Nearly there…

Latest blog from Alex

In the last few days it’s become pretty obvious we’re approaching the UK as the weather has got steadily worse!   Lots of rain, grey skies, and mist, but fortunately the wind gods have finally pulled their finger out and given us consistent westerlies.  Better late than never I suppose.  This has allowed us to smash out some consistently high mileage days and make really great progress towards home. We’re also making the boat lighter by eating all the food – extra breakfasts and lunches are going down well with the crew, especially with Gilly and Guin, and hopefully resulting in extra power on the oars!   I got a bit overexcited by the prospect of an extra granola (my favourite meal) this morning and had such a huge breakfast that I’ve been full for the rest of the day…

After much tinkering Molly and Guin have managed to fix the auto helm which is great as it allows us to continue with everybody rowing rather than needing people to hand steer. This was a big morale boost and will be useful when navigating UK waters.

Whilst we haven’t been able to beat the 43 days New York to Scilly Isles record set by Artemis Investments (I think a few of them are following us – I take my hat off to you guys that is a phenomenal time), we’re still on course for the US to UK mainland record as well as being the first female crew to row this route, which I’m still pretty happy with. The mileage we’ve achieved in the last few days just shows what we can do when the weather plays ball; it was always the one thing we couldn’t control and unfortunately just was constantly against us during the crossing – there was nothing different we could’ve done or didn’t try to increase our speed. We’re still giving it everything we’ve got and will do until we step off the boat in Falmouth!

So all that remains now is a few days; getting past Bishops Rock and navigating up the south coast of Cornwall. We understand preparations for our arrival are forming nicely and are all excited to see family and friends as well as have a shower, some real food and a well deserved drink!

Alex

My first real surf!

by Gilly Mara

Coming from a kayaking background I am used to surfing and scooting across waves and love the thrill of the speed and acceleration that comes with it. However, all of that is with on inland waters or next to a beach.

Out on the ocean when the waves get too big we hand steer and navigate the best paths to get the best course. We have done a lot of this over the past 41 days but up until a few days ago I have spent all of those opportunities on the oars (I know where my skills lie) and have left the more sailing experienced crew members to steer.

A few days ago I was on shift with Guin as a pair and to split up the 2hrs we rowed 10 minutes each did a quick hand over and changed to steering. We had some fantastic westerly winds helping us go east. As the waves got bigger Guin encouraged me to steer and after a while I was feeling rather comfy. We have been playing a little game where any surf you get you shouted out the speed score…

It was half way through the session and I had a perfect opportunity, I had seen the others do this countless times as the wave is coming up on the stern, they wack the back end into the wave and hey presto … Zoooom. All my efforts so far have not quite worked and I just couldn’t get the feel for it. However this time I wacked the back end in and then boom, surfing … All I could do was say yeeehaa. Then look and see a 6.8, get in! Almost a Severn which I have been wanting to say for ages in the catch phrase from strictly come dancing.

Feeling rather pleased and confidence building. It was not long before another opportunity arose. The waves building around us and the want from both of us not to get soaked (which would happen if it went wrong). I swung the stern in and boom off she went, we surfed for what felt like ages, the adrenaline in me was flowing and oh yes a 9.8! I quickly then swung the bow back onto alignment to maximise full speed. Guin seemed impressed and I think i had the best compliment… She said it was like ‘God like steering’! It was one session to remember, partially as I got the highest surf speed out of Guin and I, not that we are competitive or anything, and I am now far less tentative about hand steering. Happy Days!

1000nm or so to go…

From Skipper Guin

It is some days now since the storm force winds, and as quickly as the weather system came we had to move on and take instant advantage of the westerly winds. We had 4 days of great progress locking in a new noon to noon PB of 90 NM in 24 hrs.

There was no time to dry out the cabins we just needed to get on the oars and row every second of every day. The regular 2 hours on 2 hours off shift pattern wasn’t even enough and as a crew we agreed to pull out all the stops and go to manning (or should we say womaning) all three rowing stations. We have called it ‘the train’ and at most we can keep it up for 8 hours. The ratio of rowing to rest for the bow cabin three is very hard, as they do roughly 2:30 hr rowing to 1:45 hr rest. In the stern Molly and I row 2 hr up then 15min hand steering to allow the auto helm to cool before a 1:45 hr rest. Nurturing the incredible auto helms are super critical to speed – without them we lose a person to helming. We have three auto helms of which A (aka Annabel) and C (aka Charlotte) are in current use, we are saving one for the final approach to the UK.

In this leg I can reflect how amazing the human body is in pushing out work.

In the space of 36 hrs we ran ‘the train’ three times and each time people came close to the edge of being able to go no further and each time the body recovered just enough to keep going. The emotional cost is high and often there was no chatter on the oars for hours at a time, just the splash of the catch and the squeak of the wheels.

Physically you could see the deterioration of the crew; the slowness of movement across the deck, every cut, rub or blister being infected as the immune system drops. In addition the hips, knees and back niggles becoming harder to ignore. Above all this is the insatiable desire to get to Falmouth as quickly as possible, all the time knowing that the Ocean calls the shots; dictating when we have favourable winds and can row or when we need to be confined to Para Anchor and resting as much as we can. We live to the rhythm of the Ocean.

We are still not putting hard numbers on our arrival as so much can change, but if you are of the betting type crunch the numbers down using the data from HQ which will make the end of July. I am sorry the amazing Inmarsat tracker isn’t live any more, sadly we have failed to do an onboard fix from damage it received during the storm. But we are still trying and so fingers crossed the little pink dot might come back.

Video on para anchor here 

Skipper Guin and the crew of Liberty.

Skippers half time update

The crew and our little ship Liberty have made steady progress across the north Atlantic, inching East stroke by stroke. Each nautical mile gained by hard earned power from the amazing group of women that makes up Rannoch Women’s Challenge.

At half way it has been a mix of great progress and frustrating near misses on the weather. The big 43 day record is beyond us, but remaining ones are tantalisingly real. The greatest of which could be a world first – the first British women to have ever rowed the North Atlantic from West to East route.

Perhaps the biggest brutality of the first half was the soul sapping counter currents, each day we watched our raw boat speed eaten to a crawl, the crew dug deep to remind ourselves we were doing well, just in bad conditions.

On para anchor in the first week we snapped the dagger board, wind drift has been a important factor to some of our angles when taking on the conditions.

So our biggest daily run noon to noon has been 81 nm. Our fastest surf speed was 10 knots. We are eating our way through the boat with spectacular appetites.

After the first 10 days our leg muscles started to waste away and our ability to walk after each session gets harder and harder and we have witnessed some very comedic walking styles.

We have been on para anchor four times and each time it has been a mix of emotions from delight at a rest to dismay at the lack of progress.

The sleep deprivation of running our 2hr shift system 24 hours a day has been remarkably easy. But the cold damp living in the cabins is the hardest thing to manage. Mould is growing in cabins and the day after day wearing of wet oilskins has meant the smell is beyond description. Don’t ask us if we row naked, it is far too cold for that!

I have been amazed at how connected we are to the outside world, both directly and via Charlie and Louise our on-land support team. Dell from Inmastat has provided us with a brilliant box that allows us to video out most days via WhatsApp even if it means us hanging off the side of the boat with phone in on hand and the Inmastat explorer in the other.

So much is going well and the crew is a tribute to how humans can tolerate discomfort and physical work-load. Heels, bums and hands remain the places in need of the greatest care and attention, as they are so prone to rubs and rashes. With the constant wetness and reduced immune system even the smallest rub can a serous issue to deal with.

Roll on the next 1500nm and our arrival in Falmouth.

Guin Batten RWC

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Learning to live in the moment …

By Gilly

In my world outside of this boat I live and breathe through time or a target e.g working to a deadline at work and trying to complete it before it is needed, training on the river in my kayak through time trials by time and trying to beat times by going further in a set time or in a gym lifting more reps in a space time. I live by setting goals. However on this boat you can’t quite do that if you had that attitude you would not survive. The sea or Big O or Mr O a few names I or other crew members have named where we are. On one shift you can be going against a counter current and wind you want to reach the next target point but are going nowhere, or you are about to finish a shift and Mr O soaks you in a wave and you get annoyed and frustrated and shout back and say ‘Why!’ You head to sleep and when you wake you hear screams of delight as we have waves and winds and the excitement of surfing a wave.

At the start I had an expectation of how long things would take, it became clear if you do this it will consume you, it has me at times. I am learning to live in the moment to enjoy the here and now and not wish for what is next. You can miss so much otherwise, like the excitement of surfing waves, Dolphins swimming or seeing your first pilot whale. If you didn’t live in the moment you wish that this bit was over and you miss so much.

Gilly

Onboard update from Guin

Day 26
Spent the day with periods of 3 up rowing and speeds ranging from 2.8-4.4 knts, dealing with challenges in respect of a swell from the south but finally passing the 45W target we have been after, and achieving the best ever 24 hour period for distance travelled. Whilst this has given us a huge sense of achievement it is also a realisation that the crossing will take more days than originally hoped, (although still too early to give you an ETA).

Day 27
Through the night the sea state dropped and they now have a SE wind around and a counter current to deal and whilst feeling a little tired the Liberty crew are focused on pushing on with 3 up rowing between 6.00am -8.00pm today.

The best news from the boat…….. is that water temperature has now increased to 17.7 degrees from 14.4 yesterday which indicates that long awaited positive current form the gulf stream may well be on its way.

Thanks for all the messages

Day 26 selfie
Day 26 selfie

10 things we take for granted in normal life but that I miss on the boat

1. Eating normally. By this I mean while sat at a table, off a plate, using a knife and fork. Ditto drinking; I miss glasses

2. Walking. The most steps I do in a row is maximum 3 – the distance from the rowing seat to the cabin. Despite all the rowing I’ve developed chicken legs as the muscles we use day to day just to keep us upright barely get used

3. Privacy/ personal space. In every 5 days, I get 24hrs when I am alone in the cabin and it is so nice! To retreat in there and be able to spread out as you wish and not have to spoon around the other person is such a luxury. Also some privacy on the loo would be nice too!

4. Not having your day entirely dictated by what the weather is doing. When we can row, we can row fast, generally cracking out about 4 knots (one of which we then lose to these never ending counter currents). But when the weather decides not to play ball, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it and that for me is the hardest thing to deal with mentally

5. Work. Now I know this sounds weird, but I’m worried about my brain turning to mush. So far I’ve kept it going by reading and podcasts but it’s feeling distinctly underused; there’s only so much mental stimulation Harry Potter can provide and I’m looking forward to having to use my brain again. Also where there’s work, there’s weekends, unlike here where we are essentially working 24/7. Value your weekends people.

6. A proper cup of tea. Not quite boiling water, American tea bags and powdered milk do not a proper cup of tea make. If someone can hand me a nice hot mug of Yorkshire tea as I step off this boat, that would be great

7. Other forms of exercise. I miss my bike, I miss boxing, dare I say it I even miss the (very occasional) jog here and there. The rowing is getting a little repetitive!

8. Basic levels of hygiene e.g. A shower and clean clothes. Yesterday I changed my base layer top for the first time in about 3 weeks and the clean one felt like such a treat. Might try and do that more often going forward!

9. Instant communication. Now perhaps this is a sad sign of the times, but think we all take for granted how easy it is to get hold of people instantaneously with phones. Here our only form of contact is email and often emails cross over so you’re answering questions from 3 days ago. That said, it’s quite refreshing not to be so connected all the time and to manage when you want to hear from people. Emails are a massive boost to us all and I know are much appreciated by all the crew.

10. Knowing what is going on in the world. I miss reading the newspaper, especially with all the crazy Brexit stuff that’s been happening. We’re so wrapped up in our own little microcosm of life out here that it’s going to be so weird coming back to the UK with all the change that’s going on. I must admit I did try to update my The Times app a week or so ago but sadly to no avail; for now the updates I’m getting from family and friends will have to suffice!