training for the world

life of lia

training for the world

‘Okay…rowing is good,’ said my Pilate’s instructor, ‘but do you need to row an ocean!’

‘Marines row the Atlantic. Firemen row the Atlantic. Ben Fogle was a TV adventurer, but he rowed with Olympic gold medalist, James Cracknell!’ exclaimed my parents.

The whole rowing-the-Atlantic thing began in January 2009 during the Excel London boat show. I had watched the early Jennifer Anniston movie, ‘Office Space’ and was trying to have a normal 9-5 job, as the business development manager of a new line of marine electronics. (Big mistake) I called it my ‘desk sentence’ and for those 10 days managing a stand, I had died and gone to a boat show. 

From out of the murk, I received an email from Paul Harder-Cohen (Carbon Sailing Solutions). Gathering dust, in the corner of his shop was the boat belonging to a Danish Olympic rower who was about to withdraw from the Woodvale Atlantic rowing race for lack of a partner.

I began to read books. I read every book on every ocean row I could get my hands on. Each tale was gripping and I became fascinated by the dynamic of two people confined to a small space under huge physical and mental stress. A double-handed ocean rowing race was an unusual, but definitely feasible stepping stone to launching a double-handed sailing campaign, I thought. The row would put me in good stead before potential sponsors as a feat that would show that I was physically and mentally tough.

It’s not possible to summarize the experience in anything less than a book. The same school of 4-5ft Yellow Fin tuna swam alongside the boat for weeks and weeks, like an ocean escort service! Whales and dolphins interacted with the boat in a far more intimate way that anything I had ever encountered on a yacht. A whole eco system of creatures was born and then got eaten from underneath our boat! To maintain good boat speed (2kts!), we had to scrape the mollusks off every week, while the boat drifted in all manner of seas. Then there were blocks of time where the rowing was physically brutal and I rowed in pain.

My actual rowing partner was a Detective Inspector, a policeman and when we disagreed, we both said nothing. We had three pivotal arguments. The first was a release. The second was cold and cutting, as we reviewed our options as two people who could not manage to communicate with each other amicably. The third was one of my worst moments offshore ever. For several days after I have never felt so stifled and trapped in my life.

I learnt how to make an underwater parachute anchor sail a boat struggling with strong adverse conditions, in a favorable direction. I learnt how to read waves as a means of predicting a change in wind and weather (as well as the sky). I smelt clouds as an indicator of atmospheric pressure, but above all I learnt how to resolve a nasty situation, that of living with someone in a highly stressful and physically grueling set of circumstances. 

My blogs were ultimately followed by several thousand readers, via my mailing list or through our website – thank you to all those who sent messages of encouragement, which were forwarded to us onboard.

The experience was made possible by the technology at our disposal, which we utilized to gain a competitive edge for the race and stay in contact with the outside world. 

Our Satellite phone airtime, kindly sponsored by Wintron Electronics, allowed us voice communication with family and the ability to download weather files. Using the latest version of Expedition software () for navigation, we surmised that the optimal routing feature shaved DAYS off our race and kept us hotly competitive. In our finest hour, we held 4th place thanks to Expedition, finishing a very credible 7th.

Our email subscription package, iScribe, provided by GMN (Global Marine Net) was singularly the best offshore email programme I have encountered, as iScribe’s mid-file restart and email handling capabilities saved us an enormous amount of time and gave us the ability to download what we wanted, when we wanted it. To be continued. – Lia Ditton.