Update 1 – February 2021

The beginning of a journey to the start line of the 2022 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. A long-held dream becoming reality.

So, permission had been granted by my supportive wife and employer, my good friend Pete had received the same approval from his side and our first installment had been paid to Atlantic Campaigns – the organisation behind the running of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The journey had begun.

Pete and I met a couple of times over the past few months to bounce some ideas around regarding a plan of action. Usually with a few beers. We were both aware that this challenge is going to be far bigger than anything we’ve attempted previously. Getting to the start line is going to be the tough part. We wanted to get the ball rolling with regards to logistics and behind the scenes tasks so we set about creating an Instagram account in the name of DRAGONFISH ROW just in time to start following the 2020 TWAC race. The plan was to use it to make family and friends aware of the race so that they could get a bit more information and enjoy the experience of following the rowers. Facebook came next along with finding a brand designer and website designer to start creating our Dragonfish brand before we could create the website and sponsorship pack before we could start door knocking and speaking to our connections about potential sponsorship. Twitter and LinkedIn are still to come and we’re not great with these platforms so any volunteers?

We reached out to a number of web designers and received several very kind and interesting options before deciding to work with Phil and his team at Blue Llama on the website.  Phil in turn put us in touch with Steve at STS Graphics to create the brand and logo.  He also put us in touch with Slingshot films, a local short film company that will try to document our journey.  Watch this space for the website.  All of the above have been great to work with so far and we’d highly recommend them.  Here’s the logo which we love

We reached out and spoke to a few people for advice on the best way to implement a system to receive sponsorship payments, keep them separate from charitable donations and make payments for the boat, equipment, logistics, food, travel, training etc.  Alex Picot Trust kindly offered to support us by setting up a limited company in the name of Dragonfish and opening a bank account to facilitate the above.  They will complete compliance checks and due diligence on any of our sponsors and complete any paperwork required.

Purchasing a boat was always something that was at the forefront of our minds as we knew there was not an infinite number of two person boats available that were accepted into TWAC.  With so many pairs teams signed up for the 2021 and 2022 races and the probability that ocean rowing challenges will only be getting more popular as people seek for the next big thing, we knew boats would be scarce.  We made a few enquiries to different people, followed up a few leads with previous rowers across the globe and did a lot of research.  Money was always going to be tight for us so buying/building a new boat was going to be a stretch and not really feasible.  We’d contacted local companies to see if anyone wanted the chance to build us a boat but no one did.  Some of the 2020 and 2021 teams had already sold their boats before they’d completed their rows so we knew we had to act quickly and take a leap of faith should the right boat become available which it did in January.

Lilian and Guilhem had recently completed the first Atlantic row of the year slightly before the TWAC finishers started to come in and were now back in their French homeland and selling their boat. Luckily, I’d been online just at the right time, seen their boat advertised and sent a message immediately expressing our interest and sent it onto Pete to review. With the photos and inventory received and studied, due diligence into the prevenance of the boat done and the French insurance report translated, we were ready to commit. We knew that having a boat for the duration of our fundraising campaign would be essential and buying a boat from someone in the 2021 race would mean we probably wouldn’t get it to Jersey until April 2022. We wanted it for longer than that to train on and help with the sponsorship. The deposit was paid and the boat is now ours; although currently in transit back from Martinique to Marseille.

You can read a bit about Sogno Atlantico here

The boat seems to be in good condition following her fourth Atlantic crossing since being built in 2013.  We know there will be a bit of work to be done but we have plenty of time and where better to fix up a boat than in Jersey!

We aim to drive down to Marseille to pick up the boat and meet with Guilhem and Lillian to squeeze as much information and knowledge out of them as possible but to do so may not be that straightforward.  Firstly, neither of us have a tow bar and the cost to install one is prohibitive so we will try and find someone in Jersey who is willing to loan us a car/van with a tow bar for a few days.  We have a couple of ongoing lines of enquiry.  Secondly, the trailer is another issue as we’re told it isn’t in great condition and probably can’t be relied upon for a road trip from South to North France so we will try and get it assessed/serviced/repaired before we drive down there when the borders open.  Thankfully I have a good friend that has recently moved to very near to where the trailer is located and his partner speaks French.  Fingers crossed we can make some progress without needing to purchase a new trailer.

We had a zoom meeting with Bill, Simon and Kim from Ports of Jersey with the hope that they may be able to assist us with storage for the boat when not in use and also a prominent mooring that is sometimes very visible for fundraising/advertising purposes but also out of the way, causing minimal disruption to other boat users whilst also giving us good tidal access so that we can get out on the water and do some race specific training as often as possible.  We’re waiting to hear the options.

The equipment list included in the boat is extremely extensive and I’m keen to get to grips with everything and find out what will need servicing and what will need replacing.  Living on an island and with Covid likely to affect us for some time yet I’m aware of potential delays with servicing of kit.  The water maker is a vital piece of kit that I’m not familiar with and that could easily cause the failure of a crossing.  No fresh water no crossing!  I’ve been speaking to Jim at www.mactra-offgrid.co.uk who is the UK agent for the Katadyn40e water maker.  He’s been extremely helpful and has serviced our equipment before.  He was able to give a bit more information as to who had owned the boat before.  Thankfully, he will be in La Gomera for a week before the start of the race for any last-minute repairs/spares so I look forward to meeting him.

That’s about it for behind the scenes stuff.  A good bit of progress for the first couple of months with the highlights being the boat purchase and the website.  Over the next month or so hopefully we can go and collect the boat, we can get the website finalised and the sponsorship pack agreed.  From that we can work on a Sponsorship presentation and then begin door knocking/cold calling and speaking to companies that we think may be interested in supporting us.

Physical training

Following my best year of races in 2019 with three big Ultramarathons and a continuous triple Ironman I’d decided to take a year off in 2020.  I had a nice race booked in August but cancelled when I found out my wife was expecting a baby on the same date.  It was cancelled anyway due to Covid.

I managed to sneak in the Iditarod 350 in March just before the world went crazy and from then on it was a funny year of adjusting to the life changing effects of Covid-19, the joy of having a new born baby (again) and lots of eating, drinking and unhealthy weight gain through a winter lock down.

I’d injured my knee quite badly doing a silly running challenge in May which led to ultrasounds, MRI’s, Physio and advice to leave running alone for a while.  Once the row was confirmed in Autumn last year, I was delighted to hit the gym and start a program of strength work but as usual, probably started with a bit too much gusto and injured my shoulder after a month or so.  With the gyms then closing down I made the most of a great Osteopath to start working on the shoulder/pec/bicep/forearm issues.

With the shoulder seemingly fixed and a good few kg’s lost during January, I’m starting to get my mojo back.  Current weight – 88.1kg.  I’m keen to continue to lose weight via reduced alcohol consumption, reduced sugar intake, healthier eating and increased exercise until I get down to around 80kg.  Kit Chamier of Bond Street Health is providing regular advice and much needed motivation.  I’ve worked with him during 2019 and had great results in all of my races and felt great.  I can’t wait for the gyms to open again as I do miss the weight training but the key phrase and goal for the next 22 months will be “INJURY PROOFING” with an equal focus on strength AND mobility.

Pete and I made the most of a few “have a go at rowing” sessions at the local rowing club on Sunday mornings.  Prior to this neither of us had tried rowing or been in a rowing boat.  We made the enquiry and tentatively turned up at the first session to be told we were the only fellas out of about 20 newbies.  Over the next few weeks, we went into the harbour as “fours” and learnt the basics.  A steep learning curve but all very enjoyable and a very welcoming club that seemed genuinely excited about our challenge.  A fair few ocean rower have come out of Jersey but not so many in recent years.  We were inundated with offers to take us out on pairs boats and as other “fours”, separate to the Sunday morning sessions and just as we were getting into it, predictably we were restricted to “one household per boat” so that was rowing out of the window for now.
Having said that, we have just been contacted by the club to offer us assistance in solo boats which was really thoughtful and appreciated.  Usual club rules would not permit newbies to row solo for their first year so for them to think about us and make an exception is really very kind and welcoming.  I certainly look forward to immersing myself in the rowing community for the next couple of years….at least!  Hopefully in a couple of months we’ll be able to get out on Sogno Atlantico as from what I’ve read, watched and heard, ocean rowing is a very different sport to coastal rowing.

As part of one of the Sunday morning “have a go” sessions we were given a theory session by John Searson focussing on local Meteorology, local tides and general rowing.  I was looking forward to meeting John as he took part in the first Atlantic challenge and I’d read about his inspirational story a few years back.  He’d prepared for the race as a pair and started as a pair but after a few days his partner had to be taken out of the race with a back injury so he carried on and rowed across the Atlantic solo!
Given Johns experience as a local meteorologist I had hoped to talk him into being our “man on the ground” who would provide us with weather/current information during our row.  I’ve since asked him and he’s agreed to do so.

Pete and I at one of our first “Have a go at rowing” sessions

As a closing note we’ve just had a very generous offer (three actually) from someone to drive us down to Marseille to pick up the boat. An ex boat builder, fisherman and rower so a handy chap to have around. We just need to take a diversion through Bordeaux. Oh well, there are worse places to go! We’re also in the process of gaining quotes for the shipping of the boat to La Gomera.

To be continued………………………

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