The day had finally come about. I was just going about my normal day when an email came through letting us know that our 1st sea trials were happening that weekend. My plans quickly changed from the original of cycling and rowing ergs to being out at sea and quickly organising some travel between 2 of us before the early start on Saturday morning. Saturday morning came round pretty quickly. Myself and Jan another crew member, who I’ve rowed with in London, started the 3 hour drive down to Rossiters (our boat builders) in Christchurch on the south coast. By the time we had finished catching up with all that was going on we were there and searching round the boat yard for our captain as well as finding a whole array of ocean rowing boats. This included the resting place for a boat that tried crossing the Pacific Ocean and sadly the occupier was not quite so lucky. A rather sobering point.
We soon found the rest of the crew and after checking out the progress of the boat, made our way to a local breakfast house for some food. Having a 2nd breakfast before 11am was certainly a good start to the day and building our energy a head of the day’s activities. I have well and truly got into the diet required with all the training but will be talking about that later.
The plan was pretty straight forward; leave Rossiter boat yard just before it had reached high tide then out east along the coast towards the Isle of Wight and see where we end up. Then after dark start our journey back to the boat yard on the incoming tide before a debriefing at a local pub. Simple.
Part of the day’s activities was testing out the boat for another rower and his voyage as it had been modified since its previous expedition. First job was to get the boat ready which included putting all our equipment and food for the day onboard, filling the boat up with some ballast and working out which was the keel and which was the rudder as they looked almost identical.
First slight issue came in the form of the ballast tanks leaking into the adjoining compartments, not a problem it turned out as we starting stuffing epoxy resin, supposedly waterproof and highly sticky playdough, into the holes. Turned out not to be so stick but did the job.
The next was a little tougher. It turned out that the keel and the rudder were the wrong way round however we only noticed this at the point at which the supposed keel was stuck in the boat and obstructing the rowing position. I wish I had got some photos and footage of first trying to get it in and then an even tougher job of getting it out. But sadly we were too engrossed in the problem. Trying desperately not to damage the boat we tried everything from levering it out to giving it a smack with a mallet. We manage to wriggle it out of the hole at which point we all decided a keel wasn’t so important. They do however make a big difference it your ability to stay a course and turn which we were to discover later.
The row out was fantastic, passing a solo rower also out testing their boat, winding along the river mouth past various on lookers of this strange looking rowing boat with 5 guys in it. It was amazing being out there on the water after so much dreaming, talking, planning and hours of training.
It was the time that Jan and I had been waiting for, to get behind the oars and get some power through them. It was a strange sensation having done most of my rowing recently on the relative calm of the Thames on a fixed seat boat to then go on a boat with a moving seat and throw in a few small wavelets (it was a pretty calm day!) all made a real difference. However after changing seats on the second session we were soon finding our groove especially thanks to a mixture of Leven and Tim our rowing coaches who were providing advice for us.
Making it round towards the needles off the Isle of Wight we started relaxing between rows with a mixture of munching some food whilst curled up in the front or rear cabins or admiring the various quotes written on the inside of the rear cabin. Im pretty sure one of them went:
“Row, row, row your boat
Gentle down the....”
As my brother has already made a joke about this it made me laugh, I certainly don’t think that Atlantic Ocean really fits after the gently bit. But we will soon see.
It was fast approaching what was for me to be one of the highlights of the day and I think it could be each day of the row too. Sunset. Despite being just off the coast of the UK it did not disappoint and for an hour or so we admired the colours change across the sky from pale blues to burning red before darkness set in. There is however something very peaceful about rowing in the dark whether I feel that way later we will have to wait and see but all there is, is total darkness apart from the boats red and green marker lights and your team mates back in front of you moving up and down the slider.
Turning the boat around Jan and I took up the oars, already there was an element of competition between the teams of rowers. This maybe a slight understatement. However we wanted to go faster than them so decided to up the rate and see where we could get to. Admittedly come January it is going to be all about distance covered but still in the meantime we can have some fun. Although I can’t remember the exact result I’m going to say that we won and I hope they would say the opposite in case one of them is reading this.
The journey back in was certainly an interesting one, navigating towards a light between mud banks as we had beaten the tide back too. We could make out on one side the breaking of some waves and on the other slick mud and gravel. This was until it got a tad too shallow to row, the water however was rising quickly and we were soon paddling on into the darkness trying desperately to make out the unlit buoys. It was slow progress and without the keel sharp turns were impossible, the only saving grace was the tide was still against us preventing us from flying up the channel. Finally coming into the yard we found ourselves several feet below where we had left it. Without a motor to ease us into the mooring we took a bit of a run up before I jumped up and onto the bank armed with the rope to tie us on. We were safe and sound to row another day.
Next stop pub debrief and a quick and an uneventful drive back to London.