Day 35 – Walking With The Wounded

Laura Penhaul By

Day 35 – Walking With The Wounded

99.5% of the time out here I can definitely say I am absolutely loving the journey and the challenges we face. The majority of the time I have a permanent smile on my face or I’m crying tears of laughter.

Yesterday for me though for some reason I woke in a reflective mood and sitting in the second position on the oars gave me a 2hr shift to be in my own little bubble. I suddenly started to reflect on the reasons why we are here, why I persevered for the last 4 years and why I’ve put my family & friends through the stress of supporting me through it. The thought brought tears to my eyes and I slowly started to sob my way through the 2hr shift. I was thinking of Rashid and Yasin and how they lost the love of their life and mother respectively, to breast cancer just 3 years ago, just 6 months after Yasin was born. I was thinking of Kate Philp who lost her leg after being hit by an AED at war and had to go through not just the rehab of learning to walk with a prosthetic, but to learn how to live a new life, a new image that she hadn’t planned for.

I was thinking of some of the patients and athletes I have worked with in my physio career and those stories that are so impactful for me; like an 18 year old female who was in a car accident and her boyfriend dies next to her whilst she survives but is left with a C6/7 (neck) complete spinal cord injury. This 18 year old has gone on to be a Gold medal Paralympian and is one of the strongest, most determined females I have met and she astounds me with her amazing attitude to life. I could go on and on, listing men and women that I have met in my life and my career. Whether it’s their attitude or the strength of love shared in their family and friends, it’s the belief that they can go on to achieve or to recreate a new life journey after they’ve faced a life changing experience and maintain a positive attitude, that I find so inspiring. This is why I love Walking With The Wounded.

WWTW create a support network for those who have been injured at war, they provide pathways to re-educate and retrain service personnel, to help them create a new life journey. I became aware of WWTW when Martin Hewitt, who I’d worked with through GB disabled skiing, got taken on the Harry’s Arctic Heroes expedition to the North Pole. Martin was ex-parachute regiment who’d been shot in the arm and was left with a right arm paralysis. The aim of the expedition was for it to be the first team of injured personnel to reach the North Pole. Seeing Martin achieve that and what he has gone on to achieve since then, really highlighted to me what opportunities WWTW create. Like the Paralympians that I work with, WWTW look beyond the disability and focus on the abilities of the individual. They encourage participation in events which will create a physical and mental challenge, so that when they overcome this they have a new confidence in their abilities.

It is being fortunate to have been exposed and surrounded by people with such a strength in mental ability, that it has always made me question my own capabilities. I, like the other girls, realise that we are so lucky to be healthy, fit, have loving family and friends around us and to have the opportunity to be able to do what we’re doing here in the Pacific, that it is for this reason that I believe we face any small challenge we have with humour or banter, because without a doubt, there are certainly millions of people that cope with a lot more than what we’re facing.

Tomorrow the Ride of the Lions and Waterloo 200 starts, these are cycling events that have been organised by WWTW and participants will be injured veterans and supporters of the charity. If we were there we’d be riding along too, but instead we’ll be rowing the waves of the Pacific in supporting from afar. If you’re in London and would like to support the riders please see their website www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk for more details.

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Day 31 – A dull day on Doris

Laura Penhaul By

Day 31 – A dull day on Doris

Being British women, we’re used to days of drizzol (drizzle) & permanent overcast, cloudy skies, however out here it certainly makes everything look particularly dull. Combine this with a rocky sea state that regularly soaks us each shift, plus waves that grab the oars that either jab the handles into your stomach to wind you, or smash your thumbs till they bleed or scrape your shins to leave cracking bruises, for most I can imagine this would begin to develop a negative mentality and woe is me. However, some how we’ve developed a psychological reversal and when it would be an automatic outcry we seem to have exchanged this for hysterical laughter or just bad banter between us. A number of people have asked what we do to keep ourselves amused during these times, we have a few ways that we entertain ourselves in order to distract us from the monotony and dullness and here are just a few….

1) FOOD – without a doubt comes no.1 for interest, what we look forward to eating is a topic of conversation whilst out on the oars, particularly what we are going to add as a special treat if we’d had a particularly tough shift, often a few spoonfuls of Nutella for dessert is a winner.

2) MUSIC – as you know, we’ve been fortunate to have the charging capacity to consistently use our speakers in the daytime. This has meant solo sing alongs, duets, rap sections are all nailed depending on what partner you have and their particular expertise. On a dull day though, I’m not too scared to admit, that I love singing my heart out to a bit of Backstreet Boys, you gotta love it.

3) HUMMDINGER – this is a game we play where rower 1 hums the song and rower 2 has to guess the tune.

4) POLO MINT GAME – how long can you keep a polo mint in your mouth for without it breaking, winner gets something from the losers snack pack. This is much the same as the Jaffa cake challenge which I proudly would admit to holding a 1hr54 record, although Tim Maynard apparently got 1’hr56 but that’s debatable!

5) STORY NARRATION – Izzy is the queen of this but we’ve all jumped on the band wagon to try it out and entertain our team mate. Last night I educated Emma with the rom com of Hitch and tonight she has the amazing Top Gun avec tunes too, to keep her amused.

6) ALPHABET GAME – where you have to remember what the person before you had said for that letter and then you add something for the next letter and continue to repeat through the whole alphabet. Apparently it becomes amusing playing it with someone like me during the dawn shift for when I start to drift off & talk nonsense!

7) NAMES OF BODY PARTS – thanks to Kirsten for this as it has brought hours of amusement (Dan Howie I have a feeling you’d be akin to this game?!)

8) STORY BY SENTENCE – you start telling story in a sentence and your team mate takes the next sentence and so on….

9) PERSONAL LIFE STORIES- I honestly thought that having got to know each other well up to a year prior to launching the row, that we’d run out of our personal stories to share within the first 2 weeks of rowing together. To my surprise, we’re still going with new ones! One of the perks of all being over 30 I guess?

10 ) Riddles – many friends have kindly sent in some riddles for us to crack, unfortunately I tend to be absolutely useless at them so I leave it to the more Lateral thinkers of the group.

Thank you all for your continued support and following, it means a lot to us and is providing a great motivation each day. xxx

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Day 27 – The Team Behind The Team

Laura Penhaul By

Day 27 – The Team Behind The Team

Although we might be the girls that are doing the physical rowing of Doris, there is a great team behind us that without them, we would not have reached where we are today. Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting about each person that has generously contributed endless amounts of time and effort to support us throughout this project, people that we are ever indebted too and humbled by their support.

To kick start the proceedings; Miss Ella Hewton, without her involvement our stories aboard Doris would never be shared. Ella is our social media queen! Constantly uploading the emails that we send to her as our daily blogs, and keeping Facebook and Twitter active with our antics. Knowing that our story is being shared and followed , is certainly giving us some motivation and enjoyment on Doris. To update those of you that don’t know Ells, Ella is a 24year old Loughborough Graduate who lives in the bootiful Taunton. Ells previously worked with Ben Hunt-Davis for ‘Will it make the boat go faster’ a concept that was originally conceived amongst his 8 crew to win Gold for GB Rowing in Sydney and has since been applied to business management schemes. Ells has been involved with the Coxless Crew and influential to the development of the project for the last 2 years. There was a time when Ella was going to be on the boat with us, but after the row got postponed from 2014, Ells was unable to commit to the training etc. for the following year. She did however, offer her ongoing support in the preparations and whilst at sea and has without a doubt gone above and beyond to do this daily in her spare time.

Ella is a wonderful personality; constantly positive, nothing is ever too much trouble and she is so supportive and loyal to everyone she knows. Ells is the epitome of what the Coxless Crew are and she definitely reflects our team S.P.I.R.I.T. Thank you Ella for all that you do and the constant enthusiasm and support you’ve given us. We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you on completion. Xx

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Thoughts of Ella from the team:
Izzy – I haven’t known Ella for as long as some of the other girls, but what I do know is that she is extremely generous with her time and shares her fun with everyone she meets. I still can’t believe how much work she is doing on a daily basis to support us while we are at sea.

Emma – Ella is definitely the 7th member of our team and we wouldn’t be able to share our experiences with the world without her. Thanks Ells you’re an absolute legend and we can’t wait to celebrate with you when we get home.

Nat – Ella is amazing!! I love love love her… So easy to be around, positive, passionate and enthusiastic. It’s been great working with her on social media and website stuff and I’m so grateful to her for helping out whilst I’m unable to coordinate this. She’s a superstar x

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Day 23 – I would row 500 miles…

Laura Penhaul By

Day 23 – I would row 500 miles…

So it’s day 23 since we left Santa Barbara on leg 1 part B, but I realised yesterday, that it’s day 46 since we left San Fran. Thanks to Keith our Sport Psych who sends us a daily quote with the number of days passed, ever since we left San Francisco. Dare I say it, but I realised that we were technically due to be arriving into Hawaii within the next week. This realisation is not a useful one considering we are approx. 4-5 weeks off now depending on if the weather improves to be more in our favour. But hey ho, we can only control the controllables and on a good note, we passed our 500nm marker yesterday- happy days! This means we are approx. quarter of the way to Hawaii! Woohoo!
The last 3 days the weather has been fairly rough again, thankfully we have however still been able to plod along in a westerly direction. Currently the winds are North- North East and picking up to 18-21knots today. With this obviously comes swell and we have been facing a similar sea state today as that of our first week out of San Fran. However we are now more confident in understanding what Doris can handle so we are tackling the waves more aggressively in order to keep moving Westerly. As per usual, we have been getting an absolute soaking over the last 2-3 days and are back into our constant soggy state. As much as we hate it, it is also the source of much of our amusement. When you’re on the oars random waves in a cross direction will catch you off guard, when these break on the beam of Doris, they tend to slap the side which throws the water up and then it dumps down onto the deck of the boat, absolutely drenching anyone sitting underneath it. I was literally crying with laughter when Nats was singing away in front of me and I was in the bow seat, three consecutive times the waves hit the side of the boat but drenched only Nats whilst I remained crisp, dry and sat back as a viewer. I’m sure I’ll get my fair share in due course, but right now that image of Nat as a drowned rat was priceless! I’d like to add that she too found it highly amusing when she saw how dry I was and she said ‘you just wait Penhaul, your time will come!’.

Personal messages:
Liz Rose – oh my god so lovely to hear from you Liz! Can’t believe you’ve got a little one now, as you said how times have changed since Verbier days, but we’re never too old for a jaeger bomb!

Dan Howie – Any Given Sunday (top 5 fav film), S/S/M I refuse to comment, can’t believe who you picked! & your stag do sounds epic albeit very un- PC but I would expect nothing less. We’re loving your emails and the girls look forward to putting a face to the name on return.
Simon Mansfield – lovely to hear from you and it would be an absolute pleasure to return to Queens when we get back. Feel free to email me on laura@coxlesscrew.com when I return. Thank you for your continued support & have a great Summer of tennis!
Charlie Martell – thanks Charlie for your message, glad to hear I’m not the only one that has random ramblings in the midnight hours! Huge good luck to Ben Hooper #bonkersben in training for swimming the Atlantic

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Day 19- soaking up the sun

Laura Penhaul By

Day 19- soaking up the sun

After a night of rowing on Galaxy velvet smooth waters, under the moon that was heavily covered by cloud, the sunrise brought with it crisp clear blue skies. It was like we rowed out of the clouds that we’d been under the majority of the time since we left Santa Barbara and onto the next chapter of the row which maybe brings calm waters, Easterly winds and 12hrs solid of uninterrupted sunshine (here’s wishing!!).
Today was beautiful on the oars, we all reminisced of our dip in the ocean & chuckled at our Coxless crew style remake of calendar girls. But with such amazing sunshine it only asked for great music to be played but unfortunately our on deck speakers hadn’t been working since we left SB, so I decided today was the day to fix it. I discovered a loose connection of the wiring, so with a bit of tweaking we once again had tunes through the speakers, which has been awesome! There’s nothing like singing your heart out at the top of your voice to Katy Perry-Firework (Heather I thought of you). We had Nats iPod on for the afternoon which has some great playlists of songs I haven’t heard for years, it never ceases to amaze me that no matter how long, you can still remember every lyric to songs not listened to for a decade!

When there is music there has to be dance & I keep finding myself attempting to bust some moves whilst also rowing. So far this has mainly led to smashing my thumbs or shins, not quite the desired affect, so think a few shoulder shrugs and head popping will be the extent of the skills. Nat too has been attempting it so I think when we next partner up, we’ll be putting a wee routine together- small things keep us amused!

Personal messages:
Lily – so lovely to have a message from you Lils, thank you! So funny that you’re working with Walshy, blast from the past. Hope he’s ok though, he’s certainly in great hands if he’s needing treatment and pass on my wishes to him for successful training and prep for Rio. Say hi to Stu for me too and congratulations on the tri results, knew you’d smash it!
Mary & Darren – herrrow! I think of you both most nights, as I tend to have a peppermint tea out on the oars to keep me warm at night and yes Darren, the teabag is always left in ;)! If a film was made then the more tasking question is who would play you two? Clearly Jason Statham is a given and then Mary – Julia Roberts (the only hot red head I can think of!).

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Day 11 – Uncle Tone doesn’t do precipitation

Laura Penhaul By

Day 11 – ‘Uncle Tone doesn’t do precipitation’

So when we first started working with Tony (who we’ve now become accustomed to call Uncle Tone, our number one onshore support) we discussed through his weather reporting plan, we asked about knowing when it would rain, Tony’s response was ‘I don’t do precipitation’ apparently wind is the only necessary information we need to know. Well today Uncle Tone, it precipitated… A lot! I’m sure when we ever get the days of reaching sunny climates and have a tropical rain storm, we’ll appreciate the fresh water, however today, combined with the regular crashing over of waves, it added to being soaked right through! Unfortunately Doris doesn’t come with a tumble dryer or heater to dry our layers, so it was once again back to the glorious wet/dry routine, which is always a pleasure to get back into after a 2hr rest in the dry. However on a good note, we think we have finally freed from the Southerly current and can once again attempt to push West. North Westerly winds are 15-18 currently so are limiting us getting out too sharply but it certainly feels a lot better moving in the right direction. Not going to lie, I think we’re all looking forward to finding some of those Easterly winds and sunshine that everyone talks about, rowing this last week has been heavy going and we’re all starting to feel the effects. Ongoing thank you to everyone who is sending us lovely messages and keeping us updated.

Personal messages:
Paula Dunn – so great to hear from you although sorry to hear of some of the injuries, please pass on my thoughts to those mentioned and give Gemma a hug from me.
Dan Howie – your messages are cracking us up! We love them and I want a full update of the stag do antics, hope it’s everything you wished for ;).
Bernard Cohen – HAPPY BIRTHDAY for Saturday! Your daughter is keeping us all amused on the boat.

Xx

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Day 7 – Antics on the night shift

Laura Penhaul By

Day 7 Antics on the night shift

During the night, we each (in our pairs) have 3 night shifts to get through. Last night, Ems and I had just got on the oars at 01:00 for our second shift. The night was a beautiful clear sky so we were looking at the amazing stars & trying to pick out the North Star, the plough, Orion’s Belt & our star ‘Doris’ (my friends had bought us it before we left). Suddenly in the distance I saw what I thought initially was a firework (until I realised we were mid-Ocean so guessing there’s not too many parties out here!) so soon realised it had to be a red flare which is a signal for distress. Emma had spotted it too which reassured me as I’ve been known to see things when I’m tired (that’s a whole other blog post!).

redflare
We got the girls in the cabin to screenshot our location on the Navionics maps just in case it was needed again. Next step was to get onto VHf but there was no response and we couldn’t see a ship on AIS either. So we called Falmouth coastguard to inform them of our sighting and they kindly put Natalia through to the U.S. Coastguard. Lieutenant Anthony was extremely helpful and had very kindly said that they had been looking out for us over the recent weeks (always reassuring to know). Anyway, he asked a series of questions for Nat to relay to us, So he could estimate the distance the flare was from us, firstly by measuring your fist height above the horizon, estimate the wind speed where we were and its direction. After receiving this info, we’d assumed that they were checking AIS and Radar for the boat’s location so they could contact them directly.  We figured that we’d done what we could and didn’t think any further action was needed. Much to our complete surprise, about 20-30mins later, Emma noticed a red and green light flashing in the distance, these lights actually were the helicopter of US coastguard! They hovered over us to clarify some further details and then spent the next hour circling the area. I suddenly felt really guilty for calling them out as what if we were mistaken with what we saw?

We’re still unaware of whether they did find anyone, but If they didn’t and it was a false alarm I feel bad for sending them on a wild goose chase! At least it’s better that way than to not report it and have missed something significant.
Either way, it certainly made our shift go quickly!
Personal notes: Howie – thank you for the email. Knew it was you before reading the name based off those riddles. Looking forward to hearing the answers!
Hilton – also looking forward to hearing the answers too, they’ve certainly puzzled us.
Michelle and Heather – happy birthday for this weekend you two, thinking of you both xx

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Day 3 – Take 2

Laura Penhaul By

Day 3 – Take 2

Currently Izz and I are paired together and so after our night shifts the sunrise shift at 05:30 was beautiful. It started with blue sky and sunshine with a little wind but heading in the right direction -WEST!
Albert the albatross is getting more and more friendly often landing now right next to Doris, which gives us plenty of amusement to talk to a bird instead of your team mates! Today he stopped off for a spot of lunch with his mates as they tucked into some fish. Unfortunately from about11am today our faithful friend ‘Hercules the wind’ decided that we weren’t ready yet for easterly winds and so he’s mixed it up again to a less favourable north westerly 18-21+. For over 6 hours we battled rowing hard against it, our autopilot wasn’t too happy with going backwards so we switched to hand steering but the wind and swell had different ideas of which direction we should travel. So as we were losing ground fairly rapidly we put out the para anchor for a few hours until the wind eased.

The amusing part was that during this time ironically Izz was listening to Bastille Pompei ‘when you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all. How am I going to be an optimist about this…’ Interesting words! We’re all pretty gutted to be back in the cabins after starting to make good ground but hey ho we’ll be back on it later plus it has lead to some very amusing antics on board which has had Izz and me in tears of laughter :)! iPad photo booth, I highly recommend it to make you giggle – pics to follow!

One other massive bonus for me is that (touch wood’ nada sea sickness and eating like a horse again! Woohoo! For me I think the Sopaderm patch with additional cinnazine when conditions change. Happy days! Huge thanks to Dr Spike Briggs from MSOS (medical services offshore) for getting the patches and extras sent to Tony for Santa Barbara.
Anyhow signing off now from the fore cabin. Thanks for all your continued support we love hearing from you and one final thing – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY MUM and also my SISTER-IN-LAW KATIE. Thinking of you both today (16th May) xxx

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Electronics on Doris

Laura Penhaul By

A number of people have been asking the questions of exactly what happened to cause us to turn around and so I wanted to share with you a little more detail into our reasoning and also how our sponsors have been extremely supportive in helping to rectify and prevent any re-occurrence.

 

As we mentioned in an earlier blog, we sustained some flooding into the hatch that housed our batteries and the IP65 box which contained all the charge controllers and battery monitoring system to recharge our batteries. We have a clear lid on the battery hatch so that we could check it easily on a daily basis but it wasn’t until I noticed that there was condensation in the IP65 box that I thought there must be water in there and when I looked more closely I saw the flooding. Typically we had put all the charge controllers  into an IP65 rated box to ensure that no water was to ever come near the system incase of any flooding, but unfortunately when we opened the box we found there to be 1 screw missing which is the only entrance point into the box which must have been how water got in.

1 of the MPPT boxes, which is the clever box that regulates the charge  gets as much energy from the panels into the battery and safely charges at 14.2Vdc. This MPPT had stopped working and overheated due to the water and humidity that was within the box. Initially at this stage MPPT 2 was still in working order so we knew we had at least 1 charging system intact for one battery. Our solar panels are so efficient and wired in series, so we have 2 sets of series on the boat each set linked to 1 MPPT.

Once we had bailed out the hatch and closed off any further charging through the MPPT, I didn’t want anyone staying in that cabin that night incase of further overheating of electrical equipment. So we left the hatch open to air and dry out, whilst we had the boat on para anchor, we then continued with 2 hour shifts with 2 of us sitting on deck whilst the other shift got into the forecabin for warmth. Can’t say it was the most comfortable night! This way we waited until daylight to see what the full damage was and to make a decision on whether we continued forward to Hawaii or to turn around.

Initially we still had 1 working charging system so we decided to push forward to Hawaii as we knew we had plenty of power to continue. Once we started rowing though and I went to tidy up the MPPT connections and wires, I noticed the other MPPT had also gone. This automatically made the decision for us to have to turn around. If we were half way to Hawaii then we would be able to survive  on all of our back ups I.e. Handpump watermaker, handheld GPS, handheld VHF, back up satellite phone and spare battery, solar monkey chargers. As we weren’t half way and have 6months of rowing ahead of us, it seemed the obvious and sensible decision to return to land.

Regardless of the flooding half way up the batteries, they were unscathed and continued to work well as the terminals were completely intact. Once we’d disconnected the MPPT’s, at that time we had 60% state of charge in each battery. With both batteries 90amp/Hr each, this meant we still had plenty of battery to use on our return to land, so even after 6 days of use for our GPS, AIS, VHF and charging our sat phone,we came in with approx 30% in each battery and voltage still maintained at 12.9v each.

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On entrance into Santa Barbara, Tony Humphreys our onshore support was there at hand to assist us in sorting out the issues we had. The main issues was finding where the flood had come from and ensuring we could prevent it from reoccurring. Then we reviewed the electronics and Johannes our sponsor from Victron was amazing and was on hand regularly (even at 11pm his time!) to respond and assist in our decision making with where to move the MPPTs and BMS system. Collectively we decided they needed to be out of the bilge so there wasn’t risk of flooding if it reoccurred, then to be somewhere with better ventilation. This was partly my fault previously as I was so particular about preventing any water entering around the electronics, that I had asked for them to be put in an IP65 box, not thinking that if water did enter it would end up being like a greenhouse in there!

We then had to hunt around for an electrician to be able to do the work under Tony’s supervision so after a few phone calls by Kenny in Santa Barbara, he found Jason who very kindly made himself available at such short notice to do the work.

Johannes from Victron (amazing sponsor support) very kindly sorted out for Justin from Maine,  USA to fly down for a day to oversee and double check that all the Victron equipment was up and running efficiently. It was great to have Justin there as there were a couple of wiring issues that weren’t quite right, so he made the necessary adjustments and by late Friday afternoon we were all up and running again – 100% batteries, solar charge bringing the MPPTs to float, monitors all working and BMS units with 2 lovely blue lights. It is such a relief to have a fully functional system again :).
Some people prefer the old lead acid system to be fitted in their ocean rowing boat, but you tend to only get 60% out of your solar and the efficiency of the batteries slowly deminish over time as sulphur builds up. I love our lithium system and personally wouldn’t use anything else. The wiring is slightly more complicated but the system is so easy to use, means you get 99% out of your solar panels and the batteries maintain voltage right down to less than 20% state of charge. The reason the MPPTs failed was our fault for not noticing the flood in the hatch or into the Ip65 box as the wiring doesn’t mix with water or extreme humidity, which neither would any other battery system.

On this occasion we were very fortunate and the whole process of getting things sorted has reassured us even further of all the experts we have behind us in supporting this venture. Without Tony, Johannes, Jason and Justin, we would have been in more of a pickle. One thing is for sure, no matter how much training I did before coming away, I’d say this has only worked in our favour to now in realtime know more about our battery system inside and out and all the problem shooting involved.

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