TEAM TROIKA TRANSATLANTIC UPDATES
Day 111 - 25 January 2002
I have just been rowing in force 6-7 conditions with force 8 squalls passing through, gusting the winds up to speeds of 42 knots. I was hoping to write something profound for my last diary entry but unfortunately I am so exhausted that it has left me feeling quite numb. I am obviously going to be challenged right to the end. So let me tell you about the news I have heard from Port St Charles and perhaps that will entice more words out of my soggy brain cells!
By Wednesday representatives from four national British newspapers, a host of local journalists and a team from the BBC had descended on Port St Charles. I don't think Andrew knew where to look when the BBC camera man started filming him as he walked off the aeroplane with the rest of the passengers looking on, wondering who he was (they probably thought it was Richard Gere!). The word on the street is that the atmosphere is already quite electric amongst islanders. Two Barbadian newspapers published articles on my finish yesterday asking everyone to head for North Beach to wave me in on Saturday morning. There is even a rumour that the President of Barbados is coming to present me with my finishing award at a cocktail party being thrown on Monday evening.
So how do I feel about all of this? Shocked, amazed and astounded that my little row should create such interest. I feel extremely honoured but slightly bemused and embarrassed as I am not sure what I have achieved really warrants such attention. But as I wrote weeks ago, the enormity of what I have achieved has yet to register with me. I'm not just saying this to be modest this really is how I feel. I have considered preparing myself for an anticlimax at the finish only because I have found in the past that when you look forward to something so much and think about it all the time it occationnaly fails to live up to expectations. By the sounds of it the Barbadians are going out of their way to make this day one of the most special in my life and I am already certain that the last thing it will be is an anticlimax.
I am full of an array of emotions as I approach the finish. I am obviously tremendously excited about tomorrow and can't wait to see my family and this island I have been dreaming of for months. I am also full of sadness that beautiful Troika Transatlantic and I will soon be parting. She has looked after me and protected me through an endless barrage of force 8 squalls, particularly in the past three weeks. For a small plywood boat she's pretty tough. The good news is that she goes back via a container ship to a good home. Alan Watson, a doctor, and Miles Barnet, an RAF pilot, will be rowing her in the next Challenge business Rowing Race to raise money for the Cancer Research Campaign. As Andrew and I both lost our fathers to cancer we are delighted with her quest and hope that they raise lots of money for this worthwhile cause. Knowing this before I left has been a great motivator for me. Giving up would have meant burning the boat at sea and I couldn't let that happen.
Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to you all. Some days receiving your message of support was all that kept me going. I may have been the one doing the rowing but you have all been part of a massive team that has kept the oars in motion.
Yours, with eternal gratitude
PS - If you are hoping to watch the finish on the webcam most of the action should take place between 2-4pm GMT. I am sorry I can't be more accurate but that's the weather for you. The little pontoon you can see next to the big motorboat is where I will land.
PPS - Yes, I did fix the light.
Day 107 - 21st January
I'm so pleased that it is finally Monday and I can put behind me what has been a tense and unhappy weekend. It started disastrously when I got hit by a mammoth wave at 0130 GMT on Saturday morning. The boat tipped up on its side and I was thrown against the port side cabin wall. Although this instantly woke me up, it was the complete pitch blackness that brought me to my senses in an instant and filled me with dread. Troika Transatlantic is never dark due the whopper of a navigation light which is mounted high on the bow. The pitch blackness could mean only one thing; the wave had taken out the navigation light ≠ not good when you're floating in the main shipping lane between North and South America and the navigation light is the one thing that you're relying on to prevent container ships and tankers from running you down.
As I started to weigh up the options, none of them looked that good. Trying to fix a light in the dark with no torch in a storm that could easily have washed me overboard was not top of my list. Riddled with indecision, I called Andrew at what must have been after 3 o'clock in the morning. Thank goodness for satellite phones and supportive husbands - I can't imagine what I must be putting Andrew through at the moment. I have lost count of the amount of times I have called him in tears this weekend. Sleep deprivation after three very rough nights at sea kept me successfully overreacting to everything. My ability to cope seemed to dissolve, causing each day to feel like a lifetime.
On Saturday night, after the cabin got soaked for the second time, I lay on a sodden bed being thrown against the walls of the cabin by a never-ending barrage of 20-foot waves. I couldn't help thinking that I had been in this situation one too many times. I couldn't even take solace from the fact that it's nearly over. I wanted it over then and there. I wanted more than anything to be in a warm dry bed, curled up with Andrew, safe from the raging storm going on around me. I wanted to stop having to be brave and bold and living in a life or death situation. I suppose what I really wanted was to stop having to take care of myself and let someone else do it for me. I'm hoping that this week will be my last week because I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.
I've had such an amazing adventure and I don't want it to end this way. I guess I need to take this opportunity to find that little something extra within me. As I commence this new week, choosing a more positive attitude will be a good place to start.
Deep breath ≠ here I go!
|Subject: Troika Transatlantic Troika Sunday 6th January - Day 92
As I write this update in the half-light of dawn, I find myself repeatedly returning to something Tim Humphreys (Keltec Challenger - finished early December) said to me on the phone a few nights ago. He said, "Enjoy every last moment because the memories fade so very quickly".
I had expected the bad memories to fade the moment my little brown toes touched down on the quayside, but had hoped that the happy memories would stay with me forever. I often wonder why humans have the propensity to quickly forget the bad times, leaving only happy recollections of an event in the forefront of the mind. I see it every day in the messages I receive from Atlantic rowers who have already finished and are back home. Many have said that they are jealous of me still being out here and wish they were back at sea. The reality, though, is that when they were out here, they probably couldn't wait for it to be over
I'm guilty of this myself. My first ever organised adventure was as a 14-year old taking part in the Ten Tors expedition on Dartmoor, organised by the military. Each team is allocated ten tors they must visit in a set order over two days. On completing the bronze 35-mile route, with badly blistered feet and covered in ticks, I said something very similar to those infamous words uttered by Redgrave at the Atlanta Olympics. I hated the pain and declared that I would never put myself through it again. Only a year later, I had signed up for the silver 45-mile route and couldn't wait to go back for more.
As I begin my final three weeks at sea (weather permitting), there is much to savour. I have been blessed with strong winds, which have produced enormous waves and good surface current. I have regularly been surfing along at speeds of up to 8 knots, with a grin so big you could hook the corners of my mouth over my ears ! In these conditions, the boat continues to travel along at between 1-2 knots, even when I am resting, and it's the time off the oars that I savour the most.
Last night, before the moon rose, the sky was at bursting point with stars. I know I won't see starry skies like this back in urban England. The sunrise this morning, as I have been writing, has been as tranquil as ever and has yet again filled me with an overwhelming feeling of contentment. It is moments like these that make all of the hours of loneliness worth it. My only hope is that a small slice of this contentment will stay with me as I am thrust into what is looking like being a hectic return to the real world.
I have been told to expect a number of journalists, photographers and film crews to greet me when I arrive in Barbados. I won't deny that I'm more than a bit concerned about the transition from total isolation to a hive of social and media action. Every time I think about it, I remind myself of part of a quote I was texted:
"-No matter what happens, never act out of character. "
I figure that this has got to be the best course of action I can take.
Now you're all back to work, send Debs a Text www.troikatransatlantic.co.uk
What a relief that Debra is enjoying herself again. The Christmas and New Year period has been pretty difficult and not just for the obvious reasons. On Christmas Eve, the weather started playing up and, although it was OK on the afternoon of Christmas Day itself, there then followed three or four days of light winds at best and a considerable amount of headwinds. For me, Christmas Day was the first one I have spent with my family in 5 years (we normally go to Debra's family) so in many ways it was very nice. For Debra, to be sitting alone in her boat, knowing that everyone else was having Christmas and not even getting anywhere was very hard to bear. And when the twice-(or more)-daily phone calls are filled with tears and frustration, it becomes a lot harder at home.
And then New Year, which as Debra has already described was arranged to be spent with two sets of friends in Cornwall. There's nothing like going away with two couples to make you notice that, temporarily, you're not one ! More frustratingly by far, though, the lovely secluded house we had booked proved to be secluded from all forms of telephone communication - the first time since the yacht took me to Barbados that Debra couldn't call me at any time. The frustration of having to arrange fixed times to take calls, which inevitably didn't work out quite as planned, again made it much harder than it has been before. Many thanks to the Kings and the Wilsons for looking after me and putting up with my moods !
In fact, I would say that both Hayley and I are getting more edgy the nearer Debra gets to the end. Any delay now is a specific day that she won't get there. Anything that looks like it might threaten her achievement at the last, after all the emotion, is hard to bear. Hayley phoned me one morning last week, having had a nightmare about Debra (twins do that). Fortunately, she was all right, but had just that morning called me to say that she had had the roughest night yet and even she had been scared. In the end, the upside was the furthest she has yet gone in 24 hours.
As I write this, Debra has a little over 650 miles to go and it is, unbelievably, almost time to book flights. But there is still more
PR work to do. Through the efforts of our literary agent, Kate, there seems to be quite a lot of potential interest for the book. There have also been a growing number of calls from newspapers, radio and TV stations, who are now starting to talk about deals for exclusive coverage when she arrives. We never thought it would come to this ! I think we are both a little torn between being naturally private people and wanting to tell a good story - and the possible opportunity to pay off some of our debts is undoubtedly a deciding factor.
As I write, a video camera is on its way out to Debs to fill the demand for footage. Who knows what else the next three or so weeks may bring. All I know is that it is nearly over, one way or another, and I for one can't wait.
Wednesday 2nd Jan Day 88
Hoorah! The northeast winds are back with a vengeance. I can't tell you how relieved I am. The slow period over Christmas gave me a lot of time to think and have stern words with myself. I've got to the point where I quite often feel like adopting the foetal position in the cabin and hoping that I'll float into Port St Charles some day, but that won't get me there quickly. It struck me over Christmas that for the sake of my mental and physical health I need to get to Barbados soon and the only way that is going to happen is if I spend more hours at the oars. I had started to drop to ten hours a day and sometimes only managed 8 when my sister texted me this message
"Here's the deal- we've given you your presents. Now you have to give us ours - you in Barbados ASAP. I mean, no dilly-dallying and reading books when you should be rowing. We want a full 12 hours a day Mrs. Veal!"
So in keeping my promise to Hayley I am now back rowing 12 hours a day, storms permitting. I've even started to add an extra 15 minutes here and there on to my rowing shift if I can mange it. I'm on an absolute mission to get to dry land now because there's only so long a girl can spend on her own crossing an ocean. I feel it's also important to get there before I start to resent being out here.
New Year came and went in a stormy fashion - as midnight approached so did the rough weather and I spent the rest of the night trying to avoid being thrown from one side of the cabin to the other. I marked the occasion with a celebratory fig role but other than that it was another typical night on the ocean wave. I did however write an article about it for the Daily Express, which has been published today. I am secretly quite chuffed as having something I've written published in a national newspaper is a first for me.
The strong winds and mountainous waves continued throughout New Year's Day, confining me to the cabin. I can't complain though, as it resulted in my biggest mileage day yet. I'm not at all surprised, as I had to hang on for dear life as the waves pushed me along at a fearsome rate. Actually, violently shoving is a more accurate description than pushing, but as long as it's towards Barbados that's fine by me.
Happy New Year
PS I've missed you all over Christmas and New Year. Now you are back at work there is no excuse not to text me! I look forward to hearing what you got up to over New Year and any other funny stories from the festive season. Please text - it's been lonely without you.
28 December 2001 - Day 83
Christmas Day was wonderful largely due to the forethought of my twin Hayley. Whilst organising my Christmas parcel at the beginning of November she sent out a circular email asking people if they would like to send me a Christmas card that she could include in the aforementioned parcel. The response was unbelievable. She explained that the day after the email went out so many cards arrived that the postman had to ring the doorbell in order to deliver them. They took me two hours on Christmas morn to open and read them all. Thank you so much to everyone who sent a card - they were a joy to read and really made my Christmas. Other great presents included an excellent Santa hat from Adrian Rayson, The Blue Day book from Matt P and Christelle, and a beautiful necklace from Andrew with a small stone pendant carved into the shape of a turtle. My brother Matt sent me a turtle shaped mood ring, a small Christmas pudding, and the words to "My Favourite Things" from the Sound of Music as I would be missing it on TV this year.
Christmas afternoon was filled with ocean rowing in the bright sunshine wearing a bikini and a Santa hat whilst singing "rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens". Beat that for an original way to spend Christmas Day!
The day had started all stormy with head winds but by mid-afternoon it had cleared and the winds came around. Unfortunately this was short lived. The head winds were back again on Boxing Day and I have had to spend much of the past two days with the sea anchor out slowly drifting backwards. I have made little forward progress in the previous five days which will obviously impact on my arrival date in Barbados. I am trying not to think about the possibility that the winds may not return in the near future and know that I must continue to focus on maintaining a positive, but it is becoming very hard. As I approach the three month milestone I am recognising that this journey is slowly wearing me down. Week after week of twelve hours a day hard labour in solitary confinement is taking its toll. My body is screaming for some normality - a rest from rowing, a still bed, a toilet with a seat, regular showers and some fresh food - all the things that the people reading this update probably take for granted. But by the same token, I don't want to wish away what I have out here as it is something extraordinarily special that most people will never have the opportunity to experience. I am truly lucky, I must remind myself of this when the going gets tough.
May your final few days of 2001 be very special.
|Update from Debra Veal, on board Troika Transatlantic
Christmas Eve ≠ Day 79
My Christmas parcel has arrived and what a parcel it is!
Santa (aka Challenge Business yacht #47) arrived at dawn on Thursday. In the pre-dawn I had watched the mast light slowly getting brighter as they sailed towards me and couldn't decide if I was more excited about the Christmas parcel or about seeing friendly faces. Probably the latter.
They launched a dinghy and Gavin and John rowed over with two big bin liners of food and presents for me. I couldn't believe it. The small parcel that had been sent out from the UK had spent some time in the Challenge Business office in Barbados where a number of people had added to it. There were so many goodies that I had to repack the boat to fit it all in. John and Gavin kindly hung on to the side of Troika Transatlantic for 10 minutes so that we could have a face-to-face chat, which was wonderful. When the time came for them to row back to the yacht I wanted to give them a big hug but I guess I am a bit out of practice at socialising and felt too embarrassed. Most unlike me! I was really sad to see them go this time.
Later, as I watched their sails disappearing in to the horizon already feeling a bit emotional because of everyone's kindness, Troika was suddenly surrounded by dolphins, maybe as many as thirty. I tried to count them but they move so fast. Seeing them up so close two things struck me. The first was that they are very small and the second was what wonderful characters they are. They are enormously playful in the way they move and seem to have constant grins on their faces. Two of them leapt out of the water and completed front flips, landing with big splashes. I couldn't believe what I had just seen. To watch this is in the wild was magical and at that point it all just got too overwhelming. I stood there with the biggest smile on my face, crying tears of happiness, feeling like the luckiest person alive.
The come down from this terrific day and having got under 1000 miles to go was always going to be rough. But it has been made worse by frustrating weather conditions. The heat has been unbearable whilst the wind has been dropping over the past five days with my mileage following suit. Last night I became completely becalmed. The boat was motionless all night. I can't stress enough how unusual this is. It allowed me to have my first full night's sleep in two and a half months.
Today the wind started to build from the south dropping my rowing speed to 0.5 knots. It has just taken me two hours to row one nautical mile by which time the wind had swung round to the Southwest and I am currently losing that mile that I worked so hard to gain. I have just received a weather report from John Searson confirming that I am in for head winds until boxing day. The power anchor has gone out and I am coming to terms with having a relaxing Christmas without any rowing. I had been wondering whether to take Christmas dayoff ≠ it seems the decision has been made for me. Luckily I have plenty of books to read thanks to the crew on the Challenge yacht and have Christmas decorations to put up that were in my parcel. The tinsel is Troika blue! Let's just hope that I don't drift back over the 1000 miles to go mark. But as Andrew optimistically reassured me, if I do I'll have the pleasure of reaching that milestone all over again. Hmmmmm!
Merry Christmas from le Grande Bleu,
A few hellos:
To all the Richard and Judy show viewers that have texted me ≠ thank you very much.
To Dave and Charlie ≠ congratulations on your engagement. Wonderful news.
To my Cousin Christopher ≠ no one tells me anything! Let me know all the details when he/she is born!
To Kathy in NYC and your music students ≠ thanks for following my progress. Keep making music.
Matt Wallis ≠ Thank you so much for your message. I'm so glad you are on the road to recovery.
To all at St Margaret's School in Exeter ≠ great to hear that you are following my progress. Test messages from past pupils are bringing back to fantastic memories.
Stephanie Hall ≠ thinking back to your swimming lessons makes me smile.
Merry Christmas to Year 6 at St Clements in Jersey.
Istvan ≠ thanks for the Hungarian lessons. I'm not sure I'm pronouncing the words quite right though.
Aad ≠ Hayley is very well and is also very married!
Bruce Parry ≠ thanks for spreading my news. Have had some great texts from your friends mostly about you dressing up in women's clothing. No change there then!
Nicola U ≠ Top news about Richmond Park. Well done ≠ it only gets easier!
Caroline at Appeal PR ≠ Brilliant news about the half marathon. Let me know how you get.
To all my family and close friends ≠ Merry Christmas. You are in my thoughts constantly.
There was a time when I used to look forward to mealtimes but those days have long gone. The food situation on board is pretty desperate. It's not that I don't have enough food as I have plenty, but I have plenty of the same food and herein lies the predicament. Back in the hazy days of the Ward Evans Atlantic Challenge when Andrew was on board, we had planned to complete this race in 4 to 6 weeks. Therefore, each of the four recipes making up our main meals would only have to be consumed a small number of times, even though we were carrying enough to cover us for 120 days.
Now that I am into my third month of eating these four meals repeatedly, I can say with absolute certainty that I hate three out of the four with a passion and hope never to eat these meals again for as long as I live. One of the meals, beef stew and dumplings, I have to endure more regularly as we have large quantities of this meal. Initially, I quite liked it but now just the smell of it's sickly syrupy sauce makes me feel quite queasy.
Each morning I open my new daypack desperately hoping that it won't be another night of beef stew and dumplings. Five nights in a row is the worst I have had to endure, only to open my daypack on the sixth day to a golden vegetable and dumplings. Yes folks, you've guessed it, this tastes exactly the same as beef stew and dumplings, minus the beef. Frankly, I can find nothing golden about it. The third recipe is vegetable curry, which I swear they have forgotten to put the vegetables in. And finally, the saving grace of meal times, Chile Con Carne. I have now almost perfected the art of taking a mouthful of food and swilling it down with water before I taste it or feel the syrupy texture.
The most amazing thing just happened. I left this diary entry half written to return to the oars for my 3-6pm shift and when I climbed out of the cabin I noticed the sails of a yacht in the distance. I've seen a number of yachts on the horizon recently taking part in the ARC but none of them have seen me or responded to my calls on the VHF radio and I have consequently stopped getting my hopes up. However, I watched for an hour as it sailed directly towards me until it became obvious that it wouldn't miss me. I dashed into the cabin to put some clothes on just as they started to drop their sails, a sure sign that they were stopping for a chat.
The Seventh Heaven is skippered by a French guy called Plume and he had picked up a lovely young British couple to crew with him while in Los Gigantes. They set sail on the 2nd December and are also heading for Barbados but are then moving to another Island. I think the couple were called Pete and Sarah but I was so excited and overwhelmed to be having this unexpected contact with other humans that I wasn't really concentrating. When they discovered that I had been at sea for 2 ½ months Sarah ran off to the galley to fetch me a loaf of freshly baked bread and some white chocolate biscuits. Only two hours ago I was writing about my desperate food situation, and now I'm gorging myself on fresh bread and jam. Somebody up there is definitely watching over me.
As they sailed away, I was kicking myself for not taking down an email address for Pete and Sarah (?). They intend to spend some time in the Caribbean and hope to find some work there.
There's something strange about meeting people unexpectedly like that in the middle of an ocean. I feel as though I've made some lifelong friends even though I met them only briefly and have no way of getting in touch with them in the future. So if anyone out there knows a young British couple who are sailing to the Caribbean on a yacht called Seventh Heaven please text or email. I know it's a long shot but I'd love to get in touch with them again and I'm hoping that they might be able to join us for the celebrations in Port St. Charles when I arrive in January. Otherwise they will never know just how grateful I am for the bread and biscuits (they taste out of this world) and for ten minutes of their time when my world has recently been so solitary.
There is a rumour that Santa (aka Challenge yacht 47) may be visiting me tomorrow with my Christmas parcel. Obviously yachts are like busses, you wait for ages and then two come along in close succession. Nothing has happened for weeks and all of a sudden I'm a busy girl, what with TV interviews and all! There's certainly no chance of me feeling lonely this week but next week may be a different story all together. I'm expecting the text to drop off dramatically as you will no doubt be busy celebrating Christmas with your families. IF you do happen to have a PC at home I would really love to hear from youÖ. bad cracker jokes, what films are on TV, who makes it to the Christmas number one spot on Top of the Pops, which flavour Quality Street are left in the bottom of the tin, what the Queen has to sayÖ. all the usual stuff. Please don't forget about me. I'll be the one still rowing.
Merry Christmas to you all.
If you would like to ring Debra around the Christmas and New Year
|Well, I've been meaning to write this for several days now but, of
the many positive features of going back to work, leaving me with a lot of spare time has not been one! And then, so many things have
started happening that it's hard to know where to beginÖ
So, starting with the best thing of all - Debra's rapidly improving rate of progress. Sometime this weekend she will pass through 40 degrees West; an almost unimaginable milestone when she was stuck for so long in the 20's. Even the organisers' pessimistic calculations are starting to show her getting to Barbados in January now and we reckon our long-time estimate of the 18th still won't be far wrong. Still a bit early to buy the tickets, but sometime this week she should be into her final month.
There were quite a few e-mails at that time asking why Debra's course appeared to be looping the loop, so here goes. One of the principal features of this race is that the prevailing winds and currents are directly with you. It's not actually possible to row the boats into a significant headwind and/or adverse current and make any progress. The race is also designed to take place "just after" the hurricane season, which is normally only of interest as you approach the Caribbean. However, this year we saw two unseasonally late hurricanes start around the Caribbean and track their way across the North Atlantic, upsetting the normal weather patterns over thousands of miles. The Azores high, which normally controls the weather in mid- Atlantic, shifted over towards Northern Europe, giving great weather for those of you in the UK in late October / early November, but the net effect down at the race latitudes was the disappearance of the North-Easterly trade winds and several weeks of unusually light, but constantly shifting, winds and waves. You will remember from Debra's diary that she was trying to get South to find better weather, so the worst few days were the Southerly winds pushing her back again, particularly when they moved round to the South West and caused her to go minus one mile in a day.
Now it's been about three weeks since the weather sorted itself out and the wind has been fairly consistently from the North East. As a result, the waves are moving in the right direction and generating surface current. Even more excitingly, at the latitudes Debra is now reaching, the spin of the Earth produces the Northern Equatorial Current, which should provide a further boost in the right direction. She may yet speed up a little further !
The other major topic of conversation since I got back has been why I got off in the first place. For lots of well-intentioned reasons, the version of events that appeared on our web-site was somewhat edited from the report that Debra and I originally phoned back to the UK. In short, it was much more of a mental problem than a physical one.
After our great start on the first day, rowing well through the relatively calm waters in the lee of the Canary Islands, we hit the "acceleration zone" where all the winds that have funnelled around the islands come back together and stir it up. That was where I first discovered that I was really scared of being at sea in a small boat. However, someone had said to us at the start that "the first five days are the worst", so Debra and I talked it through and agreed to give it five days and see how we got on. Some days were better than others, and it was awesome when we saw dolphins and turtles or sang as we rowed under the stars, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that every slap of a rope or a wave against the side of the boat was something breaking. That, combined with the lack of sleep caused by the much-documented size-of-cabin problem meant that, even after a week, things were getting pretty grim. At about that time, we discovered in the first aid pack some anti-anxiety drugs and decided I would try those for a while. On the same day, one of the support yachts came past, having been notified by our support crew that I was having a few difficulties, and asked if I would like to get off.
I wasn't quite ready to give up at that point. They were taking a crew from one of the other boats, which had called it a day, back to Tenerife after having scuttled their boat, and said it would be another week before they could come back. So we said thanks but no thanks, but it would be nice to see them again in a week. The drugs helped for a while - indeed, they took the edge off things nicely, but really that just enabled me to take a calmer view of things Debra and I to talk realistically about whether I should carry on.
We thought of Chay Blyth's oft-quoted speech about "rowing along, looking at your little brown toes and asking yourself if you're as happy as you can possibly be." One of us was, the other wasn't. In the end, it was pretty obvious what should happen - life's too short to be that miserable ! But then, we got on to discussing what Debra would do. She wasn't about to give up on her dream. Knowing that I'd be fine on the yacht because we'd spent time on them before, she said she'd like to try on her own. At the time she thought she probably wouldn't be able to cope with being alone for long, but wanted to try for a few days and see how it went. If it didn't work out, we'd turn it into a transatlantic sailing holiday ! I didn't think she'd like it either, but I certainly wasn't about to stop her trying, so after 14 days at sea, we parted company - even closer for the experience and probably expecting to see each other again a few days later.
The rest, you've read about. But the funny thing has been the escalation in publicity since I got back. I know I said I was going to try and build some in advance of the increasingly likely book, but I hadn't expected to kick off quite such a palaver by telling a couple of journalists that the reason I got off was because I was scared ! There hasn't been a single friend, relative, person whose views I would normally care about, or anyone from the race itself who has been anything other than extremely supportive and understanding about the whole thing. Most have taken the "At least you tried" approach, while one or two have gone so far as to say "It's a lot braver just to say you had a real problem with it than to pretend you were injured or something".
However, I guess that doesn't make for good headlines, so there will no doubt continue to be some mildly embarrassing press coverage. But if it sells the book, it doesn't really matter if a few people whose idea of a big adventure is a rollercoaster ride want to make a big thing out of it. It's at time like these that you really appreciate your friends and, I have to say, I've got some great ones.
Thanks to you all.
|Day 71 - Sunday 16th December
I can't tell you how exciting it is to plot my position on the chart these days. For so long, it looked as though I was never going to get away from the coast of Africa and the Cape Verde Islands. I was making such slow progress without the trade winds that I resorted to only plotting my position every ten days. Even then I developed a technique of only unrolling the chart from the Africa side, leaving the rest rolled up, because to see the whole journey laid out in front of me, with so much ocean in between me and Barbados, was just too demoralising. But, now there is more ocean behind me than in front of me, it is becoming a real pleasure to spread the chart across the cabin and see how far I have come.
Today I am celebrating a big milestone (although I have nothing to celebrate with !) During the early hours I reached 40 degrees of longitude. The Atlantic chart only marks degrees in denominations of 10 so I've crossed another big square and reached the thick line that represents 40 degrees West. The 30s have gone unbelievably quickly in comparison to the 20s, which felt as though they had a vice-like grip on me. To put it into context, it took me just under six weeks to get from 20ºW to 30ºW, but only 20 days from 30ºW to 40ºW. This significant difference is due to the trade winds and currents. Had they been prevalent from the beginning, I guess I would be there by now.
I remember getting a phone call when I was at 23ºW from Tim and Jo on Keltec Challenger. They were really happy because they had just crossed 40ºW. I was pleased for them but couldn't help thinking that it would be many weeks, even months, before I reached that milestone. It has been many weeks, but I'm here now and it feels absolutely fantastic. What is even more exciting is that, in just a few days time, I will have less than 1,000 miles to go. This may still seem like a lot but, with a total journey of just under 3,000 miles, the thought of only having hundreds of miles remaining, rather than thousands, is inducing a very large grin.
Everything kicked off in a big way with the media of Friday. After a full page story on page 3 of The Express (that's right folks - I can now claim to be a page 3 girl !) and coverage in the Evening Standard, the phone calls came in thick and fast. You'll laugh at this next bit - it now seems we will appearing on the Richard & Judy show on Monday (5pm, Channel 4). Well, I won't actually be appearing of course, but Andrew will be in the studio while I contribute via satellite phone. When I asked Andrew how he felt about this, he replied "Life just seems to be getting a little bit surreal" ! Keep an eye also on The Times newspaper later this coming week and the Independent on Sunday.
There's still no sign of my Christmas parcel, but I'm assured that it's on its way. Apparently Hayley enclosed some Christmas decorations for me to decorate the boat. I look forward to putting them up, but I'm not sure how Christmassy I will feel. I've been racking my brains as to what I can have for my Christmas meal, but the closest thing I have to turkey is a chicken-flavoured Cup-a-Soup. How sad is that ! At least it will be an alternative Christmas to remember.
Revelling in forty-degrees-westness,
PS Don't forget to sign your text messages !
A few hellosÖ
Becky Howells - fantastic to hear from you. Where are you living and what are you up to now ?
Anyone else who attended Hazeldown Primary School, Teignmouth who may be reading - it would be great to hear from you.
A huge thank you to everyone at Mutley Baptist Church for your prayers.
Helynne Foster - congratulations on your engagement. I can't wait to see you all in April.
Emma and Rob C - good luck with the house move on the 21st.
|Update from Debs onboard Troika Transatlantic
14th December- Day 69
"You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose site of the shore." Anon (Thank you Jenna)
I am now the proud owner of more virtual hugs than anyone else in the world. I didn't mean to worry you all with my last update but I have to admit it made me feel a whole lot better to put it into words and get it off my chest. I try to always make my updates positive but this can sometimes be quite wearing when things aren't going that well. I've had more responses from that diary update than any of the others I have written. My phone can only hold 30 messages and each time I cleared the inbox, it filled up straight away with another 30 messages. Thank you so much to everyone who sent me encouraging words. You really cheered me up. Sometimes I forget just how many people there are out there who are following my progress and willing me on.
Mike, you are so right. Despair does come just before enlightenment. When we are stripped bare and are at our lowest we have the opportunity to look at ourselves in our true colours. How lucky I am to have the opportunity to do this so thoroughly! I'm learning an enormous amount about myself and what I am capable of achieving. I have been pushed beyond my fear threshold and comfort zone so many times during this voyage but it is only since being pushed to these outer limits that I have discovered how strong my mind is.
It has made me realise how often in the past I may have chosen the easy option because I wasn't aware of my mental strength or perhaps I had a fear of failing. Choosing the easy option is something we all do from time to time if we're honest but I realise now that it can never be the most rewarding option and can ultimately lead to regret.
There was a time in my life when I chose the easy option that stands out in my mind from any other. It happened during the Summer I spent in the French Alps climbing and Kayaking with my good friend Mike Barker. Mike was my climbing guru. He had far more experience and was highly qualified in this field so I was often aware that I was holding him back. One of the peaks we hoped to 'bag' was Barre des Ecrins standing at just under 3000 metres. The walk in had been a long one up the side of the Glacier Blanc and had taken most of the day. My feet felt unbearably heavy as we walked the approach to the bivy site, a rocky area off to one side of the glacier. Even at that altitude the air felt thin and my breathing was laborious. My strides were so short by this point that it must have seemed that I was hardly moving.
Mike was incredibly patient and encouraging but I still couldn't stop the doubts in my head that were repeatedly telling me that I couldn't make it and that I was becoming a burden on Mike's adventure.
We bivyed down just under the summit along with many other groups of climbers. This was a typical summit climb. We had planned to get up at 3am and start our ascent as would everyone else, reaching our goal and descending again before the sun came up and melted the snow and ice on the summit. But before we even went to sleep I informed Mike that I didn't have the strength to make it. At that time I thought that I didn't have the strength in my body but looking back it's obvious that the lack of strength was purely in my mind for this voyage has taught me that where the mind goes, the body follows.
I had chosen the easy option and as I watched the other groups ascending roped together, ice axes in hand and little head torches bobbing up and down in the darkness, I felt enormous regret. I still have a postcard picturing that mountain in a box at home and I often look at it to remind myself that the easy option is never the right option. While sitting on the balcony watching the sunset one evening before we left Tenerife, I looked out to sea and promised myself that no matter what happened during this race, I would not take the easy option.
I'm not sure if this garbled story is really getting across what I had hoped it would. Essentially, what I suppose I'm saying is please don't worry about me having lonely days for I am richer for the experience.
A few 'Hellos'
Matt Jess- your words meant so much to me and were very powerful. I'm now drinking every 15 minutes and thinking of you. Thank you for sharing what I needed to hear.
Aad- Your English is amazing. Thanks for all your words.
Juliane- An island for 3 months with 21 others? I'm intrigued. Tell me more!
Who are my NYC Friends?? Expose yourselves!!
Who is sending me messages from Barney the Turtle?
To Brian on the USS Theodore Rosevelt. Wow, I got text messages from a pilot on an aircraft carrier. How Top Gun! Do you look like Tom Cruise?! Thank you, I know it can't be easy for you to get internet access.
Great to hear from members of my old year 9 Lacrosse team. Hello to you all.
To Istvan, Simon, Christian, Jude, Jo and all the other crews who have finished- A big well done to you all and thank you for your encouragement. Please keep in touch as I may be out here some time and I know you know what that's like.
To Alex Hodges and all at Tideway Scullers- Thanks for following my progress. I feel in part that I can blame you all fro getting me into this mess as you taught me how to scull. Only joking, I still think about your teaching points as I'm rowing along now
Yours feeling philosophical but happy,
|Before you read this, think back to what
you were doing on 7th October, and then imagine not having done anything
except for rowing since.
Update from Debra Veal on board Troika Transatlantic
10 December - Day 65 at sea
The loneliness I have felt in the past 10 days has been almost unbearable. The initial excitement of having reached December has evaporated and I am left with an empty feeling and days that drag on painfully slowly. Prior to this, the past two months had flown by so I ve been surprised at the brick wall I seem to have come up against. Try as I might, I don t seem to be able to fill this empty hole which has developed within me. However, in more rational moments I remind myself that this is only to be expected after 2 months of solitude.
I haven't had any physical contact with another human being since 20 October when Andrew left the boat. As a fairly tactile person this is something I am finding difficult to live without. You don t realise how much physical contact you have with others on a daily basis, even simply brushing past someone on the train, until you are you are completely isolated. A number of people have asked me what I would like for Christmas & a hug would certainly be quite high on the list right now.
My twin sister, Hayley, has put together a Christmas parcel for me that has been flown to Barbados and put on Challenge yacht #24. I was expecting it last week but unfortunately the yacht had to return unexpectedly to Barbados. I know this event has been one of the things that has set off my loneliness and I only have myself to blame. In my mind I had attached great importance to this parcel for two reasons. Firstly, it contains photos of Andrew and my family and secondly, because to receive it would mean having contact with other people. The only photos I brought on board were photos of my Dad sitting on his boat Rio Luna which was his pride and joy. I take them with me everywhere as he is no longer with me and they remind me of what it really means to fight for your dreams. I didn t bring photos of the rest of my family because I expected to only be away for a short time and certainly didn t bring any of Andrew as I thought I would have the real McCoy on the boat with me.
As with so many things in life, when we pin too much hope to an event, we inevitably set ourselves up for disappointment. I was so looking forward to seeing some friendly faces last week and the yacht coming to see me had consumed much of my thoughts for some time. But I won t make that mistake again.
Normally the ocean and its inhabitants are a great source of company but since the wind and the waves have got bigger some week s back there has been little signs of other life forms. I miss the turtles and the whales and know that their absence is adding to my loneliness.
There is no doubt that being at this emotional low point in my journey is having a dramatic effect on me in every way. My body seems to be rejecting food and water, which is worrying, as I have already lost a fair amount of weight. I have been struggling to drink 1 litre of water a day when I should be drinking 8-10 litres per day. Consequently I feel weak and rowing seems harder than ever. I just can t fight with the waves while I am like this and seem to be constantly dissolving into tears whilst sitting at the oars. Every minor task that needs attending to seems like a major hurdle and brings with it even more bottom-lip trembling.
But within the depths of my current despair one thing remains as solid as an old English Oak tree and that is my belief that I will row all the way to Port St Charles, Barbados. There is no doubt in my mind what-so-ever that I will make it and nothing could make me give up now. I am more determined than ever and know that with patience I will receive the most overwhelming feeling of achievement that no one will ever be able to take away from me and that will make all of the lonely days worth it. I keep thinking of a quote that was painted on the bulkhead of the Atlantic rowing boat Bright Spark who came sixth in the race. It said something along the lines of nothing great is achieved easily .
Yours, in need of a hug
|The text service is www.iridium.com
and the number is 881631447972 Please use as often as possible
Day 61 Thursday 6 December
"Perpetual optimism is force multiplier" Colin Powell (cheers Adrian).
The raindrops are really big and fat in the mid-Atlantic. I have decided that rain comes in to forms out here - consistently hard and the bizarrely random. Some days I'll be rowing along in the bright sunshine when suddenly raindrops are falling from what I thought was a clear blue sky only to look up and discover a wafer thin cloud directly above me. The sun will still be shining while the fat drops fall on my birthday suit (NB - there's a good reason for naked rowing. See earlier diary entry for explanation). It is quite a sensation for the few minutes it lasts so I dash to put the Red Hot Chile Peppers song "Naked in the Rain" on the stereo to live the moment, whilst trying not to wince as each drop hits me feeling more like a cup full than a drop.
The consistently hard rain is what I am experiencing today and there is nothing bizarrely random about it. It started at 0130 hours and can only be described as torrential. It rained so hard that it managed to penetrate the inner sanctum of my cabin in two places during the early hours of the morning. The noise of the rain driving against the plywood cabin was thunderous. Though in the occasional bright flash of sheet lightning and all in all it was quite a dramatic night. Little sleep was had but somehow the rain has given me a new vigour for my adventure. I had been feeling lonely and emotional for most of yesterday as I hit the 60 days at sea mark, but the rain seems to have washed those feelings away. I am wrapped up in my Musto waterproofs, fleecy collar pulled up over my ears, very happy as I row along in the rain. The spray on my face is refreshing and makes me feel so alive.
Unfortunately the rain seems to have brought a change of wind direction with it. I have achieved hundreds of miles in the last week or so, finally pushing me past the half way mark thanks to the strong northeasterly winds. Now the winds are from the south-southeast, which is slowing my progress, but at least I am not going backwards. Perhaps the wind will swing back to the favourable northeast again soon. Until they do I'll have to work hard to earn every mile westward but then I'm used to that.
I have started to get text messages from competitors who have not only finished the race but are also back in their own countries, such as Paul, one half of the Australian team "Freedom" who came in second place. Wow, I must be really slow!
Someone texted me saying that it must be hard for me now that so many of the crews are finishing Actually, it's not. This week Team Manpower and Yantu had an amazingly close finish. Incredible after a race of nearly 3000 miles. I was also really happy for American Star and Istvan and Simon on UniS that they were all united with their loved ones on Tuesday. I love hearing about the finishes and often call the race office in Barbados to get the juicy details from Teresa (Race Manager). I get so excited and feel an overwhelming happiness for each crew that finishes. I wonder if I will be the last to finish? Probably! Although I got within one mile of team Kaos this week. Watch your tail Malcolm and Ben - I'm still after you!
Hellos and thank yous.
Thanks to everyone who has sent me quotes, jokes and suggested book titles. Please keep them coming.
Alan Aldridge - I'm gutted that I am missing your usual Christmas/Birthday bash. Have a good one! I'll be thinking of you.
Congratulations to Gary and Collette on finally tying the knot.
Verity and Sarah Y - how's the lacrosse team doing this year?
Juliane B - great news of little one on the way.
Hello to all fellow dragon boaters. I'm so pleased to hear that the reunion has been postponed until February.
Amanda S - I love your text messages. Please can you send me an overview of what happened on the DB scene last season and details of where the next Europeans and Worlds are being held.
To Caroline at Troika - Good luck and farewell. What will Troika do without you? You always knew the answer to everything.
Ian - brilliant news about your place in the London marathon. To you and all others training for the marathon keep pounding those streets and I'll keep rowing along with you every mile of the way.
Marcus F - Cheers for your text. Your messages always keep me laughing. Will we see you and Mark H at Henley 2002. Hope so!
To all of the BB's and their families - your support has been fantastic. We owe you all a big dinner.
Sarah D - Love your story about trousers down.
To the Wilsons - Very excited about your move to pastures green in both senses.
Happy belated birthday Em.
Hi Soph - love to you and your mum.
Nicola U - Feel privileged to be dinner party topic of conversation for Christchurch folk!
Matt N - Moby Dick and Jaws in text messages were awesome. Did you have to read the entire book first? Can't wait for Robinson Crusoe.
Yours, smiling in the rain
|There are strangers to me from all over the world who have sent and continue
to send text messages and emails encouraging me on my voyage. I even had a
phone call from a stranger at the weekend! (Hi Captain Nove!) My regular stranger from South Africa David G sends me long correspondents over many
text messages to the point where he is no longer a stranger and I feel like
I have known him for years. Last week he told me a great story about his daughter's Christmas present list and connected reality issues over the big
guy in red. He also pointed out that receiving text messages from someone I
am never likely to meet while in a rowing boat mid-Atlantic must be strange.
I suppose it is but, as with the unusual taste of the drinking water that I
purify from sea water, I have grown accustom to it. It is all part of the
charm of the experience and has a wonderful way of provoking thought.
Just last week alone I have received messages from New Zealand, Australia, USA, South Africa, an Irish pub in Germany and many from the UK. Each name has a whole life behind it - family, job, hobbies, home, favorite songs, dreams and aspirations - and this is where the thoughts begin.
I spend endless hours rowing along wondering what Claire from Florida looks like or what kind of beers Robert O'Caseys is serving in his pub in Einsbergh, Germany. Wouldn't it be awesome if I could find out how right or wrong I am ? All this thinking is cumulating into what could be a great idea. It strikes me that all my strangers know what I look like, by visiting the webstite, and by the end of this adventure they will have a pretty good idea of my personality, my likes and dislikes and some of my history as I unfold bits of myself in this diary.
So wouldn't it be great to turn the tables and uncover the lives of my strangers and to find out if I imagined them correctly. I could travel round the world visiting just one or two in each country and thank them personally for their support and discover how on earth they found out about my voyage in the first place. Each will have their own stories to tell. It would be fascinating as I am sure the strangers will be as diverse as the countries they live in. All I need now is to win the lottery so I can pay for all the flights because I certainly won't be rowing from country to country! I think it could make a brilliant documentary, so if any wealthy TV Execs are out there reading this......
Yours, with maybe too much time to think,
|Latest update from Debra Veal on board
1 December 01
Move aside men and let me show you how it should be done! Apparently I was the second fastest boat in the fleet on Wednesday. Who needs two big strong guys in a boat when you can go faster with just one ickle me? I could tell you that this was largely due to the front-runners being held up by hurricane Olga while I was surfing at speeds of up to 12 knots down some wapping great big waves, but lets not dwell on these minor details. Details, schmetails! I was very fastÖ. Let's leave it at that!
Here is another great fact; on Tuesday I achieved a record breaking 43 nautical miles in 24 hours. I've also achieved similar distances on all other days this week. I feel like I am finally being rewarded for my weeks of patience. Playing in the big surf everyday is awesome and I am completely in my element. Surely I was born for this!
Can you believe it is the first of December today? I have now been at sea for two months in which time you will have been exposed to endless Christmas TV ads, shops full of Christmas presents and Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. I feel relieved at having missed out on the usual over-commercialisation of Christmas. It is the one thing that really drives me crazy about the UK. Why do we have to start Christmas in September? This year for me the best thing about it being December is being able to say to Andrew "see you next month." Psychologically it was quite hard being out here alone in October and November knowing that I wouldn't see Andrew and my friends and family until January or possibly even February. But now I only have a month and a bit to go. I know the time will fly by so I am savouring every moment, every sun set and sunrise and al of the other special moments in between. Like watching the large swordfish that was enjoying the surf yesterday with me yesterday. As he swam off the stern I realised that the food chain had just got bigger. The Dorados were under the boat trying to eat the flying fish, the sword fish was following in an attempt to eat the Dorado's, I just hope that some enormous great thing doesn't start following the sword fish or we might both be next in the food chain!
By the end of this weekend I will have reached the half way mark but I'm already well over half way in terms of time remaining. The second half of the Atlantic is generally much quicker and even more so for me as I have had such unfortunate winds for the first 1250 miles. I also have the Equatorial current to look forward to but the wind is the biggest factor. I'm heading for a mid-January ETA but this could reduce to the first week to 10 days of January if I can do 40+ NM per day consistently. Pete King, my personal statto, came up with a great statistic yesterday. For each one nautical mile I do over 30 nautical miles per day I shave 2 days off my arrival date. What an incentive - one more nautical miles = 2 days less away from Andrew.
My ships logbook only has 60 days worth of pages, so I only have four pages left. I wrote the date and number of days at sea on the pages of a note book that is to become logbook No. 2 and took the liberty of writing in only days 61 to 100 as I am determined to complete this challenge in under 100 days. Christmas day will be day 80 with day 100 falling on Monday 14 January 2002. It is going to be close.
A few hellos:
To David G and others who send me riddles or puzzles - probably best to assume I haven't got it and send the answer 24 hours later so that I can stew on it as I row. It makes the time pass more quickly.
It has been wonderful to hear from past pupils and the parents of pupils I have taught. I think of you all often as I am rowing along. Hello the Lee and Walls families and to Poppy H.
Amber Andrews - what are you up to? Text me!
It has also been fantastic to hear from rowers who took part in the first ever Atlantic Rowing Race in 1997. In particular thanks to Tim Welford for this many words of wisdom and Isabel Duckwoth and Mark Mortimer for their encouraging words.
To Tracey and Adam and Beverly and Neil - Congratulations on your engagements.
Beverly - I might just make it with a good following wind!
Fordee - Great story about your daughter's School Ergo Competition. But not such a good story about all the business you've given to the enemy! Looking forward to discussing business and rugby with you over a pint at the Tup.
Troika Skiing Trip in March - YES, YES, YES!
Lizzie B - WOW!
Yours, playing in the waves
| Day 53
Wednesday 28th November
The wind and the waves have been relentless since I last wrote but are thankfully still from the North East and are assisting me very nicely in my progress towards the island of rum. I reached an all-time new record of 8.2 knots yesterday while surging along on a particularly large wave. I d love to get a photo of what it looks like as the walls of water appear over the back of the cabin and keep on rising, but I know it won t do them justice. As I sit in the trough, looking up at the mountainous waves, the sheer power of them is overwhelming. Some look the size of houses as they race towards me and I find them awe-inspiring. How I long to be in a surf kayak as I watch them come and go, but I d soon get munched if I were !
The downside to the waves is that everything is covered in salt and I have jobs to do that aren t possible in these conditions - for example, the watermaker seems to have temporarily broken and I need a calm day to fix it. But I must be patient and count my blessings, for last week I was able to achieve three times the miles I achieved the week before, thanks to these winds and waves. Could these finally be the trade winds ? It looks like it fingers crossed that they are here to stay.
There has been a constant flow of e-mails and text messages asking if I m going to, or suggesting that I should, write a book about my adventures on the high seas. Ironically, it has always been Andrew, rather than me, who has wanted to write a book. In fact I discovered only recently that he once planned out a whole book on a flight back from Australia. I, on the other hand, have never had any desire to write a book, but I m definitely softening to the idea. I ve enjoyed immensely writing these diary updates. What I m experiencing daily is so amazing that I find myself wanting to share every moment with you. I m also learning a great deal and I feel certain that these lessons are generic and could be passed on. I m writing more than I m sending back so there is plenty of material to work with. I think I ll save my decision until I ve spoken to some friends in the publishing industry, although I find it ironic that I could even consider it as English was one of my worst subjects at school. Or perhaps I just
had the wrong English teacher (harsh but fair ?).
In the meantime, let s play with the idea for a while. Does anyone have any suggestions for a title ? RH has suggested "A wife on the ocean wave" which made me chuckle. Please send any suggestions to my satellite phone. (You can text my phone for free via the Iridium website from www.troikatransatlantic.co.uk. For those of you who are new to my updates, I should explain that texting direct from mobile phones doesn t always seem to work.) Rude or inappropriate titles will not be considered but will definitely make me laugh so send them anyway !
To finish with, I d like to leave you with a quote sent by Clare Smales at the Mail on Sunday, which seems to be a particularly poignant one for Andrew as he returns to friends and colleagues who will undoubtedly ask him what happened. He dared greatly nuff said.
|Update from Andrew
26th November 2001
Strange to be home
Well, of all the experiences I've had over the last two months, I don't think any can be more weird than finally being back home. (Except, perhaps, reading all the different versions of everything that's happened in the papers.) I finally got back to London on Friday, nine weeks to the day since we first left for Tenerife. After a fraught two weeks in Tenerife, which you've read about before, and two weeks on the rowing boat, which will need some separate discussion all of their own, there followed four weeks on the two Challenge yachts and a week in Barbados.
Forty days at sea. Under any other circumstances, that would be quite an adventure in its own right. Indeed, part of the reason for not getting off the rowing boat earlier was to make sure I didn't get taken back to Tenerife, but at least made it across the Atlantic one way or another. Even the experienced sailors were finding it a long trip - there aren't many reasons these days to go to sea for that long - and the crew of #47 are still out there. Look out Barbados when they finally get in.
As for leaving one's wife in the middle of the Atlantic, what can I say ? (Mind you, I've met a couple of people in the last few weeks who considered it an exceptional achievement !) While I was on the yachts and still visiting other rowing boats, it didn't seem like such a big separation. In Barbados, with the race office there and everyone talking about the race, it still didn't seem like such a big deal. Back home, thirty degrees colder and everything looking so normal, it seems very strange that Debra isn't here.
But we're still a team and there's a lot to do now. Debra rowing on her own is a much more interesting story than we ever were before, so we'll be hoping to raise a little more sponsorship and certainly investigate the possibility of a book. A number of people have already commented favourably on her diaries, and I know there's a lot more material where that came from.
Aside from that, I'll be going back to work - if you'd seen the size of the phone bill you'd know why ! - until Debra gets a lot closer to Barbados. In spite of what you may have seen elsewhere, our best estimate of her arrival is in the middle of January - by next weekend we'll be able to say "next month"! However, I'll add some bits and bobs and maybe a little interpretation to the diary from time to time - just in case you've been wondering why she appears to be zigzagging across and why she doesn't appear to move at all some days!
Thanks to all who have left messages of support since I got back and a big thank you to all who looked after me over the last few weeks - Lin and the crew of Challenge #47, Jon and the crew of Challenge #24, Teresa and all at Port St. Charles, especially Thomas and Cath. And finally, thanks to all of you who are keeping Debra going with your text messages and e-mails - never underestimate how much each one means.
Please text Debra NOW at www.iridium.com with number 881631447972.
|Update from Debra Veal on board Troika Transatlantic - 24 November
"It is good to have an end to journey towards;
The Atlantic has puffed out its chest and is parading around proudly this morning - mean, moody and magnificent sums it up nicely. Last night it obviously had something to get off its chest and had a good old tantrum, which I could sympathise with. Phenomenal winds and rain arrived in the small hours throwing Troika Transatlantic around as if it were as light as a ping-pong ball floating on the surface. It is hard to describe the noise this makes. Each wave that slaps the side of the cabin and sends the boat skittering along with the spray produces a smacking noise that sounds as thought the boat is breaking up. The boat initially shudders and then leaps around violently. This continued for hours but the interior of the cabin has become a kind of cocoon where nothing bad can happen. It is strange that I should feel such security and comfort once the hatches are shut when realistically only 6 millimetres of plywood separates me from the storm raging outside and miles of deep, dark ocean below. What is even stranger is that I thrive in these ocean conditions. I feel less fear and feel more alive when the wind and the waves arrive. I prefer this to the flat calm nights that are so still and eerie.
|Update from Debra Veal on board Troika Transatlantic
22 November 2001
Yesterday afternoon I looked up and saw a lighthouse on the horizon, well, that s what it looked like at first glance. It was actually the brilliant white sails of a yacht called White Woman on route from Tenerife to the Cayman Islands. I spoke to the skipper, a Londoner, for some time over the VHF and told him my story&. started rowing at the beginning of October, hope to get to Barbados by the end of January 2002, average speed to date of 1.2 knots, boat made of plywood and yes, I m rowing solo&&. I could here myself saying all of this and realised that it sounded absolutely crazy. Why would anyone do that? Life for me out here has settled and become normal. I forget that what I am doing is actually more than a little strange. One day I expect the enormity of what I am doing will hit me but I know it won t be until I reach dry land. I fully expect that at some point in the future to catch myself thinking I can t believe I actually rowed across the Atlantic Ocean on my own for four months . I wonder when and where I ll be when that thought takes place and what will instigate it?
The vast amount of mental strength and determination I seem to be finding within myself is a daily source of wonder to me. But I must admit that it is something for which I cannot take all of the credit. While at university I studied Sport Psychology as part of my degree course. However, it wasn t until I met John Griffin, the coach of the Great Britain Ladies Dragon Boat Racing Team that I fully understood the power of it. In the lead up to both the European and the World Championships he focused as much on our mental development as our physical development and he taught me how to apply mental rehearsal and visualisation to enhance my physical performance. Thank you Griff, your lessons have been invaluable to me out here. In particular focusing on a quote, phrase or saying in order to enlist a mental response has been really useful and this is where I also owe a big thank you to you, the people who read my diary updates. I have received quotes, poems, bible versus and useful sayings and phrases from the people who are following my voyage and all of them without fail have been a huge source of mental stimulation and encouragement to me. They are integrated into my daily routines and are vital to the success of my day.
At breakfast I watch the sun rise, I always start with "choose your attitude". Once I have chosen an attitude to approach my new day with (negative attitudes are not an option) I read two poems, one texted to me by Justin Roberts called A life on the Ocean wave by Epes Sargent and the other from Matt Pierson call Sea Fever by John Mansfield. These two old poems sum up so brilliantly the beauty of ocean life and remind my to look for something beautiful in my day. I then have a whole array of quotes to motivate, inspire or get me through the hard times. Ones I use regularly are "Kia Kaha" which is Maori for "Stay Strong" sent by Stuart in New Zealand, "This too will pass" sent to me by a number of people, "my eyes are an Ocean in which my dreams are reflected", thanks for this one David L, and a Shakespeare quote sent from Mr Pierson in Kentucky, "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to glory". If anyone has any other quotes, etc, I would love to hear them. If possible send them as text messages to my sat phone. Please feel free to send them over a number of text messages if they are long. I can guarantee that they will be put to great use. I am writing the powerful ones onto a prominent part of the boat so that I can focus on them while I am rowing and I will add them to my diary updates.
The jokes have been coming in thick and fast since my last diary update. I was going to share the best ones with you but most of them are too rude! Again, texting them is favourable, please keep them coming. I laughed so hard yesterday at ones from David G, Adam P and Alex C, amongst many others.
The wind is finally with me and I have been steaming along. At times I have been going at speeds up to 3 Knots. My GPS speedo has been positively quivering with excitement! I finally rowed under 20 degrees north which I have been trying to achieve for weeks. I am hoping that, if the wind continues, I will reach the all important 30 degrees west by the end of the week.
Yours, in anticipation of your quotes&.
Please feel free to ignore the Challenge ETA for Debs of 25th March.
|Update: Debra Veal on board Troika Transatlantic
18 November 2001 - Day 43
The New Zealand men's team have won the race, Andrew is in Barbados, I've had a visit from the Challenge yacht, the boys from Keltec Challenger have just rung to sing me a song AND I've eaten cheese. It has been quite a weekend!
The Kiwi men, Matt and Steve arrived in Port St Charles at approximately 1130 GMT today. On asking Andrew how they looked he explained that Steve looked fantastic "like he had just come back from a health farm" whereas Matt has a really bad rash all over his body. It made me think, yet again, how some people thrive in an ocean environment but many seem to get adverse reactions making the ocean a very uncomfortable place to be. I feel so fortunate that I fall into the former category. One thiing is for sure, you just don't know how you are going to react until you have been at sea for some time and by then it is often too late to turn back.
It has been wonderful to be able to speak to Andrew and to hear all about the finish. Port St Charles sounds like a fantastic place. I'm so excited already about getting there and I still have months to wait. It's making me pull hard! Andrew has been keeping himself busy going to cocktail parties but he explained that he had a drink for me in my absence which made me feel a whole lot better! Never let it be said that my husband is not a generous man!!
At 0630 hours on Saturday morning I sat at the oars bleary eyed trying to decide if the green light I could see on the horizon was a green star or in fact the starboard side mast light of the Challenge yacht. As I am only aware of red planets and no green ones I decided it must be the yacht and busied myself tidying up - I'm a very boat proud person you know (women& tut!). It was great to talk to them as theymotored around me for a few hours. I had a surprising amount of gossip to tell them which is odd considering I am mid-Atlantic and haven't seen anyone for weeks. I'm normally the last to hear everything when in the UK, but first, it seems, out here. There is a rumour developing that I do not have time to row because I am too busy taking phone calls. Thank goodness I only row for 12 hours a day or I fear that would be true!
I had informed the support yacht that I was running short on writing paper and would like anew book to read which they threw to me in a waterproof barrel but to my surprise I found some extra treats inside. They had enclosed a large lump of goats cheese and some slices of freshly baked bread. Andrew had tipped them off while he was on board that I have a bit thing for cheese. I've had cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past few days - cheesetastic! In return, I filled the barrel with treats for the crew as usually they are only givers and not receivers. Sian, the nurse, was particularly excited about the mints which she had been craving for the past few days.
To make my weekend complete Tim and Jo on board Keltec Challenge rang to sing me a song as always. As it is Sunday I had asked them for a traditional church hymn. I knew they would choose Jerusalem before they even started singing. It is the best I have heard them sing so far which is saying something as their rendition of Tom Jones' 'It's not unusual' which they sang mid-week was pretty special. The jokes I must tell them in return for their songs have not been received with huge belly laughs as I had hoped so Em C, Matt N and the Wards who are main source of jokes via text messages, pull your fingers out and send me some funnier ones! Can anyone else help?!
I suppose I should tell you a bit about the rowing. There has been so much going on that I almost forgot! I had made some good progress West on Friday only to lose most of the miles I had gained to south-westerly winds on Saturday. Sunday has been spent trying to regain the miles I lost on Saturday and get back to where I was three days ago. It has been very frustrating but I have been blocking out any thoughts of how unfair the winds have been and instead focusing on the many pleasant things that have happened this weekend. We say NO to negative thoughts!
A few messages:
Adam P and Tracey: please can you text me your home phone number, as I would like to call for some advice.
Hi Softy - thanks for your email.
To everyone in Port St Charles - I can't wait to meet you all and see your beautiful home. Keep the fires burning - I'll get there eventually.
To Thomas at Port St Charles - thank you for taking such great care of Andrew and for your generosity.
Hello to Joyce, Lawrence and Jack at Admiral House - Andrew will be home this coming week. Look after him for me!
A big "Cheers Royal" both past and present who have sent messages and advice and yes, Dave Thompson, I am!
Manuela - who sends me messages from Brunei in Spanish to help me with my lessons, there were a few words I couldn't understand but I have made a note of them and hope to comprendo fully by the time I reach Barbados.
To Lizzie Baird - still waiting for text messages on love and houses!
Fordee - thanks and keep them coming.
Yours, still rowing, Debra
|Troika Update - 16
Out of all the oceanic creatures I have observed here, I have decided that Sea Turtles are definitely my favourite. Their inherent clumsy nature reminds me of my monthly 'Puppy Paws Phase' as it has become known. During a Puppy Paw Phase I tend to knock everything over, spill or burn things and invariably leave my wallet in the back of a Taxi. I don't know why I have these days of clumsiness but they are very turtlesque.
Yesterday, I had a visit from a large Sea Turtle who I called Barney due to the many barnacles on his shell. Barney is not an agile Turtle. The sea was choppy and consequently, the boat was rolling dramatically. It kept landing on Barney with an enormous crack every time it rolled to port. Barney didn't seem to mind at all but I became increasingly concerned about cracking the hull open on his shell. He was also removing large amounts of the blue coloured antifoul from the hull. Every time he came up for air his shell was getting bluer and bluer. For the safety of Troika Transatlantic I decided to row away but Barney gave chase. He chased me for 30 minutes. I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the scene. Here I was, pulling as hard as I could but I just couldn't shake this big old turtle who was tailing me like some unskilled undercover agent. Thank goodness he gave up eventually.
There has been little change in the weather conditions. Since I last wrote it has rained almost constantly. I don't have enough battery power to run any of the equipment so I'm desperately in need of some sun to charge the solar panels. Luckily, today is looking brighter. I have been soggy for 5 days now and I am looking forward to drying everything out. The wind has swung round a little so I am at least making some westerly progress.
Regarding my communication equipment, I should explain that I am unable to see the emails that you send directly but I get them read to me over the phone or abbreviated into text messages by the support team. Unfortunately, the laptop was ill while we were in Tenerife so I just have the Satellite phone. I do hope to reply personally to as many emails as I can on my return. The text messages, however, do come directly to my Sat. Phone but I am unable to text you back. Sorry David G in Johannesburg for not explaining this earlier and yes that does mean that you can only send 120 characters at a time but please send as many as you would like as the text messages have been getting pretty sparse recently. So get texting everyone as it can get mighty lonely out here at times!
Yours, still rowing,
| Debs update 12 November
Saturday was a very exciting day. For the first time in ages I had force 3 winds pushing me in the right direction. Having struggled to retain much over one knot of speed during previous days it felt great to watch the speedo averaging 2.3 knots and was a good boost to morale.
Unfortunately, consistent is not a word you could use to describe Atlantic weather at present. As I sat watching the GPS during a tea break yesterday it was hard not to get depressed about the fact that the few miles I had achieved were slowly disappearing as I drifted backwards. Today is even worse as the winds are strong and from the South. I have worked so hard to get down to 20 degrees north but the wind seems determined not to let me have my way and is pushing me back up to 21 degrees north. (There are 60 minutes between the two, a nautical mile being equal to a minute and minutes being subdivided further into seconds).
I am compromising by trying to head west but this means crabbing sideways across the wind and the waves. The speedo on my Garman GPS tells me that I am rowing at 0.00 knots but that's because it doesn't register speeds under 0.9 knots. As the seconds creep onto my westing figures I know I am making some progress but, if I am lucky, a two hour rowing shift will only result in one nautical mile west. It is painfully slow progress.
The boat gets thrown in all directions and feels remarkably similar to being on a bucking bronco machine. This makes it difficult to place the oars in the water with any accuracy and when I do get them in I can feel all three quarter ton of the boat's weight resisting against them. It is extremely energy sapping and demoralising. All this just for a few more miles.
This scenario has become somewhat common to me now so I have to work hard at finding something positive to focus on each day. Yesterday's positive focal point came in the form of a beautiful sunrise and the funky fish under the boat. This particular sunrise was breath taking. Each level and different shape of cloud took on varying shades of pink, red or orange. It was a beautiful setting for my own Almistis Remembrance Service. I took time to remember all those who fought for our freedom and friends and family who are no longer with us. Gone but never forgotten. As for the funky fish, there are always plenty under Troika Transatlantic. I presume some of them are eating the weed and others are shading themselves from the sun. The Dorado (aka dolphinfish) however come to scratch and eat the flying fish. They have the funniest faces due to their elongated foreheads. Their white, blue and yellow colourings are very distinct but obviously a bit itchy as they like to turn sideways and run the length of their bodies along edges of the boat. Manta Rays are also great to watch as they glide around gracefully. My fish book tells me that they can grow up to 22 feet across the wings but the ones I have seen are only little.
Today I am yet to find anything positive to focus on. It is grey and has been raining on and off, I am hoping the positive focal point will come in the form of a change in the wind direction. Wind from the North East blasting for about two months would be just the ticket right now. Unfortunately, the winds seem to be swinging round to the southwest but I live in hope.
Anyway, a few hellos:
Richard Holledge - thanks for the article in the Times - Excellent job!
Millie L - How are the travels going?
Rob C - get well soon
I hope Em is being a good nurse and I'm look forward to you both moving further south.
Lizzie B - I can't believe so much has changed in your life and you haven't sent me one text message about it. Please send me many text messages on the subjects of love and houses a.s.a.p! I want all your good news.
To Andrew and Agata - I haven't caught any fish as Andrew V took all the tackle with him onto the yacht. Apparently he became very popular, very quickly as the skipper is a keen Tuna fisher.
Chrisanthi - get shopping, it takes forever.
John Searson - Thank you for keeping my Christmas hope alive.
A big hello to everyone at St Margaret's School in Exeter and Claremont Fancourt School.
Lots of love to Andrew's(Veal) family.
Debs update - 11th November
I had my first day off the oars on Wednesday. It's an odd feeling when you row into a head wind. The resistance is great as you heave on the oars giving you the impression that you must surely be moving the boat forward. Glances at the GPS soon quash any hopes of this being the case. I quickly moved into damage limitation mode and pulled out he parachute anchor. This looks just like a round parachute similar to what you would use post exit from an aircraft but is deployed horizontally from a line off the bow and sits just under the surface of the water. It turns the boat into the head wind and stops it in its tracks.
Mine is a fetching yellow and red 9ft diameter parachute from Australia. It's the first time I have had to use it and I was amazed. It's a top bit of kit. I spent the rest of the day doing the housework, snoozing with Woody and giving interviews. The first was with the Breakfast show DJ from BBC Radio Scotland, followed by a pleasant chat with Richard Woleadge from the Times. Richard has been writing about John Gornell, his colleague who is my fellow solo rower in this event. Keep an eye on the Times on Saturday for his report. To make my relaxing day complete I had a call from the lovely boys on Keltec Challenger. They call every Wednesday and Sunday when they can get through. Each time they sing me a different song but only in exchange for a joke from me. I have put in a request for an 80's number by Wham for Sunday's song. I'm sure they'll rise to the Challenge admirably and will yet again leave me chuckling for hours afterwards.
While I was cooking dinner last night I was hit by a flying fish. They seem to come from nowhere flying at high speeds through the darkness. I can't bear to watch them flapping about and gasping for their lives so I pick them up and throw them overboard. The problem is that they are incredibly slimy and smelly fish and leave half of their scales behind in your hand. I imagine that trying to remove this scaly goo must be a similar experience to having a disastrous nappy changing incident - it gets everywhere, sticks like glue and the smell lingers on the skin long after the nappy is disposed off.
Andrew has just switched yachts once again and is now back on board 'Ward Evans' heading for the finish. They hope to reach Barbados in about a week but are similarly struggling with the unusual wind patterns. They are trying to get there before the Kiwi men's team arrive who incidentally called me earlier in the week to encourage me onwards. They have had a fantastic race and it is a shame that they may now miss out on beating the 41-day record due to the odd conditions that Hurricane Michelle has caused for them. I wish them huge and happy celebrations for whenever they may arrive. I have no doubt that Andrew will enjoy celebrating with them for a time while he tries to arrange a flight to the UK. There is a strong need for him to return to work so that we can start paying off the considerable debts we have developed through participating in this challenge. Although I believe Andrew has a slight ulterior motive for heading back to Blighty. He is, for those of you who are not aware, a HUGE Harry Potter fan. Not content with having read all four books twice he has just read the first one again in French. It is interesting that his return will coincide with the Harry Potter movie being played at Cinemas throughout the UK!
If you have lost touch with old friends I would highly recommend rowing the Atlantic as an excellent way to revive friendships. I have heard from so many people that I haven't heard from or seen in years. Thank you so much for getting in touch. It has been one of the many highlights that this trip has unexpectedly produced.
PS - Chris and Hobbit I am so jealous that you are going to the match at Twickers this weekend. I expect a full report on Sunday.
Debs Update - 7 November 2001
Apparently, you can now believe everything you read in the papers. Well, in The Times at least. It seems that The Times newspaper may have been correct in their estimation of my arrival date in Barbados. The last 24 hours have been one big reality check for me as we have looked at the facts and figures. Current calculations suggest that I am unlikely to arrive much before the end of January. I guess Iíve been kidding myself for a few weeks now that I could still make it to Barbados before Christmas. I didnít want to accept the fact that I am likely to have to spend one third of a year, the best part of four months, on my own in this little boat if I am to fulfil my dream. I canít quite get my head around it. It pains me to think that I wonít be with Andrew and my family at Christmas time or with my closest friends, the Wilsons and the Kings in our Cornish cottage already booked for New Year.
What I should emphasise though is that this is not entirely due to my solo status. There are 6 to 8 boats who are unlikely to make it until after New Year as we are all being slowed by the unusual weather conditions. You will no doubt have been enjoying the extremely warm weather in the UK recently. This was caused by a high pressure system that should have been over the Azores causing us to have Trade Winds. Instead, you got the sun and we got flat calm conditions, or worse still head winds as is the case today. I can only row Troika at about 1.5 knots achieving 20 to 25 miles a day at best. If I had trade winds and a strong equatorial current I could be achieving 50 to 60 miles on a good day but this does not look like an imminent possibility. However, I refuse to give up all hope and will keep you posted.
I wanted to spend the remainder of this update answering questions and responding to text messages/emails.
I have been asked about the music I have been listening to. I have on board a Personal Juke Box. It is a similar size to a Walkman but is essentially just a hard drive. Iím not sure if you can buy them in the UK yet. I managed to load about 40 CDs on to the hard drive before I left England. I wish I had done more now but it is a time consuming process. The music is subdivided into sets and I have a wide range. In the mornings I listen to some mellow music while the sun is coming up such as David Gray, Dido or James Taylor. When Iím hyperactive in the day time I listen to lots of Ibiza Club mixes, Caf? Del Mar and at night I listen to Rock or heavier music to keep out the sounds of the night such as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Train and Toploader.
Here goes with the messages:
To my family: I know you have concerns for my safety now that I am solo but worry not. I am being careful and have all my emergency procedures planned out. I am really happy out here and am living my dream. I know this is what Dad would have wanted.
Mum: I look forward to hearing all about your trip. Call me when you get back.
Auntie Valmie: I think of your smile and it keeps me going. Hugs to all of you.
To all at Troika: I am reliably informed by one of your Directors that I have more support from you than I a Wonderbra could provide - excellent! A huge heartfelt thank you for your continuing support. Two good bits of news for you - Andrew may well be back at work soon. Meanwhile the media are getting very excited about our story which should provide some good publicity. I hope you are still sticking to your 3000 Mile Challenge. With the Christmas Party season approaching youíll need all the exercise you can get. Happy 1st Birthday to the Baker Twins. Before you know it, one of them will be off rowing the Atlantic!
To all the TwRC Burds, the Molsey Boys, Rupert H, Angus, Mike P and all other Rowers who will be rowing in the Fours Head this weekend: wishing I was their to witness your pain and glory while obviously sipping pints on the LRC balcony!
Martin and Debbie Ward: Thanks for the text and the invite. We would love to come to dinner.
To the staff at Hemsley Fraser - thank you for your encouragement.
To John Searson: Thank you for your continued support on the weather front, not to mention all the other tip bits! Itís a great help to have an idea of whatís coming up over the next few wavesÖ
Adrian: your messages always inspire me. Please keep them coming. Iím glad Iím being of some use at dinner parties, even at this distance.
Hello to all at the Herald Express in Devon and Appeal PR. Yes, Iím still out here.
Sarah Bullock: I am soooo pleased to hear that you are also living your dream.
To those of you who are not regular internet users, I really appreciate you making the effort to go on line to text me, including Merve, Caroline S-L (Iíll be coming for that cuppa when I return) and my Mum amongst others.
To my lovely friends Jo and Pete K and Emma and Simon W (not forgetting ickle Archie) - I am so sorry that it is looking like I wonít make our New Year retreat to Cornwall. I have been so looking forward to the breezy coastal walks and of course, copious amounts of red wine in front of the open fire. How are you fixed for New Year 2003?
Ems: good luck with the birth of baby Wilson number 2. Iíll be thinking of you.
To all our friends overseas: it has been fantastic to hear from you all, particularly Mike B, Lizzie Chapman, Marcus F, Mark Halsted and Matt E.
Tim and Dom: glad you are home safely. Brilliant texts, keep them coming.
Marine Pics: If you serious about the photo shoot that would be fantastic because the papers keep asking me for photos and I donít have any of me rowing solo. You do realise that the finish is in Barbados and not the Solent?!
Philipa Hatch: Fantastic verse. Please keep them coming.
Reesy: You are my saviour on the Rugby report front. You realise I expect weekly updates now.
Matt Jess: Your encouraging texts are brilliant.
Russ and Amanda Corn: Sail safely. I hope to see that beautiful yacht of yours sailing over to see me in the Caribbean. Iíll be the one still at the oars.
Bruce Parry: Letís definitely meet to discuss further expeditions over a beer. My diary is a bit full until about February!
Chris M and Ferg: I miss you both enormously. It makes my weekends to talk to you. You make me believe in myself and always have done.
Matt and Christelle: I look forward to you being my texts pests and will call you very soon.
To Chay and the Challenge Business clan: your unending support and encouragement is greatly appreciated. Sorry if I hold things up but I will get their eventually.
Apologies to all those I have missed this time but please keep in touch. I canít express strongly enough just how important your text messages and email are to me.
Yours, fighting with the head winds, Debra
A number of people have emailed asking about how my day is structured. Essentially it revolves around rowing for 12 hours and recovering sufficiently in the other 12 hours so that I can row for 12 hours the following day and so on. Here is a break down of my daily routine:
Had you worried for a minute didn't I? Actually, I had myself worried for a little while but then I can't always be telling you how wonderful it is out here or you'll all be rushing out to row the Atlantic! During the night shift after that disastrous day, the piece of music by The New Radicals called 'You get what you give' really spoke to me and I am sure will become a significant moment in this adventure. The chorus goes, "But when the night is falling and you cannot see the light, you feel your dreams are dying - hold tight you've got the music in you. Don't let go, don't give up." Each time the chorus was sung particularly the line 'don't give up' I felt my determination come flooding back.I knew with confidence at that moment that I was not going to be beaten by this bad day. One thing's for sure, there will be more bad days but I'll take them one at a time.
What a fantastic ocean this is. Just when I had had enough, the Atlantic finds a way to seduce and enchant me once again. This week it has been the many visitors I have had to Troika Transatlantic. One morning I found a Wilson Storm Petrel huddled in the corner. It was shaking violently and didn't look at all well. I had heard that Oceanic birds often land on boats to die when they haven't the strength to fly any further. I found the thought of my guest dying most distressing so I set about making it a nest and feeding it. By the way, if you ever have a Wilson Storm Petrel land on your boat, don't try to feed it digestive biscuits - they don't like them! It was a special moment when the following night it stumbled across the deck flapping its wings. I lifted it high in the air and it flew away.
The next day I had a visit from a large sea turtle who I named Albert. He thought all his Birthdays and Christmases had come at once because not only had he found a boat with tasty fresh young weed growing on the hull but the boat also moved slow enough for him to keep up with it. They really are so Jurassic to look at and very entertaining to watch. Albert had a particular problem with diving back under the boat after he had come up for air. He repeatedly judged the manoeuvre wrong and head butted the side of the boat.
I was woken at 2am this morning by a clunking noise followed by a scraping sound coming from under the boat. After each clunk the boat shuddered. Luckily having met Albert the day before I realised that it was the sound of the boat rolling onto a turtle's hard shell and the noise their beaks make as they scrape of the weed. When I looked over the side the Big Mac of all turtles emerged for air. It's no wonder that the boat shuddered. I was one and a half metres from head to toe and the shell was the metre across. Fantastic! How could I fail to be cheered by a giant turtle waking me in the middle of the night? After all, it's not like this happens often in Southwest London.
For those of you who check the plotted chart on the site you may have noticed me going a little more drastically south in the past week. I'm very fortunate to have the advice and support of John Searson, a meteorologist who took part in the '97 race and also ended up rowing solo. On his advice I have been heading south to avoid a low pressure system containing head winds. Thanks John, the plan seems to have worked! The head winds that I am experiencing today are very light. I am able to row into it but progress is slow. Every time I stop for a rest I gently drift backwards but at least I'm making some headway.
It is unbelievably beautiful today. I am driving along a glassy surface that hardly has a ripple. Blue sky and white cotton wool clouds are reflected on the surface and everything is silent. I have never known peace and tranquillity like it.
It feels great to have reached the 1st November. I am celebrating by allowing myself a new sheep skin seat cover to sit on whilst rowing. My derriŤre is greatly relieved as I have 2 salt sores that have been making it quite uncomfortable for the past few days (too much information, I hear you cry!).
Now that I have been out here for some time I am often asked what I miss the most. It's something I try not to think about too much because I find it can make me homesick and regret being out here. Instead I try to think of how lucky I am to be experiencing ocean life in a way that I just won't be able to ever again. However, if I was pushed for an answer, it would have to be Andrew, fresh food, cheese (of course as I am the worlds largest cheese fan) and rugby. I miss following the progress of the England Rugby team and often wonder, especially on Saturdays, what is happening on the club rugby scene. Are the formidable Leicester and Northampton sides dominating? Any text messages on the subject would be very much appreciated (I'm talking to you Doonan J and Purdy S!).
Anyway, I must get on. I have a party to get to in Barbados.
Yours, still rowing, Debra
27 October 2001
It is hard to believe that I have been at sea for over 20 days now. More significantly, I have just completed my first week alone at sea. This is an important milestone for me. In the past 48 hours I have began to feel much more settled and have worked out a routine that suits my new solo status.
I have been talking to Hayley (my twin sister) recently about the phrase "choose your attitude". We all have the opportunity to choose what attitude we will approach each new day with. It struck me that an important part of my success out here is connected to choosing a more positive attitude towards the nights which I had began to regard as dark and evil hours that fed, rather too successfully, my doubts and fears. My new choice of attitude certainly seems to have helped. During the previous two nights I have also found that listening to loud music that is in a hurry helps to block out the mysterious sounds of night. Without sight the other senses go into overdrive, particularly the hearing. Every splash of a wave raises my heart rate but if I can't hear them the problem is eliminated.
When light starts to sneak on to the horizon it is hard not to feel reborn. Like the light of a new day is bringing with it a new vigour for life. Sunrise is my favourite part of the day. I love the way the shades of pinks and reds creep upwards sending my 360-degree water world horizon into an excited glow. The water all around me turns candyfloss pink and the light bounces off the water as if millions of diamonds are floating on the surface. Music that is not in a hurry to go anywhere is a pleasure to listen to at this point in the day. It slows the moment, somehow making it last longer.
One thing this experience is bringing me is real clarity of mind. I have never been one for being able to remember moments from my childhood. Hayley has always been able to remember much further back than I. In recent years, particularly since starting the Well Hung Art Company I have found that my head is so full of daily busyness and chaos that I had begun to forget details of even recent events. But out here my mind is empty as my daily chores do not require much thought and I am finding that I can remember people and places from my past that I had previously been unable to recall from my memory banks. It just goes to show what a large affect our hectic lives can have on our minds. It has been wonderful to remember all the people and experiences that have been influential in my life and have helped me get to where I am today - bobbing about in this little boat.
My mother is also currently bobbing about but in a vessel a million ways different from mine as she travels on the QE2 from England to Cape Town. I often think how different our experiences on our respective ocean going vessels must be. In particular I find it hard not to think of all the fantastic food she must be having! Ironically, as my brother Matt pointed out, her luxurious voyage cost a mere fraction of the price that this voyage has cost us. Like the Murpheys, I'm not bitter!
I've just received a really encouraging phone call from Stef and Jude, the Kiwi girlie team. They are the only other females in this event and by all accounts are showing most of the men just how it should be done. They have been holding onto third place from the start and have just passed half way (how jealous am I!). They anticipate arriving in Barbados in three weeks time. I really hope that their terrific success encourages more women to compete in this event in the future.
It was also great to hear from Diana Hoff, a woman who has also conquered the Atlantic solo. Diana - do you know how many women have rowed the Atlantic solo?
Obviously, everyone had that Friday feeling yesterday because the text messages were hilarious. It has been awesome to hear from so many old Stover School friends from Devon and many of the Troika clan.
Jayne - I am completely stumped by your riddle.
Martin H - I am not at all surprised that you got in first with that gag.
Bruce - fantastic news that the BBC has bought your film. If it is on before Christmas please video it for me.
Christian - nice to FINALLY hear from you! Glad to see your sense of humour has not changed.
Thanks to Andy and Susie (friends of David Lundholm of Norwich Union) for the most detailed answer to my small brown bird question. Apparently they are the most common bird in the world but most people have not seen them becuase they are almost totally oceanic. They eat plankton near the surface and spend all their time at sea only stopping to breed on islands such as Tristan de Cuna (wherever that is!). Here ends today's ornathology lesson!
Finally, thank you to all the friends, supporters and loved ones of other rowing teams that have texted me with encouraging words. I guarantee that your teams will be thinking of you. It is impossible not to spend a vast amount of time thinking of the people who are special in your life while out here. I am sure they will be missing you enormously.
Love to all in the rain!
25 October 2001
Well it was like Piccadilly Circus around Troika Transatlantic last night. While having dinner I was watching these rather large fish doing laps of my boat obviously enjoying swimming in the glow of my navigation light. It was reassuring to have them there, as they were unlikely to be bimbling around so casually if there were any sizeable 'Beasties from the Deep' nearby. They stayed with me as I rowed into the night until a significant Beastie, maybe 5 or 6 ft long, joined them in darting around my boat. I have been eagerly awaiting the return of the moon to lighten the nights for 10 days now but last night I wished it would go again. You see, the moonlight shines off the pale skin of the big Beasties and makes them shimmer ominously under the surface of the water. When they swim fast their silver shimmer glows and leaves a trail of phosphorescence in their wake. It looks like an underwater lightening bolt. Had the moon not been out I probably wouldn't have noticed such goings on. Ignorance is bliss you know!
As I watched this underwater lightning bolt hurtling towards the boat I hoped it was a dolphin and not a shark but could not remove the flash backs of sharks gnawing through the side of boats in the movies I had watched as a child. In a more logical moment I reassured myself that sharks only attack if they are provoked but this then lead me to a whole new line of concern over whether the splashing in and out of my oars could be provoking the Beasties. I began to lightly drop my oars into the water causing as little splash as possible just in case. It may all seem slightly irrational now in the light of day but when you are alone in the dark in a very small boat made of plywood hundreds of miles from dry land and have been deprived of sleep it is hard to be rational about such things. Thus heart palpitations ensued.
From the picture I am painting you can see that the nights are not my favourite part of being out here. But the 12 daylight hours are brilliant. One of the many aims that I set myself to achieve during this challenge is to learn to speak Spanish. I have an 8 CD Spanish course which is proving to be stimulating and quite effective, although I am in danger of forgetting it all before I reach Spanish speaking dry land. Spanish lessons are reserved for the rowing period after lunch. Having a set routine such as this seems to work quite well but does feel a bit like Groundhog Day at times.
I was surprised to hear that The Times newspaper ran an article on Monday about Andrew dropping out and me continuing alone - fame at last! I was disappointed however to hear that they reported that I was not expected to arrive in Barbados until early next year. I had hoped to arrive before Christmas this year but who am I to argue with such a reputable publication as the Times! Mind you, at the rate I'm going they could be right. I desperately need to get to the Trade Winds and pick up some speed. If I drop too far behind the fleet my safety cover via the yachts will become minimal and I will be forced to retire.
I had a surprise phone call from Jo and Tim on Keltec Challenger. They had heard I was on my own and rang to check I was okay. I have met some great characters in this Race. It makes me sad to think that most of them will probably have left Barbados by the time I get there as I would have like to have celebrated with them. The support I have received from other competitors and from people worldwide has been phenomenal. I receive about 30 text messages per day encouraging me on. Speaking of which I must just highlight a few:
In response to my last update where I explained the problems with my hands I had a message suggesting that I should not worry as curled fingers will come in very useful for holding glasses of rum when I get to Barbados.Bernard - I like the way you're thinking!
Martin Ward - you win this week's prize for the worst joke with Emma Cunningham running a close second.
Andrew Stewart - v. eloquent!
And Warwick - comparing me to Elen McAurthur is one of the highest compliments you could have paid me. Thank you.
Love to all back home, Debra.
PS don't forget to sign your text messages.
Number : 881631447972
Dear Friends and Supporters of Troika Tranatlantic
Please find below a note Debra herself dictated today.
Day 15 - 22 October 2001
At the race launch on 2 June Sir Chay Blyth addressed all of the competitors. He said, ?As you are rowing across the Atlantic looking down at your little brown toes, ask yourself, am I the happiest I could possible be?¶ Well, I-ve had a good look at my exceptionally brown toes and my answer at this point is a resounding yes. I have felt enormously content since beginning this challenge and that is why I have chosen to continue alone.
It has been quite an emotional few weeks on board Troika Transatlantic. I have nothing but admiration for Andrew in light of the hard decisions he has made. I also respect him enormously for finding the strength to support me in my decision to continue alone when I know he would have preferred me to stop.
He has now been transferred to the larger support yacht which has a satellite phone that accepts incoming calls. When I spoke to him last night he sounded much happier. He will become a fully integrated crew member now providing support to other rowers.
For me this is the first time I have ever been completely alone in my whole life. So far so good! I-m enjoying the inner peace it allows and am revelling in the beauty of the ocean. This really is an inspiring but humbling place. I feel like a tiny spec amongst all this vastness.
Safety has become my priority in my time alone. I stay clipped into my harness because if a wave washed me overboard the wind would push the boat away faster than I could swim after it. I have surprised myself in how little fear I feel but then I am yet to experience the Atlantic in a really bad mood. The nights get a little scary but only when the cloud cover is really thick and the waves are bearing down on me from all directions.
Physically I am very well. Thanks to the excellent Musto gloves I have not suffered with blistered hands and have no other injuries. The worst ailment I have is arthritis-type symptoms in the joints of my fingers. When I wake from a rest period my hands are always locked in a cupped position as if I am still holding the oars. It takes about 5 minutes of massage to get them straight again. It is more bizarre than painful.
I can-t express enough how grateful I am to those of you who have sent text messages to my satellite phone. I have copied them all into my note book as the phone cannot store many and I read back through them whenever I feel lonely.
Bruce Parry yours have kept me laughing the most v cheers mate!
Soph v tea at the Ritz sounds amazing.
And -yes- to all those people who have offered me dinner or a drink when I get back!
To Adrian v Thank you for supplying me with my current inspiring phrase. -I WILL live the dream.-
Please remember that time passes slowly on an Atlantic rowing boat. I am still out here, still rowing. Please don-t forget about me and keep texting.
Sun, 21 Oct 2001 13:35:32 +0100
It is with great sadness that we report Andrew has chosen to leave Troika Transatlantic. Andrew was picked up by one of the support yachts at 6pm yesterday (Saturday). At 6'6'' Andrew has struggled from day one to live comfortably aboard a boat which cabin only measures 6 foot by 4 foot.
Debra who has enjoyed the adventure in all its forms since day one has
elected to stay on Board. She hopes to complete the remainder of the Atlantic crossing solo to become only the eighth woman in history to have rowed an ocean.
Andrews move onto the 67 foot steel hulled challenge yacht will be deemed to be outside assistance and therefore prevent Troika Transatlantic from receiving an official placing in the event. However Troika can still go into the record books for having rowed an ocean by crossing the line of longitude W 59'37.
Andrew will complete the remainder of the Atlantic crossing on the
challenge yacht. The yacht 'Ward Evans' is skippered by an old friend of Debra's from Devon, Jonathan Crawford and will make regular visits to Debra's position whenever possible.
To send a text message to Debra visit www.iridium.com. Click on 'send a
satellite message'. Type 881631447972 in the first box and your message
in the second box. Debra would love to receive your messages.
For Andrew and Debra's latest diary update please visit www.troikatransatlantic.co.uk
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