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