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On The Oars

life of lia

On The Oars

Exactly one week ago professional sailor, artist and hottie Lia Ditton set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to row almost 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean with 44 year old DI Mick Birchall of the Cambridgeshire Police. She arrived at the start of the Atlantic Rowing Race 2009 with just four days left until it was due to begin. Prior to this time she and Mick had never met and only spoken briefly on the phone. Sounds like a pattern for a disaster. He was looking for a new rowing partner and she was looking for something that would help her train for the Barcelona World Race (our newest advertiser here on SA – see further down on this page) later this year and for the opportunity to work on her next piece, ‘Colours of the Atlantic’.

With no time to waste they immediately agreed to row together and her support team flew out the next day with all of the personal kit needed for up to 80 days at sea in a 23ft rowing boat. Fortunately the race was delayed due to bad weather and Lia and Mick ended up having almost a month to get to know each other properly and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime. And what an adventure it’s turning out to be!…

5th January gun metal grey, seas 6-8ft; (evening) luminescent white (as painted in oils as halos in the Renaissance paintings), seas 4-6ft
The start was a mayhem of competitors wishing each other good luck, while back paddling and trying not to collide. That was the start. The rest of the night until now has less definition. The waves increased from 2-3ft to 6-8ft, Mick fell sea sick and I’ve winced at the oars acutely aware of every muscle at the back of my legs and resorting to micropore inside gloves to pad out the bleeesters. The onset of chafe sores (nappy rash!) has been remarkable and already, day 2, we’ve had to resort to bare bums on sheep skin!

6th January lime lime green, seas 8-10ft; (last night) seal skin grey, seas up to 15ft
I have concluded that the boat’s performance is not too dissimilar to that of a square rigger! If the breeze is aft or up to 120 degrees off the bow, the going is rosy. Anything closer to the wind is slow and the motion is ugly! I can’t wait to go sailing again! I’ve never felt so much gratitude for triangular pieces of cloth!

7th January reddy orange (madder carmaine), seas 8-10ft; primrose yellow, seas 3-4ft.For the moment, we are no longer racing. Right now, we are simply drifting. When Mick was sick last night for the umpteenth time and sat at the oars, sick with nausea, sick with hunger and with a hammering headache, it was time to call it a day. I had just come off a 3 hour stint and was myself dog tired and in no position to carry on for him. I boiled some water and made some freeze dried Rice Pudding with Apple pieces. Mick threw it up immediately. Thoughts of ‘Would we finish?’ ‘Will Mick recover’ swam in my head.

8th January morning no colour recorded
Mick’s hammering headache caused by severe dehydration and vomiting was taking on a life of it’s own and for the day and ongoing, he remains confined to the cabin. Sharing the cabin between rows has made sleep difficult. With the sheer effort of packing ourselves in, I’ve tried rowing for longer and resting for a longer period instead. Slowly, the combination has worn me down.

8th January evening off white
After 48 hours of endeavouring to be kind, caring; coaxing drinking and eating; filling water bottles and rummaging for pills and stuff on demand, my fountain of sympathy seemed to run dry this morning. The burst of optimism brought on by Mick’s will to row again and my cat nap was short lived. I was still tired and Mick was now wiped out and grouchy.

9th January lipstick red, seas 1-2ft; (evening) light silver, seas 0ft.
We must have needed to let some steam out of the pressure cooker. It was petty of course, daft even. I wanted to secure the rudder and then sort out centralizing the foot plate afterwards. Mick wanted to centralize the foot plate and then secure the rudder. The upshot was that we both came at the same problem from different directions. Naturally the conversation digressed into comedy

‘You talk to me sometimes like I’m a four year old!’ (Mick)
‘Look. Don’t get personal. I am happy to row to Mongolia (I meant Mauritania) or the Cape Verdes and get off. I don’t have to be here.’ (Lia – and this is when I pull my I’m-a-celebrity-get-me-out-of-here card). ‘I have friends on Superyachts crossing the Atlantic right now, (true), who will gladly come and get me (unlikely).

10th January
While there was still a little friction this morning, once a routine had been agreed upon – 2 shifts of 2.5 hours during the day, 2 shifts of 3.5 hours during the night, we got on with being a Team again (no ‘I’ or ‘u’ in that). The Mick-with-sea-legs seems to have bounced back like a trouper and much to my surprise, plunged willingly back into his share of the rowing with his former zeal.

To read the blog in full and for details of ‘Colours of the Atlantic’ please visit here.

Listen to Lia’s first IV from the Atlantic here. See photos from the month of training and race start in La Gomera. See a video of Mick and Lia at the start of the race.