Week -30: Jurassic Coast, Yachtmaster and VHF

 

Having written blogs ‘as and when’ up to now, I’ve decided, for the seven months leading up to the start date, to write weekly blogs, with a round-up of everything I’ve been up to and the latest updates on sponsorship. I’ll publish these each weekend, so keep an eye on your inbox for the most up-to-date news.

Apologies for this mammoth post – a combination of deadlines, work and some time away from Bristol has meant that I’ve allowed a number of blog topics to run into each other.

 

Training

Coastal Rowing

A month ago I went away for a training weekend and rowed from Lyme Regis to Lulworth Cove, with an overnight stop in Portland.

I’d been looking forward to the trip a lot, but I’d also been slightly concerned that I might be jumping in out of my depth: the other four rowers were all men who had already rowed at least one ocean, and who had a number of world records stacked up between them. Although I rowed at university, and have done a lot of indoor rowing since, I hadn’t actually been on the water for 3 ½ years, and had only ever been sculling (rowing with two oars) once. Like cycling or swimming though, rowing seems to stay with you, and I was pleased to find that I could quite easily keep up with everyone else. I’m glad to say that I really enjoyed rowing on the sea, and although coastal rowing boats are very different to ocean rowing boats, the experience was really useful as well as fun.

We somehow managed to pick the best October weekend imaginable – bright sunshine and calm seas. It was wonderful to catch the last burst of summer, but it was so unexpected that I was woefully underprepared. I arrived with about seven jumpers, two raincoats and a number of woolly hats, but (of course) no sun cream. No one else had any either, so I turned more and more rosy throughout the trip…although, as we were rowing east both days, I only burned on the one side…

I love the Jurassic Coast. A couple of years ago I had a sunny camping and walking trip along the same stretch of coastline, and memories of this kept floating up as we rowed last month. My body was very much in the boat, but the repetitiveness of the oar strokes allowed my mind to wander through the layers of stories and history along the Jurassic Coast, as well as my own memories. All the way past coves and cliffs, as we rowed, I was reminded of shadowy figures: the French Lieutenant’s Woman staring out to sea from the Cobb at Lyme Regis; Mary Anning fossil hunting along beaches; Florence and Edward’s fatal misunderstanding in a hotel room near Chesil Beach; the people of Moonfleet village; Keats, pausing at Lulworth Cove before his final trip to Rome, and Hardy imagining him there a hundred years later, before ‘vamping’ home “across the lea” in the gathering darkness.

One of the most dramatic parts of the day was landing – or attempting to land – on Chesil Beach. The beach slopes down very steeply into the water around here, becoming deep quickly. Justin (who I rowed with for most of the weekend) and I attempted the landing first, which didn’t go quite as planned. Timing the moment to climb out of the boat was tricky, and inevitably we missed it. Within seconds a wave had caught the boat and knocked us both into the water. Bags, chocolate bars and water bottles began floating away. I found myself half under the boat, which was threatening to capsize completely. After some frantic moments, Justin managed to get a firm hold of the boat. I managed to scramble out of the water and took the rope at the bow end, while Justin guided it from the stern. A fisherman – who had watched the whole affair but had made no attempt to help – commented that he ‘thought it was a strange way to make land.’

Chesil Beach: The Fleet to the left, sea to the right.
Chesil Beach: sea to the right and The Fleet to the left.

After a short rest, we carried all three boats over the beach to row the last part of the day on The Fleet, a lagoon that runs eight miles along behind Chesil Beach. The rest of the day remains in my mind a beautiful blur of the bright afternoon sun hanging low over Chesil Beach; the flatness of The Fleet compared to the sea on the other side; darkness creeping in; dark banks looming on either side; the strength of the tide flooding in and the ache of my muscles as we rowed against it; Portland Harbour, black and wide, with its tantalising lights twinkling across the flat water.

I slept very well that night!

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The second day was as sunny as the first, and my stiff muscles were soon stretched out by rowing across Portland Harbour in the bright morning light. I found sitting quite sore though (I’ve since realised that I bruised myself, falling during the capsize on Chesil Beach), and Justin and I found that Chris’s foam seat cover was more uncomfortable than the wooden seat it was covering. How this was, we didn’t really know, but we ended up balancing it on the riggers so that neither of us had to sit on it.

Although we were planning to stop properly at Lulworth Cove, we couldn’t resist pulling in at Durdle Door, just a couple of miles ahead. Durdle Door is an amazing arch of rock, reaching out into the sea just off the South West Coast Path. It’s a hugely popular spot for photography, as well as sea kayaking and coasteering. We decided to row through the arch, which took a little manoeuvring, as we could see quite a lot of rocks looming under the water on either side. The feeling of slipping under the great arch of stone was worth it though, and we even caught a bit of a wave to surf the last bit.

Tired, sunburnt, happy rower
Tired, sunburnt, happy rower

I ached all over, and had huge blisters on my palms by the end of the weekend, but already on the train back I was looking forward to the next time I can get on the water for training.

 

RYA Courses

I’m working hard on my Yachtmaster Offshore Theory course, and am hoping to take the first of the exams in a couple of weeks’ time. Having started from almost nothing in terms of navigation knowledge, I’ve had to whiz through the Day Skipper syllabus to get to a point where I can make sense of the Yachtmaster one. David Whitehead of Penguin Sailing has been incredibly patient and flexible with me, and I’m slowly mastering tidal curves, courses to steer and the use of tidal diamonds. More to follow on this…

Yesterday I spent the day in Southampton, taking the VHF Radio course with Duck-2-Water. Six hours of presentation, discussion, numerous radio calls, and an exam later, I have a VHF Licence on the way! It feels good to have one of these courses completely ticked off.

Mayday Mayday Mayday
Mayday Mayday Mayday

I’ve booked my Competent Crew course, and now only have the Sea Survival and the First Aid at Sea to find – if you particularly recommend any training schools in the Bristol area for these, please let me know.

 

Sponsorship

I will be updating sponsorship news more frequently in my blogs, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, but for the moment here are the most recent causes for celebration:

JBP PR came on board a couple of weeks ago to help out with the PR side of things. I’m really looking forward to working with them – we’re currently focussing on the VIP launch event in December.

Thank you to Nigel Hunton of MBA Polymers, who has made a personal donation of £1,000. MBA Polymers are ‘the world leader at producing post-consumer recycled plastics from end-of-life durable goods.’ It’s brilliant to be connected with a company whose core values are so in line with my own regarding plastics, and Nigel has personally been very engaged too.

The most recent cheque that arrived through the post was from the Hatfield College Trust. Hatfield was my college when I was doing my MA at Durham, and I am really pleased to be supported by them.

If you haven’t seen my shiny new sponsorship brochure, designed by the lovely Satyadarshin, please check it out here. I’m still looking for sponsorship, and have a number of different packages available. Please do put me in contact with anyone you think might be interested. Thank you 🙂

Make Sundays Special

Yesterday was exhausting, but also exhilarating.

As part of a recent initiative by George Ferguson the Mayor of Bristol, one Sunday in every month sees a number of streets in Bristol city centre closed to traffic, to be enjoyed instead by pedestrians and cyclists. As well as it being fantastic to be able to walk freely on usually traffic-heavy streets, there are also a lot of great stalls, activities and initiatives to enjoy between 10am and 4pm. Last month Steve and I checked out Make Sundays Special, and spent a happy few hours wandering around the streets in the sun, eating ice cream, listening to music and talking to all sorts of people. This month we were down there running one of the events ourselves…

It has recently been confirmed that the Mayor will be supporting my Pacific Solo Row – in particular he will be a VIP presence at a couple of my events throughout the year! Make Sundays Special is one of his popular new initiatives – one that focuses on people, community and sustainability for a day, rather than allowing cars to dominate the city centre – and it was a privilege to be able to be a part of the third Sunday that this has run.

Fantastic new banner!
Fantastic new banner!

Armed with a fantastic new banner, donations boxes, bowls of sweets and two rowing machines, we headed down into the city centre early yesterday morning to set up. The aim of the day as to spread the word about the challenge and the charity, to raise some money, and to have fun – all of which we achieved. We set up two rowing machines, and set people the challenge of rowing 200 metres as fast as they could. There were some very close races, as friends and family battled it out against each other to be the fastest. There was even a set of twins who finished with only a second between them. It wasn’t only about the fit, strong and fast though – as it was such a short distance the 200m Pacific Challenge appealed to everyone, from three-year olds to grannies. Even the security guards couldn’t resist having a go!

Security guards logging some great times.
Security guards enjoying their break

We chose 200m both as an achievable distance for everyone, and also because it is about 1/20,000th of the distance that I will be rowing across the Pacific. As I watched everyone completing their row, I kept thinking ‘Well, I’ll only have to do that about 20,000 times… pulling a heavy boat laden with all my food and equipment…through storms and currents and hot sun…should be a piece of cake! ;)’

Winners of the various prizes and categories will be announced later on this week, with prizes ranging from VIP tickets to the launch party to a VVIP tour of the boat for the under-14s.

We’re already starting to think about the next one – what we’d do differently, how much easier it would be with a few more people to help out (food and toilet breaks would have been good), what prizes we’ll offer next time, etc.

photo (2) - Copy

Thank you to the University of Bristol Sports Centre for the loan of the rowing machines, and to everyone who came down to Baldwin Street to take part and to chat to us. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic and interested people!

Bristol Half Marathon

 

I ran a half marathon yesterday.

Looking forward to the race
Looking forward to the race

It was surprisingly ok, although now I’m hobbling around with a sore right ankle, a sore left knee, and a purple toe.

My goal was simply to get to the finish line, ideally without stopping running. I’ve had a cough and chest infection for the last week, so wasn’t sure what to expect, but in the end I made it to the finish in 2:17:51. Not the fastest time in the world, but one that I’m very happy with for the moment as part of my wider training.

Steve and I ran together - this was definitely a race that was more fun with company!
Steve and I ran together – this was definitely a race that was more fun with company!

There were a couple of difficult miles towards the end, but otherwise it wasn’t at all the horrible experience that I’d been imagining. Maybe my other training was kicking in. (It can’t have been my running experience, as I’ve never run more than five miles before… should I admit that?)

Onwards and upwards now, towards more difficult and more painful training!

 

Oh, and look away if you don’t like unsightly pictures (with apologies for the quality):

All the other toes are ok...
All the other toes are ok…

In other news:

I’m starting my Yachtmaster Offshore Theory course on Friday (one of the compulsory courses for the row) – I’ll update on how it goes throughout the autumn.

Sailing and other adventures

I’m back at my desk in Bristol after some adventures in Scotland, gaining more experience of the sea, of boats, and of pushing my boundaries.

Heading out of harbour
Heading out of harbour

I spent some time on a 38ft yacht sailing around the north-west of Scotland with seven other people. It was pretty windy with some nice chunky waves: on our first day out at sea half the crew was seasick. I was one of the lucky ones, although admittedly I did feel queasy at moments, particularly after struggling with all my layers, foul weather gear and lifejacket in the pitching and heaving little toilet down below. As I was repeatedly thrown against the walls while attempting to flush the loo (put the lever to the right and pump everything away, push it over to the left and pump fifteen times to flush, put it back to the right and pump to once again empty everything), I was quietly grateful that I’ll have a nice simple ‘bucket and chuck it’ system when I’m rowing. As long as I don’t ‘chuck it’ into the wind I should be fine!

I did enjoy the wind and the waves though – the sense of being alive out there is very acute. I also found myself wildlife spotting, and was ridiculously excited to recognise a gannet. Reminder to self to take relevant bird and marine life books with me on the row.

Getting some sailing experience was a really useful part of my preparation for the row, and I’m looking on it as important training. My boat will be less than two thirds the length of the yacht, and I will be on her for around three months in a huge variety of unpredictable conditions. I won’t have the comfort of having people around, but nor will I have anyone else to worry about while I’m out there. Much of what I learnt in Scotland will be consolidated on the RYA courses that will be forming part of my training this autumn.

Beginning of second adventure
Remote north of Scotland. The mast of the yacht is just visible beneath the ridge.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the trip a little earlier than expected, meaning that my booked train tickets were useless; getting home became an extension of the adventure. I was dropped ashore on some rocks, and had to climb up them and over some rough fields before I found anything resembling a road. Although I was less prepared than I’d like to be on finding myself alone in the middle of nowhere, and had no idea how long it would take to get back, I felt a huge surge of freedom and excitement as I struck out on my own to attempt to find a way back. After scrambling, walking, and then climbing a couple of fences, I caught sight of a car and asked for directions to the nearest A-road. The driver very kindly gave me a lift to the next hamlet – her husband was in the process of hiking the coast of Scotland and she was supporting him, so had a little time to spare. From there I had some extraordinary luck with lifts – a couple on their way back from holiday, a Dutch businessman, and two lorry drivers. All of them were really friendly, kind, and interesting to talk to, and I made it back to the centre of Bristol in record time – less than fourteen hours from the very north of Scotland! By the time I got back I was exhausted, having barely stopped on the way down at all, but also strangely exhilarated. I hadn’t really hitched on my own before, and certainly not at night; the whirlwind journey back pushed my boundaries just as much as the bumpy sailing of the preceding days, and stretching those boundaries is half of what I need to do right now.

Paddling ashore
Paddling ashore                                                               Photo courtesy Philipp-Maximilian Jacob
Landing
Landing                                                                            Photo courtesy Philipp-Maximilian Jacob
Striking off alone...
Striking off alone…                                                          Photo courtesy Philipp-Maximilian Jacob

 

Beginning the second part of the adventure!
Beginning the second part of the adventure!

I’m amassing a huge amount of advice from past ocean rowers and adventurers – some of it taken from books, some from blogs, and much from one-to-one meetings and conversations. One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve had on how to make sure that my row is a success is to keep pushing my boundaries and keep putting myself in uncomfortable situations. What I go through on the row is sure to be more painful, more extreme, scarier and bigger than anything I have yet faced, but the greater the pool of experience I have to draw on, the greater the reasons to believe in myself when things get difficult.

On that note, I’m running a half-marathon tomorrow. I’m not a runner in any sense, but am also sure that it will give me yet another piece of useful experience to add to the collection! Stay tuned for news of how I do (also for photos from sailing, and exciting news on the soon-to-arrive swanky new website!).

 

Huge thanks to recent individual sponsors: Oliver Hammond, Catherine Redford, and Lucie Mussett. Every donation is greatly appreciated, and is a step towards the Pacific. J

 

Photoshoot and boat hunting

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, moving quickly from my first ever sighting of an ocean rowing boat to looking at one that I’m considering buying.

New website, promotional video and sponsorship brochure are all on their way, ready for a big sponsorship push in September. Things are feeling exciting and very, very busy.

To get some good photos for sponsorship (and to show that I’m actually training), last week saw me setting a 3.30 am alarm for a dawn photoshoot, joined by the heroic Steve and Guthrie. We took an ergo (indoor rowing machine) around Bristol, stopping at various points to get a good variety of shots. First stop: a floating pontoon, covered in duck poo, that rocked if I rowed too fast. Whilst waiting for sunrise, we took lots of dawn photos, watching the sky get pinker and pinker and the water lighten as night slipped away. Unfortunately, we had miscalculated the precise spot that the sun would be rising from, so ended up missing it, as it was blocked by some big trees.

Backstops  - low1 (Custom)

The next waterfront photo spot was great though, giving us some really lovely, sunny, orangey-tinted pictures. After that we rattled around Bristol, making sure to get some good landmarks behind me as I rowed.

We dropped the ergo back off at the University of Bristol gym (they had kindly lent it to me overnight), and dropped the car back off before 8.30. Then we went home for a second breakfast!

Close up - side - sus bridge (Custom)

Yesterday Steve and I took another road trip – this time to go and look at a boat in Essex! It felt a bit mad to be going so far, and to be boat-shopping at all, but was also really good to see the boat I’ve been considering taking across the Pacific with me. More news and details to follow if she does become ‘the one’, but in the meantime, here I am checking her out.

checking out boat

First time on an ocean rowing boat!

Today I saw an ocean rowing boat for the first time.* I also explored her and lay down inside the cabin.

Having read so many ocean rowing books (recently ‘Rowing it Alone’ by Debra Veal, ‘Sally’s Odd at Sea’ by Sally Kettle, ‘Rowing the Atlantic’ by Roz Savage, and ‘A Dip in the Ocean’ by Sarah Outen), and looking at so many pictures and videos of ocean rowing, I’ve had a good idea of what the boats actually look like. For a while now I’ve been having dreams about being out on the ocean, but in the last few weeks they’ve started to be more detailed in terms of the boat and equipment. Today when I lay down in the cabin of the boat, I didn’t feel at all out of place. I felt like I’d already been there a few nights ago.

It was really nice to find that I loved being on the boat and in the cabin. I’m going to be there for a good three months, alone and with nowhere else to go, so I’ll be getting very familiar with my surroundings. I was really struck by how small she was, even though I already knew what to expect – this is something that I’ve heard other people remark on too. Imagining that little boat out in the middle of a huge ocean is certainly thought-provoking!

 

A couple of pictures from today:

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IMG_2401

 

* Thanks to Inspirational Friends, two lovely women I met today who will be rowing the Atlantic together this winter.

Things are happening

The weeks are slipping by in a haze of busyness, punctuated by welcome microadventures full of cycling and wild swimming. Preparation continues. Sponsorship ideas are flying around. I’ve been talking to the local newspaper. I keep adding names to the list of ‘important people to contact.’ Past ocean rowers are some of those people – it’s especially exciting to talk to someone who has actually done something similar. I’m sounding out the obligatory RYA courses, working out where I will be able to complete them. Physical training is underway – I’ve signed up for the Bristol Half Marathon in September so as to have a smaller milestone to aim for. Running is NOT my forte, so completing the half-marathon is a good short-term goal. I’ll update my (painful) progress over the next couple of months.

Yesterday was 11 months until the start of the row. I’m aware of how very little time there is, and how much everything hangs on gaining sponsorship, but I’m also really happy with how much has already happened. For a non-techie person, I’m excessively excited to have the website, Twitter and Facebook all talking to each other (I had a little bit of help with this J). The sponsorship documents are ready and waiting to approach businesses both big and small. The Indiegogo campaign is nearly ready to launch – more news on that to follow!

I’ve been really touched at how many people have come forward with suggestions, ideas and contacts. It reminds me how little the word ‘solo’ means when talking about an expedition of this size. There is no way I could even contemplate doing it without the help and support of so many others – people I haven’t even met are already helping out in all sorts of ways. Thank you everyone!

More to follow soon on training, sponsorship, and past expeditions (including the unicycle ride across England!)…

What led up to the decision to row the Pacific…

In a year’s time – if all goes to plan – I’ll be four days away from Monterey Bay, alone on the open ocean and rowing towards Hawaii. The reality of actually having undertaken this challenge has finally crept up on me.

I’ve wanted to row an ocean for about seven years, since I first read an email from Sarah Outen looking for other rowers to row the Indian Ocean with her. I was in my second year at Oxford and it didn’t feel like quite the right time yet, despite the appeal. In the end Sarah made the decision to row solo anyway, which she went on to do in 2009. For me though, the idea would not go away, and for the last couple of years it has been becoming ever more present, reinforced by my reading about other ocean rows – from Harbo and Samuelsson, the first ocean rowers back in 1896, to modern women such as Roz Savage and Sarah Outen.  Both Roz and Sarah have been kind enough to answer my questions and give me advice over the last two years, something for which I am really grateful – Sarah even spent an hour on Skype to me from Japan, midway through her own latest expedition!

About a month ago I finally made the decision that the time to row that ocean was now, rather than ‘someday.’ I entered the Great Pacific Race as a solo competitor and began telling a few people, while quietly putting together a website (with a lot of help!). I joined Twitter, spoke to an accountant, set up a separate bank account specifically for the row, contacted my chosen charity, discussed fundraising ideas, and began to prepare myself for telling more people.

Today is when I finally told most people I know. I put together a Facebook page and invited everyone I know on Facebook. I am soon to do the same via email. The moment I started inviting all those people was the moment it really became real to me – the moment I could no longer back out.

Today I am excited, and want to thank all of you who have taken the time to visit this site, to like my Facebook page, to follow me on Twitter, to send me messages of support, to suggest contacts, and to help in all the ways that I have already stared to see happen. A solo venture can feel lonely and overwhelming at times, but knowing that I have all of you on board makes all the difference!