It’s been a busy few weeks filled with adventures and inspiration. I spent two weeks after Easter out in Slovenia with a team of 13/14 yr olds with True Adventure. We went trekking, helped the rangers in the Trigalav National Park, went white water rafting and cycling and explored cities and castles. The students were in charge of organising the group, the budget and the food. This trip reminded me why I love working with young people. Over the 14 days I watched them learn to work together as a team. Some of them have cooked for the first time and while initially I might have missed the days of rehydrated beef curry, now I would (almost) happily be catered for by them every day. For a lot of them it was the first time they had to be independent and it’s great to see them have their first taste of adventure. They asked me about the row a lot and it’s fun to share stories and to show how the things they learned on this expedition will stand them in good stead whatever they choose to do in the future.
Over the last two days I have been lucky enough to have been inspired by the team, athletes and young people from the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust at their annual team days. The charity uses world class athletes to mentor and inspire young people through their programs to develop five key attributes, focus, resilience, motivation, confidence and determination. Their work enriches the lives of both the young people faced with disadvantage and the athletes. During the two days the different regions around the country celebrated the achievements of the last year and were pitted against each other in fiercely competitive outdoor and indoor activities. Workshops also enabled the athletes, young people and partners of the trust to brainstorm ways to improve on the incredible impact the Trust has. I will be joining the Giveback team of athletes and am looking forward to learning more about the programs themselves. Needless to say I felt a little bit of a fraud surrounded by so many elite athletes but despite arriving on Monday morning knowing nobody I was welcomed into the extended family who like our family out on the ocean all share key values and a vision of what they want to achieve.
On Thursday I am off to St Pirans School to speak to them about the row and our values of SPIRIT. I am passionate about passing on the lessons of the row to young people and have a number of schools talks lined up. If your school is interested in a motivational speaker then get in touch at email@example.com.
During the Night of Adventure evening which we spoke at a couple of weeks ago Al Hunphries gave everyone some advice about taking on their own adventures. He also gave his answer as to whether you should travel alone or as a team and concluded that if you wanted more of a challenge you should take on a solo adventure whereas to make it easier you should go as part of a team. Having been a part of the Coxless crew for 3 years now I don’t agree. I believe that our biggest challenges whilst rowing the Pacific where not the challenges which the ocean could throw at us but how we pulled together to deal with them. It was not the isolation from the outside world which was such a challenge as living in such close proximity with each other. Fortunately we didn’t underestimate these challenges and with the help of Keith formed a strong team who could work together drawing on each persons strengths and getting the best out of each other. I believe that one of the greatest successes of the row is that we have stepped off the boat as friends having achieved what we set out to do.
So as the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
This week has been a busy one for sharing our story at a lot of exciting places. First up was Saturday when Laura and I attended the Rotary District 1090 conference. The Marlow Rotary clubs have been incredibly supportive of the row and it was nice to share our journey with their wider family. The spirit of Rotary where people come together to have a positive impact on their communities as well as across the world shone through the day and we were also lucky enough to hear from some other inspiring speakers. The collection for the event was in aid of our charities Breast Cancer Care and Walking With The Wounded and thanks to the generosity of the 700 delegates we raised a huge £1600.
Next up was Tuesday’s ‘Night of Adventure’ hosted by Al Humphries and with a host of adventurous speakers. With only 400 seconds and 20 slides allowed for each presentation it was a challenge for everyone. For us it meant that the 5 of us only got 80 seconds each and teamwork was essential. Next time we need Lizanne here for a minute each! It was an inspiring and entertaining night and we were so glad to have been invited to be a part of it.
Finally tonight, 10 years after I won my boat race Izzy and I headed to London to speak to the Cambridge University Women’s Boatclub crews who are into the last 10 days before their big race. We met some of them before we left last year and it was great to share our success and stories with them and reminisce about our days training in Ely. I am really excited to watch them race in Easter Sunday against Oxford.
If you, your company or your school are interested in having us speak then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last week has been a busy one. On Wednesday morning LP and I headed over to GSK to be a part of their first monthly podcast. We got to talk about the testing we have done with the team at the Human Performance Lab before, during and after the row. We are really excited to see the full results once all the analysis of our body composition and saliva testing has been completed.
After enjoying a lovely lunch with the HPL team I headed down the M4 to Bath to catch up with Keith for a full psych debrief. It was great to see him and to talk about the row with someone who has been there supporting us since the start and who we owe a lot of our success to. Before we left the UK I said that the row would only be a success for me if we got off the boat still friends and the fact that we have is definitely down to all the mental preparation and psych input that we had before we left.
I also got to spend time catching up with some good friends and spend some time walking in the beautiful countryside around my house. My legs are finally feeling stronger and I managed a couple of longer walks and to hike up some hills.
Finally at the weekend I found myself back in a boat for the first time since getting off Doris. I had planned to meet the Marlow womens squad for breakfast but as always seems to happen when I visit Marlow Rowing Club I ended up on the water. My lovely friend Tamsin took me for a paddle in a double and put up with my slightly wobbly rowing after so long in the stable Doris. It was lovely to be back on the river and even lovelier to see everyone at the club who are all so supportive.
The week was finished up yesterday with our first team Skype since arriving home and plans are afoot for reaching our fundraising target so stay posted for more news.
Tonight was an exciting night as Megs, LP and I met up in London to attend the UK premiere of The Finest Hours. Looking a lot more glamorous than we are used to seeing each other we turned up at The Ham Yard Hotel where we were photographed and interviewed on the red carpet before enjoying champagne and canapés. Then we headed into the screening where one of the stars of the film Holliday Grainger told us a l ittle about the making of the film before we settled down to enjoy the drama. The film is about what is still the greatest small boat rescue in coast guard history. A crew of four set out in the 12 man coastguard boat in a huge storm to help men stuck in the stern of a tanker which has split in half. Despite loosing their compass they manage to find the ship and rescue the 32 men left on board. Watching their small boat battle through the huge waves brought back memories of the bad weather which we encountered on Doris and made us appreciate how sturdy and safe she felt in the waves. It also made us appreciate the mild Pacific weather after watching them put in the snow, rain and crashing waves without even any proper waterproofs. All in all a great evening and thanks so much to Premiere Comms for inviting us.
It has all been a bit of a whirlwind since touching down in the UK and there still hasn’t really been time to let it all sink in. It has been amazing to finally be at home with my family and have the chance to switch off and relax a bit. After such a long time isolated out on the ocean I have a stinking cold and my attempts to head out into the green countryside have been slightly hampered by weak legs and painful shin splints from walking on solid ground again. However the magic of being home is already working to help me feel better and we have given ourselves a couple of weeks to rest and recover properly at home before regrouping to crack on with our fundraising efforts. Who knows I may even venture back out in a boat at Marlow Rowing Club at some point soon. I am also job hunting and open to any exciting opportunities so if anyone has any good ideas then let me know! Personally I am hoping to visit schools around the country to talk to them about the row and what I have learnt from it and to encourage them to get involved in our charity fundraising as well as challenges of their own. Anyone who wants to get involved please get in touch at email@example.com.
As we (very slowly today) approach Cairns and our final miles aboard our beautiful Doris who has been our protector and our home for the last 9 months, I was reminiscing about the first time that she touched the water and began her adventures. At the time we were reluctant to share the full details of this exciting day as we didn’t want current or potential sponsors to doubt our boat handling abilities but since we have now navigated our way across almost 8,500nm of the worlds largest ocean I think there can no longer be any questions about our ocean rowing skills and therefore I wanted to share where it all began.
It was mid December 2013 and three aspiring ocean rowers arrived at Rossiters boat yard in Christchurch to take their first oar strokes in their beautiful pink ocean rowing boat Doris. I had been a part of the Coxless Crew for almost four months and had seen Doris go from being a pink hull sitting on blocks in the shed to becoming a fully fledged ocean going boat with hatches on her cabins, a rowing setup on her deck and the start of her electrics box in the aft cabin. During the week we had finally heard from Cris Rossiter that he would be putting Doris on the water for us ready for the weekend so that we could go for our first paddle. It was a breezy day but after assessing the conditions we decided that it was nothing we couldn’t cope with. Laura, myself and Natalie Miles who at the time was part of the team were excited and after getting everything organised we set off with Natalie and myself on the oars and Laura stood on the deck in front of us navigating. In all the excitement of our first few strokes Laura got a little carried away taking photos and by the time she looked up we were very close to a very shiny and expensive looking boat as we tried to make it round the first corner. Fortunately we pushed off with our hands and got away without causing any damage. As we emerged from the narrow channel of the boat yard there was another 90 degree corner to navigate. It was at approximately this point that it occurred to us that we had no ballast on board. We also had no dagger board. We were effectively rowing a 29ft lilo out into Christchurch bay on a breezy Saturday. Needless to say we ended up wedged between a tree and a signpost as we rounded the corner. As we attempted to free ourselves a dragon boat came round the corner with its whole crew wearing Santa hats and as they waved and wished us merry Christmas we tried to nonchalantly look like we were deliberately taking a short break near the bank. Finally free, we continued out into the bay with only a couple of close encounters with the well known mud flats of Christchurch.
Laura and I were on the oars and making good progress but as we reached the more open area we could feel the wind picking up. We were enjoying ourselves so much that maybe we waited for slightly too long before deciding that it would probably be best to turn around and head back to more sheltered waters. When we went to turn the boat we just couldn’t do it. Despite rowing as hard as we could and even getting two of us on one set of oars we still couldn’t get Doris to move past 90 degrees as the wind blew us rapidly towards the breakwater. Not wanting to get swept out to sea it was time to put our backup plan into action. Our options were basically to call the Coastguards or to call a lovely guy called Mark who we had met the previous week at Christchurch Rowing Club. We decided that on balance it would be less embarrassing to call Mark than the Coastguards so LP gave him a call from the aft cabin. Cue a hilarious conversation where LP started a chat about how we were taking Doris out for our first paddle and how we were wondering if he was around at the rowing club just in case and finished with asking him for a tow. Fortunately he arrived in the rowing club’s coaching launch before we were swept out to sea and we threw him a rope so he could help us turn around. Once we reached the more sheltered part of the bay we thought we would be ok and so Mark threw us the rope and we started to row. However within about 30 seconds we were stuck in the mud and LP had to get out and try to push us off the bank. After getting pretty wet we decided to admit defeat and accept a tow all the way back to the boat yard. With Doris safely moored up again we could reflect on the lessons learnt from our first rowing experience and ensure that the next time LP and I took Doris for a paddle it would be a far more successful exercise.
UPDATE: We are currently headed slightly North towards our final waypoint before we hit the Great Barrier Reef. This is in anticipation of hitting a strong southerly current shortly before reaching the entrance to Grafton Passage which we will pass through to reach Cairns.
Last night a boobie landed on Nats’ head while she was rowing!
It is 6.30am and I am dragged from a too deep sleep by the rowers outside waking us up for our first row shift of the new day. It is already hot and stuffy in the cabin and I can’t wake up enough to speak to Nats who is in there with me while I pull on my smelly, salty rowing kit and drag myself out on to the oars. I am steering. LP hands over to me telling me that we are still in a strong southerly current and that constant steering is required to zig zag towards our destination. Nats and I start rowing at 70%. It is time to start pushing ourselves in every session as we need to reach land before we run out of food or hit any bad weather. Holding a good course is especially important at the moment as we approach a narrow gap between reefs. After half an hour we are still not able to get our speed above 1kt and I am getting increasingly frustrated with this and the steering which is swinging around by up to 100 degrees in a few strokes. I want to get to Australia. Our parents are there waiting for us and we have been out here far longer than we ever expected. We row hard, at 90%, for two lots of 15mins, legs burning, the water feeling like concrete. It makes at most 0.2kts difference to our speed. This feels like so little that it is hardly even worth the effort but it is at this point where we need every little bit of speed or extra mile so we do the second 15mins.
The end of the two hour shift approaches. Usually this would mean retiring to the cabin for two hours, getting some well earned food and then having a stretch out and rest. However today I need to stay out on deck in the sunshine which is already burning despite it only being 8.30am and make water for an hour using our hand pump. Our batteries are slowly charging up but we still don’t have enough power to run our electric water maker and there is no way of knowing how much longer we will need to be hand pumping. I get off the rowing seat and into the water making seat, drop the tubes over board and start pumping. My arms and shoulders are burning and I have to change arms every few minutes. After a while I get into a rhythm and it becomes almost therapeutic and the bonus is that I get to spend time with LP and Megs who I am not on shift with. We manage to have a giggle and the hour passes.
It is time to swap places with Nats who comes out to make water while I head inside for some food. By the time I have made food and eaten half my rest hour has disappeared and I still have to write a blog. I have barely started when it is time to don the sweaty kit and return to the oars. This time we manage to hold a speed just over one knots for most of the session. This is a relief but at this point in the journey with following winds and a south westerly current we should be travelling much faster at around two knots. None of us can understand why despite the fact that we are working so hard we are still crawling along. However a good opportunity arises for Nat, LP and I to be together on deck while LP makes water and share our frustrations and reflections on our 9 month journey and how to make our last week or so a positive experience.
Again instead of heading to the cabin at the end of the row shift I am back on the water maker. The midday sun is draining me of any remaining energy and I am feeling jaded to say the least. I pump continuously and a tiny trickle of water emerges from M-ROD. By the end of the hour I have only just filled a single water container. However the song game passes the time and provides entertainment and we are all glad that nobody can hear us sing out here. Another short hour of rest races by, sweating and trying to finish my blog while eating a chicken korma. Then it is back to the oars for another shift where the ocean feels like treacle and I wish I couldn’t see the deck repeater which shows our speed and direction. At the end of the shift we have moved less than two miles closer to Cairns and I am feeling dispirited. Making water with the hand pump is slow so we don’t have enough water for a proper wash. A quick rinse of the bits and pits and wipe off of the worst of the salt before heading to the cabin for our first sleep shift.
The cabins are unbearably hot after a hot day and the sun is still pouring in. Nat and I split up so that we have a bit more space to sweat in and I head to the forecabin. I lie on my towel and try to employ mindfulness to relax but I know that I will never sleep in this heat. I try to lie as still as possible and rest my muscles. Eventually I start to drift off and almost immediately LP is opening the hatch and calling me. It is time to row. Again. The salt sores on my bum hurt and I can’t find a comfortable way to sit and the salt in my clothes is making me itchy. However the sun is setting and it is my favourite time of day on Doris. The temperature cools to a comfortable warmth and the light is beautiful. The sun sets in a glow of orange behind us and the sky in front of us glows pink with grey clouds. The beauty still takes my breath away and all of a sudden I’m not in such a rush to get to land. Even our speed seems to have picked up a little.
The second sleep shift is much cooler and I am quickly snoozing happily. It feels like only seconds before it is time to drag myself awake again but it is cool and not splashy so I don’t even have to put on my crusty jacket. Our speed has slowed to less than 1 knot again. The current is stronger or we are more tired and we have to push hard through the pitch black night. The wind has picked up making it hard to hear my rowing partner so there is minimal conversation as a distraction so we eat ginger nuts to cheer ourselves up.
Third sleep shift next and it feels like I haven’t even closed my eyes before Nat is nudging me to get moving and get dressed. The final night shift is always the worst, I am sleepy and time seems to drag. We fall asleep for the final time and when we wake the sun has risen and a new day has begun. It’s been 9 months and ocean rowing hasn’t become any easier. I will never take fresh water or sleep for granted again but I have learnt a lot about myself and how not to let the frustration take over. I couldn’t imagine doing this on my own and it is the strength and support of our team and the sharing of our frustrations and tears which has got us all through this. Despite the tough times I feel sure that it is not the frustration but the magical moments on the Pacific with these special girls which I will carry with me forever.
Since leaving San Francisco in the early hours of the morning on 20th April 2015 and rowing out under the Golden Gate Bridge we have covered a huge 8115nm. With only 452nm to go until we reach Cairns and our final destination where we will step off Doris for the final time, we have completed over 94.7% of our journey. Now the challenge is to keep focused and stay safe as we navigate through and around some Cayes and reefs before approaching the Great Barrier Reef and finally Cairns.
Yesterday saw an invasion of our little blue bubble of Pacific by no less than 6 cargo ships. The first passed us during the night. The second came within a mile of us, approaching as Megs and I sat on the oars on the sunrise shift. As dawn broke the sound of the boat, which was an enclosed cargo ship and strongly resembled the kind of boat a child has in their bathtub, reached us across the still and silent ocean and the dark shadow came closer and closer. As he passed us he tooted his horn in greeting. During the afternoon and evening another three boats passed close to us. Having a chat to them over our VHF radio is great fun and the experience often makes our entire day. Megs and I spotted a final boat in our middle night shift, seeing its lights on our starboard side as it passed parallel to us. LP brought me some PG Tips teabags for a Christmas present and Megs and I have been enjoying a taste of home on the oars under the starry sky.
We have also been seeing more signs of life in the skies at night, spotting more than one plane on each of the last three nights. It is exciting after so long to feel like there are other people out here with us but it also feels like a little bit of an invasion of our personal space after feeling like we’ve had the ocean to ourselves for so long.
The way that the ocean shifts and changes so much still astounds me. After a few days of glassy silent water and burning heat the wind picked up steadily over last night and the waves returned. This is good news for us as this wind is blowing us towards Australia at an average speed of over 2kts and is set to stay for at least a few days. We are taking advantage of it while it is still here and pushing on hard towards our next waypoint which is just north of Observatory Cay about 80nm from our current position.