Eeesh. Has it really been that long since I posted an update on here??

My last post was November 2019. Over a year ago!! I’m not sure how that happened, or how the time has gone by so fast in this last year of Covid-19 weirdness. Who would ever have foreseen at the start of the lockdown we would still be here a year later!

Coming back from the row **spoiler alert, The Atlantic row was successful!** not knowing anything about Covid, and then going straight into the strangest circumstances ever known in my lifetime, was hard to deal with. I wasn’t sure if I could write about the row but I think I would feel like the blog would be incomplete if I didn’t. 

So, the last thing I told you was about my intention to row across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans this year. Here’s how the story unfolded…


The year before the row…

The run up to the row was busy! There was always something to do and things would pop up last minute.

The weather

We met and had a training day with our awesome weather router Simon Rowell. He is the one who made our minds up for us about the direction of the Indian Ocean row, telling us in no uncertain terms that we would die if we went south to Durban! So the decision was made that we would row from Australia to Mombassa, Kenya when we did the Indian Ocean. Simon taught us loads about the weather and he’s a thoroughly bloody nice bloke too!

Simon is a very experienced weather router having worked for the Clipper around the world race, the British sailing team and the Olympics and Paralympics. Amongst the paid work, every year he likes to take on a charity event and offer his services for free. This year that was us!


Sea survival 

The RNLI supported us by sponsoring our sea survival training. They have a huge state of the art facility with a massive pool where they can simulate bad weather. 

So after a morning in the classroom, learning the theory and looking at some real life rescue situations (the take away of which was: only leave the boat when you really have to, only when there is really nothing left to cling to!) we then moved down to the pool to learn how to:

Jump in the water in foul water gear and backwards scull to the end.
Keep warm (the pool was very cold!)
Stay huddled together and manoeuvre together in a kind of backwards swimming crocodile formation.
Get into dry suits as quick as possible and jump in and swim in them. 
Jump from a great height with a life jacket on so we knew what it felt like when it inflates on contact with the water. 
Deploy a life raft.
Get into a life raft (harder than it looks).
Survive in a lift raft and signal for help. 

The life raft exercise was done in the dark, while the pool was wavy and rough and they were firing water canons at us. And I learnt from it that I seriously want to avoid being stuck in a life raft in the middle of the ocean because it would be a very unpleasant experience!

I’m not sure if Rachel is a giant or I am tiny
I think I had a good time!

Boat makeover 

We purchased a second hand boat with one crossing of the Atlantic behind it, which had been in storage for a couple of years, so of course it needed a little bit of work doing to it. We had to remove all the previous branding and make some modifications and repairs. 

The previous owners made a somewhat unusual decision to store the life raft on the back of the boat so they cut a notch out of the cabin (on the bottom left of the photo below). The reason this was a strange decision is because the life raft it the heaviest thing on the boat and having it on one side like that would make it really hard to balance the boat, and it would be hard to access. 

If we had more time and money we would have changed this back to how it was originally which would have given us more space in the cabin, but instead we relocated the life raft and we would just have to deal with the cut out in the cabin and it became known as the diving platform. 

We spent a few days stripping the boat of all the decals and another big job was removing the solar panels. They had been stuck down VERY well and unfortunately some of them weren’t able to be salvaged. 

 

After a lot of prep, sanding, filling in holes removing all the sticky residue, it was time for it to get a nice fresh wrap. We knew we would be taking it to a couple of boat shows so we had it prepared to be displayed before covering it with sponsor logos.

The ‘gold’ wrap was a questionable decision. Billy really wanted it to be gold. I wasn’t so keen, but at the end of the day the colour of the boat won’t impact our speed or safety so we went with the gold idea.

What we got was a more a bronze colour, but however you feel about it there was no question that it was quite striking!

 


Oxford Brookes University

One of the main motivations for the row was to work with Oxford Brookes University to further their research into Parkinson’s disease and PTSD. We visited them a few times before we left to have physical and neurological tests.

 

One of the major studies within Parkinson’s disease is the way people use glucose differently. Now I am very far away from being a scientist, so this is a basic description, but it has been found that people with Parkinson’s disease don’t metabolise glucose for energy and rely more on fats. One of the things we measured was our blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise.

While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, studies have shown that a keto diet (eliminating sugar) can help reduce the patients symptoms. I know I eat too much sugar, and that is evident with my body fat measurements!

 

It’s not the easiest thing I have ever done, you’re on a static bike, hooked up to this wired cap, and it’s so tight that it feels like the little nodes are piercing your skin. Then as you are cycling hard, struggling to breathe through that mask, and they ask you to count backwards in sevens while they are squeezing blood out of your fingertips!

All in the name of science!


Training and carb loading

Oooh. Yeah. Training?…

You may think that you need to do a lot of training before a big endurance event like this, and you should, but I did a very VERY minimal amount of training. I did a bit of swimming, but other than that I basically did nothing. Honestly, if there was an award for rowing an ocean with the least amount of training, I think I would win it. Billy would be a very close runner up but I think he did maybe one more workout than I did!

I don’t train for my hikes and I did ok with them, and I rowed across the English Channel with zero training, so I figured I would be ok. Of course training would have been a benefit all round, to my overall health and it would have probably made the first few days on the boat easier, but in general I don’t feel like I suffered from not training.

If I were to give advice to future ocean rowers, it would to be to not stress too much about the training but make sure you build up some callouses on your hands above anything!

What Billy and I did put a lot of effort into was carb loading.

When you are heading into something like this where you know you’re going to be expending a lot of energy and losing a lot of weight, so you don’t worry at all about what you’re eating, and you think it’s fine I will burn it off. This is not the best plan, my advice would be not to do this!

 


Sailing Uma

We met Dan and Kika who have a great YouTube channel called Sailing Uma. They wanted to swap thier sails for oars and come and try out rowing so we met up in Portsmouth and took them out for a few hours. They made this awesome little video about their experience…

If I remember correctly, it was the first time we had put the boat in the water so that was really exciting. This was before we had moved the rudder so the steering for the boat was in the middle of the bow cabin, this is why we have someone sat in the back hatch as they are steering with their feet while looking at the direction of travel. 

After a lot of hard work it was really nice to finally get out on the water, it felt like a big milestone. 


Food

Food is a hugely important part of the trip so we all went down to see Extreme Adventure foods where we were able to try everything thing they had to offer. We all have different tastes so we were able to pick out the things that we liked.

We had breakfasts, main meals, desserts, protein powders, liquid fuel (which are similar to protein drinks), and a selection of cakes and flapjacks.

 

We were all pleasantly surprised by the packet cheese! It may not look that delicious, but it tasted cheesy and that was good!  These are the same type of rations that the army take with them. Most of our food we take is dehydrated to make it as light as possible, but we did take a few things, like the cheese and some ‘wet’ meals just to mix things up a bit.

I am used to eating this sort of food and from experience the thing you miss most with these meals is the crunch. They are all one texture which can get hard to swallow after a while! But, how lucky are we that we have the technology to make meals that you can just add water to, if we were doing this back in the ‘old days’ we would be eating dried meat and dried fruit wrapped in animal fat!

 

So we planned for a dehydrated breakfast, 2 main meals, a dessert, a liquid fuel and a protein shake per person per day. On top of that we had our individual snack packs. These are made up mostly of chocolate and sweets (candy) and nuts, if you like that sort of thing.

I tried to mix up my snack packs so I had sweet and savoury, but the focus was definitely more on the sweet side! I organised them into two day rations. Biscuits, especially shortbread are really calorie dense for the weight and the cost, dried fruit mixed up with the candy, I took some oat cakes and cans of tuna and a few dry roasted peanuts (which were a bad idea because they went stale!) but mostly I took chocolate, and in hindsight not enough chocolate! Only one Twix per day. What on earth was I thinking!?


Cowes Week

One of our major fundraising opportunities was Cowes Week. This is a sailing event that happens every year in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. We were gifted a pitch, right next to Landrover who are one of the main sponsors of the event.

We had a lot of interest in the challenge. People were invited on board to sign the cabin for a donation, it was really fun to show the kids around and plant seeds of adventure in their minds!

It was funny to see the differing reactions, from oh my god its tiny to oh it’s much bigger than I thought it would be!

This is England in the summer so of course we had a mixed bag of weather, but luckily the Landrover staff were really kind and we were allowed to use their £150k ‘umbrellas’ with massage seats to shelter from the heavy downpours!

 


Elliott Brown and ITV

Elliott Brown is one of our sponsors and Ian Elliott came down to see us and pass on the ‘row it forward Bloxworth’ watch which has been worn on many different ocean crossings now by several different crew, including Billy and Scott. If I remember correctly it was being passed on to our friend Duncan to take across the Pacific, and then it would come back to us to be taken across the Indian.

My crew were all given watches too and mine came with a note saying ‘don’t look after it’. They make watches to by used by adventurers and they like them to be tested their limits!

We also did some filing with ITV news, which was a little bit of a disaster as we were rudderless and all we could do was go around in circles! But they managed to salvage enough footage from it to create a couple of minutes story!

 


The drone 

SwellPro came on board and sponsored us with a fancy drone. One which will land on water and even go underwater. We met up with the distributors and learnt how to use it and had a practice fly. 

Then Billy took it home and decided to practice with it, and he lost it. Yeah, he lost it! He said he just pressed return to home and it just flew away! Billy should not be allowed near anything to do with technology!

 


Support from friends 

I am really lucky to have a supportive friends, and I am pretty sure they were all so sick of hearing about the row. I was probably so boring as that is all I had to talk about, it was such a big part of my life! My awesome friend Jane who has been with me on trips to Everest Base Camp and Mera Peak, and has been there to talk me though some of the more rough times, came to support me at a fundraising event in Liverpool. 


Final work on the boat 

We worked literally day and night, outside, in the winter to get everything ready. Not unusually with projects like this, everything comes down to the wire. We got a rudder just a few days before we were due to leave England and the water maker was fitted the day before!

We were sealing and painting and drilling holes, making cupboards and taking deliveries of products right up until the final hour! 

 


And finally 

We even had time to scrub up and put our glad rags on for a charity event!


Next we road trip from the UK to Lanzarote, via Cadiz….

 

 

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Adventure with purpose.

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