Chic Gites

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Introduction

On the 1st March 2017 I will finally, weather permitting, set off to row the Atlantic Ocean. Now I know what some of you will be thinking - ...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Arrival

I'll never forget the day we finished our Pacific crossing back in 2012. Sailing into San Francisco on a cold April morning. Seeing land, vivid colours and "other people" for the first time in a month. Smelling food from the shore. Stepping on land, first beer etc. The senses get quite overwhelmed and the brain remembers every minute. Arriving into Cayenne on Sunday was equally memorable but really couldn't have been more different.

After the last shift on Saturday night (a fairly impressive 8.2 miles in 2 hours) Ralph came on board, looked at the mileage and said "No! We're going too fast". We had a quick chat in front of the plotter and realised we were being swept by the current way too quickly and were going to arrive at the river mouth just as the tide started coming out, making it impossible to row in. We risked being swept past Cayenne as we waited, making arrival impossible. And being night time we didn't dare risk landing on the shore nearby for fear of hidden rocks, reefs etc. So we made the decision to stop rowing overnight to hopefully slow down enough to reach Cayenne by late morning. We went to bed and slept badly with 2 squeezed into each bunk. By the time we woke at around 7am, land was looming large and the crystal clear Atlantic water had been replaced by muddy brown slop. We rowed past 2 islands off the coast and then through some extremely shallow waters to the deep shipping lane into Cayenne. The vivid green and red channel markers stood out brightly from the shore and soon we reached the river mouth which was just 7km from the marina. By now it was about 10:30am and the sun was noticeably hotter than anything we'd had so far but despite the heat and the lack of sleep, adrenaline kicked in and we rowed on at well over 4 knots.


Soon we had the Marina in sight and despite the continuingly increasing temperature we rowed on. About 10 minutes out I started to feel a little dizzy so stopped briefly to take on some water and sugar. We approached the marina and could hear and see our little welcome possie of my parents and Helen, Clara (Clem's girlfriend) and 3 past and future local ocean rowers who came out to meet us. There was some confusion over where exactly we should land which resulted in us overshooting and having to turn around and row hard against the incoming tide - just what we all needed. I was now so light headed and dehydrated that I genuinely wasn't sure if I would make it, but we did. We landed and managed to secure the boat in a fast moving tide. We took a moment to gather our breaths and thoughts then the celebrations began. We shared a big team hug then stepped ashore for the party to begin. It was so so nice to finally see Helen and we shared a long hug - this was mainly so she could hold me upright in truth!



The welcome team had done a great job - cold cokes to get the blood sugar up followed by cold beer, champagne, fresh fruit, cakes etc. Helen had the scales to hand to weigh everyone off the boat. I was 67kg which represented 15kg of weight loss! I hadn't weighed 67kg since I was in school! Most of the others lost 6-8kg - the debate goes on as to why I lost so much more (I like to think because I worked that much harder - they like to think because I was heaviest so had most to lose)! I remained fairly light headed for the next hour or so and had a bad case of sea legs too. Within about 20 minutes most of the rowers had to sit down to continue the recovery. But the party continued on the pontoon. Happiness, relief, excitement - it was all there really.

By the afternoon we headed into Cayenne to have our first showers, put on some fresh clothes and head out for an early dinner. We had a lovely evening with family and friends and the wonderful local ocean rowers who had showed up to celebrate, take care of us and give us a wonderful welcome to French Guiana. It was a lovely evening and first day back on land. The relief that the rowing was over was incredible.



The clock stopped at 48 days and 5 hours - a full 2 days and 5 hours inside the current World Record. Though the motivation for us was rarely the record (just a safe and relatively speedy crossing), it was a nice feeling knowing we'd got that too.  No doubt the record will be beaten in the future but I can handle being a "former world record holder" for the rest of my life!

Since arriving we've adapted pretty quickly back to normal life. Apart from some aching fingers and sore lower backs if we walk more than about 500m (muscles we simply didn't use on board) we're actually feeling ok. I still appreciate a flat, soft bed but have already started taking water on tap and flushing toilets for granted - amazing how fast we slip back into normal routine.

In the coming days/weeks I'll try to reflect on the journey overall - it still feels too soon to take it all in - and will blog any conclusions I can come to. In the meantime I'd like to thank you all for your support by messages, support for Helen while I was away and your very generous donations to MSF - a very worthy charity to benefit from our toils. In case anyone would still like to donate, here is the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/niallbates

 I look forward to catching up with you all in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Not rowing the Atlantic - UPDATE

UPDATE  - the boys are making excellent progress, enjoying great conditions and literally flying along. ETA tomorrow , Sunday!
Myself, Clara and Niall's parents have safely arrived in Cayenne and we'll be off to the suppermarket to stock up on ice cold Coke and beers.
The champagne really is now on ice!!!!!

Day 47 - Sat 22nd April - We really are flying. Colin and I just did an 8.7 mile watch - previous highest on our crossing was 7.2! Conditions are incredible. We'll defo be in Sunday - anytime from late morning. Will update later today. Am tired but really feels close now so adrenaline kicking in. 

Day 46 - Fri 21st April - Nice little competitive edge forming between the 2 watches. We're currently winning on 6.8 miles! But if we keep at 6 knot pace we'll arrive in Cayenne SUNDAY late afternoon!! Obviously as we know tides are fickle as hell but we've not encountered a single cargo ship for ages so they must all be hugging the coastline in the tide. Augers very well.

From Niall - Day 45 - Thurs 20th April
Interesting night watch - Ralph lost an oar over the edge - went back to try to find it but too hard to find a black oar at night. oh well - good job we have spares! 

Boat flying along now -72 miles in last 24hrs. Currents cooperating nicely letting us drift up a little so at the moment we'll go straight to Cayenne. 175 miles to go!! 


And then my self indulgence and thanks.

Today I fly to French Guiana and this is my blog!!!!!

We are down to the bitter end of this rollercoaster journey now and noone is more relieved, thrilled, excited than I - I always knew this adventure was going to be a massive undertaking for Niall both physically and mentally but what I don't think I had prepared myself for was how much of a mental, physical and emotional challenge it would be for me too.
In some ways I thought it wouldn't be dissimilar to his Clipper experience (for those who don't know, Niall crossed the Pacific Ocean racing a sailing yacht 5 years ago and was away for a similar amount of time) but I was wrong.

I don't want to get dramatic and say I thought he was going to die but there has been a never-ending shadow of potential failure looming large ever since he even began talking about this. No it wouldn't have been a life or death situation (except in the unlikeliest of circumstances I kept telling myself) but it would have, or could have, ripped this dream from under his feet in a heartbeat which would have been bitterly disappointing after so much time and energy invested in it. Even as we have approached the final stages the swings in emotions have been huge with more and more at stake the closer to the finish they have gotten.

I may not have been out on that boat physically but I have lived and breathed every high and low with them and it's been one of my biggest challenges of endurance too. I have never known time go more slowly, not least in the middle of a dark and lonely night when the tracker hasn't been updated.. unbeknownst to us all was fine but being alone with your imagination and pictures of a big wide scary ocean isn't a fun place to be! For a lot of it, it's felt like being in a strange dream-like state... not wanting to think too much, to hope too much, trying not to worry too much... but here we are and the end is really finally in sight!
As tough as it has been though, there has never once been a time when I regretted giving the green light to this project, nor any malice nor anger toward Niall but it's now over 7 weeks since I last spoke to him, 9 weeks since we saw him and that is more than long enough!

In his absence I have been plenty busy with our business, my work and of course the kids. And they deserve their own special mention - they have been absolutely amazing. Charlie has taken it upon himself to accept the promotion to man of the house and has been a total star. I couldn't have asked more from him and, whilst he's missed his Daddy, the experience as a whole has only been positive for him.
Joseph, well our little clown has kept us all smiling and he's still 'not decided if he's missing his daddy' but he really wants 'creche ellie' back in one piece and preferably not wet. He's also a living, breathing reminder of his Dad's stubborn streak!!
This rather unique folly of their Dad's will no doubt have a huge underlying impact on them and will be proof to them that anything is possible - No mountain too high, no ocean too wide, no challenge too difficult. Who knows what they will go on to do... I am not sure my nerves / heart will take it!!


Family Bates with Daddy in the background!


I would also like to say a few thankyous - firstly to my parents who have been wonderful throughout... they have seen the emotional impact on me, supported me, put up with my moods and come along on some of our adventures to help pass some of the interminable time. And of course they are facilitating my journey out to meet Niall now by looking after the kids. THANK YOU.
My inlaws have been equally supportive and a steady voice of calm when I've needed it most. I can't ask for better family and am delighted they are getting on the plane with me to French Guiana today.

Also a special mention to Clara, Clement's girlfriend and Gemma Chalk  - having you both to lean on over the past few months has been brilliant.

Lastly thanks also to all the friends and family near and far - your constant messages, calls, invites, pre-cooked meals, drinks, jokes and hugs have all helped immensely. You may never know how much but I am truly grateful.

Time to get this boy to the finish line and home so it can be my turn to go off on an adventure....!!



Arrival plans

Arrival
Right now we've just 222 miles to go to Cayenne and 170 to the nearest bit of coast. In the last few days we've enjoyed strong currents from the east/north east pushing us largely towards​ our arrival, albeit a little bit further south than we'd like. We tried fighting it last night but despite the boat pointing nearly north we continued to drift to the south west. If you can't beat them join them as they say so we turned to a westerly course and have been enjoying the ride ever since. 

From here, one of two things will happen. When the water from the Atlantic hits the south American coast, it splits into a north/south current along the coastline. The northerly current is called the Cayenne current and can flow at up to 4 knots! We should pick this up as we approach the coast and it should fire us to the north west and Cayenne. If however we can't find this current (many established wind and water flows have failed to materialise already on this trip) we'll simply continue on our current course until we reach land in North Brazil/south French Guiana. This will stop the clock for the world record and should happen Sunday late morning, so 2 full days inside the current record. For those wondering, the destination for the record is not Cayenne but "mainland south America" so literally anywhere will do! We'll touch land, take a few photos and hop back in the boat. From there we'll row gently up to Cayenne for the big arrival on Monday. 




Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Hot, hot, hot....

Not a great deal to report - Rose keeps plodding on and every hour / day they get closer to Cayenne and an ice cold Coca Cola (the big request from all of them!)

The heat, sores, aches, pains and exhaustion are all taking their toll but ETA is now only 5 days away - Monday 24th April (day 49).

Some updates from Niall:

Monday 17th  - Day 42 - Still really hot and we're all falling apart a bit physically - my bum really sore again with sweat. Good job we're nearing the final stretch!

Tuesday 18th  - Day 43 - So I think we've finally sorted all our Navigation problems. Looks like the 2 compasses were incorrectly calibrated sending us too far south all the time. It's not a problem really until now as we need to hit Cayenne! So we're now pretty much navigating by hand using GPS coordinates - it's not ideal but effective. 
Still really hot and starting to get my first bit of chaffing - which is not pleasant. Night watches are now everyone's favourite as the heat dips a little. Glad only a week to go as heat very tough to sleep in. I have a feeling we'll be falling apart by the time we reach Cayenne which is weird given we've all done pretty well until the last day or two. Roll on next Monday - it can't come quickly enough! 

Watches seem to going slower now we're so close. Only 6 days, but still 6 whole days....Oh well. We'll get there eventually.

Wednesday 19th  - Day 44 -  Still painfully hot here during the days. As expected we've got waves from the north which are proving a bit of a pain...but not causing too much hassle thankfully. Progress remains reasonable if slightly slow and wet due to the waves. But we're about to dip below 300 miles which is good. Monday around lunchtime remains most likely arrival time. 




And his final message just read:

Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot....!!!!

If you would like to donate to Medecins Sans Frontieres to sponsor Niall and the crew here is the link to the justgiving page:
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/niallbates





Sunday, 16 April 2017

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

5/6 of the row complete - ETA whipping around a bit  - will it be Sunday, will it be Monday, or later?! Less than 500 nautical miles to go and updates below from Niall and Ralph.

Keep the support and messages coming - this last week is when they'll really have to dig deep and overcome all their aches, pains and exhaustion as they close in on the finish line !!!

For me I am about to book flights  - yippeee

A blog from Niall:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is the opening line to something famous - A Christmas Carol? Hard Times? Anyway, the best and worst of times on board here is without a doubt the "10 minutes" shout that goes out at 10mins before watch changeover. For the on-watch: ecstasy - the watch is nearly over. For the off-watch: despair - time to wake up, get ready, your 2 hours on the oars is about to begin. 

For 3 of us (Ralph, Clem and I) this has gone a whole level further - the "ghost" shout. It started about a week into the row when someone, we're not sure who, arrived on deck about 40mins early for watch one night. The on-watch looked blankly -
 "what's up?"
"Nothing - was just in a deep sleep when the shout woke me". 
"There wasn't a shout mate - you must have dreamt it"
A slightly confused look, a giggle for the on-watch and nothing more thought of it. 

But this pattern began repeating itself over and over for the three of us. From seeing the cabin light click on an hour early "you dreamt it mate, go back to sleep". click - light off. To people arriving fully ready to row before sheepishly returning to bed. And it didn't end there - I hold the current record of doing it 3 times in one off-watch period! And perhaps most remarkably of all was Clem and Ralph doing it at exactly the same time in opposite ends of the boat - "Go back to sleep Clem". Click. "You too Ralph". Click. 

In the past couple of weeks Ralph and Clem who wear watches have limited the public humiliation by checking the time before going on deck. But if you watch carefully you'll see the cabin light flicking on then quickly off mid watch, or hear vague mutterings from a cabin as they get undressed again to go back to sleep. The other night I woke and started to prepare I heard "it's only half past Niall, go back to sleep". I rolled over, went back to sleep and half an hour later got myself on to deck. As Ralph arrived on to deck he whispered to me "When I heard them telling you there was half an hour to go I took my shoes back off and went back to sleep!". 

Insanity? A healthy respect for watch changeover? I'll let you decide. And what of our 4th member, Colin? He has not been affected given he sleeps slightly deeper than the dead. He gets woken for the first time at a quarter too, again at 10 to and then nagged continuously from 5mins out. That way he might only be a couple of minutes late on deck. From one extreme to the other! 



And from Ralph: Day 40 Sat 15th April:

With a lot of hard work we will arrive in Cayenne!

We are 40 days at sea and we have just completed the 5/6th mark of the crossing, which means a little under 500 nautical miles to go! For the first time since the 1/3 rd mark we gained time on the record schedule! (2 full hours ;))

With a sleek rowing regime we are finally back in the daily distances of 70 miles and we expect to arrive next weekend with a new world record in Cayenne.- [] We are all in good spirit apart from all parts of our body which are longing for a rowing-free and salt-free environment. About the other rowers, I can only report (anonymously) that one of them is rowing on an air bag since week nr. 2, another had to cut his suppurating sores on his ass in order to continue rowing, and I have some saltwater sores and abrasions for which I need five layers on my rowing bench, a bright red & sore groin and scrotum (diaper rash is peanuts compared to it) and as an added bonus: a red swollen penis filled with white-yellow pustules and that flaking skin that makes this sport so amazingly popular! Fortunately, I know from experience, that a good shower and clean clothes on land will return everything back to normal after only 24 hours!


Friday, 14 April 2017

COG, SOG, VMG, Knots, Compass direction etc.

CAUTION - BIT BORING - Read last line if you can't be bothered...!

To understand what's been going on the last few days I first need to start with a few definitions:
SOG - speed over ground. Computer simply calculates how fast boat is going  using GPS coordinates.
COG - course over ground - same, but calculates angle travelled instead of speed. 
VMG - Velocity Made Good - this is distance covered in the right direction. We take distance to Cayenne and compare it every 24hrs. 
Compass Course - this is the direction the boat is pointing in and what the infamous autohelm uses to steer. It's confirmed by the computer's independent compass.
Nautical miles - about 1850m (compared to 1600m in a "normal" mile). 
Knots - nautical miles per hour. 

So we've had a very frustrating few days on board with wind (and waves) blowing nicely in the right direction, good SOG but only disappointment each day when we find the VMG is just 60 miles. We finally realised there's some strong and variable currents at play that are pushing us off course and so reducing our VMG. 

To give an example - a boat can point south (180 degrees), have a SOG of 3 knots yet actually be traveling west due to unseen and unfelt currents - only looking at the COG will reveal that fact. So the direction the boat is pointing can be irrelevant. In fact the only relevance is the direction the boat is facing is the direction the forward propulsion of the oars will have. So in the previous example, if we are rowing south, the COG will be south west due to the currents vs oars. 

Now that we've worked this out we can track our COG closely and ensure all the miles are in the right direction which dramatically improves VMG. In the last 24hrs we jumped from 60 to 75 and on track for more of the same today. 

Lost? Sorry! Simply put, we should now arrive next Sunday in around 48 days total. That is very, very good news!!! 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Into the last quarter and the charity blog

Firstly an update from those amazing boys in a boat. The 75% marker was passed on day 36 but some unfavourable currents have meant progress has been slow. The world record target is still achievable but it looks like it will be touch and go. Come what may land creeps ever closer so keep crossing your fingers, praying, rubbing beads, picking four leaf clovers, or anything else you can think of....

From Niall - Day 36
Yet another slow day - winds picking up as predicted but currents and sea state difficult. Best guess now 49/51. Auto helm under more pressure though due to waves so I fear we haven't seen the last of that issue yet. miles do thankfully continue to drop (820 now) but starting to feel like the neverending story. 

From Ralph
day 37
5 weeks underway and the arrival in Cayenne is approaching. I chose French Guiana as our point of arrival being the most stable country in South America. That changed a bit last week, when, for the first time in 50 years, riots and demonstrations broke out. The rocket launch where we hoped for the 25th is postponed and planes were grounded. Fortunately it seems to stabilize again.
The world record retrieval is still very exciting. The firm believe in our 45 days schedule has gone. Currently we are already a week into a "disaster area" with varying currents restricting our daily distances which has thrown us back to an expected arrival time of 48 days and 12 hours with a quarter (800 miles) of the total route to go. Less than two days ahead of the current world record of 50 days, 10 hours and 36 minutes of team essence! We continue to fight to the last mile!

Day 37- From Niall
Much better day - changed shifts at lunch so now rowing with Ralph which is always entertaining. Swapped cabins for a week so back in the small noisy one but no drama. but as soon as Ralph and i started rowing currents turned and past 6 hours have been over a knot faster. Frustrating as nothing we can do about it either way and no idea how long will last but enjoying it while we can. It makes predicting an arrival date near impossible for now though...


And for anyone interested - the charity bit:

Many of you have asked if Niall is doing this crazy escapade for charity... and if not why not?

Well before he left and up until now he wasn't and the 'why not' was as follows:
A number of people have asked about a charity page/donations but due to the relatively high chance of failure of the crossing I am not comfortable asking people to give their hard earned money away when we might well fail in our goal of reaching French Guiana. Of course we'll give it everything to succeed but weather and vital onboard equipement are variables beyond our control.

But now we/they are well into the last quarter of the row and every day they get a day closer to the finish line and us to having a husband and daddy back! The chances of them finishing and potentially breaking that world record are better every day.

If you would like to sponsor Niall, the team, the shore team (!), please feel free to visit the following justgiving page where you can donate to his chosen charity of Medecins Sans Frontieres. With the current global situation this seemed a fairly pertinent choice.

And just to remind you - EAT, SLEEP, ROW.... every 2 hours for the last 38 days and counting...



https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/niallbates

Many thanks for every donation, all your words of encouragement and all of your support!