Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge BP.6

The last Blog went live on the 5th August and the almost four months between now and then has been a whirlwind. Following the Jersey Boat Show we had a crazy couple of months through July and August with very busy work lives and very little rowing. Time disappeared quickly and we still hadn’t completed our 120 hours of rowing. The mandatory requirement is to spend at least 120 hours on our boat at sea. 24 of which must be at night and there must be at least one 36 hour row. Ideally you’d complete more time on the boat but it’s not always easy. Time was slipping away and the pressure of finding 36 hours where the weather was acceptable, we both could take time off work and arrange cover for children and pets was increasing. We were aware that September could throw up some unsettled weather and we both had holidays booked before the boat was due to be shipped in October.

We managed a couple of short rows towards the end of August but were nervous about fitting in the long one. We had a couple of days available to us both where we could get out but the weather was less than favourable. We aimed to leave our mooring on Sunday night and return on Tuesday morning giving us 36 hours and two full nights. We were tentative about going as we knew the weather was borderline but hoped it would ease off. We bumped into my boss on the way to the boat who showed a little concern but not enough to put us off. We spoke to St Helier port control and stated our intentions but they didn’t seem too concerned. We rowed out into the night and with a fast spring tide and strong winds we headed West with a plan of continuing to the west of the island and hanging around in the west protected by the worst of the wind before returning. As we rowed west, the usual landmarks shot by a lot quicker than usual. We were rowing at 8 knots instead of the usual 1.5-2! Noirmont, Potelet, St Brelade, and Beauport all disappeared quickly. It was a rough night with very low visibility, no moon, and heavy cloud cover and we were busy looking over our shoulders to ensure we didn’t hit any rocks or bouys. There were no white caps to be seen on the sea but we knew it was rough as we kept getting knocked around and missing oar strokes. After a couple of hours, Pete went for a lie-down and I continued rowing. This was probably the roughest weather we’d rowed in but good learning. Pete came out of the cabin after an hour and I went for a kip but it was like getting thrown around in a tumble drier. An hour later I came out with the intention of putting the Para anchor out as we were moving too quickly west. The para-anchor is like a 12-foot diameter parachute attached to a 50-metre rope that is designed to sit in the water at distance and hold us in position with the bow facing into the worst of the weather and waves rather than beam on. It’s a labor-intensive job handling a lot of rope whilst trying to remain standing on a boat getting thrown around in big seas. Still, as usual, we managed to deploy it effectively and both went for a lie down hoping to get some sleep and hoping the morning would look better. We didn’t sleep much through the night as the noise was terrifying and we were getting thrown around all over the little cabin. Our beloved and highly recommended Manta sleep masks assisted in getting some rest but I suppose we never slept for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

Seasick Pete not having a great time

Morning came and I tentatively opened the main hatch to see what was happening out there. Everything always looks better in daylight I said. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Very wrong. The sea state was rather scary. Jersey was a speck in the distance and the waves were at least 3 metres in height, short, steep and breaking over the boat. Spray from each wave was raining down on the cabin and deck. We decided to try and pull the para-anchor in and try to row back towards Jersey, The retrieval went fine but as soon as it was on board and we tried to row we were just getting blown side onto the waves and became very unstable. We probably tried rowing for about 10-20 minutes before deploying the anchor again and spending the day toying with our options.

Nap time sporting the two main models of Manta sleep mask

We spent the day moving from napping in the cabin to chilling on the deck and enjoying the crazy conditions. Our confidence in the boat’s seaworthiness was growing. I tried a bit of fishing but the currents were too strong. We were still drifting at speed and the weather showed no signs of easing up. We had no mobile signal and no VHF signal. I managed to send a text to my wife but had no signal so the phone said it would send when it had a signal. I left it at that and a few hours later I received a message back. I went on deck and stood tall until I got one bar of signal so I tried a call. Corina answered and I requested that she call the coastguard or VTS and inform them of our location, tell them we had AIS and explain that we were very safe, not in any danger, perfectly healthy but would need a tow back to Jersey at some point. The call cut out. We continued as we were, napping occasionally in the cabin until we heard the rumble of an engine. Looking out I was alarmed to see a tanker looming down on us so scanned through the VHF channels until we made contact with the MV Serafina, a dutch Cargo ship. They said they’d been asked by the Coastguard to check on us. They acted as a go between so we could converse with the coast guard. They were a lot higher than us so their VHF was a lot more effective. After a few conversations it was decided that the RNLI would come out to get us today. Disappointing for us as we really wanted to tick off our 36 hour row but we were just drifting too far away and a rescue from French waters could be a lot more problematic. After an hour or so we both moved onto the deck with lifejackets on to keep an eye out for the RNLI boat. When they got to us we established radio contact and tried to put together a plan of evacuation from our boat. Pete was to be the first off so he was instructed to leap from our boat into the waiting arms of the crew members of the lifeboat. This wasn’t an easy task in such heavy swells and was really scary to watch as the large boat came crashing down within centimetres of our boat and potentially crushing our dreams of rowing an ocean. They struggled to come back to get me as the waves had picked up and they asked the Serafina to position itself to protect us from the waves and settle the swell down a bit. When the time was right, in the lull of the waves, with the para anchor retrieval rope in my hand I leaped from our boat onto the lifeboat and handed the rope over. I climber the ladder to rejoin Pete and observe the rest of the drama before retiring downstairs to absorb the events and enjoy the 2-3 hour journey back to St Helier towing our pride and joy in the still rough seas. The lads were great and spent time showing us around the boat and explaining their day to day and the operations of the equipment. We were both intrigued and later hinted at volunteering……if we still want to see the sea again after the row. Once on land we had a de-brief with the Duty Harbour officer and went our seperate ways. We would return a couple of days later to sort out the Para Anchor and tidy up a bit. The boat sustained some damage to the oar gates but they were replaced by a good friend at the rowing club. Thanks Mick.

Practicing “Bucket and Chucket”!

Following this dramatic event which turned out to be our single most useful bit of training we’d done over the two year project and certainly will have prepared us well for the mid atlantic conditions, there was a small media frenzy, plenty of articles written and plenty of opinionated keyboard warriors chiming in with their negativity. Still, we like that, it’s always nice to prove the naysayers wrong.

It doesn’t look rough in the pictures
The long tow home

We managed a couple of short rows at the beginning of September but struggled to fit in the long one and we were becoming increasingly anxious. I was away on holiday with family for a week in mid-September so Pete held the fort and did a sterling job arranging merchandise, sponsors, logos, shipping, all sorts. We were still quite concerned about our rapidly diminishing opportunities to get out for our 36 hour row so whilst I was away we arranged to have another crack at it as soon as I returned from my holiday in France. The Queen’s funeral was to be on the Monday and my ferry got back on Sunday morning so after a very quick turnaround I dropped Sophia and Corina home and dashed out in the direction of our boat. The conditions and forecast were great, we both had time off work until Tuesday morning and we didn’t need to arrange childcare due to the bank holiday. The stars were finally aligning. As this really was our last opportunity we didn’t take many chances. We rowed east to icho tower, did a bit of fishing, calibrated the autotillers and did some more boat work before starting a solid 7 hour slog up to the beautiful bay of St Brelade’s. We cooked dinner, practiced some drills and settled down for an early night on anchor. 

We woke the next morning, practiced more drills and did some boat maintenance. We took some time out to watch parts of the queen’s funeral and had lots of interaction with locals enjoying the Indian summer in Beauport Bay. We did some more rowing and continued our tour of Jersey’s most beautiful bays interspersed with a bit of swimming to clean the Hull, a bit of fishing and some practice of drills and tinkering with equipment. Towards dusk as we were heading back to the harbour on the second night our navigation light failed to switch on. This was something our marine sparky may have done so rather than attempt to repair it we radioed the port and informed them of our intention to return to the harbour in the next couple of hours. They were able to see us on ais and we had all other deck lights and head torches on. We made it back and were pretty relieved to have this ticked off and for the first time experienced sea legs when I got home. 

Hull cleaning?!
During our row we will always be tethered to the boat
Local wildlife……………………And a beautiful Barrel Jellyfish

We had another couple of short rows, mainly for the benefit of one of our Gold Sponsors – Hydropool who has sent over a film crew to make a short video of our row, followed by a couple of individual interviews at Jersey Rowing Club.

The fame – filming with Hydropool

Getting the boat out of the water for our pre race inspection was dramatic. We’d forgotten we’d recently put the daggerboard in for the first time and as we rowed towards our trailer on the boat ramp, the daggerboard hit the ground and managed to wedge it firmly in its housing so we couldn’t get it out. After many attempts at pulling it with straps, hitting it with a hammer and shouting expletives at it we decided to tie up and have a rethink. It was well and truly stuck so I asked Pete to run and get my bag that contained my snorkeling gear and I borrowed a lump hammer from our able assistant and trailer driver Dave Salter. Tentatively I jumped in and set about swimming under the boat with the hammer and trying to move, wiggle, tap and whack the daggerboard from underneath whilst Pete was pulling with all his might. After about 20 breath holds and with me getting pretty cold we eventually started to get it moving and felt such relief as we moved it inch at a time in the right direction. Once done we managed to get the boat on the trailer and secured in the boat park so we could get home and warmed up. Always a drama! 

Took one of our generous multiple 250 club members and multiple Feed a Rower supporters out for a spin. Thanks Iain and Anne for your very generous and naughty support
Hanging out and playing with the Gopro. Didn’t realise at the time but this would turn out to be good practice
for removing the daggerboard

With the boat out and potentially not going back in the water we had to prepare it fully in preparation of the pre-shipping inspection and then shipping to the UK. We’d hoped for another few rows but it was unlikely. They’d have to wait until La Gomera. 

A good friend replaced our LED strip lights and fitted a handy dimmer switch which was a big improvement. Thanks Phil. We replaced the main on board VHF radio and repaired the Navigation light and replaced the housing. We fitted some Seadek flooring to make the deck less slippery and a bit more comfortable when crawling around accessing the hatches. We fitted some attachements so that we could secure the life raft on deck and fitted all of the new sponsors logos. We also replaced the bowlines and asked South Pier to repair the shoddy guardrails fitted by a local Yacht services company. We antifouled the hull again but in a bit of a rush and only a day or so later realised we’d missed a sizeable patch so had to buy another tin of the world most expensive paint!

Boat with a decent amount of the kit ready for the pre-race inspection. The food in the boxes at the bottom of the image is a weeks worth. We will have nine times that.

The Pre shipping inspection was to be done with Ian Couch of Atlantic Campaigns. We’d hoped to get him over to Jersey but it wasn’t an option so we had a video call. The inspection is thorough, looking at everything from the electrical equipment, the wiring, the lanyards attached to the screwdrivers, the glow sticks in the emergency drop bag and everything in between. It was a really valuable couple of hours and a big positive thumbs up and the box ticked off. Reassuring to be told that we should have a fairly stress-free time in La Gomera with regards to getting the boat ready.

We had a busy few days finishing everything up with the boat before Grant of Rozel Bay Shipping picked her up for onward shipping to Rannoch in Essex. We had to load her up with everything we will be crossing the ocean with; 100 litres of water as ballast, 20 litres of emergency water, all the food (which we weren’t even sure would fit in the boat etc etc.

Amazing that we managed to fit all 65 bags comfortably into the small round hatches on deck with two left spare for refuse. Everything that leaves with us comes back with us.

Once at Rannoch she would have Talisker Whisky logo’s applied and would have a rather Gucci flag pole mounted to it before joining up with most of the other 42 boats and being put on a cargo ship and sent on to La Gomera. We wouldn’t see here until the 26th November. This again was a big relief but another big tick in a box and a big milestone achieved. We also had the stress of missing our admin deadline and getting a slap on the wrists for it. All paperwork should have been in for the 1st September but we just missed it and had some delays with a VHF certificate and a couple of medicals. We managed to get everything done though so all is good.

Time slowed down a lot after the stresses of shipping the boat and finalising the admin. Tasks seemed to reduce but we still had enough to keep busy with and focused on nutrition, gym based training with Andy at Elevate, massages from Sam at Well Needed, Osteopath appointments with Bill at Health +

The wonderful Sam Matthews of Well Kneaded in between massage sessions.
A couple of tough sessions with our good friend and generous Personal Trainer Andy Glover working out of Elevate


We were welcomed into the offices of Investec to give a talk to some of the team about the upcoming adventure. Thanks Investec for your support.

We had good results with partners over the past couple of months and managed to secure product sponsorship from Overboard bags which will store all of our equipment, clothing and medical supplies. Great Kit. The aforementioned Mantasleep masks provided several for each of us and really are a game changer in optimizing restorative sleep. Sett surf came on board and provide amazing sun creams to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays during our row. Great products, highly recommended. Thanks so much Jane.

With all of our main sponsors on board we turned our attention to the Feed a Rower initiative. Our nutrition for the race cost about £5500 and we aimed to get this funded via a “Feed a Rower” campaign. Much like a “feed a gorilla for a day” thing but with us instead. Support started slowly but with regular social media posts we managed to fill all slots so thank you to everyone that has supported us and supplied us with food and a huge thanks to those that have covered multiple days. Your ongoing support really is appreciated.

For those that aren’t aware, during the row we will be consuming approximately 5400 calories per day. It is a compulsory requirement of the race organization to take a minimum of 60 calories per kilogram of body weight per person per day for a minimum of 65 days (for pairs rowers). This equates to 702,000 calories and consists of three 1000 calorie freeze-dried Expedition food meals that come in a variety of flavours eg. Tikka Masala, Spaghetti Bolognese, and Pete’s favourite, Macaroni Cheese. The remaining 2400 calories per day will be made up of two Carbohydrate powdered energy drinks from Beta Fuel, sweets to include many bags of Percy Pigs kindly donated by M&S, and various other chocolate, jelly, fruit and nut snacks supplemented by a daily protein hit of Biltong from the extremely generous and long term supporter Mark Pinnick of The Little Jersey Biltong Company – as much variety as possible. We also have multivitamins and zinc supplementS provided by our nutiritionists at Bond Street Health

What next?

We finish up work, finish wrapping Christmas presents and head off to La Gomera tomorrow morning for two weeks of intensive briefings, training and final race preparation with hopefully a bit of trail running, sea swimming and socialising with awesome inspirational people before pusing off on the big row on the 12th December. Don’t forget to follow our daily updates on Instagram and Facebook and track our progress by downloading the YB races app on Apple or Android devices

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