After 42 days at sea, Andy Williams, Co-Founder of Atticus DQPro, reflects on the epic trans-Atlantic rowing challenge he embarked on as part of team Row Row Row Our Boat (R3OB)
On Wednesday 12th December, 2018, after over a year of training and preparation team R3OB finally set oars to water to row our small, four-man ocean rowing boat away from La Gomera, Canary Islands, towards Antigua.
As darkness fell on that first day we transitioned from a 2 hours rowing 40 mins rest ‘sprint’ routine into the 2 hours on 2 hours off watch system that would be our rhythm for the next 40+ days. It was an exciting but scary moment when we realised this was it, enough talking, we now had to get on with it and row the Atlantic, there was no turning back.
The first week passed in a bit of a blur, new routines, lack of sleep and sea sickness all took their toll, and like every successful team we had to work hard to rise above these challenges to deliver results.
Positive and confident
After a week, the boat’s violent and unpredictable motion made us laugh rather than sick, we felt comfortable with our new routines and we settled into the task at hand. Happy and working well as a team, we had many challenges ahead and a long way to go but we felt positive and confident about our chances of a successful crossing.
In total, it took us an incredible 42 days, 12 Hours and 53 minutes to complete the World’s Toughest Row. The team arrived in Antigua tired but elated, with something of the ‘wild man’ look about each of us. and I ask myself, what were my key takeaways?
You can choose how you feel – Every waking hour we had a choice about how we felt about our situation, an easy option would be to have a moan (blistered hands, lack of sleep, damp clothing, sore bottoms, so far still to go …) but we worked hard to emphasise the positives instead (whales, dolphins, amazing sunsets and sunrises, beautiful night skies, the joy of being on the ocean together) and I’m pleased to say the positives won most of the time!
This is something I’ve already put into practice successfully back home as I face yet another train delay or cancellation commuting up to London. I feel empowered when I can rise above and decide how I feel about these and other challenges and I increasingly feel for those around me whose happiness seems so impacted by everyday issues over which they have no control.
Big issue may not be so big: At 10 days in we faced some big seas whipped up by a large low pressure system to the north of us, our boat Emma handled the seas well but there were several occasions when large waves broke over the boat, knocking us out of our seats and threatening to wash us overboard.
If we were not perfectly lined up at the top of a wave the power of the water would try and turn the boat over and knock us off course. As the waves calmed our progress slowed and the boat felt heavy and unresponsive to row. After 24 hours of head scratching we discovered that our dagger board had broken and was acting as a ‘sea anchor’ below the boat.
While we were happy to have found the problem it felt like a body blow to our hopes of a successful trip. How could we continue without this key piece of equipment? Having removed the dagger board we spent the next few days working out the actual impact and how we could adapt our approach to manage without it. The result? We made it to Antigua, a little more slowly perhaps but successfully nonetheless.
Uncomfortable things are often not forever: There were many times of the row when we were physically or mentally ‘under the cosh’ (Suffering from the heat, freezing cold and wet from waves or squalls, falling asleep at the oars, frightened about the boat turning over or feeling vulnerable about being in a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean) and with hindsight none of these things lasted for more than a few hours.
It was amazing how the sun coming up in the morning had a dramatic effect on our mood and how we felt about ourselves and the row. As a team we could help each other see the temporary nature of these difficult periods and get through them with humour and resilience.
A difficult journey seems more doable in small chunks: There was a real danger that the size of the challenge we faced would become overwhelming and our snail like progress frustrating. On the boat we all could visualise arriving in Antigua which was a good thing as we had a shared view of what success looked like.
However, the powerful thing was that we had a series of shorter milestones that we celebrated to give us a sense of real progress. Enduring milestones were every five days, then Christmas and New Year, then halfway, then 1000 nautical miles to go etc. This meant when our target of 40 days was no longer going to be possible we easily reset our ambitions.
Also when wanted to lift the pace we set ourselves a new target of achieving a minimum of 70 nautical miles a day or 6 miles per watch, then suddenly we could see Antigua and we experienced massive ‘ground rush’ as we approached and crossed the finish line.
Back on dry land
These are some key takeaways for me, now I’m back on dry land. The challenge is now to use and employ these techniques on a regular basis.
If you’d like to find out more about the details of our trip take a look at our onboard blog: http://r3ob.com/blog/
Gratitude and reflection
It is now a month since we finished our row it is a little sad how quickly our work and life routines have claimed us back.
We are working hard to maximise the amount we raise for our 2 amazing charities, St Luke’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and Over The Wall who provide free camps for sick children. Our Virgin Giving links have raised just under £12k to date (the grand total from all donations will be announced shortly) and you can still donate directly to here if you’ve not had the chance to do so yet: http://r3ob.com/charity/
All of us are so grateful for the fantastic support and encouragement we received before, during and after this adventure, in whatever way, from so many people from every corner of our combined lives, and this will always remain with us.
Looking back, with muscles and sleep pattern restored, blisters vanished and weight back on, I am grateful for every moment I spent on the ocean with the team and I look forward to bringing the lessons I learnt and the focus I gained into my daily life back on shore.
Do I have any regrets?
Come and join me at my next challenge or better still create one of your own!
Photography credit: Atlantic Campaigns (Ben Duffy)