This week’s blog post will be brief, as Steve already blogged earlier in the week about Blockchain.info coming on board. This was the most exciting event, and such prominent support from a Bitcoin company can only be a good thing. Thank you again to Blockchain.info – I’m so happy to be working with you!
Second only to that was passing the last two parts of my Yachtmaster Offshore Theory qualification. I’ve said before that I wanted to complete it before Christmas, so it’s really good to have done that, despite things being very busy at the moment. The last paper, which focused on meteorology, was particularly interesting, and I feel almost like a whole new language has been opened up to me. I’m really looking forward to carrying on the learning – just now without the pressure of an exam to pass I can focus on the areas that will be most useful for the row.
As I began writing this post I realised that today marks exactly six months until I row out of Monterey Bay to spend three months pulling through the energy of the Pacific Ocean by myself. I’m torn between huge excitement and sheer panic at the amount there is still to do in terms of preparation. I know that logistics and funding will all get there in the end, and that things are moving faster and faster in the right direction recently, but I also know the length of the ‘to do’ list… The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Race started on Wednesday, and as well as wishing all the crews the very best of luck, I’m following their progress closely, imagining myself in their position in half a year.
This week is also notable in that I’ve done more public speaking in the last eight days than in the last eight months. The past few days have been a jumble of meetings, emails and training sessions, but the most constant feature has been presentations. Following the London Bitcoin Expo last week, I spent Tuesday morning at a presentation session, led by public speaking expert Dr. Margarida Dolan. Everyone who was there was filmed whilst doing a presentation and we were then able to critique our performances as a group. For someone who finds speaking in public a nerve-racking experience, this session was extremely helpful and I hope to do more work with Margarida in the future.
On Friday I was able to put my presentation skills to the test at the University of Bristol’s Annual Meeting of Court. I’d been invited to give a small presentation on my experience as a student at Bristol (of course also taking about the row) to a room of a couple of hundred of the major decision-makers of the university, including the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. I was pretty nervous beforehand, but it was a brilliant experience. I had so much positive feedback and some really interesting conversations at the lunch afterwards. Hopefully there will be some photos from the day to follow.
I had my Health MOT and first personal training session at Nuffield Health this week too, and am really looking forward to getting stuck in to my new training routine! Because of my club foot I’ve always struggled with finding ways to train my legs equally. I have limited flexibility in my right ankle and muscle wastage in the calf, so am unable to do regular squats and similar training exercises. It can be incredibly frustrating, as I know how useful these exercises would be for my training. The good news this week is that I may have found a way around this with the help of Tom, my personal trainer. We tried a number of single-leg exercises using a TRX Suspension Trainer, and this is looking like it will be a good compromise as it doesn’t require me to flex my ankle as much. I’ll monitor how this goes in the coming weeks, but am pretty excited about it, and feeling really lucky to be able to work with Tom for my physical training.
I’m really looking forward to a short break at Christmas as I’ve been feeling absolutely exhausted and still have a couple of really busy weeks ahead. I’m also feeling really positive though, and happy with how things are moving. As ever, Steve is proving absolutely fantastic as my Campaign Manager. He is currently working wonders with a redesign of the website – have a look at it this week and see what you think.
Another really busy week has flown by, and the Pacific is beginning to feel closer than ever.
One of the big moves forward this week is that we are now also accepting Bitcoin as sponsorship/donation towards the row (see Steve’s blog post from last week). We had our first donation within a few hours of opening up to Bitcoin, which is really encouraging – a big thank you to the generous mystery donor! Thanks also for all the other Bitcoin donations that have been coming in over the past couple of days. It’s really good to see this move forward being embraced. On Saturday Steve and I exhibited and spoke at the London Bitcoin Expo, which was quite an experience. We spent all day talking to people, and gave presentations on each of the two stages as well. It was a long and exhausting day, but really interesting talking to so many different people, and has hopefully made more people in the Bitcoin community aware of the challenge. We are also really grateful to Alex for fitting us in so late in the day.
On Sunday I took my RYA First Aid course, which is one more ticked off the list and that bit closer to being qualified to do the row. Discussion of hypothermia, concussion and seasickness was mixed with learning how to perform CPR and the right way to bandage up different injuries. On course, a lot of what is covered in the everyday First Aid course isn’t quite relevant to the solo ocean rower! I won’t have anyone with me who can be saved by CPR, and I won’t be able just to phone the hospital if I have an injury! It was good to remind myself of the basics, but I think I’m going to look into doing a more directly relevant course as well, such as first aid in a remote environment, or for the solo adventurer.
In sponsorship news, I have joined Team Buff UK, and have just received a brilliant selection of products from Buff. I used a Buff throughout my jungle expedition in Borneo, and know how multifunctional they are. I’m looking forward to testing these ones out on training trips over the coming months!
I’ve been supporting the Row from behind the scenes so far, and Elsa’s mentioned me in a couple of posts, but today I’m venturing out from behind the curtain with an interesting development.
I’m not sure how many readers of this blog will have heard of Bitcoin, but it’s becoming increasingly established and is on track to shake up the finance and commerce world in a big way. The introduction at WeUseCoins sums things up in a much clearer and more concise way than I could.
I am fortunate enough to have converted a few pounds into Bitcoins a few years ago, and the value of these is enough to fund a small but not insignificant portion of Elsa’s campaign. In looking further into how to go about this, I realised that there could be some mutually beneficial aspects that could both support Elsa and raise the profile of Bitcoin even further.
Today we’re launching a Bitcoin-focused facet to Elsa’s fundraising campaign. We’re actively seeking out sponsors willing to donate BTC, and to support our utilisation of these funds – some suppliers may be amenable to accepting the currency, others may not quite be there yet, and wish it to be converted to local denominations.
***UPDATE: our first Bitcoin has been donated!!! Thank you so much to our kind donor! Check out the donate page for a running total!***
We’re going to be speaking and exhibiting at the London Bitcoin Expo this Saturday, thanks to fantastic organiser Alex – come along, or if you know any organisations or people that will be there please point them in our direction!
Another busy week has flown by – I can’t believe we are nearly in December already! Just a short post this week as I prepare for another seven days of rowing preparation.
On Thursday I passed the most difficult of the Yachtmaster Theory papers – the one on chart work and tidal curves. I still have to take two more exams to complete my Yachtmaster qualification, but these should be quick work compared with the one I took this week.
Friday was spent doing more boat hunting. I’m still trying to get my head around all the different options, and know that I’ll need to make a decision on which one to go with soon. Some really beautiful boats, some with exciting stories of their own, some still waiting to make their first journey – I’m so looking forward to making a final decision and getting to know the boat in which I’ll row to Hawaii.
Steve and I made the most of being away from Bristol on our boat hunting mission by heading out to Dartmoor for some frosty wild camping and hiking. It was amazing to be out of the city and on open moorland. The air was fresh and clean, the sun was shining, and the night sky was bursting with stars. It felt good to be doing some outdoor training, and was also a great opportunity to test some kit (in particular, thermal wear donated by outdoor wear specialists, Carinthia, which worked exceptionally well and kept me warm throughout the frosty night).
In other sponsorship news, Nuffield Health in Bristol have very kindly put me on their Wellbeing Membership programme, which will give me some one-to-one training as well as the use of their outstanding facilities. I start with a ‘Health MOT’ in the coming weeks – it’ll be good to know how I’m doing and how far I have to improve over the next six months. The training so far seems to be paying off, but I look forward to examining all those niggly areas of improvement in more detail.
Held in the fantastically inspiring surroundings of the Royal Geographical Society the Explore weekend happens every autumn and brings together the most concentrated group of explorers and would-be explorers in the world. This was my first experience of it and it was brilliant.
The lecture theatre on the Friday night was full of big names in the world of adventure, field research and exploration. Throughout the weekend I found myself having cups of tea with people I’ve admired from afar from a long time, getting first-hand advice from the experts in ocean rowing/working with plastic pollution/organising expeditions, and sitting next to people who have just returned from amazing adventures. From Quincy Connell, who is off to work north of the Arctic Circle next week, to Lloyd Figgins, a seasoned adventurer who has rowed the Atlantic; from Emily Penn, doing exciting work researching and teaching about plastic pollution in the oceans, to Dave Cornthwaite, an adventurer with numerous challenges on the go including his campaign to ‘Say Yes More’; from Roz Savage, the first woman to row solo across three oceans, to Nigel Winser, scientist and Executive Vice President of Earthwatch – all these people and more gave me huge amounts of time, support, inspiration (or all three) over the weekend.
One of the highlights was the ‘Oceans’ workshop on Saturday afternoon, chaired by biological oceanographer Helen Findlay, accompanied by a hugely experienced panel. Some samples of plastic collected from the ocean were passed around, which made what I am trying to communicate with my row all the more real. A good number of the ideas and contacts I’ve come away with from this weekend relate to ‘citizen science’: scientific research carried out by non-professionals, often in the field. There are numerous pieces of research I might be able to undertake from my little boat on the Pacific – more to follow I hope.
Another highlight was becoming one of the two winners of the ‘RBS-IBG Explore 2013 Risk Assessment Competition’! (obviously a greatly sought-after thing to win). I had to complete a three point example risk assessment for my project, taking into account likelihood, severity, and risk management. I assessed the risks of falling overboard, a shark attack, and the watermaker breaking or running out of electricity. All three severe-to-fatal if they were to happen, but all of rather differing likelihoods! The more one considers the potential risks in advance, and the ways to minimise these, the better. My prize was a £50 training voucher for a course of my choice with Training Expertise. Now I just need to decide which one to go for! This was an especially nice thing to happen, as the prize was presented by expedition leader and safety trainer Dom Hall, who led a two month expedition I went on in 2005 to the Maliau Basin in Borneo. 🙂
I’m feeling very exhausted at the end of such a busy weekend, but also really revitalised. It is fantastic to meet other people who are also undertaking crazy adventures, as it can sometimes get a little lonely sitting at my desk and emailing potential sponsors.
In sponsorship news, I’d like to thank Kakadu and nuun, who have both sent me product towards the row in the last week. Kakadu produce kangaroo skin golf gloves, which have proven themselves in ocean rowing in the past – I’m really looking forward to trying them! Nuun produce portable hydration tabs that add electrolytes to drinking water to aid training and recovery – these will be particularly useful when I’m hot, sweaty and thirsty on the boat!
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.
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.’
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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