With the new year, it being in the final count down before we depart onto the ice and 2 years since I departed Gran Canaria to start rowing the Atlantic Ocean, it's a perfect time to reflect on everything, go through our final checklists and focus on what the coming months will entail. Since the 8 of us arrived on the shores of Gran Canaria we completed the row and since our return there have been marriages, Indian Ocean rows, adventures around the world, new jobs and countless more stories. Looking back on it all it's really quite an impressive and broad list of achievements. As we head towards the ice we will be thinking of the little goals a long the way as we break the 1900 miles into mentally more manageable chunks. We have been putting the physical, mental and preparatory work in for a while and it's now time to turn our attentions to the doing bit. So whether you are just starting, in the middle or coming to the end of a plan or New Years resolution all the best with it. Would be great to hear or see some pictures of your own inspiring stories before we head off on our own adventure, like all good ideas anything worthwhile is good solid work.
About this time last year I was arriving a head of my Atlantic row. The festive period had been an incredibly exciting period, in some respects quite a tense one with final preparations and certainly a time to gorge on those extra calories. I thought the timing was right to thank my sponsors, friends, family and work colleagues for all their support as I opted to spend my time training, eating and sleeping on top of my day job impacted on you.
When you make a serious choice in your life I don't think you can ever comprehend the effects it has on those around you. I think what really brought it home was first seeing my Dad in Barbados, then Mum and brother who were unable to make it out to the finish and the relief that they had for our safe crossing.
So thanks goes to Binn Skips who have supported me on a couple of challenges now. Skye Skyns who provide the softest and most comfortable sheep skins I have ever felt, we sat on them and it made the journey all the more comfortable. Cameras underwater who provide an amazing camera case that allowed me to take my camera underwater and take some incredible pictures! Patra kindly gave me some silk underwear which despite the harsh conditions held up very well and were very comfortable.
Numerous people helped me train and prepare for the event Fulontri with their numerous quality training sessions. Rin Cobb from Pnd Comsulting on my nutrition and managed to help me gain the necessary weight in time. Phil Barratt from Physique Body works for regular holistic sports massages. Simon James and Heal physios of Dundee also seriously helped with both my pre-race preparation and post race recovery. Roger Gould from extreme rowing challenges for his advice and enabling me to get some rowing practise including rowing behind the Olympic torch. Dover rowing club enabled me to gain some valuable coastal rowing experience as well as rowing from Gravesend to Richmond with them.
Finally the Ocean Row Events support team and most importantly Leven, Livar, Tim, Calum, Pete, James and Jan who made for a thoroughly memorable adventure. If you are interested in and ocean row I would highly recommend checking out Ocean Row Events!
There are many others who inspired, helped and kept me going whilst out there. Maybe if the book deals ever comes about then they can be additions to that...
The main thing is I may have been out there in the middle of the ocean but to reach that point there was a much longer journey that involved far more people than just myself. Regardless of what they are exactly without you all life's challenges and adventures are not possible. So whatever your next challenge remember those who help with the journey in whatever way that might be.
Last year saw me write about my experiences of following a nutritional plan after meeting up with Rin from PND consulting (http://www.pndconsulting.co.uk/) to get me up to the recommended weight to row an ocean. Not only has she worked as a dietician for a number of years but she has also put it into practise completing expeditions and multi-day races around the globe from the arctic to the desert. This I believed gave her great insight into what was required before I set off on my row as well as how I would go about hitting my targets. It had been a challenge to hit these targets initially as the amount of exercise I was doing was burning a huge amount off. Something that I hadn’t talked about previously was how this process makes you feel incredibly hungry every couple hours and then very stuffed following gorging on far too much food and then just sitting in front of a computer. Now I could have spread the eating across more meals than just the main three and some “small” snacks. Ideally I would have but just convenience wise having maybe five to six smaller meals through a day would have felt like I never stopped eating. I’m also not sure that work colleagues would have appreciated the constant crumbs and debris round my desk following trying to cram as much in as quickly as possible as I tried to complete whatever needed doing between each meal.
Towards the end of the year this did mean eating everything in sight to the point where we went round to friend’s houses and they would insist on third helpings or more. Seconds had become the norm by this stage. Importantly however I was making good progress in this final big push to hit the magic 95kg. It’s safe to say between the Christmas celebrations and then the pre-row time in Gran Canaria that this magic number was easily surpassed. One family member saw a picture of me and described it to me when I got back “I didn’t recognise you in the picture, you looked..... chubby”. This had always been the plan with Rin to strike the right balance between lean muscle and some useful fat supplies. I may have taken the supplies side slightly too far but it did make for a very enjoyable Christmas.
So over the row we joked initially that we were not losing weight as we went across. We had 6000 calories to eat per day and were not generally managing to eat all of these despite eating at all times of the day. I had a reputation for cooking up regardless of the time so super noodles in soup at 2am became pretty normal. However soon we could all notice that the weight was beginning to be shed and pretty rapidly at that. Physically we had all changed shape quite drastically over a short period of time. In particular our legs which had begun to lose their size quite a lot, mine ended up looking like a long distance runner’s legs; skinny, lean and sinewy.
By the end of the trip I had lost around 15 – 17kg in 35 days, a huge amount given it had taken the best part of a year to gain that weight. My kilt had not fitted so well since it had been bought although this didn’t last long. Being given steak at 4am when we arrived washed down with a couple of cold ones was all that was required for our bodies to kick into overdrive and to start eating up everything in sight a bit like Labradors for anyone that has had one. Within weeks most of us had wee pop bellies; I think we all put this down to our bodies still maintaining that we needed 6000 calories a day. Or it could have been that it was amazing to taste everything that we hadn’t done for a month at sea and were just making up for lost time.
Overall the plan we had put in place with the amount of weight gain had worked a treat as throughout the trip I didn’t dip too far below the weight I seem to naturally sit at. This I think means that I could continue to perform despite the weight lose. Although I have wondered what if I had stayed quite lean whether the weight loss would have been as extreme, I just couldn’t afford to risk reaching part way across and finding that I was becoming weaker and too skinny.
If you have stories of extreme diets to increase or drop your weight then would be great to hear. If you want advice on achieving your weight or dietary goals and particularly if your preparing for an event or expedition I would definitely suggest checking out Rins website and getting in contact with her.
Its taken a wee bit longer to get onto the computer to write this up but I'm now finally getting round to it. Hopefully this will be a bit of a rolling start for the others. Our speeds towards the end of the 4th week had begun to slow, partly due to the conditions but I think also due to the fact that the aim of being sub 30 or even 32 days for the world record had well and truly slipped away. Mentally it was a turning point we had to pull together or face the consequences and end up taking a lot longer than planned, this would also involve rationing our food as well as our water. This was not a pleasant thought for any of us. As a crew we certainly rallied and pulled together constantly monitoring our speed, course and checking on one another.
I think that despite all the challenges we had faced this last push was potentially the toughest mentally of all of the trip. We knew what speed we needed more than ever and so when we weren't hitting this you could see our finishing time slipping all the more than when we had time to play with and thinking that we could claw it back with a better session. To help this I tried envisaging the route I drive from London to Scotland. Despite doing this a number of times I didn't get very far as I never really took in landmarks every hour or so effectively our daily mileage on the boat 80 - 100 miles. Was worth a try...
It was also the time that the lack of a daggerboard began to have its effect on our bodies, or at least that is what I believe to be part of the reason. My bottom was not in a happy place, it dreamed of a bean bags and huge soft fluffy cushions instead it got a well used rowing seat. Despite them being fantastic for the main portion of the journey they had now lost any padding they once had. One very tired and frustrating session I turned to Jan and pointed out the fact that it was a big design fault to have bolts in the cushion of the seat. Livar told a story of a girl going to the doctors and asking why when she poked anywhere on here body it hurt, the doctor looked at her and pointed out that her finger was broken. The moral of the story being that my bum was just very delicate, there were no bolts in the seat but in the middle of the night it kind of made sense.
We made good progress still being affected by eddies and currents a lot more than we had ever imagined however each day seemed to have a good 12 hours in them. It was almost teasing us as to how good it could be when weather, currents, boat and crew fell into place. It was never quite enough to break the glorious 100 mile barrier. Peter had put a great quote up on the wall of the boat before leaving which I will finish with.
"The purpose of a man's life is to live not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them I shall use my time."
Despite being on a boat 45ft long and a rigid pattern of rowing or not rowing every 2 hours it is incredibly hard to sum up 3 weeks out in the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. There has been a definite increase in on board battering and trading mostly involving chocolate bars which have become "hot currency" and are the pinnacle for trading and bet making for the trip and more importantly the 6 Nations' results..
Now Tim isn't a fan of Snickers so in his wisdom he was putting his all left overs from each day's ration pack including his Snickers into the “spares (or left overs) bag”. Pete spotted an opportunity when sifting through the spares bag, and took the Snickers and munched them, which Tim noticed. One day Tim said that as Pete had been eating his Snickers he owed him a Double Decker! Pete was shocked by this and although he went through begrudgingly with this deal was a little upset as he thought “the spares” were fair game; and to ensure any further raids on his rations by Tim (or the other crew members) munched his way through all the remaining goodies in his ration pack over the next 5 minutes ;-)
There have been many special moments – when we passed the halfway mark between Barbados and Porto Mogan, witnessed shooting stars and caught, but didn't land, our first Dorado. We have coped with rogue waves and issues with our power and have been on water rations ever since.
From a rowing perspective the 3rd week meant we hadn't got as far, or as fast, as we hoped due to broken daggerboards, bad currents, low winds and a natural spectacle of a lightening storm. This was particularly impressive although thoughts of what was higher than an ocean rowing boat in the middle of the ocean with nothing else around did get us thinking about the odds of a direct hit by lightening. Fortunately the storm tracked away from us and we were just left watching the all night light show of forks of lightening came down.
All that is left is more rowing, eating, sleeping and now a new addition more time is being spent by everyone looking after sore bums and other aches and pains
One of the lessons I have learnt from this trip when dealing with oceans is that the unexpected does, and will, happen. We have experienced equipment failures, electrical problems, water shortages, attacks from wildlife and the weather and currents have been much worse than we had hoped and anticipated. A lot of these problems have been overcome by being well prepared, thinking of back up solutions or working round the problem. In our most recent, our spare daggerboard broke and although we are a bit less stable, and a bit more rocky on board, our speedhas not been as adversely affected as I expected. We only have 940 miles to go before we reach Barbados.
The RNLI respond to calls all year round to problems like the ones we have experienced, and in all conditions. People dont go to sea expecting problems and although they can prepare as best they can, sometimes its just not enough. Equally when the RNLI are called into flooded areas around the UK, the problem scenarios can happen very quickly before people and communities have time to react and prepare for the worst. So please show your support and donate to the RNLI via the link on my blog (http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BennoRawlinson) or Google “benno rawlinson virgin fundraising” or if all else fails just go straight to the RNLI website and make a donation as each donation will make a difference and help save lives in the UK and abroad
There have been slight technical problems as I thought I was sending updates to my blog but they haven’ t arrived so… I have a lot of catching up to do after this update; possibly going to be a bit of a catch up session on everything that has happened so far, will see how it pans out. So before heading out I heard from a lot of people that flying fish manage to get everywhere and will find the smallest of crevasses to hide in till you find their smelly remains. At the time I didnt really appreciate how true this would be till the other night. Now, regardless of conditions outside, the cabin has become a cosy, warm and safe haven from the elements and there are some things you just don’t expect. This is definitely one of them.
I had finished my second shift of the night and was curled up in bed in the front cabin fast asleep when I was woken up at about 2.30 by a wet slap on my bac! I momentarily disregarded it as I wanted to go back to sleep. This was only brief as I then heard what has become a common sound of flapping around and realised there was a flying fish in the cabin! Whilst trying to process this fact, I jumpedup onto to my knees and started trying to grab the wet, smelly, flappy thing with both hands whilst it squirmed around my bed and ultimately “snuggled“ under my pillow and where I managed to grab it and throw it out of the cabin roof hatch which was open. Meanwhile 2 other crew members had overheard the commotion and were curled up with laughter watching the scene unfold – as a naked man fumbled ed round a small enclosed space on hands and knees after a sliipery invader. What makes the whole thing so amazing is that this fish had to fly out of the sea, above our cabin and either drop perfectly down through the hole of the cabin roof hatch which is only 2ft by 1ft or bounce off the cover and in through this hole. It still makes the crew crack up when they hear the story. I seem to have become a flying fish magnet as on my next shift a number flew over our heads and one bounced off the rear cabin just missed me and landed by my feet!
Yesterday was the first sea trials in Avalon in Gran Canaria and what an experience it was. The morning started earlier than recently meeting at the marina for 8 am as we had been informed that our boat was to be moved by this huge crane.
Couple of issues with this. Firstly there was another boat and a car in the way and the other problem was that the man due to move it wasn't there. We managed to solve the first after lots of discussion in mixed Spanish and English. The later was more interesting and the pace was purely dictated by island life or the length of time it took for his cigarette to be finished. Even with the boat in mid air he stopped to take a phone call while we were all precariously standing on the boat waiting for it to be lowered into the water. It all happened though without a hitch. As we rowed to our berth in the marina we were only interrupted by our apartment landlady to kindly inform us that she wasn't happy as we were late leaving our apartment and could the other team members get over there now. As soon as we were tied up we were over there to the apartment and literally throwing stuff out of the door to give it a clean down as the previous one we had been told was not clean enough. It took a wee bit of pleading and charm by our ozy crew member Tim to secure the 2nd apartment. According to the cleaner who inspected it, this one was cleaner than we had received it in. This made the landlady a bit happier and kindly helped us find a 3rd apartment.
Next stop the boat for the actual sea trials. Myself at stroke, then James, Peter and Calum were up first on the row. A nice gentle hour with the odd burst to see how she felt at a higher speed. The boat was rising and falling on some small waves, the sun was shining and the occasional wind blew on our faces. What could be better. Next up Tim at stroke, Jan, Livar and captain Leven. The rest of us chilled in the boat and checked out the beds otherwise know as a coffin, tube or pilot berth depending on who you speak to. They are quite wee and certainly a bit of a squeeze. The aim of the session was to see how she performed, calibrate and test some of the systems as well as do a man overboard scenario (a fender kindly offered it services).
The boat performed extremely well with it achieving good speeds in the conditions. More importantly the crew was delighted to be out on the water, despite a bit of tweaking being required she is looking in great shape for a fast crossing.
Next stage fixing the tweaks, some more rowing trials and then chasing down and overtaking team Titan who left this morning.
The day has finally arrived when we set off. I'm writing this slightly ahead of schedule as I'm not sure how much time we will have prior to going. It's been building over the 10 days or so with anticipation but I cannot wait to get out there. Waiting for the weather window has been like the quite before the storm.I have always thought and quite a few people have said that if you aren't nervous then it isn't important. My stomach has been doing flips for days a bit like I had before a rugby match but on a grander scale! My thoughts are on the journey ahead of what we will experience and see as individuals and more so as a team.
Just making it as far as we have has been quite a journey for all of us and it is now coming to the final straight albeit a long one!
As we have spent time together as a team you can see the look on everyone's faces of the anticipation and excitement to ride the waves and row our hearts out to Barbados. We want that sub 30 day time and the record.
So as we walk down the gangway for the final time, good bye to Gran Canaria. Bon chance, sterkte, good luck and many more for all those aboard any ocean rowing boat crossing the Atlantic this season but particularly for Team Avalon and her crew.
Finally thanks to everyone who has helped family, friends and sponsors you are all part of the journey and the achievement. Show your support and donate to the RNLI just follow the link below.
Last weekend I left the wet and windy shores of scotland bound for Gran Canaria ahead of the start of the Atlantic Row 2013 campaign. I was very fortunate and managed to get extra leg room, a bit of a blessing on a 4 hour flight! I was sat next to a couple who were reading the same book as me and we ended up discussing ocean rowing and other adventures for the duration of the flight. After a quick flight over the speakers came the usual chime to signal that we had landed safely and on time.
I had to wait in the airport for one of my other team mates to arrive, James, who was arriving not long after myself. After meeting up and managing to find the bus stop we were quickly ushered onto a bus and could only hope that it was the right one and that the point where we needed to change would be obvious. It wasn't and we soon found ourselves at the end of the line and the bus driver scratching his head. We opted for a taxi ride instead to get us to Porto Mogan.
Since then we have met up with the rest of the team, the boat has arrived and now the majority of the work has been done on it. Including many hours spent putting on all the vinyls from the various sponsors that have been accumulated by the team members.
We are now waiting for the all important weather window which is currently looking like early next week. In the meantime there's some more jobs on the boat to finish up and catching as much sleep as possible a head of our 2 hours on and 2 hours off for 30 days.
Following on from my last blog about meeting my nutritionist who made a number of suggestions on how I can increase my weight but in a way that wasn’t just in extra squidgy bits. I took to following her advice as much as possible. Apart from the idea of eating something like tofu which I just couldn't bring myself to do.
It was quite strange to start with noting everything I ate and drank, it certainly helped re-enforce the aim to the point where I didn’t need to write it down so much as I mentally noting what was going in.
The idea was pretty straight forward stage 1 would involve reducing my fat intake from the likes of whole milk and yoghurts and increasing my carbohydrates through the likes of pastas, rice and potatoes that kind of thing. The rest of my diet was in pretty good shape apart from the odd tweak. I did have to ensure that I was still consuming in excess of 4000 calories on a day of normal exercise and then 5 – 6000 calories if it had been longer in distance.
The results from this I had checked a couple of months ago around mid-September; the results showed good progress. My weight had increased in a stead manor and the skin calliper test showed that my fat percentage had also dropped. The slight downside was I was still occasionally losing weight and short of my target weight of 95kg.
I had watched my brother struggle with the weight gain process a couple of years ago and as easy as it sounds, it reaches a point where whilst doing exercise and everything else you do in a day it’s a struggle to get in all the calories in a healthy and sustainable way.
That is where stage 2 came in, the decision from the results was to give it another month to about mid-October and if the weight was not increasing enough to give it a boost with more calories. I think my work colleagues noticed the increase in the size of lunch that I was bringing in each day added with the daily litre of milk. It had become less important about where it’s coming from and more about the sheer quantity.
The timing of Christmas and the start of the Atlantic row has been very fortunate with the huge quantities of food and possibly a spot of drink that has been on offer over this festive period. It has certainly helped towards the last minute body stores.
The weight is now there or there about at 94kg, I’ve managed to put on about 10 – 12 kg since February, and now intend to lose most of that and potentially more with the row.
A few weeks ago our boat Avalon under went an inversion test to ensure that she would self upright in the event of a capsize. It is something that every boat undergoes to see how they will deal with extreme weather situations or rogue waves, it certainly builds up confidence in her abilities when you see how quickly she pops back up. She passed with flying colours! [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LHXt3Xi7no4]
What have you done over the last week? Travelled anywhere special or did you soak up the parties around the UK or further a field? Well the last week has flown by, I was up in Scotland last weekend meeting up with The Captain Leven Brown commodore of Ocean Row Events (just added the commodore bit to go with the sea theme) which was inspiring as expected and I came away with many plans and ideas but more on that later. The rest of the weekend was spent soaking up the rare but incredible Scottish sun on the beach at St Andrews with our good friends from the Blown Away team. They took myself and my brother out on the Zap cats check out the video below:
I am pretty sure they said I could drive it next time too...
Check them out at:
And of course checking out what was happening at the Jubilee weekend back in London where some of the team I row with each week were out on the river paddling in front of the Queen. I believe the TV didn’t do it justice and that being in the middle of it especially with the lashing rain was certainly an experience.
I managed to have with a segway experience with the family before shooting back down to London for the remainder of the week.
To top it off was a pretty speedy bike ride to Windsor with Ful-on tri and some great headwinds to battle, where we stopped off at the Chocolate Theatre for another fantastic hot chocolate and slice of carrot cake. Both were devoured pretty sharpish before a slightly more casual pace on the way back pushed along by our nemesis of the winds from our outward journey. Followed by a spot of rowing down in Richmond today. All in all a pretty awesome week!