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Luke – reflections on finishing the row and ‘re-entry’…

It’s now almost three weeks since finishing the row. Sadly my first try at this final blog got deleted from a library computer when it logged me out, so I apologise as it has taken me a couple of weeks to get back round to re-writing this, I was so annoyed I didn’t think I could ever get down to it again! All I can offer are some reflections on my experiences and describe what it was like to finish the row.

In the last week of the row emotions started to heighten, at both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes I would laugh to myself like a young child, full with excitement and disbelief at how far we had come, and how close we were. Yet a week was still a long time, and these thoughts would knock me out of rhythm, making the shifts seem much longer at times. I could also feel angry and frustrated periodically, and then I would feel cross with myself that I couldn’t escape these feelings. Just stop’ I would say to myself. They say its 80 per cent mental and 20 per cent physical, yet I think that for me it was far closer to 95- 5. The whole thing was a battle with and inside the head, a war I couldn’t even contemplate losing because I’m just too damn stubborn; a trait I have realised has benefits, but the potential to create as many problems.

A certain part of me didn’t want the row to be over, and I would be lying if didn’t say that part of me feels empty at the end of the challenge. This may sound strange, but once I had got over the initial discomforts, life became simpler in many ways. The mundane and the trivial that made my life seem cluttered and full but yet not perhaps fulfilled faded into the distance as we left land and I feel like my mind was set free in some ways. No longer was it necessary to worry about when I was going to do my work or laundry, I didn’t have to get anywhere on time, or plan what to eat. I had evaded my bills, and the task of deciding what to save or spend on. The choices that capitalism seems to throw at us were eliminated, leaving me with time to think in more depth and at more length about the nature of things, humanity, life and existence, pain and happiness, death and love. I’m no philosopher and this may sound like I am trying to sound cleverer and a deeper thinker than the Luke some of you may know, but I’m not saying anything conclusive. I didn’t have any major revelation and find it hard to convey how things have changed, nor would I try and impart lessons or knowledge, as I believe it one’s own personal experiences that will prescribe the lens they view the world through. I just had a little bit of time to reflect on mine.

I felt comfortably insignificant at times, Gazing on the cosmos for 6 hours a night would sometimes elicit this feeling. We lived in an environment that was free from traces of humanity, except for the odd boat, the odd nasty floating plastic bottle, and of course our cutting edge carbon boat with all its fancy instruments. 54 days was a long time, but not in the grand scheme of things. We seemed insignificant in a huge ocean under a huge sky, and on our planet in the vast universe. I listened to Stephen Hawking’s brief history of time and Bill Bryson’s short history of nearly everything, which I would recommend! Learning or trying to understand the history of life whilst floating on the place it came from was special for me. Sometimes in the city where it is harder to find evidence of natural rather than man made phenomenon and structures, I find it hard to think of existence beyond humanity. The improbable and mystical beauty of the dawns, sunsets and stars, made me feel part of something greater that had no beginning and no end. In this solitude I felt comfortable; this may have been why I didn’t at any point feel scared of dying, even though I had personally acknowledged that I would definitely fear for my life before we started the journey. I didn’t try and think about any of this specifically while I was on the ocean, I just found it to be a product of spending some time alone in ‘peace’. All I can say is that I would highly recommend getting out into the wild where there is a bit less noise and computers, on any sort of scale. We probably went slightly over the top! I can already feel myself slipping back into the state where I get worked up about things that I would not have two weeks ago, although as each week continues I’m finding life easier as well. I have definitely found the transition back to university ‘havingtoworkandbeorganised’ life much harder than I anticipated. But I realise that this is largely because I only envisioned the easy and fun bits of life when we were getting to the end of the row, as they were far more appetising to imagine and gave me that drive that was needed.

I don’t feel that much of this will sink in for a while, but the memory of the last day of the row is already in my mental greatest hits album, and although most of the time I’m not thinking about the row, and most of the time I have forgotten I have done it, I always get a smile when I can re live the experience in my mind.
Land snuck out of the clouds when we were about 15 miles away. As it got closer I gawped and smiled; the beauty and richness of the greens of vegetation and the texture in the brown and cream rock was awesome having seen nothing but blue for so long, apart from the odd coloured pixel on a laptop screen, but still, it hardly compared. As we crossed the finish line which was sort of round the corner from the harbour where we actually got off the boat, Carsten, the race organiser said ‘Guinness have confirmed you are the new world record holders for the youngest pair to row the Atlantic’. At this point I hardly cared about the record. It’s nice to have but I don’t think age is a category that can say much about a person’s ability to achieve the things they want to. It’s just a case of finding the right thing for the individual. I couldn’t run a marathon because I don’t want to, I would find a way to stop and sit down or walk if I tried training for it!
We rowed into this beautiful bay, with people on boats and uphill shouting and waving. I was wondering who they were all there for, how could it be for us? I let off one flare in each hand, almost burning them off in the process and stood up on the boat with Jamie. We had been saying to each other for 24 hours who we simply couldn’t believe we were actually finished. We were both delirious, having hardly slept and rowed as much as we could in the last day to try and ensure we landed in the afternoon rather than at night, and it felt like we had been rewarded for our endeavours. We had such good weather for the last stretch that it was a joy to be on the boat. I was dosed up on pain killers and drunk a miniature of rum for the occasion.
To actually finally have my arms around my family was wonderful. I’m sure they were more worried about me, but I had points when I would fear for something happening to any of them while I was away. I found it almost impossible to stand in one position, feeling physically drunk and swaying around whilst trying to splutter out words.
Now I’m sitting at a computer in the library at university, and it feels like this trip could all be just in my imagination. I know it’s the most monumental thing I have ever done, and in theory I would definitely do it again, however for all the time it took and all the stress it put other people under, and due to the difficulty I have had adjusting back to the everyday life of working, I don’t think I’d want to go again for a while!
What made it so much easier for us to get through was the phenomenal support we got but didn’t expect. I would always imagine all my friends sitting in the clouds shouting support down to me when I was finding it hard, but having witnessed the amount of money we have raised, and the fact that people I don’t know have given to the cause is something I am so grateful for that I can’t put it into words. Our battle is over, and we have won, but I know there are so many who are just at the start or middle of theirs, where the outcome may not be certain, but the money you have given is going to make it easier for them. So thank you so much for wishing us on so we could get there and raise such a colossal amount.

Full moon and whales

I remember the previous full moon very clearly. we had been at sea for just under two weeks and were in the thick of it with howling winds and enormous waves there was the constant risk of capsizing, as Jamie and I battled to keep the boat riding straight down the waves rather than rowing really. The moon actually was a saving grace as it gave us some time to see the direction these brutes were attacking from.

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Who’s Next…?

I have never seen rain like that which is falling here in La Gomera. The true definition of torrential still falls miserably short. To pass time, the ocean rowers occasionally hang out at the Blue Marlin, a bar run by an incredibly well known and energetic man they call Monolo. Monolo enjoys testing us either with push up contests or every now and again, a good old arm-wrestle. For years I’ve rated myself at this usually drunk pastime and so Monolo had met his match. He could clearly tell from my firm grasp that it was game over for the ripped 60 year old before it had started and so, after 10 mins of complaining about this and that, he refused.

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8 days to go!

8 days to go now before departure and some teams are starting to feel the pinch as time is quickly running out. luckily however, our boat is in good order with only a few issues to get sorted before we’ll be 100% ready.

Yesterday, Luke and I went for our first outing out on the ocean. The conditions were calm and the heat was blistering. This gave us our first real taste of what is to come, as trying to sleep in a cabin with both hatches shut can be somewhat unbearable as temperatures surpass 40 degrees. Oh the joys of ocean rowing are fast becoming apparent!

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Out to La Gomera! (by Luke)

Its great to be here in La Gomera. The last few days have been very tiring for me – last Wednesday I had to pull an all-nighter trying to complete an essay for university. My last day in Scotland was extremely busy and left me pretty exhausted by the time my mother came to drive me away. In the car, as soon as we got out of Edinburgh, I think I felt the real weight of the challenge I am about to undertake. There was suddenly nothing to focus on except the row. I had left my friends and comfortable living arrangement to spend 2 months on a tiny boat. I felt worried that we didn’t have all the kit we needed, that my iPod did not have enough music, a pile up of small things that I knew were slightly out of my control now I was leaving the UK.

I got home, sat in my room for a bit and said goodbye to my family. I think in some ways it is harder for them than it is for me, because they don’t know what’s going on, and the whole thing is quite frightening superficially. I got to Jamie’s late that night and had a couple of hours sleep. Its always disconcerting how rubbish I feel when I have consistently under slept; as I know I will feel way more tired than I have ever felt all the time, once the row starts.

However I also experienced how tiredness can be trumped by excitement and will to succeed; at each small milestone I can feel the anticipation building inside me. Once we had left our families it became more real, and tomorrow when we get our boat on the water after scrutineering it will sink in a bit further.

La gomera checks

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What a launch!

The remarkable turnout on Tuesday night’s fundraiser/farewell party at the RAC was overwhelming to say the least. 300 plus people including a mixture of Sponsors, family and friends braved the London traffic to come and support us and our charity Breast Cancer Care, just 14 days before our departure. The encouragement we received with kind words from so many and with such generous donations to the charity are overwhelming and very much appreciated.

The vast majority of our fantastic London sponsors attended the evening and it was great to talk with as many of them as possible. We are so thankful and lucky to have such a diverse successful group of companies backing us every single one of those 3000 miles. It’s obvious, but we would not be at this stage, about to embark on this adventure of a lifetime without the backing of these companies. So thank you once again.

I have no doubt that when Luke and I inevitably start finding life extremely tough, it will be with the words of the lovely people that we have spoken to along our journey that will lift us out of the pits and spur us on.

2 Boys with Rory Mackenzie who rowed the Atlantic with one leg in 2011 and spoke at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics

2 Boys with Rory Mackenzie who rowed the Atlantic with one leg in 2011 and spoke at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics

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Final preparations

wesee on boat 2Well, we said goodbye to our darling boat Maple Leaf (aka Tracey) almost 2 weeks ago now which means she will be on a container ship heading south to the Canaries where we will greet her in just 3 and a half weeks time!  Putting all the last bits of equipment into her hatches and stowaways really made me appreciate how little space there is on a 24ft rowing boat when you we have to take everything we’ll need to survive for 90 days on the ocean completely unsupported.

When we arrive in Gomera, one of the jobs which Luke and I will have to do is attach on the stickers of the newest recruits to the fleet – our most recent sponsors – Sealords: – Sidley Austin and Buzzacott, and Admirals: Aquila, Advent, Arnold House School and Rees Pollock. Our costs are nearly completely covered now and we are both delighted to be involved with these companies.

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Having completed our 24hr row and cleaned the boat down, it was time to transport her to Lincolnshire for final packing before her shipping to La Gomera on the 14th October.

To tow a 1 tonne, highly fragile and expensive rowing boat on English roads for 3 hours is risky business, but Claire Birch did a brilliant job. However, Luke and I still found ourselves checking over our shoulders every few minutes to make sure our dream hadn’t been smashed off the back by a truck. It was one of the few times I have felt very vulnerable, simply because there are very few ocean rowing boats in the world and even fewer that could possibly be fitted out for rowing in less than 8 weeks. However, we safely and thankfully reached Doddington all in one piece.

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First 24 hour row!

We have been pretty flat out for the last few weeks, but we are almost there with logistical preparation! I have to go back to university today, and then I will be leaving again on the 18th of November, so there are really only 8 weeks left, it will fly by!

Jamie and I have done our first 24 hour row, which was a great experience. We started at about 16:00 last weekend, and rowed down the river crouch with a following wind whilst the tide was also going out. The conditions were favourable and it was a good opportunity to get the jet boil out for the first time and practice eating rations on the deck. I had one spill with a porridge meal, and learnt how difficult it can be to make food if there is a lot of stuff moving around. Its going to be tricky!

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