Leg 3, Day 62 – are we nearly there yet?

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Today’s blog comes from the one and only Tony Humphreys.

My involvement with ocean rowing dates back to 2001 when I was working as the Ops Manager for The Challenge Business, a company established by Sir Chay Blyth. Sir Chay, having rowed the Atlantic in 1966, had the crazy/genius idea to create a one-design rowing race across the Atlantic, which undoubtedly was responsible for the proliferation of ocean rowing as we know it today. Although I’ve never rowed an ocean (sailing oceans is where I’m at….), I have through my involvement with ocean rowing races and supporting independent ocean rows been involved with 138 ocean rows (not all of which were successful) across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Four years ago to the day I received an enquiry to assist an all female team of six to row the Indian Ocean. A month later the plan had evolved into rowing the Pacific in three legs as a team of four women and over the following three years, despite several setbacks and changes within the team, the Coxless Crew became established and rowing the Pacific looked set to become a reality.

The route from San Francisco to Cairns, via Honolulu and Apia was chosen to break the voyage into three similar length legs. The route aimed to take advantage of the prevailing winds/currents as much as possible, while giving due regard to navigational safety, logistical facilities and media potential. Timings were dictated by the need to avoid the eastern Pacific hurricane season and the western Pacific cyclone season, which meant departing San Francisco no later than May and arriving in Queensland before December. The individual leg timings were calculated using historical weather averages (routing charts) and anticipated boat speeds based on my experience of working with four-person ocean rowing teams. Best laid plans and all that…..!

It’s fair to say prevailing winds/currents have been far from average this year, with what is widely accepted as one of the most significant El Niño years on record. During an El Niño year the trade winds become reduced in strength and occasionally even become reversed in direction. This reduction/reversal in the anticipated favourable winds has been a major contributor to the lack of pace and subsequent increase in leg times for Doris. Possibly the reduced trade winds have made the task of getting south a little easier than it would have been should the trade winds have been blowing consistently stronger, but really the only consolation that can be drawn from the fact we’re experiencing an unprecedented El Niño event is that the start of the cyclone season in the Coral Sea is expected to be delayed until late January.

Additional to El Niño slowing things down it’s also fair to say I was wide of the mark when it came to predicting average speeds/leg durations. My calculations were based on what a typical four-person boat would average in a race, or when attempting to break an ocean crossing speed record. With the girls taking time out for social time/team bonding, etc., plus the extra weight associated with a few extra ‘comforts’, Doris clearly isn’t in a hurry!

Rowing any ocean is an incredible feat of perseverance, but to row the equivalent of an ocean and then get back on the boat after only a week-long stopover is exemplary. It was always my biggest concern that having stopovers on this Pacific crossing would result in crew getting off and not wishing to continue. However, I’m sure taking the time during the row to work on team cohesion has been a major contributor to the success of the team remaining as one and becoming lifelong friends.

The level of professionalism the girls have shown in their approach to the project has always impressed me. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with these six audacious young women and to call them my Angels – haha if only….!
CC and Tony

Not much further now, but potentially some of the hardest rowing lies ahead in order to navigate between the many off lying reefs and islets before crossing the Great Barrier Reef. At the moment the weather looks to remain favourable for the foreseeable, so fingers crossed we are looking at an arrival window sometime between the 18th and 22nd January, with the usual caveat that ocean rowing boats rarely exceed expectations and usually only ever arrive later than estimated.

Tony – aka Uncle Tone/Charlie

UPDATE:
For those that don’t know, we are committed to continue raising money for our charities, hold fundraising events and do presentations for a few months after our arrival back in the UK. This means that there is a good possibility that all 6 of us will continue blogging daily once we leave our Pacific home and continue to share some land insights, challenges and stories with you all even after our arrival in Cairns.
400 miles to go! x
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9 Comments

  1. Jim Andrews says:

    The often spoken about, but never heard from, Tony, at last What a fascinating read. You have an impressive CV there, and a huge amount of experience. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of planning required to set something like this in motion. It is obvious that the calibre of personnel involved are more than up to the task. The crazy weather patterns occurring all over the world are becoming impossible to predict, though the girls have endured some rough seas and the Doldrums, they have been able to row through whatever nature threw at them, thankfully, and safely. Just 410 nm to go Ladies, still a bit to do, but after all you have been through! I have no idea how difficult, negotiating your way through the GBR is but I am sure that between Tony and yourselves, it will be accomplished comfortably. I look forward to the continued communication post row, meanwhile, smile with every mile and stay safe. XX

    • John Beeden says:

      I can confirm from personal experience that Tony’s expertise is invaluable throughout the whole planning and execution process of rowing an Ocean, he has looked after me across two Oceans and should I consider doing another I would only undertake it with his help.

      Ladies, Tony is correct to point out that the last 400nm are probably the toughest of the trip. You feel like you’re there but actually between navigation, current and mixed wind I found it incredibly difficult and frustrating. I also found after the improved climate in mid Coral Sea, that it was like being back in the doldrums again, hot, humid and oppressive. It’s a time to focus fully on moving the boat forward and being exposed to the potential dangers for as short a time as possible.

      Good luck with the final push, the row into Cairns past the Yarrabah community and to the marina is a glorious finish to the row and makes all the hard work worth while.

      Kind regards

      John

  2. Ray.P says:

    There are two non rowing people who have been central in keeping our girls safe mentally and physically, Uncle Tone is the physical keeper and a great job he’s done. I’m sure keeping 6 strong minded women safe and sound is not easy and being a competitive person watching the miles click slowly by must be difficult and a bit frustrating but it doesn’t show, he’s an adaptable and definitely reliable character.

  3. Simon TY says:

    Great to hear from Tone but also from JB. I am sure you can offer wise wise words as the psychology of the approach kicks in, elation, tiredness, a new strength on the oars, but also lack of concentration as all thoughts are on “nearly there”. So, JB, I am sure you have vital role in hand holding over the last few hundred miles.

    Last few hundred, girls. Every day makes a nice hole in the miles left. A 10% day might be the target every day: knock another 10% off. ( yes I know that if that is all they do, they never get there…..).

    Girls heed JBs words and keep alert. Push on, as he says, to keep this period though the Reef as short as possible. Hope the weather stays on yr side for a few more days, then you will have broken the back of it. It, the mighty wide Pacific.

    Xxx Simon TY

  4. Wow what guy Tony is, that’s a heck of an acumen, everyone should give him a hug as well for keeping everyone safe!!

    I am hoping with gritted determination that the dates for arrival can hold true.

    I hope the ladies are all given honorary titles for this epic journey Dames for all, for they have turned the Pacific which has been traditionally a colour of Blue, into a new shade of Pink, long may it continue so they can achieve their charity goals.

    For Tony’s work, recognition for he too will have to be made a Baron, in honour of their colours, we think usually of associating Red with a Baron, but this will not do, we have to be unique I hope he won’t mind becoming the Pink Baron in jest but one regardless in being able to thank him for what he does, what he’s doing and what he can accomplish.

    Three cheers for Tony!!

  5. Barney says:

    Well done Tony, a modest blog from a man who should receive a standing ovation. I shall spend the day reading into the bit that goes “plus the extra weight associated with a few extra ‘comforts’”! I guess he is referring to the Oreos!! Don’t ocean rowers take Oreos?

    Well done to John B also. You have featured several times on this blog and your arrival in Cairns even got a few paragraph inches in the South China Morning Post here in Hong Kong!

    So, the last 400 nms could be the trickiest! Like the Doldrums again! Who would be a parent of one of these girls having to book flights and accommodation!! “I would like to book 3 rooms for between 10 and 30 days please”!

    Happy rowing girls.

  6. JG says:

    Great to hear the back office side from Tony. I think he has understated his involvement with the actual row for I believe that he has been on call 24/7 and has monitored and guided the Crew’s every direction change and given or found advice and directions for situations they have needed help for. Simultaneously he was doing the same for the excellent JB.
    The rationale behind the decisions that were made about route and timings were perfectly sound and both Tony and the Crew adapted to the chaos that El Nino has brought to the oceans.
    The admiration we have for this entrepid and fearless group of six hardy girls knows no bounds.
    Checking at midnight sees Doris just off Observation Cay with a mere 375 nms to go.
    Weather looks to be fixed for a few days blowing straight into Cairns but I expect the currents are random over the shallows. I think you are getting out of the Pacific at the right moment. There’s some rubbish weather boiling up where you were a few weeks ago.

    Take care keep safe.

  7. sara says:

    Great to hear from Tony and hear his perspective. My thanks cannot be expressed enough how much having Uncle Tone looking after the girls has reassured me and set my mind at rest. He is a star and very committed in his care of them throughout this adventure. He has been such a huge part of this team and allowed me to relax knowing that he is there directing and guiding Doris and her special cargo across the pacific. Patient too as the journey has been much longer than anticipsted, thank you so much Tony look forward to seeing you in Cairns hopefull around 18th xxx

  8. Such a responsibility to guide 6 head strong women across the biggest patch of blue on the globe, and yet such a humble blog. It is great to hear the stories from the support crew as there is so much behind the scenes effort and planning back home on dry land.
    Ladies if you are going to be doing talks about your adventure come to Bristol and do a talk! People love hearing about adventure stuff here 🙂 x

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