25 January, 2016
A powerful and in-depth piece from Dan, that provides a real sense of their thinking and motivation. It also includes his faux pas to Olly. I wonder how long it will take Olly to forgive him?
Post storm and life over the last week has been nothing but challenge after challenge, but we are now back in business after four days of an enforced power rationing – including making our water by hand. Sadly, we spent more time on para anchor after my last blog, but that lifted – along with our spirits – and sights were set on the finishing once again.
The storm had affected the fleet in different ways and the first news from home was not good – with Oarsome Buoys having leapt some 30nm ahead of us and the Atlantic Drifters breathing precariously close down our necks. That had to change and fast.
With renewed vigour, we took to the oars, for the first three days trialling a number of different shift patterns and rowing combinations – 1 rowing, shorter, more powerful sessions, 2 – up, longer sessions all compared against the ‘norm’, 2 hours on and 2 hours off. Two up was a challenge, having lost our second rowing seat in the the capsize, making it my job to row a fixed seat, modified again from floor board and a borrowed cushion, only compounding the already painful back.
But we knew we could do it if necessary having proven it over the course of two days – sprint finish in mind. Still without an autohelm and, with a repaired rudder stock, we began to dig deep and made small gains against our competition. The calm after the storm with beam-on winds and a rolling swell made it hard going and made Antigua feel like a very long way away once again. The undulating waves spoken of previously, looking like a West Sussex country backdrop now looked all too similar – green with thick weed – a handbrake for any team who might get it entangled on the foils, making regular checks an absolute must.
I continued with the autohelm issue, with service from Raymarine that was second to none – a call to our sat phone from one of their technicians at the London Boat Show shedding some light on the situation. No answers per se, but offering some advice as to how to take the thing to bits – every young boys favourite thing to do – which is exactly what I did that Friday.
Working within the cabin with the tiller on my chest, I was able to get it apart exposing its motor, carbon coated brushes and windings and an epicyclic gearbox reminiscent of that of the Gocycle – a few of which I’ve seen over the last eight years of taking them apart! Familiar territory. Nice.
Cleaned and reassembled, the tiller arm was put aside for more serious issues when our water maker conked-out whilst attempting to produce our daily ration. We knew that we had power issues, but given the last few weeks, we had obviously not been paying enough attention to the instruments, ultimately allowing the batteries to drain to a now dangerously low condition, from which the worry was that they might not recover. Easy, we thought – we’ll fire up the EFOY Fuel Cell and give the batteries a blast, but even that was too much, with it returning to its dormant Error 80 state, despite our best efforts.
Sadly, this time the ‘get out of jail free card’ was not an option, so after a very short discussion, we agreed that the only option was to go for an extreme enforced zero power, using nothing but the AIS at night for four days – and having to hand pump our own water.
Again, thoughts turned to survival and away from the race, agreeing to a 30 minute pumping session at the beginning of our rest period – immediately after 2 hours of rowing. Pumping started out very inefficient, but we soon found a way to mount it and soon were producing some 2 litres during our 30 minutes – something we would keep up during the hours of darkness, avoiding the heat of the day. To put it into perspective, the manual pump requires a stroke rate cycling approximately every 2 seconds – like using a wood saw. Imagine cutting through a piece of 4-by-2 for a half an hour and you’ll get the idea. And, boy did the water taste so much sweeter having known what went into it!
Within the first night manual pumping became the ‘norm’ and conversation went very quickly away from survival – which we now knew was assured – back to the race.
Winds now from the east and forecast to stay that way likely until the end of the race, we put everything into the oars, the reduced sleep associated with the manual pumping seeming to have little effect on our progress. However thoughts of breaking records are slipping away with every day that passes, totally at mercy to the conditions.
Back then to the race and with a known distance and estimated speed, we could now plan our rough timings and begin to work out our ration plans. This led to emptying cuppa soups, super noodles and other unnecessary foods into the ocean. Our main meals, supplied by Gavin at Bush Gear are MX3, a French brand product with some incredible flavours – carbonara, tagine, korma, masala, shepherd’s pie and everyone’s alpine favourite, tartiflette. The food has gone down so well we’ve barely touched our day snacks and we’ve decided to double our MX3 rations rather than see any of these go over the side.
Warps were dried and repositioned and the balance and trim sorted- all in the name of light-weighting the boat for increased speed. The bottom was scrubbed for the third time, again with surprisingly little growth thanks to the Harken McLube Antifoul Alternative. Any and all lines that drag in the water lifted high and dry and taped up. And the results were immediately obvious. At this point, with approximately 750 miles to go, I might have made a small mistake by vocalising, “OK, now we are racing” a sentence which Olly has brought up a couple of times since. “Now we are racing? Now? What have we been doing for the last five weeks?!” In my mind it had made sense. Rowing an over-filled caravan out of La Gomera with dozens of kilos of unnecessary food and equipment wasn’t something that I could get my head around from a sailing racing perspective – my background wouldn’t allow it – but know that we had done absolutely everything that we could to make her as light as possible, it felt like every stroke was a positive one and one with maximum return and in the right direction. It might take me a little while to live down that with Olly though – but that’s my justification and I’m standing by it!
With thoughts of records being broken evaporating, which is desperately disappointing –especially after three years of planning not just by us, but our loved ones also, the shift of focus is to be first Pairs boat in this race, to overtake and put as much distance in between us and them as possible. Reports of relatively light winds for the foreseeable future might mean a very slow finish, but having spent two and a half days circling on para anchor, light winds, at least in the right direction we will take any day.
Body wise I’m doing OK. The lower back problems that I was experiencing in earlier weeks have subsided and I’ve weaned myself off the more severe painkillers. Pain now comes from the pressure sores on my bottom – painfully sore whilst on the oars, especially in a swell with the boat lurching about underneath – and my hands. The hands, quite obviously are taking a pounding. I haven’t used any protection against the oars (hand pads or gloves) since very early on, so I have a good stable base of calluses – and calluses on top of calluses – but the most pain is deeper, with an accidental wrap of a knuckle or stub of a finger causing pain of lightening up the arm. Funny really watching two grown men clambering about the boat, each knowing how the other is feeling, grimacing and letting out the occasional swear word.
On that note, I think I swore louder than I have ever sworn before the other night, we both did. Shouting at the top of your voice with not a soul for miles in any direction was quite pleasing, a lot of fun – and better made light of a pretty painful situation.
With the power switched back on for the first time, we fired up the email and once again were overwhelmed by the emails received. This time it was Olly’s turn to read them out, whilst I was in the hot seat (quite apt with the pain). Reading them, choked, we both get such a lift out of the amazing words that people have taken the time to put together, lifting our spirits immensely with an immediate and noticeable effect on the boat speed.
Even the occasional call home that we have made, everyone is so pleased to hear from us and we’re able to share a small piece of the excitement and adventure with them. If only people were that pleased to hear from us all the time. I rang my work and had a great chat with the team at Gocycle. But the one that I will remember the most was my Granny, who was over the moon to hear and has been kept up to speed with regular updates by my Dad. Granny, “ And you’re where?” “About 800 miles from Antigua Granny”, I said, proud as punch, having rowed now over 2000. “Blimey, that does still sound like a jolly long way”. I guess she’s right, but we can almost smell Antigua on the boat here and Granny, like others, I can’t wait to visit when I get home and be able to share the story.
Getting emotional after reading some inspirational and motivational messages from supporters is one thing – but how on earth are we going to keep ourselves together when we cross the finish line in Antigua?! I guess we’ll see very soon.