with our disappointing 58nm mileage. We are all being mindful and enjoying our last week as much as we can, but it’s hard to be achieving comparatively small distance in the final stage. So close yet so far!
The winds are set to stay easterly, around 12-14kts, which is ok - could be worse!
The 500nm mark was passed at 1800 Roxy time and the chocolate made a glorious reappearance.
And of course - with full credit to the forward cabin for their immense restraint - Boris brought us all round the traditional Roxy ginger nut celebratory biscuit.
Here’s to a fantastic final week. Can’t wait to bring it home.
Phew the rowing is tough again. Devastatingly slow pace and bumpy seas in some of the worst heat yet. The highlight was a squall passing through that enabled us to lift the boat speed and get a cooling rain shower. It is great fun rowing in the pouring rain. But all in all a very hard day of rowing, very slow.
It’s not all bad news though - more acts of kindness, this time in the form of Ted bringing tea out for the rowers. As we are now out of Marvel milk powder, tea has to be black. I ponder, when we run out of milk at home, having to drink a black tea is an intolerable tragedy that even has the potential to bring me to tears. Here on Roxy, that black tea was so much desired and so very appreciated.
We uncovered a new vein of freeze dried meals stocked in the lockers. I tried a salmon and potato with dill sauce and it was sublime. Whilst fantasy about food in Antigua and UK continues, I will continue to enjoy these freeze dried delights - there are some odd combinations I’ve come to love on board. Bovril and Tabasco scrambled egg anyone?
Well, today was a tremendous day.
Having spent the last month and a bit at sea at the rowing positions nearer the bow... (that’s the pointy end of the boat at the front but because we sit backwards we all still get a bit confused) basically being used as human ballast on account of my being ever so slightly heavier than the others (muscle weighs more than fat) I was called aft... the other end.... the back... but we still think it’s the front because of the way we are facing... you get the picture? It’s confusing!!
Anyway, I digress, as I was saying I was called to row in the port side... that’s the right or the left side depending on which way you’re facing and I never get which one it is but luckily there’s a big red P painted on that side so I knew where to go.
So I was called to row in the stroke position on the port side which basically made me the most important person on the boat as I was the one everyone else had to follow.
It is as close to being captain of the boat as you can get and I’m pretty sure I was asked to take this position because of all the fantastic leadership skills I have shown in the last month. I feel it's the same as being made a prefect but they still haven’t given me the tie or badge yet... I won’t complain as they probably have a little ceremony planned for me at the appropriate time.
So, in essence and all but in name I am now commander of this vessel so I don’t really have time to write much more but I felt it important that the folks back home were informed of my promotion to Admiral of the fleet in order that I be shown the respect I deserve when we arrive in Antigua.
The crew here bow their heads in deference to me and when I issue an order they respond with ‘Aye aye Cap’n’ which is nice.
Right, I have things to do. Where’s my cabin boy?
By Ted Jackson
Mileage! Our absolute obsession at the moment: 640 to go as I come off shift, just after 1030 Roxy time.
As I step (or rather, wobble) out of the cabin, in the dark, to row the dramatic, churning seas where it feels like rowing is less a sport than an act of hanging on for dear life, a question suddenly drops into my mind: “I hope the return to reality doesn’t feel empty after this”.
I’m sure it won’t, but I can understand how we were warned how much this journey can change you. Nothing I’ve done in life really compares to it. The constant, relentless exhaustion and strain but the strength that materialises to get on and go out to perform and do something truly extraordinary every single day. I am profoundly amazed by how our bodies and minds are coping.
And everyone around you is also in the same situation, going through the same strife, all rowing for each other and blessing each other with simple acts of kindness and love - each gesture magnified thousand-fold by the context of our situation.
Now, after the serious emotional content, I’d like to tell you that today I was woken up by being thrown into the air across the cabin. I landed on Dawn but to be fair she didn’t react. With the dramatic wake up out of the way, I sought out a flask of coffee I had prepared earlier I tried to take a sip but of course because this is an ocean rowing boat, it just poured down my face and leg. This might have annoyed me under normal circumstances, but on Roxy I simply rubbed the coffee in, mixing with the salt on my skin to form what I like to think of as a luxury coffee-salt scrub. Let nobody say there is a lack of opulence on this boat...
I hope you have been enjoying the ‘guest’ blogs from the amazing crew. It somehow seems so sudden to me that we are so near the end and there’s only a handful more blogs to write.
It’s mixed feelings about the end on the boat. The unique context in which we find ourselves will be hard to leave, but we are all so looking forward to achieving our goal, and definitely some basic comforts. Also I’m asking big questions such as how am I going to even out my tan lines?!
The waves continue to torment us with intermittent soakings. There are some real debates about how to dress for each shift; despite the sweltering heat a pair of waterproof salopettes can save you a drenching. The dream team of Simon, Ciara, and Cat were merrily rowing along after one such debate - Ciara ending up in salopettes and Cat without - when the inevitable wave attacked the starboard side of the boat. Simon reacted with his classic entertaining full body grimace, but the water mostly dumped on Ciara and Cat.
“I’m so glad I’m wearing my salopettes” chimed Ciara.
“I’m so glad I’m wearing mine(!)” followed Cat, in her now soaking wet very not waterproof leggings, with a big smile on her face. I should add that Cat is always smiling, even after her mega-drenching the other day. We love her :)
Louise will not entertain such debates and will wear her salopettes for (almost) every shift. We think we’ll have to give her pair an honorary award at the end of the trip - they’ve put in more shifts than most of the crew as they were lent out at one point!
And just to round off with some figures, Thursday lunchtime miles were 2115 and we rowed 75 in the last 24. Good stuff.
And to read about the Sore Bum Club, check out the blog entry for Day 31.
I'm Dawn and I am helping Charlie lead this expedition. It’s currently Friday 23rd April 2021 and we have about a week left to go, so I thought I would share some thoughts with you.
In 2019 I rowed solo across the Atlantic on a very similar route. Rowing solo was an incredible experience and I never imagined rowing as a crew could compare, however I have been proven wrong.
The sense of accomplishment doing something on your own is incredible, but I have also now seen the value of teamwork and being able to ask others for help and advice. Everyone on board has an amazing skill set to bring to the table so there hasn't been a problem either boat or personal related that can’t be solved.
Friendship is another bonus of a crew expedition - we started the journey as strangers but we are nearing the end of this adventure as life long friends. Sharing experiences has got to be one of the biggest bonuses. I saw some incredible wildlife during my solo row, but only have photos to share, this time I have others to reminisce and smile with when we think of the day a huge pod of whales came to visit us.
As we enter the final week, I will be encouraging the crew to take in every moment. This is a life changing experience and every second of it should be enjoyed.
Look up at the stars at night and store in your memory the amazing light show - you may even see a shooting star to wish upon. Take in the sunset and sunrise - they happen every day of our lives, but it’s rare that we take to time to appreciate the beauty of them. Breathe in the sea air and store the memory for when you need to take time out when back in the real world. Watch the sea birds or, if you're lucky sea life - consider where the animal has been, where it is going and maybe if you are the only human being to have seen them.
Remember that you can achieve great things. Every person at some point on the row may have thought they could not carry on. But carry on they did.
See you in Antigua!
By Dawn Wood
To follow on from a couple of great days, I had an atrocious night of sleep and was very tired coming out to row on Wednesday morning. This was primarily due to a common affliction in the boat at the moment - I have become a fully fledged member of the Sore Bum Club. Conditions for membership include a very painful bum due to numbness, salt water rash, bruising, or a combination of the three and there must generally be a significant, mountainous spot or spots around the seating area, preferably cratered and inflamed in some way (sorry).
I am nowhere near the worst (best?!) member of the Sore Bum Club, but mine is bad enough to stop me from sleeping on it (although mercifully, it does not hurt when I have settled in to row). It does add another dimension to the already nearly impossible task of undertaking daily chores in the cabin, when you can’t even sit on your bum!
But there’s always some small act of kindness from a crew mate to take your mind off your exhaustion. It is incredible how significant tiny gestures such as the offering of a sip of drink or the sharing of a sweet have become. It feels like the best Christmas and birthday gifts all rolled into one when someone hands you a murky instant coffee, contained in the rotting remains of a Marvel milk powder tin, falling apart at the rim, so you can have one tiny sip whilst rowing in the dead of night, before passing it on to the next rower. Life is good.
Another great rowing day: 84 nm in the last 24 hours, and we’ve smashed through the sub 900 nm point, having 860 nm to go when I recorded it at 11.00.
I am so amazingly proud of all the crew. We are suffering huge deficits in sleep, and a massive oversupply of pain - I mentioned heroic shifts on the oars before and I really believe all my crew mates are heroes to get up and row each and every shift, and look after each other so beautifully.
I am still beleaguered by the screen showing our speed, but now it reminds me of those traffic calming measures where you get a sad face for going over 20mph. I picture a sad face if we are under 3 kts, which has strangely cheered me up.
And remember that seaweed I was enamoured with yesterday? Well it’s getting very annoying - it gets so dense and tangles on our dagger board (a contraption like a fin that sticks out of the bottom of the boat to give us stability) such that the drag is dramatically increased and we have to raise the dagger board regularly to detach the seaweed.
We are getting more practiced at rowing in the big and variable conditions - I mentioned previously about not worrying about keeping in time, but of course we always focus somewhat on our timing, it's just that the focus shifts with the conditions. The stroke seats at the back of the boat (which will always be the front to me!!) set the rhythm, usually the port side but sometimes starboard, if that’s where the weather is coming from. It is usually very important to keep time with your opposite number; on Roxy we sit in three pairs. When the conditions are very unpredictable, then timing with the other side stops being the priority and we have to work with those behind and in front, and crucially with the waves. Working the rhythm of rowing to the waves can be quite frankly exasperating, but when it goes right it feels sublime. “Yes I am an awesome ocean rower!!” I think to myself in such moments, before I catch a crab and it all comes crashing down... :)
We have officially hit 4 weeks at sea! And we’ve done 82 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. The conditions are lovely and relaxing, with good speed for low effort - beautiful rowing!
It’s strange, because the waves are really quite big and potentially scary, but being repeatedly confronted with lorry to house sized walls of water just feels like a normal part of life. It actually feels a little audacious - and I have laughed to myself at the reality of our setting. To put your blade into the top of a massive wave and row; how insignificant I am compared to the ocean but what else can I do but take a stroke in the vertiginous water?
A new feature has appeared in our lives this week: long lines of seaweed that stretch out like a footpath as far as we can see. I like this seaweed - it’s golden yellow and reminds me of mistletoe, very aesthetic as far as seaweed is concerned. I also love the way it stretches out in long lines, so that we feel as if we are following the yellow seaweed road all the way to Antigua. There is the occasional sea turtle under the seaweed, or at least the occasional sea turtle shaped seaweed mass. We hang on to the former.
Today is another clean t-shirt Monday for me - there might be only one more clean t-shirt Monday left of the expedition, which is a problem as I have negative four clean t-shirts. Not too keen on doing any more laundry in the waves either... watch this space for cleanliness updates.
Can I invite you to line up three chairs by your dining room table, and now climb under your table. This space, roughly 1.5m height, 2.5m long, 1.5m wide is now home for the next 30-40 days.
This is your kitchen, sleeping, eating, resting, storage for personal possessions, dry clothing and wet clothing. Oh, and did I mention there are three of you here at a time! At the moment I have one applying Sudocrem to various parts of his anatomy whilst I make up breakfast and another tries to sleep.
After three hours, you can get up and sit in the chairs for another three hours, rocking backwards and forwards as though rowing. If someone can throw a bucket of water over you and try to push you over it’ll be so much more realistic. Three hours later, wet and exhausted, crawl back under the table, try to eat, and then sleep, before doing it all again.
ROW EAT SLEEP REPEAT. It is relentless. It is exhausting. And yet, as I prepare to go on shift at dawn on day 30 I realise that I’m looking forward to it.
It is a privilege to be here, to see the raw power and ferocity of the ocean, also to see its beauty, breakers heading towards you with crystal clear tops, 360 degrees of nothing but miles of deep blue. A few seabirds are seen, flying fish skim by, and the occasional turtle and pods of dolphins.
The rowing, despite now having hands that have blistered, calloused, blistered, calloused and are blistering again, a bum with salt sores that make it look like a topographical map of the alps, and feet that are rotting away from being constantly wet, it is strangely satisfying.
I have 40 wet wipes to see me through all washing and ablution needs for the next 10 days. I am content. I have a great sense of personal achievement and fulfilment. And I am looking forward to that first beer in Antigua!
By Ian Kentfield (Boris)
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!
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 :)
By Mark Collins
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 :)
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!
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!
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.
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!!!
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.
By Louise Brown
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!
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?
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 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!
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.