I think the quote below sums up our team perfectly. The six of us are each different, with different outlooks, different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and weaknesses, different likes and dislikes. And that is what made us such a great team. We used our diversity to make the team stronger than its individual parts.
This week’s blog theme is frustration. There was plenty of this on our journey, both on the way to the start line and on the water.
One particular example was our struggle to get off the Californian coast and on our way to Hawaii. We spent 10 days battling through strong winds and large swells pushing us South towards Mexico. Everything was new to us, and the sea sickness wasn’t helping! But then it happened, we finally started to make progress West. Unfortunately, just as we did, some water damage meant that we lost the ability to charge our Victron batteries using our Solbian solar panels and we had to make the difficult decision to row 6 days back into shore to Santa Barbara to repair the damage. To say it was frustrating was an understatement. We had started our journey after years of preparation and were finally feeling that we had started to get to grips with the challenging conditions, and then we had to turn around, row back in and do a re-start.
I am really proud of the way that we dealt with this situation as a team. We accepted the decision and decided to put the frustration behind us, re-focuss and make the most of the opportunity. We took advantage of the time on land to repair the damage to Doris and make other tweaks to her and our kit. By staying focussed on the bigger picture, we transformed the frustration into a positive and left Santa Barbara feeling prepared and re-energised, ready to make it to Hawaii.
Yesterday Natalia, Emma, Laura, Izzy and Lizanne (via Skype) headed to near Bradford upon Avon to spend the day with Keith, our team psychologist (of Zeus Performance Psychology). We were hosted by Keith at his beautiful home and spent the day looking ahead at “stage 3″ of the row project. Among other things, we considered what we want to achieve as a team in the coming months, our team dynamics now that we are back on dry land, and what we each want to take from the row individually going forward.
At lunch time, we got the chance to catch up with Keith’s wife Helen and daughter Eloise (nearly 3 now) and Pam, Helen’s mother. As is always the case when we meet as a team and meet with Keith, we talked all day and could have kept going long after we had to leave! Thanks to Keith, we left the session with more clarity and focus.
Tomorrow we have another team catch up. Among other things, we will be polishing our presentation for the Night of Adventure that we are speaking at tomorrow night. It’s a great line up of speakers and we are really excited to be among them.
Today was a team day. We met up with Andrew Duncan of New Level Results, who we have worked with since the planning stages of our row project (see Nat’s earlier blog) The Best Year Yet programme was instrumental in helping us set clear guidelines and goals to get us to the start line and then to use on the water. Today was an opportunity to reflect on what has gone before and to set up a new team plan for the next stage of our row as we continue with our fundraising and sharing our story.
Lizanne joined us by Skype from Cape Town and we were kindly hosted at the offices of Breast Cancer Care. We started by taking the time to do a debrief about the team’s time on the water. We listed our individual and team accomplishments and disappointments and what lessons we can learn from them going forward. In the afternoon, we made a start on our plan for the post-row world. What do we want to achieve in the the next six months? What is our plan for continuing to raise money for our charities, Walking With The Wounded and Breast Cancer care? Who will be responsible for what? How are we going to balance this with our personal and work lives? It was a great brainstorming session and we now have a clear Best Year Yet plan to work to going forward.
At lunchtime, we were able to share our story with the staff and volunteers of Breast Cancer Care. We were joined by the team in the London office and conferenced in the teams in Sheffield and Glasgow. We ran them through the highs and lows of life on the ocean, shared some photos, and answered their questions about our journey. Breast Cancer Care have been so supportive of our journey and it was wonderful to meet so many of the wider team face to face.
All in all, it was another busy, but productive day and, as always, great to have the whole team together (using the power of the Internet).
Along our journey (to the start line and on the water), we have been constantly surprised by the generosity and enthusiasm to share our adventure that people have shown. One example is the lovely Emma of Doris and Co. Doris and Co sell beautiful English creamware pottery and homeware under the tag line “made of stern stuff”. Emma contacted us while we were on the water during our first leg and kindly offered to donate £5 from the sale of each of her signature Doris mugs to our charities, Walking With The Wounded and Breast Cancer Care, for which we and our charities are extremely grateful.
On return to the UK, we were all delighted to receive our own Doris mug each, a wonderful reminder of the support that we have received. If you would like to buy a signature Doris- made of stern stuff – mug, you can do so here.
The real Doris is currently making her way back from Australia, thanks to Transglobal Express. We have just discovered that she is likely to arrive on Easter Monday!
This week I’m lucky enough to be writing my blog from Chamonix in the French Alps. I’ve always been happiest when in the mountains and Chamonix is one of my favourite places, so it is great to be out here spending a week off work. Today we had incredible conditions and great skiing up on the Vallee Blanche below Mont Blanc. Last time I was here was before the row and it feels really fantastic to be back in the mountains again. As much as I loved seeing the ocean in all its different lights during the row, I will definitely always be a mountain person, more than an ocean person.
I am here with my family – my parents, two sisters, brother in law, my younger sister’s boyfriend, and my nephew Hugo. It is wonderful spending some proper time with Hugo. He is nearly 9 months old now and it seems like a very long time ago that we received a message on our sat phone aboard Doris in the middle of the Pacific saying that he had been born!
I thought I’d use my blog this week to explain what it was like to see the rest of the team again after so long.
I last saw Laura, Nats, Ems and Lizanne in Hawaii at the end of July and Meg before she headed off to Samoa in November. Although I have spoken to them all during that time, actually seeing Laura, Nats, Ems and Meg walk through arrivals at Heathrow on Tuesday was a wonderful moment, although rather surreal. The rest of our week was extremely busy with media and team commitments. It was great to be together again, although Lizanne’s presence was very much missed. One of the highlights was being able to catch up with her briefly on Skype (we took a mini tour of her flat in South Africa and met her housemates, all while we were sitting at a computer in the canteen of the offices of The Times!).
In the midst of the media frenzy, it was difficult to relax and catch up properly with the girls. It felt rather like a return to the time before we set off from San Francisco when we were running around trying to get the project to the start line. This, combined with the fact that we are such good friends that it immediately felt like they had never been away, had the bizarre effect at times of making it feel like the row never happened at all! But then at other times, I would say something and be faced with a row of blank faces looking back at me and it would really bring home to me just how long Laura, Nat and Ems in particular have been away from the ‘real world’ for. Although we were really grateful for the messages we received on the boat with updates on world news, it is difficult to keep a track of everything when you’re out on the ocean. So, over the last few days, I have (rather poorly) provided potted summaries of some of the world news from the last 10 months: the refugee crisis, Bolt v Gatlin, the junior doctor strikes, the Paris attacks, the Rugby World Cup, the new Bond film, even Justin Beiber’s comeback and “who is Jeremy Corbyn?“.
“I’m doing a Skype interview today for a Pacific Row expedition”. How do you feel when your daughter makes this announcement?! You hope more than anything that she won’t be successful. This is not how mothers should respond. When she tells you, after a gruelling assessment weekend in the Brecon Beacons, that she has been selected to join the crew, you cannot start to be pleased. I don’t want to dwell on the nightmares that followed. The times I just burst into tears when I despaired about her decision and hated myself for not being able to accept her plans. So how did I go from this state of despair to following and supporting Doris on every nautical mile of the girls’ fantastic journey?
I think the key to my complete change of perspective was slowly learning to release my fears. Isabel gradually told us facts about the planning and the team of rowers and supporting professionals. With trepidation, I went to St Katherine’s dock to meet the girls and Doris. The 29 foot boat was hardly visible among the yachts she was moored alongside. I found it hard to talk to others there, but chats with Anne, Natalia’s mother, and the girls started to open my mind to understand their plans and aspirations. I then spent a dreadfully wet day down at Rossiters boatyard helping Isabel and Tony pack up Doris into her container to start the first leg of her journey to San Francisco. It was clear that the Coxless Crew were in good hands and the input of everyone to get them to this moment was highly professional and experienced. I began to gain confidence and belief in the safety and success of their journey. As Isabel and I drove home I realised I had reached the moment I knew I had to accept that the adventure would go ahead and I would try to support Isabel in any way I could. A lunch to meet all the other parents, with Tony and Keith there with us, confirmed my acceptance. Being Mothers’ Day too highlighted it more for me. The knowledge that other parents would support each other was fundamental in seeing how we could and would all cope. Only they could fully understand my worries and help me in the next few months. As it turned out, many friends helped me along the miles to Hawaii and shared with John and my celebrations when Isabel arrived safely. They still, like me, follow Doris every inch of her journey to Cairns.
So to the unforgettable week in San Francisco, where Isabel’s enthusiasm and excitement made me feel very proud of her and all the crew. The start line was before them. The image I will take from the day they left was Isabel, with head torch on, packing the last of her belongings at 2.00am smiling uncontrollably with the excitement of rowing off under the Golden Gate Bridge to take on the Pacific and everything it was to throw at them. The silence that followed in the parents’ car as we stopped on the bridge, looked out to the blackness of the Ocean and watched Doris’s tiny light disappear into the arms of the Pacific, was something else.
UPDATE: Last night we experienced the biggest seas we have rowed in so far. The swell was huge and full concentration was required for steering. However we have been making great progress with Nat and I travelling 7nm in one 2hr shift. We have been told by Tone that we should push to make as much progress as possible over the next 5 days where we should have favourable winds so we are doing as instructed. Eduardo is still with us and was surfing the waves next to Doris last night. We aren’t too sure how we feel about this when we spot him at eye level in the big swell.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a striped cane of candy.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two boats a passing.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three sharks a circling.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four Christmas hats.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five Tupperware
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six boobies flying
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, seven belly flopping fish
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eight waves a crashing
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, nine carols singing
Today’s blog comes from dry land! I can’t believe that it is nearly 100 days since I left Doris and the team in Hawaii. I have been asked by the girls to blog to provide an update on what I’ve been up to since I got home at the end of July (and to give them a well earned day off blog writing!).
Probably the most common question that I have been asked since I got home is: “is it difficult being back in the real world” or “did it take you long to adapt to being back in the real world?”. The short answer is no. I don’t want to disappoint anyone (some people seem to expect a very profound or philosophical answer!), but I came back to find that the real world is exactly as it was before I left! I have been lucky enough to have had a really amazing experience, learnt some new things and met some great new people and I’ll take that forward with me, but I don’t see myself or the world any differently now. It was lovely to see friends and family again after being away and to be able to thank people personally for all of their support, but after that I just slotted straight back in to everyday life. I think a big reason for this is the fact that life out there on Doris is simply so far removed from everyday life that it really does feel like another planet. The ‘bubble effect’ that we talk of is very real. Now that I am back on dry land, it is still sometimes difficult for me to imagine what the girls are doing and feeling, which is strange since I spent so long out there with them myself! I have emailed Doris a few times with that in mind, telling the girls to try their best, despite the frustrations and difficulties, to appreciate the incredibly unique situation that they are in, as once they are home it will seem like a faraway world. Of course, we are all very different people and the other girls may find that they have a completely different experience on returning home, particularly Ems, Nat and Laura who will have been at sea for an incredible 9 months or more.
Now I am back on dry land, I am in a support team role and have the responsibilities that come with that. We received a huge amount of help in the run up to the start line, but since coming home I have seen first hand how much time and effort is still being dedicated every day by our incredible support team of Tony, Keith, Ella, Alex, Kirsten and Meg (until she flies to Samoa on Thursday!). We really can’t thank them enough for their hard work, generosity and enthusiasm. There are also so many others to thanks of course, including our charities, sponsors, PR support Carver PR and Angle Studios, ambassadors, families, friends, supporters and followers.
Life as a Coxless Crew supporter is a busy one and I thought I would finish by summarising a few key events that the other members of our shore support team and I have been up to recently:
- Meg and I did a 24 hour “rowathon” at Discovery Park in Kent. We rowed a 2 hour on, 2 hour off shift pattern to help Meg to prepare mentally for this routine when she joins the girls on Doris in Samoa. The event was a chance to tell more people about the row and to raise money for our charities, as well as an opportunity for me to meet Meg’s extended family for the first time. These guys are amazing – they should be available to rent out to cheer people on! Thanks also to Discovery Park, Miles and Barr and New Level Results for their support.
-Meg, Ella and I were joined by a number of the team’s family and friends at The One Show, where Matt Baker and Alex Jones spoke to the girls live from the Pacific.
- Meg, Kirsten and I attended the 2015 Women of the Year Lunch as representatives of the Coxless Crew team. The lunch is an annual event held by the Women of the Year Foundation to celebrate women’s achievements and contribution to society. We still have no idea who nominated us to attend, but we are very grateful that they did! It was a wonderful occasion. The room was packed with women who have achieved extraordinary things. We heard some fascinating stories and felt very humbled to be there.
- Meg and I met with the teams from Breast Cancer Care and Walking With The Wounded last week to talk about our ongoing fundraising effort. Laura and Ems wrote blogs earlier this week explaining a bit more about why we are supporting these brilliant charities. We are very lucky to have good relationships with both charities and we receive an amazing amount of support from them. We have got to know everyone we are working with at BCC and WWTW well and they really do feel part of the team. Tomorrow, I am going to join some of Walking With The Wounded’s injured service men and women to walk one day of their 1000 mile Walk of Britain challenge. I can’t wait! http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/walkofbritain2015/
- Preparation for Samoa has been full steam ahead! With help from some of our incredible sponsors, Tony and the rest of us have been making sure that the girls will have everything that they need to resupply Doris in Samoa ready for the third and final leg to Australia. Our thanks goes to Victron, Crewsaver, Solbian, Peli Products, Azoprint, Revo, Jetboil, Fusion Audio, SOS Rehydrate and BeWell expedition foods (and many others).
UPDATE FROM THE GIRLS: Ems and Nats were in the cabin when they heard the cry of “turtle” from LP and LV on the oars. They rushed to the hatch door. “That’s a small turtle, maybe it’s a baby turtle, how cute” said Ems. “Wait a minute I think it might be a coconut” said LV. On closer inspection that is indeed what it turned out to be. T minus 4 days until the main thing left on board to eat is rehydrated beef curry. Samoa can’t come quickly enough!