So most of you already know what the next challenge is, but for those of you that don’t…I will be rowing across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in 2020.

If successful, that will make me the only female ever to have rowed two oceans in one year. Part of me thinks, that’s really cool. The other part of me thinks there is a reason it’s not been done before – because it’s really hard. But I am not one to do things by halves!

The idea for this was born in October 2018 and it has been one tough year to get to where we are now. I have been meaning to write about this challenge for pretty much the whole year, but after the Appalachian Trail I lost my writing mojo for quite some time, and to be honest I’m not really sure if I have got it back!

In 2018 I was a reserve rower for a crew crossing the Indian Ocean, and that is one of the reasons I hiked the trail, because they didn’t need me in the end and they rowed at the same time I was hiking. I did get a little taste of ocean rowing when I joined them on a training row from Guernsey to Southampton. You can read about how that went here: Have you ever thought about rowing across the English channel? (spoiler alert, I talk a lot about vomiting.)

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How it all began

When I got back from the trail and Billy got back from rowing across the Indian Ocean we met to swap adventure stories, and he said he wanted to row across the Indian again, and this time he wanted me on the crew. And so our adventure began, with a decision made in the pub, over a pint.

It begins with rowing across the Indian, but this time we would row non-stop from continent to continent, Australia to Africa, becoming the first crew to ever do this. We spent a while deliberating over whether we should go south to Durban or head north to Mombasa, Madagascar is in the way so we have to go one way or the other. In the end we chose Mombasa, and our decision was heavily influenced by our weather router telling us we would die if we attempted to go to Durban.

Then Billy decided we should do the Atlantic – as a training row. I was pretty unsure about this to start with. I had mentally only signed up for one ocean, but I didn’t have a good enough reason not to do it so I said yes to doing that one too. That’s when we found out that no female has done that before. There are a few women who have rowed more than one ocean, but not within a calendar year.

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All the information about the row can be found here: www.monkeyfistadventures.com or just keep reading!…


Where do you start?

First we bought a boat.

So far this has been the most expensive part. It cost £30,000 and of course we don’t have thirty thousand pounds so we have a payment plan to pay it off over a year. The boat is second hand, having done one crossing of the Atlantic before. So we know she is seaworthy, but it still needed a lot of work done to it.

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Then we chose the crew.

This is a 4 person boat so we will need 4 crew for each part of the challenge. Billy and I will be doing both crossings so that left us with 4 places to fill. Billy already had someone interested for the Atlantic – Scott Butler, who already had some rowing experience – in 2015 he rowed solo across the Black Sea. Whenever Billy talks about this it gets downgraded from a sea, to a lake, to a pond and now he refers to it as ‘the puddle’.

We also wanted to continue the research into Parkinson’s disease that Billy started on his Indian Crossing. Robin Buttery was part of the crew and he became the first person with Parkinson’s disease to have every rowed across an ocean. They partnered with Oxford Brookes University and the results from the research were very positive. Nutrition and exercise play a huge part in relieving the symptoms of Parkinson’s, and some of the research was focussed on how people with Parkinson’s don’t use carbohydrate for energy, and instead rely on metabolising fats.

We advertised in Parkinson’s forums and we had 3 applicants and we decided to take Liz Dennett with us to complete our fully mixed crew. Liz was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease 5 years ago at the age of 43.

Having a mixed crew was really important to me because I don’t think we will achieve equality just by have groups of all women proving they can do the same as groups of all men. I believe that true equality is men and woman working together equally to achieve the same goal. It is seeing past gender.

It has been amazing to me that quite a few people think that a mixed crew is an impossible situation. After all, how on earth are the men going to be able to contain themselves!? They can’t be expected to live in a confined space with a woman and not be able to control themselves?! (This is an opinion popularly held by mostly men over a certain age (60+), but of course not an opinion held by all men aged 60+.)

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To complete our Indian crew we advertised on social media and we got 60 applications back, waaaay more than we were expecting! We had to narrow it down and we met with just 5 people, and after a weekend of team building activities we had to make our final decision. This has been one of my least favourite parts so far as it isn’t very nice being in the position where you have to let people down, but also that’s life I guess. It is also a really important part of the process. We will be spending a long time with these people so it is really important we get it right, although we won’t really know if we have made the right decision until we are on the ocean!

Joining us for the Indian crossing are Rachel Hearn and John Haskell. For this crossing we will be partnering with Oxford Brookes University again to research into PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). PTSD is often primarily associated with the military, but it can be found in lots of ares of life, including the fire service, and John worked for the fire service for 29 years before retiring with PTSD.

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Scott. Liz, Billy, Me, John, Rachel. Photo: Adrian Scarbrough

The people who did get chosen this time around are our reserve crew and some of them have also been active in helping us to prepare for the row. More people equals more contacts and the ability to share the work load a bit.

We haven’t charged anyone for their seat in the boat, which is unusual in the ocean rowing world. It isn’t uncommon to expect to pay about £20,000 for your seat. We decided not to do it this way. Paying from something means there is an expectation of service automatically attached, and we want everyone to be fully involved in the planning, organisation and execution of the challenge. If we don’t all work hard and pull our weight, then we don’t go!


Sponsorship

The rest of my year has been taken up with asking people to give us stuff, which is really hard work and unpleasant!

This whole fundraising thing has been so hard. The worst moments are when you have carefully crafted an email which had taken an hour or so to perfect and then you hear nothing back, you send a follow up and you still hear nothing back. It is worse than being told no. At least if you are told no you know they have read, acknowledged and thought about what you have asked. There have been couple of brands that I really admire who I have approached and not heard anything back, to be honest it does leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth and now I would be much less inclined to use their products.

And of course you get told no a lot, you also get told yes and then no a lot. People tell you they will do things for you, and it just never happens.

But of course some people say yes and that really does feel great!

Billy has done most of the financial sponsorship. He already had several connections from previous ocean rows and, to be honest he is just better at stuff like that! There is absolutely no way I would have been able to do all of this myself, I would have self imploded with the stress of it all way before now. I let myself get super stressed about all of this, sometimes I just have to take myself off to lie in a darkened room and watch some terrible reality TV just to escape real life for a bit.

It really is a whole rollercoaster of emotions.

Working in an outdoor shop has been incredibly beneficial. I have had access to all the reps from all the companies and they have all been so helpful. I have had support from MSR, Black Diamond, Merrell, hopefully Garmin, and of course Cotswold Outdoor – the company I work for.

When we are looking for sponsorship we aren’t just seeking financial support, donations of product and services are a huge help too.

Our next biggest cost will be the shipping of the boat from Antigua to Australia, and it is the time it will take to get there that will dictate our departure from Australia. We estimate that it will take about 2 months to ship and then it may get held up in customs (which happened the Billy last time and he was delayed for a month). We are speaking to a few people who may be able to help pus with the transport of the boat and we have contacts in Perth who are able to help us out with the boat when it reaches Australia so things aren’t looking too bad from that side of things.

We have been sponsored with food by Extreme Adventure Food who are giving us a 50% discount, which means food for the Atlantic will still cost us about £4,000 and then potentially a further £8,000 for the food for the Indian Ocean. Our clothing is being sponsored by Zhik who agreed sponsorship in June, but we are yet to receive all our clothing. This does make me nervous because food and clothing are such important parts of the trip. The clothing I will be wearing for at least half a year and it would have been good to be able to wear it in a bit and sort out any problems! But right now it is what it is, as they say.

Of course most of this is about knowing the right people, being put in touch with the right people and just asking at the right time. Some people really want to help but budgets have been used up for the year or they have to try and get through lots of different people.

Our biggest sponsor so far has been a company called Home Bargains. It was pure luck and chance that got us that sponsor. Liz knew where the owner lives and posted a sponsor pack through his door. His wife liked it and now they are our gold sponsor having donated £15,000. If we had gone for a traditional route by sending emails to their sponsor department at head office we wouldn’t have got anywhere.

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A full list of all of our sponsors and supporters can be found here: Our sponsors


The hard stuff

There have been several times I have wanted to give up on this project. There is so much to do, so much to think about and we are now only 16 days away from leaving the UK and just under 5.5 weeks out from launching across the Atlantic Ocean and there is still what feels like a never ending list of things to sort out.

I sometimes wonder what on earth I am doing. Is all this stress worth it? Do I really want to be spending half my year at sea in a tiny boat with 5 strangers?

I persevere with it all because I know it will make the success that much sweeter. The harder it has been to achieve something the better it feels when you eventually achieve it. And I know that there will be good bits amongst the bad bits!

I am actually a bit worried about what I will do when it’s over. I am already thinking about the post-adventure-blues! This row has been my whole life for the last year, the rowers have been people I have contact with almost every day. I do very little else. I think about very little else. It is absolutely ridiculous that I am working about it being over but sometimes you can’t help where your mind takes you.

As I sit here now writing this I am in my house on my own, and I have actually felt pretty isolated and really quite lonely at times. No one outside the crew really understands what it takes to do something like this, just to get a project like this to the start line is a huge challenge in itself.

The support of my family has been slim to none. With the exception of a couple of people  (and obviously not including my parents because they support me 100% in everything I do!). One member of my family thinks what I am doing is “stupid” and refuses to talk to me about it. “We won’t be sponsoring this one because we think it’s too dangerous and you should’t be doing it”. Well, thanks for your support! Sometimes it is hard not to let the only negative person affect you, but sometimes it does. I either have to forget about it (difficult) or I have to turn it round to a positive and use it to fuel my fire to succeed.

You may think you are being supportive, but if you don’t show that in any way to the person they will never know that. Unless you ask them if there is anything you can do to help, unless you talk to them about what they are about to do (just showing an interest helps!). Yeah you may read all about it on social media, yeah you may think you know how I’m feeling, but you have no idea. Most of the time social media is the polished highlights and that is something I never wanted my blog to be. So that is why I am having this little rant now!

My stress levels are pretty high right now as we make the final preparations, and I am aware that all of this negative stuff will melt away once I am on the boat and then it will be all forgotten about when the challenge is complete, but that doesn’t stop how I am feeling right now being any less real.


What do I think the biggest challenges will be?

It is all going to be challenging.

Not being too scared of the vast ocean
Being seasick and not knowing how long it will last
Living in such a small space
Not being able to walk anywhere!
Being in such close proximity with the same people 24/7
Tiredness
Hunger
Rowing for 12 hours a day
The boredom
The monotony of rowing for 12 hours a day
Other people habits
The sound of people eating
Billy
Bad weather
Insane waves
Being wet all the time
Our stuff being wet all the time
Pooing in a bucket in front of other people
And so much more stuff!

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What do I think the best bits will be?

I am in no doubt that as hard as it will be, the overall experience will be incredible. Like anything, the brain blocks out the bits that aren’t so good.

Stepping off the boat knowing we used human power to cross an ocean
Not being afraid of the sea anymore
Hopefully we will see some wildlife
The bioluminescence
Every sunrise and sunset
The isolation
The achievement
The good weather
The calm seas
Not being on social media!

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photo: Adrain Scarbrough

Why?

I guess if you have to ask why then you’ll never really understand.

There are many reasons why I want to too this It is a challenge way outside my comfort zone. I went into this not knowing anything about the ocean or boats or rowing. And I have already learnt so much, and I know I will continue to learn all the way across the oceans.

I set out to long distance hike because it was a challenge, and although I still really love hiking it isn’t as challenging as it once was.

It will be an experience that will teach me a lot about myself and about others and about the planet, and it will be something I will never forget.

Plus, it’s better than sitting in an office.

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Training?

Ha ha. Yeah next question…

Seriously, I may become the person who has done the least amount of training to have ever crossed an ocean.


How can you help?

We still need financial sponsorship. We still need about £50,000. 20k of that will go to finish paying for the boat and the other 30k will support food, comms, flights and shipping.

So, if anyone out there knows any companies who might like to help support and world record breaking challenge, and be a part of ground breaking research in Parkinson’s disease and PTSD, please do let me know!

If you would like to make a personal donation you can donate here: Paypal and you can read more information about our 100 club, or our corporate sponsor packages

At the moment we are still funding the row, but we are also looking to raise a decent amount for our chosen charities: EPDA, RAFT and Combat Stress.

I won’t be focussed on my personal blog while I am rowing but we do have several ways of following this challenge:

We have a website and when we leave we will have a live tracker which will update every 4 hours: www.monkeyfistadventures.com

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