I was in the North Island of New Zealand when Cyclone Pam was wreaking havoc across the Pacific last month. For days, the people from Vanuatu working in New Zealand didn’t know if their families were still alive or if they had homes to return to. The news coverage of the disaster was extensive; the images of the devastation, sickening. I thought:
‘What can I do to help the Pacific Islanders?’
OceansWatch posted the answer on Facebook. A James Wharram-design Tiki 38 catamaran had just been loaned to OceansWatch for the sole purpose of coordinating aid relief and they needed a skipper to deliver her on the first leg of the boat’s journey.
On Monday, Laura Dekker, Gerard Ellmers and me will sail ‘Anam Cara’ from the very bottom to the very top of New Zealand.
From Bluff to Whangarei is a distance of 1100 nautical miles. With winter fast upon us, we expect the voyage to be one of the coldest deliveries any of us have ever done. Our worst case scenario is an E, NE or SE wind direction making the coast a dangerous lee shore.
Prospective departure: 07:00am Monday 20 April NZ (GMT+12)
|Bluff||Dunedin||147||1 day 13 hours|
|Dunedin||Christchurch||199||2 days 2 hours|
|(Dunedin||Timaru)||101||1 day 01 hour|
|(Timaru||Christchurch)||131||1 day 09 hours|
|Christchurch||Wellington||174||1 day 20 hours|
|Wellington||Napier||221||2 days 07 hours|
|Gisborne||Tauranga||197||2 days 01 hour|
|Tauranga||Auckland||131||1 day 09 hours|
Safe harbours between Bluff and Whangarei.
About Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, the Irish Times wrote in 1956 –
‘a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, Beckett has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.’
While I can’t say that my audience has exactly been glued to their seats, 2014 is certainly the year in which I nearly rowed the Pacific, twice!
When the Jersey Girls, an all-women team of four, stepped off their boat in Antigua in March 2010, they were pink with laughter from the good times they had shared. My crossing had been quicker, but my rowing partner and I never laughed. Strangers at the start, we parted strangers at the end.
Several months later I met Chris Martin who had rowed across the North Pacific Ocean with Mick Dawson. Their voyage took 189 days. A real long-haul of a row.
I became fascinated by the geography and started studying the Kuroshio current that runs off the east coast of Japan.
I began tracking the weather patterns and analysing the current pull through the underwater mountain range mid Pacific, the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain.
With good weather and lucky navigating, I am convinced that weeks if not months can be shaved off Chris and Mick’s 189 day record time. A bold statement I know.
Of the 18 known attempts to row the North Pacific, 15 have been unsuccessful. Solo rowers Gerard d’Aboville and Sarah Outen, whose crossings were deemed successful in 1991 and 2013 respectively, altered course to Washington State and Alaska to cut their journey’s short. Once winter sets into North America the ocean can be rough.
The camaraderie was the thing I missed while crossing the Atlantic, so I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to row the Pacific alone.
Sonya Baumstein and I connected online in October 2012. Immediately we joined forces with a view to rowing across the Pacific together, this year. Sonya did the hustling. I was the document editor in the background. Then we met in November 2013. The importance of spending time in person had been overlooked. Gut instinct said this partnership won’t work and we severed ties amicably.
When Chris Martin asked me to be head scrutineer of the Great Pacific Race (across the mid-Pacific from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii), the timing was right. Sonya and I thought we might be in the Pacific, but that hadn’t worked out. I left my foul weather gear at home on purpose.
I wasn’t going to be tempted.
The pre-start period was an intense experience. A lot of sleepless nights. I worried a lot about the rowers and their campaigns in varying states of readiness. Day in day out and long days too, I worked with the teams to get their safety equipment in order.
By the end I was mentally in their boats, ready to row myself.
Nine hours after the start gun fired, a pairs boat returned. One of the ladies decided ocean rowing was not for her. Immediately I knew I would offer to step in, but I had a job to finish first. In a week’s time I would be free.
In the course of that week, two teams were rescued by Coast Guard helicopter. I found a weakness in the boat I was about to row, which was letting in water. This took two days to reinforce with fibreglass and sand. By this stage, the Coast Guard were putting pressure on Chris to deter further boats from leaving. We were on our own. We could row independently of the race, which I was fine with but my potential rowing partner was not.
Rarely do sailors drop out before an offshore race. Why is ocean rowing so different? The enormity of the challenge, the prospect of crossing a vast ocean and in a small vulnerable boat; the length of time at sea; the close proximity to your rowing partners, the physical grit of rowing for hours and hours and hours… in many ways, rowing the Atlantic eclipsed my sailing achievements. I remember when I arrived in Antigua and my dad and I stepped into a restaurant, where the first captain I ever worked with happened to be dining with his wife.
Did you just say you ROWED the Atlantic?
He pushed back his chair aghast.
So 2014 (not over yet) is the year in which nothing happened. I nearly rowed the Pacific Ocean, but didn’t, twice.
Third time lucky? Best sign up for my blog!
Congratulations to all the teams in the Great Pacific Race who rowed successfully into Honolulu this summer – Uniting Nations, Team Battleborn, Noman, Fat Chance Row, Boatylicious, Pacific Warriors, CC4 Pacific. And to those teams who readied boats, made it to the start line (a commendable feat in itself) and set off in good faith, only to be defeated – this time, by the elements.
It’s Saturday morning at 11.35am and I’m over half way through a spinning class. I’m riding flat out with 80% resistance when I become convinced,
I can’t keep up this pace.
Then the song changes. I’m not really aware of what the song is, only the beat. Dum-daahm-dum… I focus my mind on the beat. I begin pedaling to the beat – left leg up, right leg down etc.
After a few minutes I forget about the lactic acid build-up in my hamstrings. In fact, the lactic acid build-up seems to have disappeared. I am pedaling beyond my limit. My brain has been distracted by the beat.
This gives me an idea.
I go home and type metronome into Amazon.
To my surprise, Amazon suggests that if I like this mini clip-on metronome, then I might like the book Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless Injury-Free Running, which Amazon should know I already have. But I am intrigued to discover that I am not alone in my thinking. Phil (UK) in his product review, says:
I like to run with a metronome and earphone. I’ve tried metronome tracks on an mp3 player but this is better.
After flicking through my purchase options, I plump for the BestDealUK M50 on the grounds that it weighs a mere 19 g, only takes a 3 volt hearing aid battery and costs £4.99. Plus a compatible stereo earphone jack is available. I might want the ticktock in both ears later, you never know.
The good news is that if I can train to beats per minute now, then I might be able to metronome-stride my way across the Sahara. At least, that’s my latest plan. So, yes. I’ll come clean. I’ve been flagging in my training. Motivation is on the dip and I need a little pace-setter, if only in my head. Especially in my head.
Now She’s Got Rhythm, She’s got something I need…
Naturally, the first thing I did when I decided to take up running seriously was go shopping.
Having heard that compression clothing was the latest thing, I ordered a pair of Under Armour Core X Coldgear Tight Running Pants to try. The words tight running pants (a.k.a tights) should have been my first clue and of course what looked like a delicate pink on screen turned out to be fluro pink. Oh well nevermind, I thought trying them on in the privacy of own my living room. They felt great and fitted like a glove.
My second purchase was a gorgeous wind-stopper jacket from Brian at RunTru.
Pearl Izumi in brand and extremely lightweight, the shell I chose was fluorescent yellow or screaming yellow as described on their website. Thus it became apparent on my first outing in my new gear, that I must have envisaged running in the dark, when nobody would see me.
I’ve always said that if I marry an American I’m going to do so in Vegas dressed as an alien – green face, friends wearing foil hats… now a pair of compression tights with fluro pink threading and a screaming yellow shell may be all that’s needed to complete the scene. In the meantime, I will continue to run around Falmouth, thankful that I am not quite the slowest runner in the world and that if people are commenting I’m not hanging about to hear it!
The good news about compression tights is that they wrap around my shins and calves, quadriceps and hamstrings and make my legs feel less like legs and more like leg machinery. This may sound very odd, which of course it is, but if you follow my logic – if they feel less like legs, then I can pretend that they’re not my legs! ‘Come on legs!’ I can say as if they are outside of my will – the pathetic will that obviously wants to slow down and preferably stop. This is all part of the training. My legs need to learn to transport my upper body around 6 times per week, so that when they stop they feel like they are intended to keep going, up dunes, down dunes…
Like an athlete, a long distance runner
On a track meet spring, fall, winter, summer
No alcohol, no weed
No cigarettes, no E’s
No milk, no cheese
No eggs, no meat
Just meditation and peace
Red lentils, chick peas
Good workout, good sleep
Mo’ sunshine, light breeze…
Finally I have started wearing a backpack, not intentionally mind you, but because the gym closes at 9pm. Strapped into my backpack I feel like a superhero with a jet pack. I feel invincible and fast. ‘Yes!’ I say to myself. ‘I can do anything.’ I swing my arms forward, left then right. Then I look down and my legs are moving impossibly slowly and I chuckle in comic despair. ‘How am I ever going to run across the Sahara?’
Years of Amazon training may be required…
I received various messages throughout the day, since today is the last day for confirming a place in the Marathon des Sables 2013. ‘So?’ ‘What did you decide?’ Readers asked.
A competitor 2 years ago told Steve, one of the MdS organizers (after begging Steve to take his race number off him at check-point 2 on Day 3 – needless to say he didn’t!) after finishing the MdS, that he had worked it out. He said;
The MdS is 90% mental,
Steve nodded in acknowledgement of this sudden wisdom. The competitor then said,
I have also worked out what the other 10% is.
After a perfect comic pause he continued,
The other 10% is mental.
Well, Thomas A. Edison did say that ‘genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration!’ And if you haven’t guessed already, I’m going RUNNING!
Daft Punk & Music for Expeditions
Music for cycling, music for running, music for aerobics even – is well marketed. But what about music for Alpine cycling, ultra running and extreme sports such as offshore sailing, where the accomplishment is largely mind over body?
In the course of my ventures to date, music has played an important role in shifting my mood. Yet it is during the expeditions where I experienced prolonged periods of solitude that my top ten tunes became a list of the weird and wonderful!
For each the following expeditions my brother loaded the music selection. Thanks again Jasper!
My first solo stint was the ‘Faraday Mill OSTAR 2005′ (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) , where I spent 28 days racing single-handed from Plymouth, UK > Newport, R.I, USA. Then spent 29 days alone sailing back from Mattapoisett MASS, USA > Plymouth UK.
During these periods, I stuck in the headphones in order to:
- Relax – before napping
- Escape – be transported
- Forget – drown out the sound of the storm
- Remember – the support of volunteers, friends and family
- be reminded – to seize the day!
- be motivated – to put on those wet foulies, get up on deck and shake out more sail…
- be entertained!
While U2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’ Shantel’s ‘All I want… is a room somewhere’ and the club anthem, ‘Let’s get this party started,’ each had good air time, my absolute favourite was the talking song – Baz Luhrman’s Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen), in which there are many phrases that were quite fitting for an ocean crossing! ‘Floss…’ ‘Be kind to your knees…’
The Route du Rhum 2006 was up next. This had me racing for 23 days alone from St. Malo in Northern France > Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.
On this occasion,
- Lazy Boy’s Underwear goes Inside the Pants (see below) became my most listened to tune, followed by
- Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles (which I now can’t listen to) +
- Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’
By now I was noticing a trend. What I enjoyed listening to on land was not at all what I wanted to hear at sea. Ambient, background, mellow, classical and jazz were now entirely missing from my most-played, with songs rich in lyrics, songs with built-in stories and spoken songs creeping in, in lieu. Gone were the instruments and in were the people with interesting voices!
During the Atlantic Rowing Race 2009-10, Mick Birchall rowed while I slept and vice versa. As a result, we spoke very little. Our time at sea was 73 days from La Gomera in the Canary Islands > Antigua in the Caribbean.
Without much more than the occasional visit from birds, whales, dolphins, fish and boats, my musical choices closely chart my emotional journey.
In the first few weeks, I took motivation from Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of ‘You Only Live Twice,’ (1967 James Bond Soundtrack) and the lyrics;
Make one dream come true, you only live twice.
Half way across and at my lowest (hopefully ever), in severe physical pain with tendonitis in both hands, I was cheered along by (dare I say it out loud) Thomas the Tank Engine Night Train! (Please note that this was not some re-connecting with my inner child thing. It was my brother who liked Thomas the Tank Engine as a child.)
Later, when my rowing partner and I were struggling to relate to each other, I was reassured by the words from Deborah Cox’s disco (!) anthem, Beautiful U R,
Don’t never let nobody bring you down girl
Don’t never let nobody tear your world apart
Look in the mirror and see who you are
Beautiful U R
Finally, Freestate by Depeche Mode became my homecoming fave. This was in part due to the rhythm which matched the wallowing shove of the waves and the metronomic forward slide/stroke action of the rowing.
Open the gates
Open your mind
Freedom’s a state
Now I am curious to hear about your experiences! What did you think you would listen to and what did you ultimately end up playing on continuous loop, during the expedition you went on? The race you ran? Drop me a line!
Call it a fit of madness or simply mad fitness; I am becoming obsessed with a 150 miles, 6-day, cross-Sahara, ultra-marathon called the ‘Marathon des Sables.’
The Marathon des Sables UK website calls it “the equivalent of running from London to Dover, deciding not to go to France after all and running back again. In 120 degree heat. With a back pack on. And voices in your head, talking about ice cold beer.” In case the gravity of what the MdS entails, has yet to sink in, the MdS website converts miles into their bigger number sister.
The distance is about 156 miles. That’s 254 Km.
The longest stage is about 55 miles. That’s 91 Km.
But frankly, the organizers are right when they say:
” You will struggle to explain to people why you would want to do this.”
In theory, 6 days of up to 20 hours a day of running should be nothing after 73 days of 12 hours a day of rowing, but that was the Atlantic and this is the Sahara. Somehow the addition of sand makes it seem less enticing. Which would you choose, (if you had to choose) between running a desert and rowing an ocean? As Eddie Izzard would say, Cake or Death?
Alarmingly (for me, anyway) drop-out places have become available for the 2012 race beginning in early April. Fortunately I am safe, for now. I have other commitments. I am doing an MA in Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and early April isn’t quite the Easter holidays.
Fun facts from the MdS website:
The organisation comprises of:
100 volunteers on the course itself
• 400 support staff overall
• 120 000 liters of mineral water
• 270 Berber and Saharan tents
• 100 all-terrain vehicles
• 2 “Ecureuil” helicopter and 1 “Cessna” plane
• 3 mountain bikes
• 6 “MDS special” commercial planes
• 23 buses
• 4 camels
• 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste
• 4 quads to ensure environment and safety on race
• 52 members of medical team
• 6,5 kms of Elastoplast, 2 700 Compeed, 19 000 compresses
• 6 000 painkillers, 150 liters of disinfectant
• 1 editing bus, 5 cameras, 1 satellite image station
• 6 satellite telephones, 15 computers, fax and internet
30 % Previous MdS competitors
25 % UK & Ireland entrants
30 % French entrants
14 % Women
45 % Veterans
30 % In teams of three or more
10 % Walkers
90 % Alternate walking and running
14 km/hr: average maximum speed
3 km/hr: average minimum speed
Age of youngest competitor: 16
Age of oldest competitor: 78