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Hi everyone, here’s a text that might help some of people dreaming about ocean rowing
- June 9, 2020 at 13:24
Feel free to reach out
TO ALL ASPIRING OCEAN ROWERS WITH SHALLOW POCKETS
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from my crossing of the Atlantic ocean, I’m locked down and bored, so I decided to share my experience and hopefully, help some of you dreaming about crossing an ocean, even if you don’t know where to start.
For starters, my partner Benoit and I decided to cross the Atlantic end of 2016 and planned on three years to achieve this goal. We’re pretty decent rowers (a few years of competitive rowing for both of us) and we wanted to do something big related to our sport. We started from Gran Canaria on 17/12 and arrived in Barbados on 28/02, some grueling 73 days later! If you want to know more about us, check out our page http://www.facebook.com/row48.eu or our website http://www.row48.eu
Ok, let’s get down to business. How do you prepare an ocean crossing?
As everyone at the beginning of such a project, we were lost, not knowing where to start. We allowed ourselves a few months to gather information around us. Read books, watch documentaries, look at others teams’ pages, CONTACT PEOPLE and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ocean rowers community is very kind and some people will be very helpful. At the beginning, you’ll be overwhelmed with the quantity of information raining down on you, but it’ll eventually find its place in your mind. It’ll allow you to see that this whole thing can be organized in different ways. It’s then up to you to choose the one that suits you best.
I’ll try my best to answer to the questions that seemed most urgent at the beginning:
– Which ocean do I want to cross (and when)? I feel like most Ocean crossings are done in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Most of the time, it’ll depend on the place you live. Since we’re Belgians, the Atlantic was the obvious choice. The period will strongly depend on the choice of the Ocean. In the Atlantic, we were to cross it during the November-March window, since the weather conditions are the most favorable at that time (if you’re rowing E->W of course!). The ocean rowing society archive is a good database of all the crossings, as well as the locations and dates of start and finish. Be careful, the difficulty of routes differ! Do your reseach.
– How many of you should embark? Since the two of us came up with the idea as a team, it was a no brainer for us. Retrospectively, I think that this question deserves a bit more reflection. There are different people out there sharing the same dream as you and if you team up, you increase your chances to achieve it. Basically, the more you are, the more you share the costs of the adventure. Yes, you’ll need a larger boat, but it’ll cost you less per person in the end of the day. Expenses like transport, communications, potential weather router are also divided between more people. Also, from our experience as a team of two: you’ll row and rest alone. If one member of the team fails to row, either the second one can cover his shift, or the boat doesn’t progress anymore. Should one of you not be able to row for an extended period, it ends up being a solo crossing, yet with less space in the cabin to rest. Rowers that rowed in larger teams, please share the advantages and the challenges that you experienced.
– Should I support a charity and how do I pick one? Most of the people who row for a charity do so because of their personal history. There’s no rule when it comes to pick one. Some choices might give you more visibility than others, which is always an asset, but this shouldn’t be your primary concern. If you chose a charity for this reason only, it’ll look like you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Many potential sponsors that you’ll meet during your campaign will ask you WHY you do it, and you better be convincing while answering this question. Please, take some time to reflect on this question, it will be important later.
– How do I get a boat and how do I pay for it? This was the toughest question at the beginning of the project. All boats seem so expensive and we really didn’t have that kind of money to invest right away. If you’re in a larger team with some savings, you might consider going for a new boat. At least, you know for sure what you’re buying. For us mere mortals, second-hand boats are the way to go. For our team, anything above 20k € was out of reach. You’ll see that it considerably reduces your choices. Eventually, we purchased a plywood boat with almost no equipment that cost us 10k €. We then had plenty of time to do a bit of work and equip her for the adventure. If you’re really tight on budget, do your research, there’s plenty of second hand equipment on the market. Contact your local sailing and yacht clubs, they’ll show you the right platforms. You can have a decent ocean-ready boat for around 25-30k € all included.
DON’T MAKE OUR MISTAKE. We purchased our boat without surveying her. We were lucky, she was in good condition and necessitated only minor interventions, but there are boats that are structurally damaged, even if they seem ok to an inexperienced eye. Only a real expert can assure you on the state of the boat.
DON’T MAKE OUR MISTAKE (#2). Make sure you have some time to test her before the great departure. We finished working on her mid-November, shipped her to the departure line a few days later, worked some more days in Gran Canaria and took off shortly afterwards. Our steering system wasn’t optimal AT ALL and we lost a huge amount of time in the ocean because of that (73 days!!). Testing your boat for several days in a row in real time conditions will allow you to identify whether your boat is ready before the great departure, or if it requires a bit more fixing. In general, if you want to go fast, get a boat with lighter materials (GRP or carbon) and modern shapes (e.g. fin keel VS full keel).
– Do I enter an official race? It’ll probably depend on your finances. We didn’t have 20k € for that and the choice was made easy for us… As independent rowers, we had to organize everything from A to Z, but if you are ready to invest some time, it should not be a problem. We organized the shipping ourselves for a reasonable price, made contact with custom and harbor authorities to ensure we operated within legal boundaries and we had access to some safety & material listings shared by the ocean rowing community. Although I believe that race organizers do a tremendous job in providing rowers an awesome and safe experience, I haven’t seen anything they provide that I was willing to pay 20k € for. Rowers that took part in TWAC or GPR, please share your experience, it’ll surely give a better overview of the possibilities for future rowers. NOTE: if you decide to enter a race, be quick, places are limited!
– Do I get a weather router? While weather routing is doubtless important while you’re in the ocean, you can explore other options than hiring a professional. Again, it depends on your finances and the amount of things you’re ready to learn. If you aim for a record, hire a professional. If you just want to stay safe and know what weather to expect, you can learn the basics of meteorology and spend some time to mess around with sites as Windy, Ventusky, Fastseas and others. These three are mostly free and therefore have some limitations, but they do the job (keeping you safe). However, the routing strategy is sub-optimal as these websites are not designed for ocean rowing in particular and don’t include all the relevant parameters. Speed wise, we might have done better with a professional router. Instead, we asked my girlfriend (god bless her), who learned the ropes with me, to communicate weather forecasts and waypoints during the crossing. If you are lucky enough to have someone willing to take on this job, bear in mind that this can be a time-consuming and stressful time for them. It’s also possible to get the forecasts (grib files) with an internet connection in the ocean as well (take some time to explore this option).
– What legal paperwork is needed? When you purchase a boat, make sure she’s registered and has a flag letter (you’ll be asked that a lot). You’ll also need a few certificates, the most important one is the SRC (short range communications) certificate. You can get one after an examination as part of an ocean-rowing course. We did ours at Seasports Southwest (Teignmouth), but I guess other options exist. You’ll also need an insurance for your boat when you’ll be in the marina at the departure/arrival. We didn’t contract an insurance for the whole crossing for the simple reason that no one in Belgium could do it for us. Apparently, larger companies in the UK can do it but they charge a lot of money for that. Other rowers, did you get an insurance for the whole crossing? Finally, you’ll need to fill a lot of paperwork for the shipping of your boat and the customs, but normally, the company that ships your boat does the necessary paperwork and guides you through the administrative maze. You’ll probably need a clearance paper to be able to leave your marina and to enter the country of your arrival. Always have your passport with you and put in a grab bag should you leave your vessel urgently. Also, make sure to contact the harbor authorities of the place of your departure and arrival to warn them about your crossing.
– Is there a way to make this whole adventure cheaper? I want to make sure that I’m absolutely clear on the fact that in no way you should compromise your safety for the sake of making your ocean crossing cheaper. Please, make sure that everything you do remains in line with common standards of safety at sea. PLEASE, make sure that you purchase a life-raft that’s either new or has been serviced and is still valid! PLEASE, buy a sufficient amount of food for the whole crossing (with a huge margin of safety). PLEASE, make sure your watermaker is trustworthy. PLEASE, make sure you have all the recommended medicine and in sufficient quantities. PLEASE, make sure you have spares of everything important while at sea. PLEASE, make sure you followed all relevant courses for ocean rowers.
However, here are a few tricks that would help you saving some dimes:
– Food. Packs of freeze-dried food are VERY expensive. Try to contact a few teams after their crossing (after a TWAC for example) and ask whether they have some unused packs to sell. Some of them will be happy to sell them for a fraction of the cost. The closer you get to the
expiry date, the cheaper they should be. Try to have many different sorts of food, you’ll be happy to eat different flavors!
– Transport. If you want your boat to stay on the trailer at the departure and the arrival, you’ll need to pay for the transportation of the trailer. Instead, we built a cheap wooden crib for the duration of the transportation that we left at Gran Canaria. In Barbados, we put the boat on a pile of tires for the shipping back home.
Communication. Insanely expensive! If you’re lucky, you can come across a team that hasn’t used all the minutes on their sat phone and they might be willing to sell them for a fraction of the cost.
Some general tips now. Do a timeline. Now apply a 20% safety margin for all deadlines. Now throw it away because a lot of things won’t go as planned, especially if you’re working on your boat by yourself as we did. Bear in mind that things will cost more and last longer than expected. That shouldn’t discourage you, just don’t panic when it happens and have a plan B. On the other side, things look scarier and harder than they really are. Just hold on, and it’ll be sorted out, eventually.Fundraising is a long and painful process. Lots of people will tell you to get a second job and save that money. I’m one of them. However, if you have a good story and can communicate your passion about your project, it might pick up and bring you a lot of visibility and funds. Don’t do it half-hearted, you’ll waste your time. Also, be lucky.
Don’t hesitate to embark things that’ll bring you joy and pleasure during the crossing. It will be tough out there and you’ll be happy you have this extra piece of chocolate or you bought this extra 100 min to call your loved ones.
Train physically but also mentally. Meditation will help you when things get tough in the ocean.
Talk to people. You never know what will come out. I found our transport company while speaking to a guy I barely knew at a birthday party. Don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to people that might help you.
And finally, have fun. Make it fun for you. It’s a long process, if you don’t get any joy out of it, you won’t last. Overall, it’s a long and sometimes painful process, but when you get to hug your loved ones on the other side, you know it was all worth it.