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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 - ...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Final Blog - Conclusions.

Maybe trying to draw conclusion so soon after finishing the row is a fool’s errand but that’s never stopped me doing things before and isn’t going start now! I’m sorry if this ends up being a little long but it will be my final blog entry for this particular adventure. I also want to quickly mention our sponsor, Chic Gites property rentals and announce a celebratory 20% off promotion for anyone quoting Atlantic20 when booking (all bookings except conference rentals). This offer applies to anyone so please feel free to forward/share. The site is for anyone who fancies a week or two in sunny Cannes!

So for one last time, here goes…..

The human body is remarkable.
In hindsight we did an incredible amount of exercise during the 48 days of the row - 12 hours a day, almost no let up (a total of just 48 hours on the whole trip where we couldn’t row). The body takes about 3-4 days to adapt to the new regime and most of that is adapting to the sleep cycle rather than the workload. We were all in pretty good shape going into the row but hardly Olympic athletes. The rowing was more physical than I expected - no it wasn’t the intensity of a 2 hour row on the erg but it wasn’t very far off it either. At the end of a watch we were genuinely tired and 2 hours later we’d do it all again. But the body copes remarkably well. It quickly eats body fat and then muscles not being used (standing/walking/running muscles for example) to make up the calorie deficit. And on and on it goes. There were no injuries of note and any minor niggles soon sorted themselves out. Yes we all had some surface issues along the way (sore hands, bums, “privates”, chafing etc) but the main systems performed incredibly well all the way through the row and felt like they could have happily continued for far longer. The problem is that we so rarely make full use of this wonderful asset we all have. At a guess, most people would rarely push the body beyond about 40-45% of its capacity. It remains an untested asset for most, simply cruising along in 1st or 2nd gear. I would encourage everyone to use their bodies more and test yourselves physically - you’ll be amazed what your body can do for you and just how adaptive and resilient it is.

 One of the many sunsets on board

It’s kind of depressing how quickly we return to normal life.
It’s just 15 days since we arrived in Cayenne and it already feels like a lifetime ago. I run into friends I haven’t seen for a while who start with “Congratulations!” and I genuinely have to stop and think what are they talking about exactly - “oh yes - the row!”. Running water, toilets that flush and flat beds have all become normal again and I only occasionally stop and think “thank god I don’t have to row again in 2 hours!”. Other than that, life has returned to normal again. Now some of that is comforting and some of it is a little depressing. We’re so accustomed to our creature comforts and daily routines that it gets harder and harder to step outside of normal life anymore. And even when we do, even for nearly 2 whole months, we immediately readapt and reintegrate so quickly. A lot of people have asked me “what’s next?” and although I have no plans at all at the moment (and certainly won’t be rowing another Ocean!) I know I will inevitably be drawn once more to pushing myself out of my comfort zone and reminding myself of how much we can achieve when we test ourselves.

Arrival into Cayenne after 48 long days.

Adventures don’t have to be months or thousands of miles long.
There has been so much positivity from friends and family around our crossing. Many people have said they felt inspired to go out and do things (which is very rewarding to hear) but often people don’t know where to start and maybe end up doing nothing, quickly losing inspiration and returning to normal life. But adventures don’t have to be huge things. An English adventurer named Alastair Humphries came up with the concept, or at least catchy name, of “Micro-Adventures” - small, short and inexpensive adventures. For example, one weekend, go out saturday morning on your bike and don’t come home until Sunday evening. Or maybe take the whole family out, bring a tent and go for a hike that takes longer than a day. Or even just sleep in your garden one night with the kids. The point is, adventures can fit in with people’s busy lives and stretched budgets. It’s simply about stepping out of your daily routine, your comfort zone and spending time outside - alone or with friends or with children. You’ll be amazed how rewarding these micro adventures will feel and they may be the stepping stones to far bigger adventures in the future. The point is - get out there and do it! If you google “Micro Adventures” you’ll find loads of ideas to try.

A Legacy?
The World Record was not something that I or the other crew members every really thought about or talked about much. Yes, the 50 day target was something of a benchmark for us to measure our progress against and at times focussed the mind a little but a safe and happy crossing was all we were ever really interested in rather than breaking records. All that said, I have to admit it’s kind of nice/fun to now have a confirmed (by the Ocean Rowing Society, who will then inform Guinness) World Record to our names for the fastest mainland Europe to mainland S America crossing by rowing boat ever completed. Of course it will be beaten at some point in the future, probably sooner rather than later, but I can put up with being a “Former World Record Holder” for the rest of my life! But what we were all amazed by was how much the World Record Attempt captured the imagination of all of our friends and family. Most messages finished with something along the lines of “and make sure you break that record!” - who knew you were all such a competitive bunch!

The personal legacy for me and a large motivating factor for setting off, was the effect it would have on my two sons. Children being so adaptable, they barely noticed me being gone and pretty much instantly got used to me being back. But they are growing up believing things like rowing oceans are just normal. It’s brilliant - their father does things like that, their mother runs marathon (and soon far longer) distances, their cousin has climbed Everest a number of times and they know/have met people who cycle and run across whole continents, sail around the world etc. I love how wide their horizons now are - who knows what they’ll end up doing in the future themselves but right now for them, the sky is the limit.

One final legacy the row has left is the remarkable amount of money many of you have donated to Medecin Sans Frontiers - at the time of writing well over €5000. As readers of the blog from the start will remember, I was reluctant to ask people for sponsorship given the high chance of failure of our crossing (as well as Charity fatigue, tight personal budgets etc). But as the row went on more and more people were asking about sponsorship so finally with 1 week to go I grew more comfortable with the idea of raising money. Medecin Sans Frontiers is a charity I have supported for many years - I love what they do and how they do it. They simply pay for volunteer doctors and nurses to fly to war zones and try to treat all victims of war right there in the middle of war zones. Forget rowing oceans, these people are the real heroes. Their bravery and selflessness is an example to us all. And by donating money to this charity we can help these wonderful volunteers get to where they can do most good. It seems a small part to play in this remarkable effort but one they need to continue to operate. A huge thank you to everyone who donated so far and if anyone would still like to donate, the page is still open -

The Volunteers of MSF - the real heroes 

Discovering, or remembering, what’s really important to you.
48 days at sea gives you a lot of time to think. Everything from guessing cloud shapes to solving world issues to new inventions to make millions to what adventure will be next. But by stripping your life back to such basics, the one thing that you really tend to focus on is what’s really important to you in life. Now this can be everything from the short term “what’s the thing you miss most from home” (bed) and what food do you most miss on the boat (steak), all the way to the more profound “what really matters to you in life”. The answer to this one for me was always the same - Family. I’m so lucky to have such a lovely little family and invariably take all of it for granted. It’s only when you’re separated and for such a long time that you really realise and start to appreciate what you have already right under your roof. I cannot tell you how much seeing Helen on the dock in Cayenne motivated me to keep going through the darker moments. Her importance to me is something that I have known from the day I met her but maybe I do still need occasional reminder. And although (as any parent will know) your kids can drive you mad (and already regularly have been since I’ve been back) I have to say I missed the boys far more than I expected on the crossing. The boys and I already have so much in common - a love of sport, travel and adventures - and I plan to enjoy as much of all three as possible with them in the rapidly disappearing time between now and when they set off on their own adventures as young men in just a few years’ time.    

The launch of Ariane 5 from Cayenne one week after we left

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Crossing in Summary & Key Events Explained.

I'm going to try to break the crossing down into a number of sections. I don't have the exact dates/days to hand so apologies if the dates aren't quite right but I think for the most part the periods will be about right.

1st Section - Departure - Days 1 to 5.
This was by far the hardest section of the row from a physical point of view. It was just brutal. Although I had sailed in a watch system across the Pacific, the physical demands of the 2 hours "on watch" were far harder than I could have ever imagined. The body is remarkably resilient but does take a little time to adapt to significant changes in routine. These 5 days were exactly that. The rowing was more physical than I expected - it's not as intense as sitting down to doing a 2 hour erg but it's no walk in the park either. You are quite physically tired after the on-watch and of course get to repeat the pleasure 2 hours later. Sleeping in a small, hard, rocking environment also takes the body significant time to get used to, and once it does manage to fall asleep, is doesn't like being woken up an hour or so later. Intense fatigue kicks in after just 24 hours or so and the temptation is very strong to simply finish a watch and go straight to bed - the problem being you still need to eat a lot of food as regularly as possible. Initially I think we all ate the minimum required and tried to maximise sleep so the calorie defecit was significant. By 3 or 4 days of this you simply felt numb. The closest analogy I can think of would be the first few days of a hard-labour prison sentence - an alien and intimidating environment combined with a brutual physical regime. You can't yet wish you weren't there because you can't even think that clearly. Shell-shocked is the only way to put it.

Day 4/5 was also notable for the sudden and significant deterioration of my "bum-bones" which left me practically unable to sit nevermind row. Thankfully Ralph produced an old inflatable cushion for me to try sitting on and a beautiful relationship was born. I still have no idea how I would have completed the row without it and despite a puncture (and quick repair) it made it all the way to Cayenne with me!

The incredible calm at dawn the morning of the storm. 

2nd Section - The Storm and Approach to the Canaries - Days 6-10.
After the first few days of fairly gentle weather, we had a remarkable day of extremes. We started the day rowing on the calmest sea I have ever seen - you simply wouldn't believe we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 12 hours later we were battling through 25 knot winds and 5-6m waves. Because both wind and waves were coming very favourably from the North East, progress remained good. Slowly though it became harder and harder to row because the sea state was so big that we eventually downed oars and let the boat drift/surf in the right direction (south west) at speeds of around 4 knots! The time off the oars was appreciated though it soon became apparent that sleeping 4 in the 2 tiny cabins was difficult. After a day of drifting towards the Canaries at high speeds, we realised that we couldn't afford to keep going at the same rate as we risked reaching the Canaries completely out of control. The risk of being shipwrecked on the shores on the islands was far too big so we had to drop the para-anchor to reduce our speed to a little over 1 knot. After 24 hours on para-anchor the weather finally subsided so we could resume rowing and plan our safe passage through the Canaries. By day 10 we were safely through to the east of Gran Canaria which would represent our last sighting of land until French Guiana. The passage through the Canaries represented mixed emotions - it was our first real milestone and seeing land was exciting but we all knew this was the last land we'd see for well over a month and I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider the "what ifs" of just stopping the crossing right there and then.

3rd Section - The Psychological Test - Days 11 to 20.
Thusfar the row had been fairly action packed - the excitement of leaving, the storm, passage through the Canaries. Then we hit both a literal and emotional lull. For some inexplicable reason having cleared Gran Canaria we then rowed directly SW into its wind shadow. I cannot to this day explain why we did this given we knew it was there but we found ourselves with no wind and no current so had to hack our way through still waters for 48 hours which was slow and frustrating. We finally realised what was going on and immediately detoured to the SE - slightly off course but in search of faster conditions. The frustration of the lost time lingered and then we had a few more days of light winds and slow progress. This was the start of by far the hardest psychological leg of the trip. The realisation hit home that although we had done well so far, that there remained well over a month still to go - another month of the same mundane 2 hours on/2 hours off survival routine. And although we were coping much better with the physical side of the routine, the brain continued to struggle to accept what was still ahead of us - no land, no excitement, no significant milestones - just around 4000km more of 2hrs on/2hrs off. I found this period very tough. In hindsight we went through pretty much the 7 steps of grieving - Shock, Pain, Anger, Depression, Upturn, Working through, Acceptance. I know it sounds dramatic but really that was the process - from "what have I done?" to "why did I ever sign up to this" to "I can't believe I have 30 more days of this" to final accepting "it is what it is". By day 20 I'd finally accepted the crossing for what it was - a long, hard, physical and mental struggle which would only end when we reached French Guiana. And once I'd accepted that, the whole crossing slipped into a much smoother phase where the routine finally became tolerable and even enjoyable at times!

4th Section - Autohelms - Days 21 to 28.
Our first autohelm packed up before we'd even left Portugal - it was no drama - we had 2 replacement arms and the first one was old and well used. We simply swapped it out, kept it "just in case" and ploughed on with our new arm. Like many of the key systems on board (autohlem, AIS (like radar), watermaker) you didn't give them much thought day to day but just assumed/hoped/prayed they'd just keep working. Around day 22 disaster struck when our second autohelm arm failed. We swapped it out for the 3rd and quickly realised by the noise that it wasn't actually a new arm at all but simply a refurbished one from somewhere else. We suddenly felt very exposed. Why did the 2nd arm fail so relatively quickly? And why did it fail in the same, inexplicable manner as the first? And how long could the 3rd arm last? We soon learned the answer to the last question - about 2 days. It was a sickening feeling when the 3rd arm failed, leaving us stranded in the mid Atlantic. Yes we could helm by hand but that required one of the 2 on-watch rowers to steer instead of rowing which would slow our progess by about 50%. So instead of around 22 days left we were looking at around 35 days more at sea. We immediately put out all the feelers through sailing forums, ocean rowing pages, friends, family - anyone who would listen really - to seek help as to why the arms kept on failing. And the response was simply overwhelming - the kindness of strangers is something quite amazing when witnessed first hand and the time and effort this small army of people were putting in to try to solve our problems was deeply touching to the 4 of us drifting around the Atlantic Ocean. In the end, with the help of Simon Chalk - an extremely experienced ocean rower - we managed to repair our 3rd arm and more importantly change the settings of the autohelm's computer to hopefully allow us to make it all the way to south america. It was a wonderful moment when the arm kicked back into life and although the threat of further failure contiuned to loom over us for the rest of the trip it was a pivotal moment in our crossing when we finally got up and running again.

5th Section - Slow Boats, Barnacles and World Records - Days 29 to 40.
Morale on board was closely matched to boat-speed and so after a few days of ever slowing boat-speed, morale reached something of a low around day 30. After a couple of dreadful watches of speeds below 2 knots, we decided to check the hull for unwanted passengers. It felt like a move born of desperation rather than anything else, but imagine our surprise when I jumped in with Clement to find a full "beard" of barnacles clinging on to Rose. It took us nearly an hour to scrape all of them off and by the time we returned on board we were pretty cold and tired. But as soon as the guys started to row we'd suddenly gained around 1.5knots of boatspeed! That afternoon we had a quick boat meeting and decided we had lapsed a little in terms of discipline and focus and vowed to do all we could to get the world record back in our sights. In truth the world record wasn't something we'd talked about at all until this point and rather than being the main target for the crossing it was something we used along the way to motivate ourselves and measure our progress. So refocussed and with boatspeed much improved we rowed on through the half way, then three quarter way milestones. Over the next few days and weeks, boat speed did continue to fluctuate in flakey currents which continued to frustrate but before we knew it we were less than 1 week out with Cayenne and the world record firmly in our sights.

6th Section - The Final Week and Arrival - Days 41 to 47.
There was a very notable rise in temperatures around 1 week out from the finish. In truth we expected this to happen a lot earlier given how far south we'd come but finally it did heat up. Days became really tough with water consumption up significantly. Nights, which had been the hardest/most boring watches thusfar suddenly became the most popular offering respite from heat of the sun. But it was still so humid at night that sleeping became difficult. It was hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago we'd been sleeping in our sleeping bags because the nights dropped so cool and now could barely lie on top of them because it was so hot. And with one week to go we also started to focus on the logistics of arriving in Cayenne for the first time. Yes you could say this was a little short-sighted from our part but at the same time, when still over a month out you didn't dare even think about arriving yet. Navigation became a serious factor for the first time - for the previous 6 weeks we could simply row roughly south west and we were in the right direction. Now we had to think about final approaches, local currents, tide tables etc. As the fine tuning began we couldn't understand how we were rowing west/north west yet still going south. Of course we factored in currents, wind which might cause us to drift but then the computer was telling us we were sailing above 270 degrees yet our latitude continued to decrease we finally realised that our compass must have been mis-calibrated. So we basically ignored all our onboard navigation equipement except for the GPS readout (which we independently verified so knew was working). We had to keep the Latitude number stable and watch the longitude continue to go west - as long as we did that we'd get there eventually. Boat speed continued to increase dramatically in the last week as we finally found the currents we'd been looking for and the miles just fell away. Pretty soon we were just a couple of days out and planning arrival times to the nearest hour. Indeed our progress was so fast that we spent the last night drifting without rowing in an attempt to hit the river to Cayenne in time to avoid the outcoming tide (which was too strong to row against). And then it was suddenly the last morning on board and we could finally look forward to our arrival and everything we'd been looking forward to for the last 7 weeks. The job was done, the crossing was complete.

Thursday, 27 April 2017


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:

 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

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:

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...

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