I’ve had quite a few questions since arriving back, so thought I’d do a quick Q&A of some of the most popular ones (in no particular order):
Q: Liam would like to know if you ended up seeing a whale and asks if you could please let him know his panda hat is still missing.
A: I saw a large aquatic animal out there on one of the days. Was it a whale? Not sure. It could have been a (large) mermaid for all I know. Regardless of its species, it did not appear to have Liam’s panda hat with it.
Q: On the solos video you mentioned a song that you sing when you tuck Neve into bed at night that made you get a tear in your eye. What song is this?
A: “You are my sunshine my only sunshine”… When I started to sing this to Neve the after the row she came over for a cuddle, and sang, sweetly, ‘you are my daddy, my only daddy… you make me happy…” too cute.
Q: Did I listen to Beth’s playlists in the right order?
A: Not exactly, but they were awesome. Some a little weird, but they certainly helped the hours on the oars go by.
Q: Does the freeze dried food taste like cardboard like the Row 2 Recovery guys say, or did I have a better brand?
A: I was pretty pleased with my choices having tried them all out. The only let down was the spaghetti bolognaise – which ended up all weirdly gel like and congealed at sea. I would literally eat the Chicken Korma right here, right now if I could – so good was it. (Did I mention that I’m not a foodie??)
Q: What (if anything) would you do differently if you had to do it again?
A: More solar panels to avoid the power issues – at least 250W worth (compared to the 175W onboard)
I wish that I’d had more seat pads – each one was really good for the first 10 days or so and then wore very thin.
More audio books.
Do more work to see if it is possible to keep the cabin cooler.
Q: Why has nobody designed a decent autohelm yet?
The target market is too small to invest in something specifically for ocean rowing, but hopefully as the sport grows someone will look more seriously into this.
Q: If you had caught a fish, could you have done anything with it?
Q: no really, can you clean and gut a fish?
A: Yes. But he didn’t bring anything to cook it on so it would have had to be sushi or just boiled. Some of the others actually brought stuff to cook fish with.
Q: Did you get sunburnt on bits, which shouldn’t get sunburn?
A: I took ‘great care’ and usually covered things up with the front of my t-shirt when the sun was most intense.
Q: How long until you shave?
A: I haven’t decided yet. It probably does at least need a bit of a trim as after nearly three months I am starting to look like a bit of a wild thing.
Q: What food were you craving the most while on the row?
A: I had a good mix of food on board and didn’t crave other foods very much. I’d maybe tweak the menu a bit, but overall was happy.
Probably what I would have liked most was just something cold to drink. Even cold water would have been great.
Towards the end I really looked forward to fresh stuff that doesn’t come out of a packet. The burger on arriving in Antigua did taste really good!
Q: How many flying fish encounters did you have?
A: oh gosh lots. I saw them loads of them and got hit by them three or four times. Often woke up to them dead on the boat from crashing in the night.
Q: Which body part ached most – back, legs, hands…?
A: I had achy parts but nothing severe. Each night I would try and figure out a way to stretch/treat any part that had become sore that day and that generally helped to manage the situation. I didn’t have many achy parts. The salt sores on my bum weren’t a lot of fun and took a fair bit of time to doctor each night. Wrists towards the end after going ‘beast mode’ for a few days.
Not during, but after the row lower back and calves hurt. I certainly lost muscle in my calves as I didn’t really use them much when rowing.
Q: How much weight did you lose on the row?
A: 4 kg, which when you compare to the 15+ kg lost by many others, is very little. I think that having the nutrition right, plenty of food to eat and enough variety really helped.
Q: Would you participate in the challenge again?
A: Never say never. It was a fantastic challenge, but there are many other things I’d probably want to tackle before considering another ocean row.
Q: How bad, exactly, was ‘the toilet’?
A: Not that bad. The main challenge was timing to avoid using the bucket with any large waves approaching.
Q: How many things broke?
A: 2 autohelms. 1 oar. The stereo (but it came back to life later). A portable solar panel. The seat at one point but I glued it back together. Bearings for the sliding seat. Gazillions of things got rusty. One jet boil stove corroded beyond repair.
The salty environment is really hard on things – especially any electronics.
Q: What’s the dumbest thing you did?
A: During the lightning storm – there was a gap in the rain and I left the cabin and stood up to watch the lightning. This put my head right near the two metal antennas… I could actually hear the static buzzing right near my head from the electricity in the air.
I was super diligent about always wearing my harness belt and being tethered to the boat, but once or twice when I was very tired I’d got out to row and realise after a short while that I’d forgot to clip onto the boat.
Q: Amongst your various adventures, how does this rank?
A: It was a great challenge and I have some incredible memories from the row. Probably the aspect that made it particularly tough is that it is relentless. You don’t ever really get a break. Even when not rowing you are constantly having to work on things or keep an eye on how the boat is drifting.
It was physically hard, but even more so mentally – and doing it solo certainly added to that.
Q: Any idea how much has been given to Streetlight Schools in your name?
A: There have been quite a few donations while I was out on the row and I haven’t yet had a change to follow-up with Streetlight Schools to get the latest tally. I’m really glad to have been able to make a difference and help support the founding of their school.
Q: All things equal, now that it is over are you happy you did it as a single or would you have preferred to be in a pair with a good friend?
A: I would probably still choose to row as a solo if I rowed again. I liked the need to be self-sufficient and to have to solve problems myself.
That said, there were certainly moments when it would have been nice to have someone else onboard to share special moments with. I also ended up using over double the satellite phone airtime than I’d planned!
Q: What happened to the tracking system?
A: The Yellowbrick Tracker supplied by the race stopped working part way through the row and wouldn’t charge. It took about a week or so for the race yacht to be in the vicinity but they dropped off a replacement unit.
Q: Were you racing or trying to finish? Were you aware of the other boats’ positions if you were racing?
A: I wanted to finish in a good position, but my main motivation was always the adventure and personal challenge of the row. I couldn’t see the positions of other rowers while out there, but my wife would give me an update when I’d call her.
Q: Does real food taste better than you remember?
A: Yes! Even though I didn’t really crave other foods while out there I’ve really enjoyed eating ‘proper food’ again. Especially hamburgers – I think I’ve eaten at least one every day since being back on land – and two on some days!
Q: Do you want to top this feat or is that not conceivable? Or too soon to think about something like that?
There are many adventure projects that I’d still like to tackle. Some of them are relatively small – others are pretty ambitious and of a comparable scale to the Atlantic Row.
Q: What were the biggest waves you had to deal with?
A: It is pretty tough to estimate these accurately, but standing on the deck and looking up at some of the big waves would give a sense of size. I’d estimate that the biggest waves were probably around 30 feet tall – maybe a bit more. These look plenty big when you’re looking at them from a little rowing boat with the rowing position only a foot or two above water level – and are easily big enough to capsize the boat.
Q: How much of a concern was falling out of the boat in rough weather and not being able to get back to it?
A: I got knocked off the seat a good number of times, but only all the way off the boat once during my second capsize. I was tethered to the boat using a modified climbing harness around the waist and heavy-duty webbing strap to make sure that I’d stay attached to the boat if I was washed overboard or capsized.
With the boat being so low to that water getting back onboard was fine and not particularly difficult.
Q: How much do you need to worry about capsizing? Are the boats self-righting, or is capsizing a serious problem?
A: I capsized twice. Once while I was in the cabin and once while out on the oars. The boats are designed to self-right and – as long as the hatches are all closed – it should settle right side up pretty quickly. I did break an oar (against my leg) during the second capsize but had things pretty well secured so didn’t suffer other losses or any serious problems with the capsizes.
It is so lovely to hear an update after the race and hear your answers to the questions. For the first time ever I have followed the Talker Whisky race with daily enthusiasm and awe …I have so much enjoyed your grounded and positive approach to challenges, big and small.