Leg 2, Day 33 – Unbroken

Laura Penhaul By

Day 33: Unbroken

As you know, we row, eat, sleep, repeat, but for a couple of sessions in the day, we have about 4hrs to have some ‘downtime’, this is often the time we email, blog, wash, eat etc. but sometimes cram the time in to read.

I have found it bizarre that everything that I have read so far, without consciously realising it, I’ve found a connection with, either personally or with the row. The first audiobook I listened to was ‘The fault in our stars’ a touching story of two teenagers with terminal cancer. It was an emotional read and made me reflect a lot about the challenges faced by the families as well as the sufferers of cancer shared with our charity Breast Cancer Care. Then I read the autobiography of John Bishop, my families household favourite comedian. Again I found myself totally in the moment when he was enduring the Arc De Triumph to Marble Arch challenge and I remember following it avidly on Radio 1 at the time and actually shedding a tear when he reached the finish line. It gave me a flash of feeling of what it will be like for us reaching Australia but I feel the need to push the overwhelming excitement to the back of my mind as we are far from celebrating having yet to reach half way. I’ve been listening to Clare Balding’s ‘Ramblings’ on audiobook and just a few days ago she was reminiscing of when she presented on Channel 4 for the Paralympics at London 2012. A smile suddenly beamed across my face when she talked of ‘thriller Thursday’ when Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockcroft and David Weir all won Gold. I had a sudden sense of pride as these are 3 of the athletes that I work with now in some small way and it reminded me of the team and the road to Rio which is scarily just around the corner.

There is however, one book that has connected with me the most whilst out here; Unbroken, a true story of the life of Louis Zamperini. He was an ex Olympic athlete who joined the US Airforce and went to war against the Japanese back in the 1940’s. His plane got shot down and the story evolved of his and his comrades survival in a life raft in the middle of the Pacific.

I must admit, if given the opportunity I will often choose to see the movie over reading the book, but for some reason with this story I was drawn to read the book first. I had planned to read it in the first leg but never got round to it, so started reading it when we left Hawaii. The reason that it’s pertinent, is because Louis’ plane that he was on that day, took off from Hawaii and went down approx. 1,000nm South West of the Island. So the very region of the Pacific that we are in at this precise moment! The areas they talk about bombing such as Wake Island, Gilbert Islands and Marshall Islands, we can see them on our chartplotter as we pass to the East of them. The awakening thoughts that go through my head when I’m now out on the oars after reading this, is that the deep blue underneath us, that we constantly speculate what wildlife could be down there, there’s actually thousands of Japanese and US aircraft that got bombed down during that time. There are soldiers that were taken down with the planes or those that ejected but didn’t survive, all now on the Pacific sea bed below. Furthermore, what really touches me, is that normally when you read about a significant historical event and you visit that location, the building may be the same, but the surroundings have evolved over the years showing how things are dated. So you don’t necessarily get a true representation of what it looked like to them at the time of their experiences. Out here in the Pacific, what is there to change since 1943? Nothing. The varied sea state and changing sky would have been the same for Louis as it is for us. The sunrise and sunset would have looked the same. The sweltering heat and exposure to the sun he talks about, is something we can definitely relate to. Being surrounded by salt water but not feeling cooled or hydrated by it, we get it. There is however a significant difference, we’re here by choice, in a fully equipped 29ft ocean rowing boat which would have been like a cruise liner compared to what they were in. We are now on day 33 since leaving Hawaii, Louis and his comrades survived on just a life raft (& a sinking one at that!) for 47days, with no food, no jetboil, no watermaker, no change of clothes, no methods of communication to back home etc. etc.

When Lizanne talks of Strength. Perserverance.Resilience. As she did in yesterday’s blog, Louis Zamperini and his colleagues are the epitome of all of that. The life raft survival was just the start of what he had to endure, what Louis and others experience as Prisoners of War (POWs) is unbelievable and how he survived to get through the repeated knock backs, shows the testament to his mental strength, his faith and his will to get back to his family. Furthermore, the book gives a true representation of the difficulties faced when soldiers return from war, try to reintegrate back into society and how PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) can present itself. Soldiers of today who returned from Afghanistan injured at war, face these same problems. It’s one thing returning from an injury physically, but the mental and social impact of being injured at war are more long term and in the end can cause the biggest wounds. This is why we support Walking With The Wounded, as they help to support injured service personnel find a new pathway after injury, whether through expedition, re-education or re-training to create a new life plan. It’s exactly this, that Louis Zamperini struggles through alone and eventually finds his way by himself, if only he had had access to WWTW back then. We are aiming to raise £250K for our 2 charities WWTW and Breast Cancer Care. If you’re in the UK and willing to spare yourself a coffee, then please text DORIS to 70300 for a £3 donation. Further donations and outside the UK please go to our website www.coxlesscrew.com to donate. Thank you for your support.

Update: last night was one of the most beautiful I’ve experienced out here. I was on the oars with Lizanne and the waters were like velvet depicted by a beacon from the full moon. In our first night shift, LV and I raised an isotonic drink to Alex Wolf’s (our S&C coach and friend) dad, who’s birthday it would have been yesterday if not for his sudden loss just weeks ago. A reminder that opportunities should be seized and things never to be left unsaid. In our next shift, just as I was looking into the flat calm, suddenly a dolphin jumped fully out of the water right next to the boat, within seconds we were once again blessed by a pod of dolphins around the boat, where they stayed for about 10mins, it was very special.



  1. Simon TY says:

    Well done Laura, another beautiful blog. Does make you think what some of those downed pilots went through. You have got luxury !!!

    And ties in to WWTW. You will be able to look them in the eye, with a little more understanding, a lot more respect, and they will have the same.

    I hope the clock starts ticking over a little faster soon. I now click on the latitude each day. It IS getting closer to zero, slowly, slowly.

    We, and the Dolphins, are right behind you xxxx

  2. Robert says:

    Foot soldiers will only be heroes if they refuse to fight to make the military industrial corporations and their hangers on rich. The “stiff upper lip” British Empire was crawling with “useless fighters”, “brainwashed killers”. Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO, RN was the epitome of everything bad in the British character. Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was all that is good in the Norwegian character. “The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen”

  3. Incredible insights into the feelings that survivors face in the harshest environment! Well done Laura and team, you are fully atuned both mentally and physically!!! Keep up the hard work, for a noble cause!!! SW Team

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