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!
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 Aegir’s 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.
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.
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!
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