The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records

 


Ghosts accompany the lonely mariner

BY RICHARD HOLLEDGE

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 03 2001 

The growing problems of Jonathan Gornall of The Times, rowing the Atlantic single-handed and singing along with Jim Morrison 

The Atlantic Ocean, Day 28 
Long 26' 17'; Lat 20' 15' 
Miles travelled 680 Miles to go 1,950 

IT IS quite understandable that a mildly hallucinating transatlantic rower should pass the time of day with another seafaring type: Captain Cook, no less. But Jim Morrison? Jonathan Gornall, a Times journalist, is slogging his way single-handed across the Atlantic in a 24ft rowing boat. After 27 days, 14 of them by himself since his partner gave up, he is a daunting 1,000 miles behind the leaders in the Ward Evans Atlantic Rowing Challenge. The organisers of the race reckon that he will be in Barbados on December 29. It is a long, long haul and one that requires diversions as entertaining as the visit last week by Morrison, legendary lead singer of The Doors, who slithered out of the hatch at the back of the boat and joined Jon in a duet. Jon, sounding less defeated than a week ago and, it must be said, remarkably rational, said: “I was rowing at night. There was a fantastic full moon and I was singing along to my Madonna compilation. I was exhausted but feeling hugely elated when who should join me but the Lizard King of Rock, leather trousers and all. He sang a few tracks of Madonna with obvious disaste so we switched to some of the old Doors greats.” Readers might recall that these include Riders on the Storm and Ship of Fools. This cheering interlude apart, Jon has three problems: the state of his bottom, the state of the bottom of the boat and the shortage of water. We can pass swiftly on from his personal discomfort by reporting that a liberal coating of thick white gunge used for nappy rash, called Sudocrem, helps to cure what sailors apparently call “teak arse”. Star Challenger needed a good scraping, which proved a little more exciting. Jon: “It is very scary to let yourself into the ocean with all that space around and all that water below with just a rope to keep you safe. I spent about 30 minutes making sure there were no sharks. I was terrified.” The water situation is worrying. Because the water-making machine uses so much power, Jon has stopped using it and has been drinking from the containers used for ballast. If he allows the ballast to drop below the equivalent of 150 litres it will make it almost impossible for the boat to right itself should it capsize. He is drinking ten litres a day and expects consumption to increase as the days get hotter. Luckily, the support ship gave him an additional 21 days of water and 15 days of rations yesterday. Back at HQ, the organisers reported him in good spirits. But the water remains a long-term concern for Jon. Should he contemplate filling the containers with salt water as they come empty — he would not then be able to use them for drinking water — or should he find a way to flood the boat’s compartments to maintain the weight of ballast and preserve his precious water? Whatever the solution, the water is brackish and tastes disgusting. Jon: “The only way I can manage to get it down is to imagine I am on Tahiti with Captain Cook. I’m standing on a beach with a cutlass in my hand when a sailor comes running to tell us that he has (this in pure Captain Birds Eye) ‘found a spring with the sweetest water you ever did taste, Cap’n’.” This fantasy world is not an unusual place in which to find the solitary soul. Brett Kahr, of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said: “I find with people who come to see me, once they are in my room and have closed the door on the interruptions that make up our daily lives, they often indulge in fantasies, sometimes childlike flights of fancy involving kings, castles and crusades. “Often in Jon’s situation people react positively to things, take a deep breath and acknowledge what is on their minds. Some find new horizons and new possibilities. “I wouldn’t want to overstate this but I would guess that Jon’s most important relationship is with his boat. It can become as if it is his baby.” Certainly, Jon is haunted by the possibility of having to give up and watch his boat being destroyed so that it would not be a shipping hazard. It is one of the spurs to his endeavour. Despite his heroic cheerfulness yesterday, I detected the first signs that he might, just, be thinking of giving up. “It is a daily — hourly — temptation, but that’s the point: not giving in is the test I have set myself. Nonetheless, I might have to look at things again by the end of the month. I am worried about my son who is in the Marines. Will he be sent off to fight? “I was looking at the pilot’s guide, which had pictures of the Cape Verde Islands, all nice and green with caf?s and palm-fringed beaches. I’m only about 80 miles away, maybe if the wind was to drive me ashore . . .” With that he settled down to a dinner of lamb shank and noodles, washed down by the sweetest water that he and Captain Cook had ever tasted. 


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