Leg 3, Day 72 – In the beginning

Emma Mitchell By

Day 72 – In the beginning

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.

doris

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.

dock

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!

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14 Comments

  1. JG says:

    Boobie on Natalia’s head – now there’s a good omen if ever I heard of one.

    Interesting post Emma. The dagger board – now I understand how you have managed to steer Doris all these miles.

    There is no doubt about the seamanship of the Crew, collectively and individually. You are second to none. No capsizes in the biggest seas, unerring steering in the face of some pretty extreme odds, ship maintenance, crew handling and emergency contingencies. No doubt whatsoever.

    Sponsors can be proud of their part in this epic event.

    You appear to be on JB’s route into Cairns so presumably that is the preferred course for rowers. Gives you just 107 nms to go by my calculations..

    The suspense is killing me!!

    Keep very safe, take care.

    • JG says:

      The Grafton Passage is a narrow gap in the reef 13 kms long 90m wide and 8m deep at lowest tide. It’s only 10 kms from Cairns so hopefully there will be an escort ?

  2. Simon TY says:

    Dear Doris and all who sail in her. Presumably anyone who had seen your maiden drift ( sorry I mean row) in Christchurch would have laughed if you said you were going to row across the Pacific. Would have assumed you were on a hen party after too many babychams ( can you still get that ? The girls have no idea what I am talking about).

    Well, the last laugh is on you.

    Would love a blog on the actual practicalities of getting through the reef. The dangers presumably being wind or current driving into surf, then reef ? Or is asking tempting fate ? Manta Rays.

    Anyhow, hope you having a good morning. Hope the miles sliding by. Hope the weather gorgeous and Doris is enjoying herself

    Xxxx ( and x)

  3. Jim Andrews says:

    Nice one Emma and a good laugh too. I hope there is photographic evidence of the boobie on Natalia’s head? The potential for humour is huge. I am sure excitement is rising as you make your preparations to breach the Reef, I am excited, so you ladies must be bubbling. I hope there are lots of pictures and footage of the reef, wildlife and finally your arrival. I would love to have been in Cairns to applaud your fantastic achievement and arrival, to share a little bit of the sense of victory that the Coxless crew won! I hope you get drenched in champagne and even get to sup a little. I never knew I could be so proud of complete strangers. Keep the focus, you are on the home straight. Stay safe. XX

  4. Paul says:

    Hi ladies. Been following you all the way. Magnificent, simply magnificent. Tuck in and row hard for the final well earned spoils. You can rightly be incredibly proud with what you have achieved and continue to achieve with every stroke.

  5. Great to see the miles heading to zero. After the first trip out I’m surprised you left the UK! Maybe Doris was just testing you to see what you were made of. Well, now you know how great she is and she knows how great you all are.

    At least when you were on dry land in Christchurch you knew where you were. Didn’t someone’s parents ( obviously stressed by the totally mad behaviour of their daughter) book a table for you all in a restaurant in Chichester?
    I won’t name names but look forward to seeing them on their return to Cornwall.

    Our love and good wishes to you all. Keep strong and stay safe. xxxxx

  6. Andy says:

    Well ladies having made this blog my daily reading since you set off I am gutted that in the early hours I’m flying out of the country on a trip planned a year ago. I am highly unlikely to be able to follow your final moments which saddens me. My late wife has travelled with you, on your ceiling at least, and she would be immensely proud of your achievements as am I.
    Thank you for doing what you have done, your personal challenge, the awareness of the issues for which you are undertaking this challenge and the funds you have raised too.
    Thanks also to the regular contributors, Simon, Jim et al. It’s been interesting reading.
    God speed, and God bless.
    Much love,
    Andy

  7. Mike S. says:

    Girls I hope when these last moments pass you by that you will feel immensely proud of what you have achieved. I feel proud of you & I’m only someone who got hooked on your story & then had to follow you. I also admit to keeping chase of JB & Sarah O, but your blogs were a picture of the southern ocean & wildlife existing & hopefully thriving & witnessing the trials of six girls laid bare inside Doris’s 26ft of space has been like a good book – which I never want to put down. Feel proud gladiators.

  8. Christine says:

    Girls, we have memories too of seeing Doris become what she is today. We met her (and you) on more than one occasion in Christchurch, sometimes on land and others on the water. We are also really proud of these 6 strangers who seem to have become honorary members of our family. I can’t wait for you to arrive in Cairns but I will be at a loss for what to look up and read at the end of the day. You really are NEARLY there now! Sending all my love for a safe arrival. Christine and family. Xxxx

  9. This Made me smile!!!! I will never forget that day in Christchurch! Looking back such a comedy moment…at the time not so much! Been avidly watching you daily from Vancouver…checking the tracker a couple of times a day!! I’m so proud of you ladies! What an amazing achievement…I hope you manage to enjoy, savour and soak in the last few days of the journey. Lots and lots of love Nat xx

  10. Anna C says:

    That first day out on the water must have been a hoot, but at the same time a slightly perturbing experience. And then, your first departure from San Fran must have been so exciting – and then so worrying when you couldn’t get Doris to go west and even worse when the batteries blew. But for every setback you have had, whether small and funny or big and desperately serious, you girls have made decisions, dealt with it, learnt from it and moved on. I shall never forget how positive you all were when Marius and I saw you in Santa Barbara, after your forced return to shore. Izzy was checking winds and tides, Laura was buying kit, Emma was mending the boat seats, and Nat was busy persuading the marina manager to waive their docking fees (she doesn’t take no for an answer), while Uncle Tony supervised and gave everyone the confidence to get back out on the water. You just took it in your stride.

    Having done some legal stuff for you before you left, I knew that you would be a great team, but you were all so different … and the challenge was so massive … that I could not help being fearful about the trip. But as time has gone on, and you have kept us all informed, and Izzy, Lizanne and Meg have switched in and out and interacted brilliantly with the other three of you, it became less about worry and more about enjoyment. I have loved watching your achievement, telling people about your challenge and reading your stories.

    It is so nearly over now, and you have timed it brilliantly as it is Marius’s birthday on Friday, so my first drink of the year to celebrate your arrival (fingers crossed the timing is right) can be a double celebration. Jim Andrews and others who joined, how is the self-denial going?!

    Weather on land looks as though it is going to be beautiful in Cairns on Saturday, so you should get a good turnout to see your arrival.

    And finally, something to keep you occupied on the oars, how about finishing this limerick:

    There was a young rower called Nat
    Who tried out a Boobie for a hat
    ……
    ……
    ……

    Safe rowing for the working pair and sweet dreams for the other two.

    With love and good luck to the finishing line from Anna C, Marius and all the Redd team

    • Jim Andrews says:

      Hi, Anna C, Marius and The Redd team, great little read there and lovely to make your (virtual) aquaintance 🙂
      Only one relapse from the “self denial” for a funeral wake, looking forward to our Heroine’s arrival, when a small libation will be enjoyed.
      I have made a feeble effort at completing your limmerick, though Nat and hat were difficult to follow.

      There was a young rower called Nat
      Who tried out a boobie for a hat,
      It balanced quite well as Nat battled the swell
      She has nicknamed the Boobie, young Billie
      As you can imagine , they get on quite well
      but three boobies on a girl, is just silly.

      XX

  11. He he. We see a lot of crews come and go from our yard and yours is by no means the only tale of mishap. In fact it is one of the best managed situations we have come across. Experienced ocean rowers have come a cropper from time to time by not being used to rowing near such hazards as land!! You can be stood in our yard without a breath of wind but once you turn that second turn to the sea the wind can pick up considerably. One rower went out to sea and tied up to a marker buoy (not the done thing!!) for a rest and quick nap, next thing he knew he woke up at a rather jaunty angle on the beach having not tied on properly. Another crew skippered by a World record breaking captain had to phone me to rescue them as they couldn’t row into a 20knt wind (unsurprisingly) and were getting blown onto the beach. A note to all mariners is look at the forecast and believe it, don’t think ‘oh it isn’t too breezy here in London we’ll be fine’. If you speak to our local fisherman they have seen it all. As a rule rowers fair better than a lot of sailors coming in though. It is a credit to you all what you have helped our Doris to achieve and you will be forever remembered not just by us but the history books too. Safe passage and watch out for land.

  12. full steam ahead England expect well done

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