New Years Day message

Days 8 - 16

With the first couple of weeks now behind us and the culture shock starting to die down, we’ve been able to properly settle into life onboard. The stark reality of the scale of this challenge is now hugely apparent, with 1/2 the ocean still to cross, but we’re in high spirits and firing all cylinders to get to Caribbean waters ASAP. here’s the latest news from the boat...

 

Astronomy for dummies

It has been incredible to see the vast blanket of stars on show on clear nights during the crossing so far. Sadly for the Oarsmen, astronomy is not a strong subject, so other than confidently pointing out Orion’s Belt and The Big Dipper we’re stumped as to the various constellations, instead choosing simply to admire, mouth wide open, in bewilderment. However, on night 8 we were treated to some incredible, pyrotechnics with the night lit up momentarily by a passing comet -utterly amazing and a healthy reminder of our insignificance in the grand scheme of all things celestial.

 

Bob the bird (continued...)

Bob continues to visit daily whatever the weather, assessing progress and mood onboard and keeping an eye out for any tasty morsels that go uneaten (trust me, there haven’t been any). On this though, Bob has perhaps gone from guardian and guide to opportunist and we’re starting to doubt his motives. On night 9, Oarsmen Robinson and Taylor on the oars, Dicky got up to tinker with our bearing. On returning to his seat, he finds it taken...by Bob. Some time passed during which Pete and Dicky tried to establish if this was a figment of their imaginations, but it would seem not. We think he had his eyes on an ex-flying fish on deck (see below), but either way we saw it as an affront and are now wary rather than welcoming of him popping up each day...sly bugger!

 

Autohelm gremlins

Without wishing to delve too deep into the technical workings of our boat (for it is extremely intricate and complicated, and superlatively dull), we have a GPS chartplotter onboard on which we map out our route and this interacts with the autohelm, effectively an autopilot for the rudder to do our steering for us... all very exciting, I’m sure you’ll agree! Anyway, when this works, it’s great; we don’t have to manually steer the boat so can genuinely get some rest on the off-shifts. However, on more than one occasion and for reasons still entirely unknown to us, the autopilot gremlins have sent the boat into complete turmoil by putting a hard lock on the rudder sending us pirouetting in the rough seas. The usual response is one of initial panic as a 30ft wave approaches us side-on threatening to capsize us, followed by the odd blaming glance at each other before reaching the obvious conclusion that it must be the gremlins again. We suspect these were put onboard by a competing team, but haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. In the meantime, there are some trust issues between us and the autohelm.

 

And fish might fly...”

One species we had been told to expect to encounter during the crossing was the logic-defying flying fish, and true to advice, we’ve seen shoals of these fish momentarily gliding above the water seemingly flying along before diving back into the blue. Despite regular spottings over the last couple of weeks, nothing could have prepared us for the close-up encounter we had on day 11. During a night shift, we were blindsided by what can only be described as a half pigeon, half sea trout. The pace at which this torpedo of nature travelled was simply remarkable. At super speed, the fish broke out of the water behind our heads and hurtled straight into our rear view (vanity) mirror onboard. Unfortunately for the fish, it came off second best and landed stone dead on the deck, not even a final flap of glory - poor lad. We’re expecting Bob the bird back any minute, the bloody opportunist he is!

 

Cleaning Aegirs bottom

Now, ocean rowing boats, despite our best efforts, are not the fastest moving things. In fact, they move so slowly that barnacles, algae and other stowaways we pass en route tend to latch on and come along for the ride. After a couple of weeks on the water, the boat has a film of these little nautical hitchhikers, each detracting from its aqua dynamics and slowing us down - far from ideal. On a calm day last week we took the plunge, goggles on; scraper in hand to clean Aegir’s bottom. There is something a little unnerving about leaping overboard into the steely depths of the mid Atlantic to do this job, but, after some deliberation, the opportunity to have a quick swim and soothe aching limbs was seen as a net win and so Stu and Dicky duly obliged, taking the necessary safety precautions (genuinely) -all very out of character! With Aegir now clean, we can plod along safe in the knowledge that we’re silky smooth and streamlined! With the warmer Caribbean waters now hopefully only a couple of weeks away, Pete and George are looking forward to their turn, but with warmer waters comes sharks and other challenges.

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Living with Lions

One thing we had heard a fair amount about prior to the row was the inevitable hallucinations that we’d encounter as a result of sleep deprivation and alien surroundings. While this could be quite concerning, we thought it would also provide some entertainment and a bit of easy fodder for the blog. However, as deep fatigue set in and sleep deprivation took its toll on our bodies, we remained really quite lucid (relatively speaking)... no hallucinations, not even a hint. What were we going to put in the blog? Then, after one particularly sleep depraved night, Oarsman Robinson came up with the goods. Pete arrived on shift in an (even for him) out of character huff. He threw himself down on his seat, muttered something under his breath and set about rowing. A few minutes passed before I enquired “all ok buddy?” To which the response came “no, not really mate, I’m pissed off about the shorts”. With zero idea what he was talking about, I furthered my line of enquiry to gather that Pete was under the impression that former England and British Lions rugby player, Will Greenwood, had made him come out to row that shift in some traditional cotton rugby shorts, and Pete was not happy about it. What’s more, Pete was also under the impression that Stu was Will Greenwood and so poor Stuart was beating the brunt of Pete’s anger. It took Pete a good 2 hours to work out that this was most likely an hallucination and Stu was then duly forgiven... all very entertaining. We’re hoping for some more instalments of this nature in weeks to come as tiredness takes hold and the lines dividing consciousness and unconsciousness blur... watch this space.

 

Christmas at sea

It was always going to be an odd one, spending Christmas Day on the boat, away from family and friends, with sun and sea instead of snow and sleet. Would it be one to remember or one to forget, we wondered. In all honesty, the day came and went much like any other; eat, sleep, row, repeat... different day, same routine. George spent some time trying to rouse some sort of festive spirit with a hideous back catalogue of Christmas hits on his phone (who knew Destiny’s Child brought out a Christmas single?!), but nothing quite struck a chord. Death by Bublé then ensued, before tempers frayed and we reverted back to a non-festive playlist to see us through the last few hours of the day. In all Christmas Day, as a day, was like any other on the boat so far. It’s clear that what makes Christmas special is those we spend it with and not the day itself. On that note, each of the team took the opportunity to speak with loved ones at home and exchange festive wishes and news, the prevailing sentiment coming from the UK being one of freezing cold weather, something we can’t relate to right now! News from Home certainly helped buoy spirits plus bring a sense of purpose and drive to reach Antigua asap, as we rowed onwards into the night and through into Boxing Day.

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Blisters and bum sores

Now, we knew that there were going to be blisters and sores as part of this experience so we did our best to callous up our hands and hardy our arses for what lay in store, but the extent of these has been really quite dramatic (save for Oarsman Robinson who seemingly possesses a rather resilient rump and hands cast of the toughest leather known to man). At sea nothing heals, so with the benefit of hindsight we have established that prevention is the best cure. Dry off-shifts are spent airing sore bums and giving the mitts some breathing time in a desperate bid to get things on the mend; after a few dry days of late, it’s thankfully working. Aside from this, innovation has been the buzzword with all manners of Velcro, neoprene, duct tape and other such nautical essentials being put to good use to create bespoke seating options, carefully moulded and sculpted to fit to each Oarsman’s derrière. It will come as no surprise that Dicky has produced a veritable work of art, while George’s attempt looks more like a chewed dog toy...whatever works though, I guess!

Cravings 101

I’m sure you were all expecting conversation topics onboard to include Sartrian deliberations on existentialism, the true meaning of life and “religion - social construct or belief system?”. Of course, we summarily dealt with the above in week 1 so have since ramped things up a bit. Favourite try scored, cricket innings, film, song, colour, season, house, ...some big juicy topics with some interesting and controversial answers unfit for publishing here. One topic that has cropped up almost daily, however, is the food cravings we are each encountering. There are common ones such as a bacon and egg sarnie and a cup of tea, but also some more left-field offerings including pink wafers, hot milk and honey, apple pie (and the big cream/custard/ice cream debate), Florentines, cornettos, Murray mints and jammy dodgers. We are all desperately hoping there is a one-stop shop in Antigua to satisfy these cravings when we reach solid land...it won’t know what’s hit it! More on our taste buds next time...

 

All that remains for us to say is a huge thank you for all the incredible messages of support we received, including over 100 on Christmas Day alone. It is utterly humbling to know that what we are doing, and the reasons we are doing it, is in so many people’s thoughts and hearts. Again, it is a huge morale and mood boost onboard and creates a noticeable surge in energy when we read them out, so please, please keep them coming (riddles, puzzles, quizzes and mind games also welcomed as we ran out of any truly meaningful conversation topics days ago!).

 

Over and out

The Four Oarsmen

Christmas Eve message

Apologies for the delay in the update, there are a couple of reasons for this (not entirely our fault, we promise).

·      Firstly, the race start was delayed by 2 days due to adverse weather conditions. This decision was initially met with disappointment, but with hindsight it was definitely the right thing. Sending a fleet of intrepid rowers out straight into 40 knot gale force winds and seas with 10m swells was deemed a little irresponsible by the race organisers, what’s more, the port authority imposed a ban on boats coming into and out of the marina, so that was that. 

·      Secondly, and perhaps a little more “user error”, we’ve had a slight technical glitch getting the onboard ‘media centre’ up and running .

·      Thirdly, we’ve been rowing; it takes it out of you. Time off the oars to date has been spent sleeping (or at least trying to sleep) and settling into life on the high seas, getting used to our daily schedules and routines.

... Nonetheless, here we are with the first instalment of the blog, enjoy!

Following news of the delay to the race start, we tried our best to can the adrenaline coursing through our veins and busied ourselves with final tinkerings, route planning and strategy discussions, but there was a real itch to get going, we were starting to go a little stir crazy in La Gomera. On the morning of Thursday 14th December, a briefing was called and it was announced that the conditions had calmed sufficiently to get the race under way. With pulses raised, we readied ourselves for the off.

To avoid utter mayhem, the race start is staggered with a boat setting off every 5 minutes; we were 6th in line. Crowds of locals, family members, friends and supporters had turned out to see the fleet away, so quite a buzz had built up in the marina. When our time came, we cast off from our berthing and set off out into the open seas; people waved and cheered, boat horns wailed their support, a few rockets went off, then that was it.... nothing but sea ahead of us for the next month and a half of our lives. Just 4 mates on a 26 ft boat loaded up to the hilt with high-fat snacks and Sudocrem; what could possibly go wrong?!

We had spoken about strategies and particularly about how we wanted to start the race; we’d decided to row 3-up (2hrs on, 40 mins off) for a decent spell to make some initial headway and get up amongst the fleet leaders. We had however reminded ourselves of Aesop’s fable, the tortoise and the hare, and didn’t want to get too carried away with a fast start that would knacker us for the weeks and weeks of rowing to come. Despite this, mainly due to an irrepressible resource of adrenaline, we very much set off at hare pace, overtaking all boats ahead of us within the first couple of hours. It felt great at the time, but this is a very long race, there is no room for sprinting. When we received a call from the race duty officer 30 hrs in asking us if we were ok as we’d gone off like a shot, we decided enough was enough, back to 2-up (already overtired but quietly smug at having the lead, utterly meaningless though it was). From then on, we would settle into the usual routine (2 hours on/off) and get accustomed to life at sea.

The race start was exciting, so I’ve added a bit more colour and detail than you can expect going forward. As you can imagine, sitting in a tiny cabin tapping away on an iPad doesn’t do much to suppress sea sickness, but we’ll do our best to fill you in on our antics as we go.

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Days 1 - 7

Hurling order of merit

Oarsmen Robinson and Taylor came into ocean rowing with previous form in seasickness, and as expected they have not disappointed out in the Atlantic despite us carrying a mountain of medical, herbal and homeopathic remedies onboard. At the last count, I think it was 4 - 2 to Robinson after a couple of audacious efforts mid-stroke - pure class. Biggar and Watts are yet to register a point and we’ve now been a vomit-free vessel for 4 days.

 

A whale of a time

Day 3 brought blue skies and calm waters and, as such, was proving a real pleasure for paddling. Aside from this, day 3 also brought the highlight of the trip so far; we were joined by a minky whale and her calf who swam around and under the boat for half an hour before heading on their way with a puff of the blowhole to wish us on our way - absolutely stunning stuff and so special to be up close and personal with these beautiful creatures in the wild.

 

Our winged companion

Having followed the progress of Row For James in last year’s race, we were intrigued by the bird, Bob, that followed them from start to finish. Well, guess what, we’ve got our own Bob. He checks in two or three times a day, every day (unfortunately, we have had no regurgitated freeze dried meals to offer him since day 3). Is it a good sign to have Bob watching over us, if it was good enough for R4J, then it’s good enough for us! More on Bob next week, we hope...

 

(Not that) near miss

On one of the graveyard shifts on night 5 with Biggar and Robinson grafting away, we spotted a light in the distance. Over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, it got clearer and closer, apparently on course for us! Never one to underplay a crisis, Oarsman Biggar jumped up from the oars, launching himself into the control cabin and (quite expertly, if he might say so himself) grabbed the VHF radio and called in to the oncoming ship to confirm our course and speed thus avoiding an almost inevitable collision. The response, a rather bemused “Aegir, this is Brahman Express, we note your bearing and speed and will pass comfortably in front of you”... on review of our AIS, the ship was never closer than 2 miles away. Can’t beat a good crisis though, hey?!

Cabin fever

With temperatures creeping up as we nudge further west, the cabins are starting to get a little on the hot side. Despite unequivocal advice to keep cabin doors closed at all times, the temptation is to sneak a little window of fresh air when possible. On one such occasion, on day 5, we were sorely caught out by a monster wave over the stern cabin which did a pretty comprehensive job of cascading through the ajar cabin door and soaking our matting. Unfortunately, dehumidifiers are a little hard to come by out here so we’re still battling to get the mats dry... any suggestions welcomed!

Motion on the ocean

One of our most asked questions has always been “how do you go to the loo”, to which the response is usually “we use a bucket”. Despite this succinct and straightforward answer, none of us had had much experience of actually using the bucket on the high seas; it is not a graceful affair! With biodegradable toilet bag and baby wipes in hand you must (sometimes in the pitch black, with head torch on) stumble and hop past whoever is on the oars and take pride of place on the “naughty bucket” at the back of the boat giving the rower in the stern position front row seats for whatever may be about to ensue - you choose whether to face them or not! Having had some high seas and choppy waters to deal with already, we’ve had a couple of precarious moments (no further details required). I think the answer to the question will still be “we use the bucket”, but I thought you’d appreciate a little more meat on the bones... sorry if I was wrong.

In summary, it’s a steep learning curve out here and, in typical Oarsman fashion, we are tending to make mistakes and then learn from them...but we’re keeping smiles on our faces throughout and are in good spirits. That said, receiving messages of support from everyone following us back home is really keeping the fire burning and spurring us on, so please do keep sending these through to the4oarsmen@gmail.com, it really makes a difference.

 

Over and out

The Four Oarsmen 

Hola from La Gomera!

It has been an action-packed couple of weeks out here readying ourselves and the boat for the big departure on the 12th but with 2 days to go until the starter’s gun, we’re now ready for the off, and eager to hit the high seas. In true Oarsman style we left ourselves a fair bit of rowmin to get through, but have battled through it all. It helps that Dicky (never to be found without his trusty laptop in tow) has been compiling spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of jobs to be done and has been cracking the admin whip. There have been some long days and plenty of hard graft, but we’ve all pulled together and got everything ticked off - teamwork really does make the dream work! Some serious thanks due to Dicky’s Dad, Farmer Bill, who flew out with his trusty drill (and a whole load of kit we had left behind - Oarsmen will be Oarsmen) and beavered away for 4 days fitting fans in cabins, making seat covers and generally saving the day - we’d have been in a right pickle now without his help. Another huge thank you is due to Jim MacDonald from Mactra, the watermaker guru, who came to our rescue when we established our watermaker has packed up with only a couple of days before race start!

Aegir is looking resplendent and is the envy of the rest of the fleet. The chrome wrap saves us an extra couple of degrees of heat in the saunas that are our cabins, so that’s a major win. 

There are 28 teams taking part in this year’s race and it has been great to meet everyone and spend some time together before we head out to sea. What’s more, a lot of them knew a lot more about boats than we do and are, without exception, incredibly happy to help and advise. The race entrants are a massively diverse crowd including: 

·      An Egyptian astronaut who has also conquered The Seven Summits.

·      A Dutch national arm wrestling champion who has sailed around the world ... solo ... three times.

·      2 British lads completing the final leg of their incredible ultratriathlon “saddle, sand, sea” having already cycled the breadth of Europe and completed the gruelling Marathon Des Sables

·      A kiwi 26yr old guy, Isaac, who is doing the crossing solo and has kitted his boat out with an ear-bleedingly loud sound system and around 400 hours of drum and bass music.

·      A group of 4 Norwegian girls (the Rowegians) who are out to break the Norwegian record for the crossing.

As we approach the start date an inevitable tinge of anxiety is setting in, the realisation that concept is very soon to become reality. With over 3,000 miles of nothing but sea between us and a hard-earned pina colada, thoughts focus on trying to make sense of the enormity of the task ahead, and with that comes nerves, but a bit of nervous energy is a healthy thing, and we’ve spent the last 18 months undyingly dedicating ourselves to preparing for this very moment, so we’re ready... bring it on!

...next update will be from somewhere in the Atlantic (satellite communication depending)...

Over and out

The Four Oarsmen

The campaign gathers pace…

The Big Practice Row

AUGUST - NOVEMBER 2017

It has been quite a while since our last update, and for that we apologise. We've been busy little oarsmen in the meantime – it turns out that ocean rowing doesn't organise itself! On the upside, it does mean we have quite a lot to report… 

Since our last update, Aegir has had a good few run-outs, and we've had our fair share of the stormy conditions we had foolishly wished for in our last blog. We were starting to get a feel for this ocean rowing lark. While a little trepidatious at first, getting the experience of rowing on rough seas is invaluable preparation for the race itself; the Atlantic can be a cruel mistress at times.

With various overnight rows under our belts (Pete had also completed a UK-Holland row with another crew who found themselves a man down). we put in place plans for "the big one" in August – a 3 day, 3 night row doing everything we could to emulate the conditions we'd be facing in December (no outside contact, ration pack food, making our own water etc.). It would put us well outside our comfort zone but then that was what we needed.

August came, Dicky flew in from the States, Stu and I got the train North and we all descended on Pete in Northumberland for a week, eager (but anxious) to get the boat on the water and crack on. However, before we could get out on the water, we had the small matter of a photoshoot to get through – our sponsors had asked for high resolution team photographs, and we didn’t have any! We enlisted the help of professional photographer, Hank Jansen, who duly obliged and gave up ½ a day he'll never get back! We were very willing subjects, but lacked any real modelling experience or appreciation for what made a good photo. Clambering around on rocks, with Dicky seemingly tensing for an impressive 4 hours straight, we just about got through it. However, with Hank's expert guidance, we were able to get some great team snaps (and some god-awful ones too).

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Photoshoot out of the way, it was time to hit the water. Unfortunately, for us, the pre-row process is never conducted with pit stop-like efficiency. There is the important matter of ensuring we load the boat up with everything we could possibly need for the outing – lifejackets, harnesses, PLBs, waterproofs, first aid kit, tool kit, food – and there is plenty to remember. Pete's "no stone left unturned" approach to this exercise is certainly detailed, but painstakingly slow – every room in the house is visited and examined, every supermarket aisle patrolled and inspected…hours pass! Nonetheless, we usually arrive at Amble marina confident that we've got all the essentials. On this occasion, that feeling was sadly ill-placed. While readying the boat for launch, we soon realised that a very specific part, the rudder cuff, was missing. Without this, we can't secure our rudder and therefore can't steer the boat – it’s a vital bit of kit. A catalogue of errors then ensued.

Unable to find the rudder cuff at Pete's house or onboard Aegir, the only option was to purchase a replacement and have it sent up from Rannoch (the boatbuilders) overnight. We would put off our row by a day; we had plenty of time together, so, while sub-optimal, this was little more than a fly in the ointment. Dicky, with consummate efficiency, called Rannoch, bought the part and arranged for it to be delivered overnight…to completely the wrong address, in fact, to an address that didn't even exist. This minor detail was only realised when the part failed to arrive the next day – another day lost. When the part eventually arrived, we secured the rudder in place and got Aegir out on the water. These things are sent to test you – and it was great testament to the team that we managed not to fall out in the process, laughing it off (whilst making sure the blame remained squarely on Dicky's shoulders!) and putting it all down to experience. All this bodes well for the high-stress, high-fatigue conditions we'll be under during the race.

With the 4 of us being so widely scattered, team-time is precious and we try to tick off as many things as we can when we're all together. One such thing for this visit was an interview with BBC Look North; they had been in touch and wanted to cover our story. We were excited by the prospect of being on TV and it would serve as a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about what we're doing and help promote the fantastic charities we're doing it for.

We've been lucky enough to gain some fantastic support off the back of this interview, and it has definitely opened doors for us on the fundraising front too. What’s more, the BBC Look North team will be travelling out to La Gomera in December to see us off and give us more great coverage.

So, with modelling and media responsibilities out the way, we could finally concentrate on the rowing. We loaded up the boat with all our equipment for the coming days and readied ourselves for the off. Pete had bought a new GoPro to get some decent footage of us out at sea, complete with suction cap so we could stick it to the boat. So, before leaving the marina he set this up. Unfortunately, the suction cap wasn’t quite as sticky as we had hoped. Within 2 seconds of sticking it to the boat, it fell off into the water and sunk – ideal! Oh well, at least it wouldn't put us off the task at hand!

As we rowed out of Amble Marina heading north, we once again had wall-to-wall sunshine and calm sea conditions. However, having checked the forecast earlier that day, we knew that strong winds and rain were on the way. However, in the meantime, we made the most of the August warmth, opting for the "tops off" approach – again, this is likely to be our modus operandi during the crossing.

As we passed by Dunstanburgh Castle, we heard a whirring overhead only to look up and see a drone flying overhead. Pete had spoken to Jack Wrangham, a local drone photographer, in the build-up to our row and he had kindly offered to get some aerial footage of us on the water. Ducking and weaving overhead, the drone got some fantastic shots of us in action. Seeing the boat in the ocean from way above, really does give perspective to the scale of what we are undertaking; we will be nothing more than an insignificant speck in the Altantic.

As we rowed further North we had the usual interactions will seals and puffins (no dolphins this time sadly), and then a visit from Amble coastguards in their beast of a lifeboat. They drew up alongside us, asked us the inevitable questions about what on earth we were doing, told us they had had to rescue some ocean rowers the year before in rough seas, and then warned us that rough seas were expected that evening – lovely to have a vote of confidence like that!

As our first evening set in, so did the weather (as expected). As we passed through the Farne Isles and approached Holy Island, the wind arrived, whipping up a frenzy of waves for us to negotiate. At 20 knots (equivalent to 20mph) the headwind was tough to row against and distance covered dwindled. Nonetheless, the aim for this row was not to cover the maximum distance, but more to settle into life onboard. This was all part and parcel of what we'd face in the Atlantic so it was good experience. We maintained our 2 hour on; 2 hour off routine and ploughed on into the night.

With choppy conditions, comes sea sickness and we soon realised that we weren't immune to it. Pete is definitely the queasiest of the 4 of us, and had a spell of heavy sea-sickness whilst on the oars, being sick overboard between oar strokes then rowing on as if nothing had happened – what a champ. It wasn't long before Dicky (who was camping out in the aft cabin, with all the controls) followed suit. With the strong winds and high waves, we had asked him to keep a close eye on our chartplotter to ensure we were maintaining a good course, which meant staring at a screen inside the cabin – a bout of vomiting (somewhat inevitably) ensued. Somehow, Stu and I had managed to stave off the sickness, perhaps as a result of the fact that we couldn’t stop laughing at the other two's misfortunes #teamplayers. Sea sickness is rite of passage during the Atlantic row, so I doubt we'll be quite so lucky come December!

With very little mileage covered overnight despite maximal effort on the oars fighting the conditions, we found ourselves near Berwick as dawn broke. Having been out for about 18 hours at this stage, tiredness was setting in and the choppy seas has prevented us from getting much sleep (if any) – Even Dicky (usually capable of slipping into a coma within seconds of coming off the oars) had struggled to doze off! Catching one another's eye between shifts and sharing thoughts during the on-shift, there was no doubt that a stark realisation had set it that the Atlantic crossing was going to be tough, really tough.

Our second day brought more wind and heavy rain, so it was more of the same – crawling along, soaked to the core with waves crashing into the boat and drenching us further. The glorious calm of our first outing in mirror-flat conditions was a distant memory. That feeling of insignificance crept back in; we were completely at the mercy of the sea. We soldiered on, keeping up the routine and trying desperately to get some kip between shifts. On previous rows, we had done 24 or so hours so, at a push, you can get by without sleep. As we headed on into our second night, it became very apparent that maximising sleep was crucial and, without it, performance, mood and resilience dropped drastically. We had, in the most part, overcome the sea sickness by this stage, so could genuinely concentrate on trying to get some rest when off the oars. The weather meanwhile had not improved, in fact, the 20 knot winds were now up at 25 knots and blowing completely off-shore. Rather than thinking about progress, we were concentrating on stopping ourselves from being blown over to Norway. Whilst it would have been lovely to change course, whip over to Norway, take in the Fjords and tuck into a huge Smorgasbord on arrival, none of us had our passports with us and we all had to work to get back to in a few days!

As we approached our third night, we had set our sights on Edinburgh as our finishing line for the following day. The entry to the Firth of Forth was 25 miles further north, so seemed achievable. We knew that the tidal flow of the Forth could be brutal, but if we timed it right it would pull us right into Edinburgh without a huge amount of effort on our part. Unfortunately, the weather and tide had other ideas.

Overnight, the 25 knot winds rose to 30 knots, and it wasn't long before the coastguards were on the radio advising us to return to shore. We had, by this stage, got as far North as Dunbar, but we had been blown 8 miles off-shore in the space of 3 hours – our Norway dream was (albeit now against our will) coming true! After some semi-serious, semi-delirious discussions about heading to Scandinavia, we decided the Port Authority and Border Control would have little sympathy for our situation and, on discovery of our lack of passports, would simply order us to turn around and head home. Accordingly, with Edinburgh no longer a possibility, we turned Aegir to shore and, rowing 3-up, travelled south west at just under a knot of speed for 9 hours to reach the safe haven of Eyemouth Harbour, completely knackered. We'd done it though, a decent spell at sea in horrific conditions, and on reaching shore (albeit not Edinburgh or Norway!) the sense of achievement was huge. It had been a massively profitable experience and a very welcome indicator of the sorts of perils and struggles we're going to face come December.

After a hard-earned hot meal and cup of tea in Eyemouth we whipped Aegir out of the water and onto her waiting trailer which had been kindly towed to us by an old pal, Aidan. Once loaded, Aidan delivered the boat and 4 tired, wet and aching oarsmen back to Northumberland for some rest and a much-needed debrief of what we'd learnt over the past 3 days. Whilst it was horribly tough at times, this row had put us in great stead for the real thing. We all came away having learnt a huge amount and with a heavy dose of reality about what lies ahead!

Taylor Wessing add their weight

After dumping our sick bags and getting rid of our wobbly sea legs, our focus quickly turned to our next event – another 24-hour row. This time we’d come up with a loose plan of getting Aegir into Central London where we would row next to her for 24 hours in the square mile outside Taylor Wessing's offices (a lead sponsor and George's employer). Easy, right? Yes, it sounded pretty straight-forward but in typical Oarsmen fashion we’d overlooked a couple of small logistical challenges, particularly involving carting a 28ft boat through central London and getting landlord's permission to park said boat on their land … details, details. Thankfully the Taylor Wessing ‘dream-team’ came to the rescue and pulled us out of the muck. In a matter of days they pulled off the mammoth task of compiling method statements and risk, coercing LandSec into letting us row in New Street Square, directly outside their offices, and designing banners and promotional paraphernalia to get the locals revved up for the event. The stage was set. All we needed to do was get our trusty driver, ‘Oarsman Robinson’, to escort Aegir into London so we could get the job done.

Fresh from passing his trailer-test (second-time around) against the odds, Pete adopted stealth tactics, setting off in the dead of night to shepherd the boat into Central London and avoid the perils of rush-hour traffic. Over the course of the morning, ‘Oarsman Watts’ arrived in an Uber van with 4 rowing machines (important for a land-based row!). Shortly afterwards, with a couple of hours to spare before we were due to pull our first stroke, ‘Oarsman Taylor’ touched down from Texas and made his way into town. Last but not least, fresh from the desk and become pretty accustomed to doing over the last 18 months. From the start at 7pm right into the night we had the notional "fifth oarsman" – a great congregation of friends and colleagues – there to cheer us on. We were bowled over by everyone's support with some staying well into the night providing us with plenty of entertainment to take the edge of the rowing, once again thank you all!

Plenty more midnight drunken antics ensued, not by the oarsmen but by locals passing by – it turns out that, for drunken revelers, late night rowing makes quite an entertaining spectator sport! Likewise, for weary rowers, drunken revelers made for a little light-hearted relief (although it took some serious restraint to hold off joining them for a beer or two!).

As dawn broke we were greeted by lots of early-risers from TW. Leading the charge, coffees in hand and skipping merrily to work at 5:30am was TW's Al Watson. Al has been a huge support to the team in our build up to the big row and we would be lost without his man hugs and the infectious energy he brings to absolutely everything. Great support from the Taylor Wessing clan continued throughout the day from cute little babies (picture below) to associates and partners putting their reputations on the line by joining us on the 3rd rower for some solid stints – what a bunch of troopers.

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One of our biggest changes since our last 24 hour row over Christimas had been our new training schedule and diet which had all been put together by our trainer Tommy Matthews from Athlete 4D. Without diving into too much detail, he was able to convince us that putting ourselves on a fat and protein based diet prior to and during the row would provide ourselves with a more consistent and reliable source of energy for the crossing. This all made perfect sense but when George Biggar realised it meant no bread, no pizza, no beer (to name but a few ingredients central to his diet upto that point!) we knew we needed to get him to shake on the arrangement pretty quickly before the bleak realisation set in for him. With help from Tommy, we managed to get George onboard and then followed a clear-out of kitchen cupboards and a trip to the supermarket to stock up on "compliant" ingredients. When George realised Jelly Babies, cookies and biscuits were off the menu for the next 6 months it soon dawned on him that the row was going to be a walk in the park by comparison; he was not best pleased.

When we kicked off the row we were all a little nervous to see how we'd cope with 24 hours of rowing carb-free. The proof was going to be in the pudding (not that we were allowed any puddings these days!); if you had been a naughty Oarsman and cheated on the diet plan it was certainly going to show. Showing an almost disappointing lack of excitement, none of us had gone vigilante with our diet plans and came through the 24 hours of rowing without ‘konking-out'. This was a great relief given the vast numbers of  friends, family and interested passers-by who had all made a great effort to pop in to see how we were getting on – failure was not an option. As the final hour approached, the crowds swelled and Al Watson, arms in the air clapping, led the countdown  -finally we could 'drop oars' and give our poor bums a break from the punishing ergo seats.

We left New Street Square very tired but the event had been a massive success - we had gained 2 more corporate sponsors from the event, we had new-born faith in our diet plan and training schedule but, above all, we'd been blown away by the support that Taylor Wessing had shown in our endeavours and for the tremendous support we received from our friends – things really had begun to gather pace and it was an incredibly empowering feeling. Now it was up to us to repay that faith and support and continue the momentum that had started to build… onwards and upwards!

 

Aegir gets a makeover

 Since the beginning of time, sailors have sworn that there are unlucky ships and the unluckiest ships of all are those who have defied the gods and changed their names. As a team of relatively inexperienced seamen we need every ounce of luck on our side so we have decided to keep our boat registered as “Invictus” as named by its original owners (Row to Recovery).

 That said, we frequently refer to our boat by its nickname, Aegir, the Norse God of the stormy seas. Mythology tells us that Aegir supposedly brews the best beer in all the nine worlds and is known for hosting elaborate and debauched parties. Given our low carbohydrate / high fat diet over the last few months, the thought alone of any sort of bear-fuelled knees-up on safe arrival into Antigua will doubtless be spurring us on throughout the crossing!

As part of our fundraising initiative we’ve been encouraging prospective sponsors to purchase branding space on our boat - without this sponsorship we simply could not afford to take part in the race. After 12 months of hard work (not without the odd setback!) we’re delighted to say that we have managed to secure 6 platinum sponsors, 6 gold sponsors and 13 silver sponsors, amassing a total sponsorship haul of c.£200,000. With the sponsors onboard and branding space on the boat now exhausted, Aegir was ready for her makeover! After a great deal of deliberation, we booked the boat into Joyce Design in Chelmsford and decided on a silver foil wrap, the main inspiration coming from Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss boat for the Vendee Globe race.

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Opting for the shiny wrap meant having to dig a bit deeper into our coffers than we had originally hoped, so The Four Oarsmen funded the uplift out of their own money. We've been very sensitive to anything that could impact on the amount we give to our charities throughout the build-up to the race. It was only right that Aegir should represent a striking billboard to give our sponsors the exposure they deserve (and, being simple souls, we are all drawn in by shiny things!), so we simply had to have the silver foil, even if it meant paying for it ourselves.  When we say Aegir looking resplendent in her new ball gown, we knew it was the right decision - Look good, feel good, row good!

The Four Oarsmen Fundraiser at Pergola, Paddington

Aegir’s first outing as a “shiny space shuttle” was at our fundraising event at Pergola Paddington on the 26th September. Dicky's dad Bill trekked down from Northumberland to lend a hand, driving the boat through the night from Essex to Central London in time for the big event. On arrival at the venue, Bill and Dicky (partly through necessity, but predominantly through childish excitement) slept the night in the parked-up boat to keep drunken revelers at bay (all good practice for Dicky too of course) - we’ve had reports that Bill was quite the guard-dog and the security staff at Pergola have since been in touch about a job opportunity - Thank you Farmer Bill!

The big day arrived and it was 'all hands were on deck' (no pun intended) to ensure that any last minute wrinkles were ironed out. We had an incredible taskforce of willing and wonderful volunteers from Taylor Wessing to cart items over to the venue and generally lighten the load. It was a huge help and, once again, the event simply wouldn't have been possible without you – thanks so much! With the venue all set-up and ready to go all we were missing was the 300-or-so guests we were banking on - "build it and they will come", we thought – but you always have a niggling fear that people won't bother, that they've had a better offer that night, that it was "hairwashing night" maybe?! Anyway, we needn’t have worried, the doors opened at 6.30pm and droves of friendly faces descended, paying their respects to Aegir (lit up and looking glorious) and snapping up glass after glass of prosecco (courtesy of Pergola – see below) before heading downstairs to tuck into some grub while being serenaded by the dulcet tones of Tommy Hare and Duncan Menzies – the perfect accompaniment to get people in the mood for parting with their hard-earned cash at our auction later in the evening. The target of 300 soon became a nonsense, and with a packed-out venue of 450 people we got proceedings kicked off.

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After a few words of thanks from us, the premiere of our team video: 

big thank you to Pebble Studios for all your help with the video production – I don't imagine for one moment that we were the easiest of customers!) and a brief introduction to our fantastic charities by Victoria Urquhart from Mind and Dr Bacon from Spinal Research respectively, it was time for Philip Serrell to take centre stage for the charity auction.

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Philip's daughter, Clem, contacted us out the blue a couple of months earlier volunteering her dad to run our auction (we're not sure if she consulted with him first!). The only condition was a humble request not to introduce him as the antiques expert from “Bargain Hunt”. He travelled down from Worcestershire especially for the evening and did a sterling job keeping everyone captivated during the 38-lot auction, eking out an extra bid at every opportunity to make the event as worthwhile as it could be from the fundraising perspective. We raised an incredible £124,300 on the night with all the money divided equally between the two charities. This surpassed all expectations we had and for this we cannot thank friends, family and volunteers enough for making it what it was – we were truly humbled by the whole thing!

Another special thanks goes to Natasha Kende (Ben Kende’s sister) who worked tirelessly alongside Louise Wheeler (from Spinal Research) and other volunteers to run the door and sell raffle tickets on the evening. Tash (photo below) will also be taking the reins for our social media and PR while we’re at sea, so we can keep you all up to date with our progress. As a self-proclaimed admin queen and personification of efficiency (not necessarily the team's strongest suits to date), it’s great to have her on board!

Finally, and fundamentally, we owe a huge thank you to Pergola Paddington. Charlie Gardiner and the team at Pergola donated the venue and their staff for the event and, what's more, maintained a constant flow of Prosecco, wine and beer for the whole evening completely free-of-charge, which was unbelievably generous. It is acts like this that have continually bowled us over since we started this campaign, and we are truly grateful.

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ITV's This Morning

For somewhat differing reasons, the names of Holly Willoughby and (to a slightly lesser degree) Phil Schofield were deeply etched into the team's bucket lists, so when the opportunity to appear on ITV's This Morning reared its head, there was a lot of excitement. The initial excitement soon descended into squabbles about who got to stand next to Holly – it is these high-pressure decisions that really test the resolve of a team! After much debate and some impassioned pleas, we finally decided that the only solution was to do what we were told by the producers.

By now we were, of course, seasoned pro's in the world of TV, but resisted the temptation to provide ITV with an extensive rider for our dressing room on the day we of filming. That said, there were certain logistical requirements that had to be met, including getting the boat on to the South Bank at Waterloo, getting Oarsman Robinson down from Northumberland and flying Oarsman Taylor over from Texas. Overcoming such hurdles was another thing we were becoming quite adept at too, so we weren't going to let these things stop the show from going on.

Live TV is somewhat akin to how we deal with admin. It has to be last minute, sporadic and not without pressure however, ultimately it makes everything more exciting, interesting and thus far it has always been alright on the night.

Having signed autographs for David Gandy and posed for photos with Jet from the Gladiators (the trials and tribulations of celebrity status), we had a quick conflab about what we wanted to cover in the interview. We assumed there would be a quick rehearsal so we could jostle for position and delegate who was going to answer which questions. The reality was rather different – all still weak at the knees after getting a kiss from Holly Willoughby we found ourselves 'live' on TV –no prep, nothing! With a couple of cameras aimed on us, we weren't quite sure where to look, so opted to gaze around gormlessly for a few seconds before Pete sparked up and answered the first question; we muddled our way through thereafter. The interview was over as quickly as it started and before we knew it Holly and Phil were dashing off to crack on with the rest of the show, but not before we each stole another smacker from Holly – mission accomplished – ticked off the bucket list!

All in all, the This Morning gig was a great experience. There was a noticeable spike in donations as a result, it has done a lot for our profile-raising and we are now best friends with Holly and Phil.  While it is going to be difficult to keep in touch with people during the row, we're looking forward to updating the This Morning team on our progress during the row, so here's hoping for a bit more TV time in due course.

As is customary, there are a few thank you's to make - Phil and Holly made us feel incredibly welcome and Phil, in particular, took a lot of time out of his day to understand the challenge we are undertaking and explore the boat

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The ITV production team of Nicole, Lucy and Malika worked tirelessly to overcome some logistical obstacles with the boat (these issues always involve the boat!); without your help I'm not sure we'd have got the boat on to the South Bank and, if we had, the interview would doubtless have been an unmitigated disaster so thank you for getting it all sorted and for putting us at ease. Finally, a big thank you to Zoe Williams for her role in setting up the interview and getting it all off the ground – would've been a non-starter without you, so we're very grateful.

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We are now a mere 2 weeks away from the race start, and leave for La Gomera tomorrow. Needless to say, the admin involved to get the final outstanding bits and bobs wrapped up has been all-consuming and, in part, is the reason that this blog update is so late in coming out. Without wishing to bore you with any more of our rigmaroles, I'd like to sign off with one final plea:

We have now reached £250,000 for our charities. This is incredible, and 100% down to those kind people who have supported us so far. We firmly believe we can hit £300,000 and beyond, but we need all the help we can get. We ask you to please send to any friends/colleagues who may be interested a link to our website or flick on the blog – we're desperate to spread the word about The Four Oarsmen, what we’re doing and why so that we can make as big a difference as possible for our charities.

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We'll be in touch in the next fortnight from La Gomera with a final update (and farewell) before we set off, but thanks for reading (assuming you've got this far), and please keep following our journey.

Over and Out

The Four Oarsmen.

Lessons learnt - the hard way!

Hello fans (no? thought I'd give it a try!). I thought it was about time for an update on our activities since the last (and first) instalment of our blog. I was recently sat on a plane cruising over the Atlantic towards Houston to see Dicky, gawking out the window at the enormity of the mass of water that separates the start and finish lines of our challenge – a little daunting, to say the least!

Having each gone our separate ways after the Christmas get-together, March (the next time we were all going to be together) soon came around. Dicky had hopped on the red-eye back across the pond and made a bee-line for Rannoch Adventures in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex where Pete, Stuart and I had assembled – today was the day we were going to lay hands on our trusty Atlantic steed, Aegir.

We were met by ocean-rowing world record holder and member of the Rannoch team, Angus Collins, who spent the day on the boat with us, giving us some important tips and pointers as we excitedly thrashed around the Maldon estuaries. Being out on the open water was a delight and we found a rhythm (of sorts) fairly swiftly. With Angus at the helm steering, 3 of us rowing and another one soaking up tips on how to use the onboard equipment, we were a well-oiled machine

That swiftly changed on arrival back into Burnham Marina as we narrowly avoided jetties and other vessels before Pete lost an oar over the side – it was suddenly amateur-hour!

After a quick dip in the icy water to retrieve the oar, Pete dried off and we hauled Aegir out and onto a trailer ready for the off. Waved off by the Rannoch team, we set off, immediately taking a wrong turn out of their driveway, destroying their grass verge with the trailer. One 16-point turn later and we were finally on our way, destination Teignmouth, Devon.

After a quick stop en route to meet the team at NRL, one of our fantastic sponsors, for a team photo and and catch-up. our next port of call was Poole,

Our next port of call was Poole, Dorset at the offices of Saltwater Stone, a specialist maritime and nautical PR agency who had very kindly agreed to provide the team with pro bono PR and marketing support. Strategy defined, and more team photos taken then we were on our way again.

I should mention at this stage that Pete was our designated driver for this trip. It was his car, and we assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) that he would have some decent experience towing trailers back on the farm. It quickly became apparent that 40 winks on the way to Devon was not on the agenda (other than Dicky, who irritatingly can sleep anytime, anywhere) – with a 30-ft, £50,000 load in tow every corner, roundabout and junction was an ordeal. We checked our imaginary mirrors, hammered our imaginary brakes, deployed our imaginary airbags! Pete had a somewhat worrying tendency to drive on the centre line of the road and accelerate into roundabouts, what’s more, he was drawn to oncoming headlights like a moth to a flame – it was a white-knuckle ride start to finish. Nevertheless, we arrived at our destination in one piece, knackered but ready for the various training courses that we had ahead of us.

The next 5 days involved a series of crucial training courses at Seasports in Teignmouth (sea survival, navigation, radio skills, first aid) that we took to with an unrivalled level of enthusiasm; unfortunately our technical ability (initially at least) paled in comparison. In particular, Dicky and Stu wrestled furiously with the protocols of radio communications. Stu implementing all the movie-esque radio lingo he could lay his hands on. Similarly, Pete and I may have lacked a little intensity in the pool during the sea survival part of the training course.

Nonetheless, practice makes perfect and the team passed the course exams with flying colours and claimed the certification needed to take their place on the start line – another box ticked.

The other purpose of the trip to Teignmouth was to have a first unassisted run-out on the open seas. So, having planned our route using our new-found chart plotting skills and met the local harbourmaster and convinced him (somehow, despite Dicky's best efforts by offering a "boo" when he opened the door to his office!) that we were not utter morons, we launched Aegir from Teignmouth Harbour and set off along the coast to Exmouth.

Bar a close miss with the harbour wall, we found our feet pretty quickly and were soon flying along at 5 knots. Spirits were high and all was going to plan.

Fast forward a couple of hours and we had overshot the entrance to the river Exe. Having turned the boat around, the morning's tailwind was now a savage headwind and the tides and currents were against us. Rowing three-up, we strained every sinew to crawl along at about 1 knot, much to the entertainment of dog walkers and Sunday strollers on Exmouth beachfront.

The plan was to meander our way along the estuary of the river Exe and meet Stuart's family for a hard-earned fish and chips and pint of Devon ale. After an hour fighting the conditions, we were against the clock needing to reach our destination before low tide set in and the treacherous sand banks in those waters came into play. This is where we came a little unstuck! As a team, we try to share responsibility where we can, but the blame for running aground as a result of not following the designated route falls squarely on my shoulders – my vigilante approach of disregarding the buoyage and making a bee-line for our destination did not pay off. After a couple of moments of panic and embarrassment, I was out of my slicks and over the side of the boat to push us away from trouble!

A cursory visit from the local RNLI followed soon after:

Lesson learnt you would think, but a Dicky snap-decision 20 minutes later to ignore the buoyage left us in the same situation again.

I think they say that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result…. We eventually pulled into Exmouth Marina, where our fish and chips were enjoyed with a big slice of humble pie.

It had been a great first outing – although not entirely to plan, important lessons had been learnt and crucially both boat and team morale remained intact!

After departing Teignmouth, Dicky flew back stateside, and we all headed back to our respective day jobs. It soon became clear though, that our Teignmouth adventures really had given us all the ocean rowing bug – there was genuine excitement about the whole endeavour and we could talk/think about little else.

After a fortnight of normality, keen to make the most of having the boat at our disposal, Stuart and I boarded the train north to visit Pete and Aegir. Pete had planned a 40 mile row off the Northumberland coast taking in the Farne Islands. Knowing that the North Sea (and this stretch in particular) had a unforgiving reputation, we saw this as a step-up in our preparations and an opportunity to get some experience of choppier waters. Setting off from Amble Marina,

we soon realised that the choppy conditions we were expecting was not going to materialise. The North Sea was mirror-flat and, whilst this wouldn't deliver the hostile waters we were looking for, it made for a stunning experience. If this is ocean rowing – sign us up!

Another objective for the weekend was to familiarise ourselves with life on-board Aegir. We had ordered some dehydrated food sachets and a jet-boil to brush up on our boat-based culinary skills and try out the sort of grub we will be eating during the race. Beef Stroganoff, Spag Bol and chocolate pudding were on the menu. Head chef for the day was Monsieur Robinson, so while Stuart and I rowed for our lunch, Pete fired up the jetboil and began "cooking"

The first attempt at beef Stroganoff was not reassuring. Despite his pleadings that he had added the right measure of water, Pete had concocted a sort of watery beef soup that put simply, did not make the cut. After recalibrating and adding the "wrong" amount of water to the other packs, the food was a lot more appetizing. That said, we are looking forward to taste-testing the other options on the market to ensure we've got the right balance of nutrients and taste for the race – food really is one of the few things we will have to look forward to each day, so we need to make sure we get it right. The next batch is being shipped over from New Zealand and we'll no doubt update you on that in the next blog (although there may also be a new chef in the mix!).

Also making the most of the mesmeric conditions were puffins, seals and dolphins that stewarded us along the coastline, occasionally popping up to check on our progress, presumably making sure we weren't there to stay

Tempting though it was to drop the oars and settle in, the pressure to make the most of limited time together took hold so we ploughed on regardless, passing castles, coves and beaches on our way. As the evening set in, we pulled back into Amble Marina with just over 40 miles under our belts and feeling rather blessed for the day we had had. It had been a very successful and productive outing and we had all got to know Aegir a little better.

The next outing in the North Sea is in mid-May with ocean rowing guru and world record holder Leven Brown in tow to impart some advice. Rather perversely, we're hoping that the weather gods aren’t quite so kind next time around. As said above, time together is precious and time out in the boat is priceless, so we really do need to get some experience of the sort of conditions we will be facing come December. That said, the advice of the local coastguards was "be careful what you wish for". Something tells me they know a little more than we do about what the North Sea can offer in terms of challenges!

It only leaves me to say a huge thank you to all our sponsors, supporters and followers. We are incredibly grateful to you all for your ongoing support. Without it we'd have had to throw in the towel already, so you really are keeping us in the race. That said, we're by no means at the start line yet. If we are to compete in the race, and meet our goal of raising £100,000 for our charities, we really do need people to dig deep and give generously. Genuinely, every little helps, so if you do enjoy following our journey, admire what we're doing/what we're doing it for, or simply have a few quid left over on pay day we'll gladly take it off your hands!

As a certified VHF radio operator I can now confidently say on behalf of The Four Oarsmen –

"Over and out"

The Four Oarsmen

Getting started

Speaking on behalf of The Four Oarsmen and our two charities, we are incredibly grateful and overwhelmed with all of the support we have received.

We are all training harder than ever before – every spare minute of every day revolves around preparation in one way or another (training, sponsorship, research, PR). After a 24 hour row and various fitness tests over Christmas we have assigned ourselves individual goals to focus on;

George - after knee surgery last year, he is working on building his leg strength back up. George was always more of an ‘organic’ rugby player, rather than 'gym monkey', but things have quickly changed! We have been slowly weaning him on to protein shakes (which he hates) but we are determined to get him bulked up. When not pumping iron, George has been waltzing to and from the very swanky Fulham Reach Boat Club in his lycras for his 1:1 rowing coaching sessions. Meanwhile, George's sleep deprivation training is coming on leaps and bounds thanks to some fairly savage shifts in the office to fit around the rigorous training.

Stu or ‘Stroke Rate Stu’ as we like to call him is the Four Oarsmen’s resident rowing coach – he rows and CrossFit’s during the week and rows most weekends on the Thames with Auriol Kensington Rowing club. If he catches you rowing with bad technique… you know about it! With the help of Laura we are also fattening him up and he’s almost reached his target weight. He now struggles to fit into his work shirts so by November he may need a new wardrobe.

Pete is acclimatizing to the remote farming lifestyle, his once sharp city-boy look is now a distant memory and as he sits on our team conference calls devouring roast chickens he is now starting to resemble a half-man half-gorilla. After doing the morning rounds on the cattle he travels to the local CrossFit gym in Alnwick or heads down to Newburn Rowing Club to train on the river Tyne with the Newcastle University Rowing Team to give them a run for their money.

Dicky is fattening up on Texas steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He either wakes up at 4:45am to travel down to the Bay Area Rowing Club near the Port of Houston where he rows for 2 hours before driving back into Downtown Houston to work either that or he gets a good beasting in the gym off his gym buddy Mike. In March he is looking forward to being back with the Oarsmen lads to pick up from where they left off after Christmas.

We come back together as a team on the 8th March for our sea survival training course, following that we will be completing a 4 day row along the coast to get some serious miles under our belt. We'll keep you posted with how we get on and will report back with more details of our fundraising dinner that we'll be holding later in the year.