VIP Launch Event

What an evening!

Last Tuesday (28th) we held the VIP Launch Event at MShed in Bristol. Local business people, core team members and sponsors were there, all to hear a bit more about the challenge and the reasons for doing it.

The last few weeks and days leading up to this were frantic – emails flew around, plans changed and changed again, the guest list grew, and talks were prepared. I tried to think about what people would be interested in hearing, and who might be best to talk about all the different areas.

We had a group of fantastic speakers in the end, each bringing something very different to the table:

– Chris Martin, Race Director, New Ocean Wave
– Jo Ruxton, Founder, Plastic Oceans
– Justin Adkin, Boatbuilder, Sea Sabre
– Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol
– George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol
– (and me)

The whole evening was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I spoke to lots of different people and felt like I never quite had the chance to speak to anyone. At one point there was a photographer from the Bristol Post; I stood outside in the cold to be photographed with the lights from the city behind me, looking in on the event suite at MShed, and feeling thoroughly grateful to everyone who was in there helping to prepare the event. I had amazing support from a whole lot of people who voluntarily gave up their time to make this event work, from photographers to speakers, those who prepared name badges and those who wore them.  Thank you everyone!

It was a brilliant evening, and I look forward to seeing where it takes us, particularly following the Mayor’s challenge to the business community to get behind the row in the run-up to Bristol as European Green Capital in 2015.


Before the kick-off. Courtesy Guthrie Freeman
Before the kick-off.
Courtesy Guthrie Freeman
Courtesy the Bristol Post
Courtesy the Bristol Post
Me with the Mayor of Bristol. Courtesy the Bristol Post
Me with the Mayor of Bristol.
Courtesy the Bristol Post
Me with my most recent sponsors: Richard from Excalibur Communications, me, and Judith and David from the University of Bristol. Courtesy Guthrie Freeman
Me with my most recent sponsors: Richard from Excalibur Communications, me, and Judith and David from the University of Bristol.
Courtesy Guthrie Freeman


West of England Winter School Games

A few months ago I was asked by Wesport CEO Steve Nelson if I would present at the Opening Ceremony of the West of England Winter School Games on Friday 24th January. The School Games are held in forty five different regions across the UK twice a year, and bring together hundreds of young people at each event. The games are inclusive, and range from gymnastics to boccia, from indoor rowing to sitting volleyball. It was a real privilege to be asked to speak, and it felt great to be doing something purposeful that was not focused on fundraising for the row for a change.

I showed a short video about the row and the preparation that I am doing for it. Then I spoke about my background in sport and expeditions, and how I got into rowing, before finishing up with some questions, including where my inspiration comes from and how I deal with the idea of failure.

After speaking, I spent the morning seeing the different games that were being played, and talking to teachers and pupils. There was so much enthusiasm, and I really look forward to speaking to more young people in the coming months. For any teachers or parents reading this, I’m really interested in coming to talk at more schools – take a look at my talks page for more information.

Thanks again everyone!

Week -26: SIX months to go!

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.


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Photo courtesy


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.

Week -27: Bitcoin and First Aid

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.

IMG_0181 - CopyIn 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!

Week -29: Explore!


Explore 2013.

What a weekend!

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.

Sunny morning walk through Hyde Park on the way to the RGS
Sunny morning walk through Hyde Park on the way to the RGS

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.

Plastic particles in a sample of ocean water
Plastic particles in a sample of ocean water
Plastic taken from the stomach of an albatross
Plastic taken from the stomach of an albatross

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!

Thank you to everyone for this last week.

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.

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:





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