It might not be obvious when you read our blogs, but whilst the weather during the day has been improving it has still been very tough out here. We are now entering our 5th week at sea and have not had a single day where we have been out of our oilskins for a full 24 hours. Even when the days are good the nights are still rough. We have had some really tough sessions with some horrible squalls and vicious weather. Scott said his New Year’s resolution is never to listen to anything from Rory (from the 2011 crew) – he claims he was advised not to bother brining his oilskins on board for the crossing – apparently “you’ll never need them”. Thankfully he had ignored this piece of advice. We have not been able to swim or relax in the way that we might have hoped and calm days are a rare and mixed blessing. We did have calm weather a day or so ago and that gave us a chance to get in the water and to clean the barnacles off the boat. We are strapped on all the time but that doesn't mean that you lose the eerie feeling looking down into water 5 km deep. The downside of calm weather is that it is also slower. While it is safer, the safest thing of all is to be finished and we still have a way to go to complete this.
If you had told me 2 months ago that we would have been in second place I would never have believed it. Now that we are here in second we still have the same job to do and that is to give 100%. I don’t want points for taking part, and I don’t want special treatment. This is about respect and I hate it when people pity guys like us, when they can’t see past the physical injury. We are here to compete as equals and to show that with the right tactics, teamwork and mind set we can mix it with anyone. Whatever happens we will absolutely do our best and give everything we have, and be that in 2nd or last place the mentality will not change.
Christmas and other highlights
We got our Christmas presents this week - Army speedo’s from Jenks, James gave me juggling balls – v useful for a man with only one functioning hand, and then I got some whisky and mints from my mate Scotty. After the very short high of Christmas, almost immediately ruined by another auto-helm malfunction, we still have things to keep us entertained. Jenks’s recent trip overboard was my highlight of the week. He had just got out of bed and had his sleepy little gerbil eyes on display. He didn’t look too fresh as he appeared from the cabin. Then as I turned around to get ready to changeover with Scott I just heard a ‘plop’ and when I looked back Jenks feet were sticking out of the water and he was head over heels and overboard. This was our 3rd salvation courtesy of the outstanding spinlock lifejacket and strop. Proof that safety is still good on board.
I love rowing and being out here, it’s a pleasant way to pass the time, it’s just a long time. 50 days doesn’t sound like a long time until you are rowing for 2 hours on and 2 hours off without relenting day after day after day. Sometimes the days drag but the weeks seem to go by in a flash. Sunshine in the day is a huge morale boost and being on the home straight is good. Our next waypoint is the finish line in Antigua – only 1241 nautical miles to go. Ha ha! Hopefully we only have about 21 days to go now.
We haven’t really had any lows but an ongoing frustration is the slow collapse of the boat. We have just opened one of the first hatches that hasn’t leaked but many other things have not worked as they should or as we would have liked. These are things we often can’t do a great deal about now so we have to focus on the things we can control. The auto-helm is our key factor and we fear losing that permanently. Without 2 rowers on we will not be able to maintain our speed. Losing the auto-helm means hand-steering, which means only one rower on each shift which means harder rowing. The steering lines are also chafing so we have to replace them before they snap.
Why am I doing this?
It was important to see this kind of stuff when I first got injured, this is the kind of stuff that I live for. Waking up in hospital with no legs and one hand and half your face blown apart makes you question what the future might look like. It makes you wonder whether the adventure is over. Getting involved in this kind of thing gives you something to aim for and the confidence that you can still get involved in seriously challenging things. But you can’t help everybody and even though not everyone can do this, I have seen first-hand the positive impact that this kind of thing has for giving hope to those who are going through their rehab. It can mean little things about getting independence back - they don’t need to row an ocean if they don’t want to!
I was lucky enough to meet Carl, a friend of mine who was also wounded in Afghanistan - his example really set my mind in motion. Carlos is a good bloke so it really helped me trust him. We had a good laugh and we were just good mates. For the first 2 months we just spoke as 2 wounded guys and I didn’t know what he had done. One day he gave me the Row 2 Recovery book and it was brilliant – really inspiring. He had never once brought it up before that point.
Even now that I am out here and even with some hard times there is never a moment when I think I want to get off. My parents have given up on trying to persuade me to change my mind about these kind of challenges and they have instead been very supportive and proud of this. So to all of my family and to everyone who is supporting us thank you so much and Happy New Year!