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

 


LOG OF MARTIN WOOD


News from the route

March 25 2003, Barbados.
I didn't sleep last night, every time I closed my eyes I was either being smashed against the coastal rocks or cuddling Oliver and Toby - too much going on up there for sleep!

From a distance of 3 miles the coast looked benign, with beaches and condos scattered evenly. As I closed on the coast the beaches and condos revealed themselves as 50 foot sheer cliffs - quite sobering.

The way to row to Port St.Charles, which is on the leeward side of the island, is to get as close to the coast on the Atlantic side as you dare and then sneaked round the north point when the wind isn't looking, hopefully avoiding the reefs and submerged rocks as you go. I nervously got to within 50 meters of the cliffs and soon realised why it is folly to attempt to do this at night - rocks jut out from the sea about 50 meters off shore - difficult to avoid and see in the day - plain lethal at night. Breaking waves offshore act as tell tales of rocks just beneath the surf - again obstacles which would spell doom in darkness.

The sea roared continuously as it smashed itself against the cliffs, but I stuck in close and was making good headway. With about 2 miles to go to Port St Charles my family came out in a launch. The driver was concerned that I was too close to the shore and insisted I come out - he was the local with local knowledge, so even though I thought the waves were pretty small and I was conscious of the wind off shore, I duly came about 200 metres off shore.

This took outside the reef line that I had been running inside, so I was safer from that perspective, but the wind took me and I was soon being blown past Barbados. What this man hadn't calculated was that rowers do go further offshore but they are in pairs and have the strength to make headway against a wind. A lone rower like me has no chance against a wind of force four gusting 5 that wanted to show me Mexico.

I rowed as hard as I have done for the entire trip, desperately trying to get back into the lee, but it was hopeless and I got extremely frustrated. My family were looking on from the boat but didn't understand the seriousness of the situation - even suggesting that I take a break as it looked like I was going to hurt myself!

Defeat slowly overtook victory. My family went back in after a whiles seasickness was taking its toll and soon after, a mile past Barbados by now, I called for a tow. Some really friendly fishermen gave me a lift and took me to the mouth of the harbour which was as close for a powered vessel as it had been impossibly distant in my rowing boat. Having attempted it I now believe it is entirely pot luck as to whether you get to row into port or not totally dependent upon local sea conditions at the time, the best you can do is get yourself in the right position and hope for a kind wind on the day of your arrival.

MY anger at not being able to row into port was swept away by the reception that awaited me.
Horns sounded, banners were unfurled, a small crowd cheered and I felt like I could do it all again.

Peter Johnson Deputy Project Manager at Port St Charles was at the customs dock with a cold beer that he pressed into my hand even as my foot was touching down dock side - a stylish touch and there was even an ice bucket with spares in case I was really thirsty! Jo had a bottle of Champagne to spray. I had to clear customs and Jo and the children were allowed to be with me there as I filled in the paper work. Then I met Thomas Herbert CEO of Port St Charles and handed him the letter given to me by the Le Gomera Marina proposing a twinning the 2 Marinas, he welcomed me to Barbados.

The customs officials were all good natured and tolerated a wobbly and somewhat smelly ocean rower (as I am now!) with great humour as I tried to write with cramped hands and forgot the date several times.

Formalities over it was family, new friends, laughs, relief, a thousand questions, smiling faces everywhere and off to the pool for everything on the menu twice, cold drinks, more cuddles, waves of relief, limpet children (who had grown so much), more food, at a table, sitting down, with napkins and condiments and a chair and gleaming cutlery. More questions, tears welling up, but just suppressed and a cooling breeze that I didn't have to note the speed and direction of.

Oliver made a new friend at the pool and I almost burst when I heard him telling this little boy that his daddy had just rowed the Atlantic.

And proud parents and Jo fussing over me and making me feel pampered and loved and more questions and everyone happy and smiling.

But this was all directed at me like I did it alone - I didn't, I had a top team on my side all the way, from years before the start to beyond the finish line.

None of this would have happened without Geoff Allum who fitted out the boat with such an eye for detail that even an idiot like me could get across the Atlantic safely, and Jane who spent untold hours packing and wrapping everything from food to loo roll. Geoff was my mentor and oracle for the three years it took to put this jaunt together, and this is the greatest adventure I have ever had or ever will have, this is a debt I can never repay - Thanks Geoff.

And Kenneth Crutchlow, the Executive Director of the Ocean Rowing Society and unsung hero of ocean rowing. He encourages without judging and his clear love of the sport was often an inspiration to me. 
And Tatiana, who runs everything all the time and makes everything work while Kenneth swans off around the world with Ocean Rowers.

Mark Stubbs, who loves ocean rowing and wants everyone to enjoy it as much as he does and John Searson who tirelessly gave me weather reports and listened to my moans with limitless patience.

And my parents, who never once told me I was being irresponsible or that it couldn't be done and were there as a reliable central bank when stress was high and funds were low.

And Jo, for all the sacrifices she made so I could be an irresponsible husband and for believing in me when others didn't.

And Jemimah for following my progress with her school friends.

And Yoli for shortbread from heaven and words of encouragement when most needed.

And Darryl for sending emails so blue my parents may never recover

And Jeremy Milton and Scott Lowe who toiled away to get a luddite like me to understand the intracies of offshore communications and computing.

And the team at Blacksun, who conceptualised, created and maintained the website so I could bore you all on a regular basis!

And Jan - support and inspiration in the form of the bubbliest person in the western hemisphere.

Thanks to you all and thanks to everyone that followed on the websites - it made it fun for me to send off the despatches- and now I am off to drink beer, eat anything that doesn't get out of the way quick enough and tickle Toby's toes.

Martin Wood March 2003

UP

March 24 2003
The Dorado came back for a late supper - I clearly hadn't got rid of all the mussels as they were feeding colours - I didn't try to catch them though - what am I going to do with a 60 pound
fish so close to Barbados?

Last night I could see a glow over the horizon - the lights of Barbados over the horizon. I know I am close as the soft spoken DJ's of Barbados Love FM have replaced the continuous war coverage
of the BBC World Service.

The wind has returned (now that its services are nearly no longer required!) and during the night it got quite strong. I rowed south a bit into it and then set my rudder to take me south, the wind must have switched direction in the night as I have woken up 10 miles or so south - quite a handy position and I only had to fight for about half of it!!

By night fall today I was perfectly lined up for Barbados. During the course of the day the island became progressively more visible and by sunset the shape was well defined and the lights of each settlement clearly defined. I toyed with the idea of rowing all night and surprising everyone by arriving at dawn but fatigue got the better of me.

I have already said that I use the end of each day to edit the thoughts of the day; well, this is the end of the trip (almost), so I spent the day revising old ideas and memories and looking at the likelihood of me sticking to resolutions made. It could have been quite a melancholy day, but was actually pretty invigorating and I found that the tough bits of the trip are already taking on the rosy glow of hindsight, ready to be recounted for decades until my friends get REALLY bored of hearing them.

I thought I knew myself pretty well before this trip, but I had changed from the person I found all those years ago in the deserts and rainforests of my pre-university adventures.
This trip has made me realise that that boy got lost somewhere in the city along the way and had been replaced by a more cynical, guarded person, too quick to see faults in others and too slow to appreciate the value of good mates and a loving family. A new challenge will be keeping hold of this once I am back in the world.

UP

March 24 2003
From Thomas Herbert
C.E.O. Port St. Charles Development Ltd.
Barbados

At 10:25 pm Monday night, Martin called to say that he was at 13 16 N and 59 23 W with the wind coming from 120 degrees and so blowing him to the NW. He is about to finish rowing and predicts that he will drift to 13 18 N and 59 30 W by daybreak. This is about 7 NM East of North Point.

If the wind changes and he cannot clear the island to the north, he will call me.

I expect that he should get to North Point a bit before midday if conditions remain the same, so 9 am is probably a good time to plan to leave PSC to look for him. I will tell his parents to come to PSC for 9 in the hope to go with Klaus or anyone else going out.

Thomas.

UP

Mon, 24 Mar 2003 14:29:15

Martin Wood just called and has arranged for his parents to call him tonight at 10 pm local. He is still about 32 miles out and can see the island clearly, but says that the wind has freshened so he is making better progress and all is well. Last night, he expected the wind to be from the east and left his rudder straight but the wind shifted to the NE and so pushed him SW. He is fighting now to get back to 13 15 N at least today.
Martin says that he had a visit yesterday from David Peterkin in "Serenity" but I don't have any details yet.
I expect some boats from PSC to go to North Point to meet him tomorrow and will arrange for one of them to take his parents. They will call me tonight with his 10 pm position and I will email my guess of his dawn position

Thomas A. Herbert
C.E.O. Port St. Charles Development Ltd.
website http://portstcharles.com

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Sun, 23 Mar 2003 07:27:38

We are having an unusual period here of no wind and flat calm seas which are delaying the arrivals of Fedor* and Martin Wood. Martin called me yesterday morning to say that he might not arrive until Monday and wanted his parents to know. He was well and wanted to finish unassisted even though his food is low. I gave him some tips on how to catch the dorado around his boat so maybe that will augment his diet.

My friend, David Peterkin, is currently out in his boat Serenity, looking for Martin and I wonder if you can get me a quick update on his position. I am also in e-mail contact with Oscar** on "Scarlet Sails" and am asking them to look out for him as they pass the area this evening.

Thomas Herbert, Port St Charles

* - Fedor Konyukhov is approaching Barbados on catamaran 'Scarlet Sails', originally 'Enza'
** Konyukhov

UP

March 23 2003

Yesterday I got knocked down. Today I got back up again. I tried to row into the night last night but even though I am so close to my goal and every mile is precious I was just too knackered to go on past 2.00am. In fact I was nearly in bed before the moon came out, it was so late in arriving, but that does have a plus side in making the stars seem even more clear and bright. I have got to know where certain constellations should be and donít really need to look at the compass too often at night now. A fishing boat came by today. The Mardi Gras sharks I was looking at are actually Doradoís; the shoaling meant they were feeding. They must have regarded my boat as some sort of very, very slow moving restaurant, because since I have cleared off the mussels they havenít been around, but it was good to talk to the fisherman, it was good to talk to someone other than myself for a change. I am getting very close now, less than 60 miles to go, two days of BIG effort. The wind is predicted to return on Wednesday, I hope to be there before that, but if not the wind will ensure a quick finish.

Martin Woodís last dispatch from his Atlantic rowing adventure number one. Godís speed and God Bless.
 

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March 22 2003

No wind all day today, I donít mind, as I am resolved to rowing every metre to Barbados. As long as no other parts of my body fail I have adapted my rowing stroke so that I donít use my arms so much, and I am probably about 60% of normal. The down side of no wind is the heat. I saw the thermometer at 49 degrees C today; it was when it wasnít shaded, and then again Iím never shaded. The sea is like a desert, no fish today, the only activity was a mini twister that ran past me like a Tasmanian Devil spitting and trying to become a waterspout. I filmed it as it past 15 metres away and only afterwards realised that I should have been battening down hatches and ggetting anything moveable into my cabin. Because of the lack of weather, my deck discipline has got much worse and I now often leave pumps, sponges, sun cream etc out over night. If one of those twisters were to hit me I would loose it all in a second. Perhaps Iíd better start storing everything properly again. My life has become one long mental arithmetic session, at this speed it will take me 3 days, one extra mile per day reduces the time by x hours etc. I just want to get to Barbados now and see my family, but I still have the sunset and the beauty of all this, so itís not so bad. I swam today as the sea was like a swimming pool and the hull was covered in mussels so I had a good session. Will that speed me up? Will I build that into my calculations? We shall see. I have not seen any sign of Fergal for ages.  

UP

March 21 2003

I am now rowing at night as well as during the day on a regular basis. It disrupts my sleep pattern and Iím just getting used to sleeping in the coffin, but on the plus side more hours on the oars is the only thing that is going to get me to Barbados, and due to my neck injury I am not working very physically hard so itís just a case of losing sleep and not completely knackering myself. Last night the sea was as flat as Iíve ever seen it. I thought the sea was a millpond a few days ago - this was a flat as a plate. The wind has stopped entirely, so maybe when it comes back it will be going in the right direction (the adverse current alone isnít such a problem). I was hoping to arrive tomorrow but Iím still about 100 miles away and making such slow progress that it will take me 4 days to cover those miles. My parents will be packing their bags to fly home when I finally arrive. Nothing for it but to try not to think too much about Oliver and Toby and just solder my hands to the oars.

UP

A slight current is pushing me north and so is the wind. I am only rowing at about 30% strength. I was getting quite upset about all these things going wrong but this morning I had only drifted 5 miles north. My neck will recover soon and the wind can't blow against me forever - and then I will give this current a good beating and go to Barbados. A little late perhaps, but I will see my family soon. And what are a few days in the scheme of things? It just can't be helped. There is no point being Eyore, I might as well be Tigger. The weather forecast has been for a westerly wind every day since the 14th but still it is going almost straight north (150 degrees) Eventually it must come round; I must be patient. It is not a strong wind and if I were rowing normally I probably wouldn't even notice it but in my degraded state it is giving me a run for my money.

The good news is that the Iraq attack has started and my GPS still works. The bad news is that the Iraq attack has started.

Incidentally today my short-wave radio has been picking up the BBC world service. But only the African service (it varies day to day depending on atmospheric conditions) so I have not only been kept up to date on Iraq but I now know the view of the man on the Mombassa omnibus. I thought the anti-war demonstration in South Africa was pretty cool - someone shouts, 'who let the dogs out?' and everyone else replies, 'Bush Bush Bush Bush Bush!' And, in case it hasn't made the main news in the UK, Eritrea is supporting the war. Phew!

UP

19th March 2003

Weeks ago, when I was still making good progress, I thought I might arrive today. Then the wind started playing games, and I am still over 150 miles away from a cold beer. I rowed into the night last night, finishing at about 4 am. Just as I was ending I felt a muscle in my neck tighten, but thought nothing of it, as my body is falling apart, and such problem are the norm. 

Getting up at 8 o'clock to row this morning I found that whenever I tried to pull hard on my left oar a painful neck spasm happened. Now I am trying to row into 5 to 10 knot winds using short jerky strokes. I'm not making much progress, and the current is also pushing me north; at this rate I shall not reach Barbados until my family are all back in England, and I will run out of food before I arrive. Not so good really! I got quite down about this. The sea, wind and current are conspiring to defeat me even as I approach the home straight, but after a long chat with Jo I felt much better. As she pointed out, it's just another part of the challenge! I was going to take the day off to see if my neck problem healed, but instead I decided to row slowly. Even if I only make 10 miles it's 10 miles that has to be done at some point. My blue streak, now called Heath, jumped all day in an effort to cheer me up. He is a good companion and I won't eat him! 

There were blue fish that looked liked sharks circling me. But they can't be sharks because they are only 5 foot long. They have healthy blue bodies and yellow orange tails, but they might be sharks on their way to Mardi-Gras, so I shall stay in the boat. Come on the sand storm in Kuwait, the longer it goes on the longer the air war gets delayed and the closer I get to my goal before the GPS gets switched off!

UP

18th March 2003

My blue streak fish continues to leap out of the sea on a regular bases. I have started to wonder whether they are deliberately making an impersonation of the splashing of my oars as they enter the water. The leaping is purely for my benefit, as I can see 2 and a half miles either side of the boat, and this leaping only occurs 20 yards either side of the boat. Perhaps the fish are trying to communicate with me. 

Perhaps this is a seminal moment in the relationship between man and fish. Yet more importantly than this, I wonder what these guys would think about deep fried fish and chips! I must be near land because I see more birds every day. Today a diving gull showed up; it hovered until it saw a flying fish, then it plunged in after it. Nine times out of ten the flying fish skips off as the gull enters the water, but every now and again the bird gets the fish. It strikes me as a tough way to get a meal. No wonder the gulls are so keen on blagging fish from ocean rowers whenever they get a chance! 

My family are arriving in Barbados on Friday afternoon, and if I am to arrive 
on Saturday I have to do 40 miles a day. I have decided to do 42 miles today to allow me to arrive before dark. I have to make every stroke count, but in tricky seas like this I have to row into a head wind and it will take me at least 16 hours a day to get 42 miles west.

UP

17th March 2003

I decided to start tidying the boat today and I picked up all the dead fish bodies which littered the deck. They are easy enough to remove when dry. I got some buckets of seawater and threw it over the deck to give it a rinse; the effect was immediate and magnificent. A carpet of white wet wrinkled wings came to wink at me in the sunlight; I just sat back and watched all happen - it's amazing what nature can do. 

As I fingered through my log book I realised that I tended to write about the things that are easy to describe i.e. sprained ankles, sore back etc., and neglected to write about the amazing things that I have encountered. I don't know if this is because I am knackered at the end of the day when I come to write the logs. In order to explain the things properly I would need a web cam so that you can all see what's going on here and why some things that would seem trival at home are very important and highly entertaining here, and are all relevant to my daily routine. I will explain more and you will see what I mean. I tend to listen to tapes and the radio during the day but I always listen to the same tapes for the last two rowing sessions. And as it gets dark, I do a little ritual dance to say goodbye to the day. 

Then there is only two hours to go to darkness. And then I row, and in these two sessions I don't think about anything new; I just go over what I've been thinking about during the day and discard most of it as rubbish. It is my editing time. At sunset I always stop rowing and watch for five minutes, putting on my fleecy while I watch. The fleecy going on symbolises the last moment of the rowing day. Perhaps half an hour later I stop rowing altogether. It is these little things that I have grown to enjoy but they sound a bit daft on paper, which is why I stick to sore backs.

UP

16th March 2003

Last night the winds veered north as I had supper so I set my rudder to the south slightly to mitigate it, and I went to bed. The winds must have turned back south soon after as I lost 8 miles south in the night. By the time I awoke I was less than 15 miles north of Barbados and with 250 miles to go this could be a bit tricky. 

The rudder is worked by strings connected to each side of the boat, which run back up the boat to handles next to the rowing seat and are held in place by clasps. Thus to go south you unclasp both strings, pull on the port side and reset the clasps. The strings often fall out of the clasps and during the day this is not a problem. I just stop rowing and pull them tight and into position. At night, however it is a different story. How do you reset a rudder string when the tendons in your hand are locked solid? The answer is that you put the handles in the crook of your elbow and pull. Believe me it's painful and you are fully awake after this operation. Some nights I do it three or four times. The blue streak fish that preys on flying fish can leap out of the water and seems to want to practise this all day. 

I hear the flop sound as they re-enter every 10 minutes or so and get to see a belly flop a couple of times a day. I don't know why but they turn sideways when they leap, splash down with the flat sides of their bodies. Maybe they like the sound or think the splash is impressive. It looks bizarre though. I've never seen it in pursuit of a flying fish either which strikes me as the best time to do it.

UP

15th March 2003

No vegetation for hundreds of miles, but the law of the jungle still applies. Last night I got up and took the flying fish from the bucket of seawater that I was going to save for morning. Within ten minutes two gulls had turned up and started harassing me for the fish. 

Basically, I got slowly mugged over a period of about two hours. They started off quite friendly about it but then it got out of hand with much to-ing and fro-ing and a verbal barrage. The noise got so intense that I had to chuck it overboard. I had flapped one of the birds when it had been in my face as I got out of my cabin. It was clearly hurt and fell into the sea and subsequently kept its distance. Now its friend had the fish. It perched on my bow and started to eat. The injured bird landed to stake its claim but greedy bird saw off injured bird and then got on with scoffing the whole fish. Law of the jungle. As if I needed another reminder, today I saw a small flying fish, no bigger than a stickle back with small dragon fly wings. 

It took off as it was being pursued by a fast, blue fish. The flying fish flew 20 metres and touched the sea only to take off again immediately, the blue streak just a split second behind. Another 20 metres and it touched the sea again. The blue streak struck and the flying fish was fish food. Law of the jungle.

UP

14th March 2003

Yesterday was difficult; having a birthday totally alone is not an experience I would recommend. I have had birthdays away from home and family before, but always with other people. For the first time on this trip I actually felt lonely. I went to bed quite soon after the party had finished. 

I'm sorry, if you didn't see the video, none of this will make sense. Today was another day of no wind, so I didn't have to struggle to get out my safety net for 25 northern miles but I did have to slog for every mile west. A big fish today, the size of my leg, adopted me. It was very multi-coloured, and it swam alongside me for ages this morning. I tried to catch it but it gave me a thoroughly disappointed look and swam off. The port, which I had earmarked for my aborted moules mariner, wasn't drunk last night, so I had it with supper. The toast was of course, 'absent friends'. 

While writing this big flying fish landed on my deck and started flapping around. I usually leave the little ones until they dry in the sun and don't appear to move, but this one is big and it slithered about the deck leaving slime in its wake. Eventually I threw the slippery little sucker in the bucket - it can be bait in the morning.

UP

13th March 2003

It's my birthday today. I got up and rowed for an hour, not because I'm a grinch, but because it's the best way of loosening my fingers so I can open presents. Gripping the oars all day is hard on my hands and tendons as at night they seize up, so when I start rowing, although excruciating, it is the only way of unlocking the tendons. 

At 10.00 I stopped rowing and opened presents and cards. Everything was brilliant. Yoli, thank you for the short bread. I opened it last, just before I was going to have breakfast. They presented me with the same problem the Kit Kat did a few days ago, 10 days to go, 10 biscuits - see the issue! Well, I solved the dilemma in the same way as I did the Kit Kat issue, including snuffling sounds as I wolfed. I'm glad to report that 10 short breads fit perfectly in my tummy, including breakfast. 

The cards are now plastered over the ceiling of my cabin, and I'm going to decorate the boat after this despatch. I have guests arriving about 9.00 so I'll tell you about the party tomorrow. It's been a tough day today, the wind is going back south again and my hands are starting to complain when I keep pushing the oars. I won't get so far west today, but I shouldn't give up too many miles south either.

UP

12th March 2003

Someone up there knows me better than I thought they did. I told you about my lunchtime awning, and it requires a Union Jack and four clothes pegs. Well, I put it up at lunch today and clumsily lost one of the clothes pegs; this was exactly what I needed as I was feeling a bit blue. 

Just as I thought I was getting the hang of this rowing game I start to lose kit that adds to comfort. I roared defiance at the wind for stealing my peg, and then I roared with laughter that I should be reduced to such a state of despair by the loss of a bit of plastic. I fixed the fourth corner with a bit of string and had my lunch giggling to myself. I'm sure the wind got stronger and tried to take another peg. But what do I care, I'm getting across this ocean in my own time and loving it. I can't be reduced by the loss of a peg, and besides it's my birthday tomorrow and I have a big party planned. 

I must be near the Caribbean as I've just seen the first seriously cool fish, about the size of a mans thigh, with a velvet blue body tapering off and then out again into a yellow green fantail. It swam next to me while I rowed for a couple of minutes and then went off for his evenings Malibu.

UP

11th March 2003

My day only runs from 9.00, when I get up and start rowing, to 22.30 when I finish rowing. It generally takes an hour for supper and general admin, putting me in bed by 23.30. Lunch is at 16.00, which is over half way through the day in terms of rowing time. I was really looking forward to 16.00hrs; I had an idea that lunch would be good, and if I worked out how to make an awning from my Union Jack I could eat my lunch in the shade. 

But lunch was no different to any other, and my mood sunk as I started to question whether I'm getting enough from this trip to justify what I'm giving up. The only cure to the introspection, which I'm occasionally prone to out here, is to row hard - so I did. But still I couldn't get the thought out of my head that this trip has cost me more than money. I think I'll leave a piece of my heart on this ocean, but perhaps now I have a bit more to go round.

UP

10th March 2003

The good news is that the wind, although light, is now blowing west, bad news is that moules mariner is no longer on the menu for my birthday. Let me explain; there are little mussels growing on the hull of my boat, and I was planning on harvesting them for my birthday on the 13th and making moules mariner for an evening treat. I have some garlic paste and a fritter tart for a feast. But this morning I saw a fin in the water and possibly several small dolphins. But then I thought it was strange - no blowholes and on its own. 

Oh dear - shark! It was only a glimpse, but I told myself it was only a Thimra. Then it swam past me, six foot away, so I could clearly see it. It was much smaller than my boat, only seven or eight feet long, but big enough for me. I will not be swimming for a while, if at all. Furdol, as I have named him, showed his fin a couple of times more but has not shown himself since then. Maybe he is just passing through.

UP

9th March 2003

The wind made a point today by not turning up at all. I have been calling it all sorts of names and it probably feels it is not loved at the moment. No wind is quite strange. The seas got progressively calmer during the day, which had the effect of extending my visible horizon and making the remaining rollers seem a lot bigger. 

An extended visible horizon gave me a real understanding of the vastness of an ocean, as the horizon seemed to go on forever like a great sea desert. I'm in my cabin now and I can hear the wind building; I hope it's returning to blow west. On the radio today there was a discussion programme on whether or not the Americans will switch off the GPS system when they invade Iraq on the 17th. I will still be 300 miles from Barbados, so this is a little concerning, but I will jump that bridge when I get to it.

UP

8th March 2003

I rowed half the night against a southwest wind and in this manner I managed to keep my southerly drift for the 12-hour period to one mile, which I was confident I could win back, with interest, during the day. However, it was a bit of a pyrrhic victory as I am now almost too knackered to row. 

Note to self; 16 hours on oars is too long. But then, this morning, glory of glories, the wind has shifted west. Whether the wind realised that I was going to go on rowing longer than he was going to go on blowing - a bluff by the way - but don't tell the wind that because I might need to bluff again, or whether the weather just changed, I don't know. You stick to your theory and I'll stick to mine! It's amazing how quickly a boat can sneak up on you. I was poodling along at about 11 o'clock when I saw an orange tanker at about one kilometre away. I checked its bearings and it was heading for me. I have seen this before with a fishing boat so I hailed it on the radio with one eye on the white flares, and a bizarre conversation ensued. 

Me: This is rowing boat Pacific Pete - repeated three times - calling orange tanker at 13.48. 49 15 - repeated 3 times. I then repeated the whole thing three times, all the time with it coming towards me. Then suddenly - 
Ship: Hola (There was no actual use of the phase - 'filthy gringo pig' but the implication was definitely in the voice.)
Me: Hola. Que tal?
Ship: Muy bien, y tu 
Me: Muy bien gracias That was delivered in my best Spanish that I use to go shopping or buy some petrol.
Me: Do you speak English?
Ship: Yes, a leetle.
Me: Can you see me? 
Ship: Yes, are you in trouble?
I thought - That depends on whether you regard a big tanker on collision course with you as trouble. So I said, 'no, I want to make sure that you are not going to hit me'.
Ship: No, I no hit you, I pass 50 metres south.
Me: Thanks.

I was furious, 50 metres - it looked like a collision course to me! Would he pass another tanker so close? I felt like a bicycle of the sea that's been clipped by a wing mirror. It was only when I had calmed down that I realised that it was probably a deliberate course to see if I was a dismasted yacht in trouble, so perhaps my bad thoughts were not called for!

UP

7th March 2003

Three thousand miles of ocean and I'm scrapping with the wind over four. 
It all seems a bit petty but I need to be further north and the sooner the wind realises that and stops trying to send me to Brazil the better. The wind sends me south while I sleep and I take it back while I'm awake. 

Brazil wouldn't be so bad but I don't have the food to get there without a substantial improvement in my so far miserable fishing success. I tried to set the camera up on top of the flagpole astern this afternoon so I can get some posey shots of me rowing. I nearly fell in the sea and was only saved by having a rudder to lean on. So maybe posey shots will have to wait till the calm waters of Barbados. My collection of story tapes was exhausted some time ago so imagine how pleased I was to find The Hobbit in amongst my treats from Ed - a truly inspired gift. 

After listening to it all morning I spent this afternoon on an imaginary adventure with Oliver and Toby. I can't wait until they are old enough so Dad and I can take them to the forest for weekends. Remember the letter Dad - it's all there to play for.

UP

6th March 2003

I woke up this morning and twitched my net curtains to spy on the neighbours but couldn't find any so got up and rowed instead. The wind is against me and relentless. I am pushed south at night and despite rowing northwest all day I got pushed further south today too. I hope it changes soon so I can get back on course. Analyse these: I had two really vivid dreams last night. In the first, the sea froze and I had to make a sledge from stuff on the boat and hike to Barbados. 

In the second dream, I was rowing along and found a buoy connected to a stainless steel metal chain, the sort you get in baths. Anyway, I pulled it up and it was three miles long and had a bath plug at the end. My boat was piled high with chain and the sea drained away and again I had to walk to Barbados.
I think it's about making such slow progress that I could probably walk to Barbados quicker than I am currently going. Maybe my dreams are agreeing 
with me.

UP

5th March 2003

A shoal of 4 or 5 blue fish came swimming past me today but they had gone before I had got my tackle out. Which reminds me, I've gone back to wearing my shorts all day, even when it is very hot, after a run in with a hook on one of the hatches that I use for a seat, but no serious harm. 

The wind is less than 10 knots, and goes pretty much unnoticed, but today it got up to 15 or 20 and is heading directly southwest. Over night I went 9 miles south. It seems bizarre as just a few weeks ago I was trying to get south and I need to row north during the day if I don't want to end up in Brazil. Rowing across waves is a miserable task quite soul destroying; all it offers is the prospect of drifting south the moment I stop rowing. 

The wind blows 24 hours a day and doesn't get tired. A tough day and I hope the wind changes direction soon. But still, if it was easy, everyone would be at it - so back to the oars. Toodle pip.

UP

4th March 2003

Another slow day, no wind to speak of and a boat that seems to get heavier every day. At lunchtime I saw a boat, quite a way off and nothing happened, it just went back over the horizon. But it gets a mention because it makes a change after seeing nothing but sea and sky since day 22. This afternoon I found a Kit-Kat. I was just poking around in a locker and there it was just smiling at me. Well, this brought up all sorts of issues. 

Did I eat one finger a day, or half, or half every other day? I solved the dilemma by scoffing it all in a fury, making vague snuffling noises as I wolfed it down. The find led to a half hour search of other lockers with no joy. I drift south at night but for now I need to stay on this latitude so I row north during the day. The net effect is that I stay roughly in the same number of mark degrees north, but row a lot more miles than I need to, subtracting from the miles towards Barbados.

UP

3rd March 2003.

Slow today, I think a load of treacle floated into my path. This is the dark part of the crossing, past half way, and every time I look at my supplies I see that I am closing in on my target. There are still over 700 miles to go; a lot of work remains to be done and I need to stay focused on rowing and not start thinking about the finish too much. 

But I do think about the finish, and I have mixed feelings - would like to see my family again, keen to have a good night's sleep followed by a day of sitting still, but also sadness that something I have looked forward to for so long is almost over before it gets going. I am comfortable now in this boat. I have learnt to ignore the discomforts of the journey and have settled into a good routine. The simplicity of my day is attractive and I've come to take for granted the huge luxury of uninterrupted thinking. I eat when hungry, sleep when tired, well almost, and have nothing to distract me. 

No adverts, telly, phones and e-mail - just me thinking about what I want, when I want. If I like the thought I follow it, if I don't, then I just let it go. Again, a luxury, whether I choose my thoughts and then do nothing, I covertly or overtly try to accept my agenda.

UP

March 2nd 2003

Cooler today, a mere 30 degrees, but still no shade, so it could be a pretty intensive rowing session. The storm has not materialised, but I still can't tune my radio. This will totally ruin my weekend, no sport at all, how will I survive? Despite weekly efforts to stick to chocolate rationing, the store was so depleted during a bad week that today I finished the last bar of snickers, and dam good it tasted too. I will miss the creamy, sugary sticky taste of chocolate until I land. Running out of chocolate started me thinking about the food I miss. I don't really miss any, but I do know that for 46 days I ate every meal crouched over, balancing a bowl on my knees and holding the cooker in place with my foot. The same spoon has been used to eat meals, to stir my tea with and in fact used for everything. When I land I want to go to a restaurant with heavy linen table cloths, neatly starched napkins and be perfectly perched on a strong carver chair; all the food requiring an acre of cutlery, and over several courses the use of numerous cups glasses and condiments etc. I'm also missing the kids at home. When I get back I want to get the boys up early one Autumn morning and take them to Richmond Park to see the mists over the pond and play a game of hide and seek, and they are probably old enough now to get to know London. When I said I don't miss food, I wasn't of course including apple crumble and custard. I was missing that before I got to the airport. As the saying goes, 'tired of crumble, tired of life'. 

UP

March 1st 2003

I woke up this morning and really fancied going for a row. Well imagine my surprise when I got up and found myself in the middle of the Atlantic. How fortunate is that! The forecast storm did not arrive, maybe tomorrow. So today was another blistering day - 39 degrees centigrade in the shade, and yep, no shade! There must be something brewing in the atmosphere as I couldn't tune my radio all day - just static and interference, and I was so looking forward to my weekly dose of sport. Did Arsenal beat Charlton and take an almost unassailable lead in the league? I just don't know. I did my weekly wash at lunchtime and turned the whole place into a Chinese laundry by trying to dry my T-shirts and shorts, and air out my rather grim sleeping bag at the same time. I felt like Widow Twanky. This afternoon I pondered just how lucky I am to able to row the Atlantic. It's one thing to have the opportunity, but you also need a supportive family to enable me to achieve it. I can't decide if my senses are deprived, as all they get is the same scenery, same smells, and the same food to taste, all spoiled rotten. It might be the same but the sea changes constantly. The sky never stops and the colours all fly about in a melange, simple beauty all the more beautiful for its simplicity and reliability.

UP

28th February 2003

The sun made a concerted effort to kill me today. There were clouds and even rain near me, but the sun managed to dodge and weave around the clouds all day in it's striving to get me. There is a storm forecast for tomorrow and I'm actually quite looking forward to it. I managed to fulfil a long forgotten ambition today. While walking in Western Sudan, when I was eighteen, I had one favourite tape to listen to as I climbed mountains and crossed rivers. I remembered today that I had the desire to listen to the tape surrounded by water to see if it still evoked the desert. This I did, and it did. In fact it led to the entire day collecting thoughts and reminiscing, with smiles, about various incidents that I got into and escaped from . It was sunset almost before I had finished breakfast. One thing did arouse me; some dolphins brought me out of my dreaming. I stopped rowing and grabbed my camera, but in the 30 seconds of chaos that it took me to find it, they had gone. Cameras and dolphins don't mix! Next time I shall keep rowing and enjoy the moment.

UP

27th February 2003

Quite a lazy day today, rowed steadily but somehow couldnít be bothered to put in too much work. Too busy staring at the clouds. A squall came through this evening, and it was succeeded by the most amazing devil rainbow, which totally made up for the soaking by the squall. A few weeks ago a trail of Satsuma pieces went past me over the course of three or four days. Now it is little translucent purple plastic pouches, each one the size of a large match box. Iíve seen over 20 in the last four days and as I have shifted course from vaguely southwest to vaguely northwest, it seems that this entire sea region is infested with them. I havenít managed to grab one yet to find out what they are, so baited breath all round. I have sort of set myself a rough target day of the 19th of March; Jo will know why I am going for this date.

UP

26th February 2003

This day is unthinkable. It is quite windy today and I spent a little time annoyingly beam on to the wind. While in this position I looked at the sea and saw a huge wave crashing about 30 metres from me. I knew it was going to crash over me, and for the final few seconds when it happened, all I could do was to sit there and watch it. It duly broke over the boat, pushing me out of my seat and blasting the boat 10 metres through the sea, beam on, in the direction of the waves. Pretty powerful stuff. I somehow kept hold of my oars, one of which tried to go under the boat, which would have made a capsize much more likely. Fortunately, it was a one off wave, and I had a couple of minutes to re-gather my senses and wring out my favourite T-shirt. I spent the rest of the day putting a lot more effort into the oars to avoid getting caught full beam on again. Didnít make too much progress today, perhaps because I had a ten-minute nap at lunchtime, which lasted two hours! I was just dozing in my little protective hole just outside the cabin, and I would probably still be sleeping there now if a wave hadnít given me a wash and a rude awakening.

UP

25th February 2003

What an amazing day; the wind blew in the direction I wanted to go for a change. There was still cloud cover all day, so I could recharge my batteries from the solar power, but the heat was not too intense. I think I covered about 60 miles, and even managed a long lunch just to look at the amazing sky. All day the sky looked liked the inside of a giant white fleecy; it was really cool. I was really happy just to be alive today; everything seems to be so inviting and alive. I have re discovered my sense of wonderment, a little foolish of me leave it in the middle of the Atlantic Iíll grant you, but Iíve got it back now, so no harm done. I have a habit of finding things in strange places like the hand grenade I found it that traffic jam in Kashmir, and a wife I found in Orang-utan country in Samartra. Strange places to leave these essential items of kit. I can confirm that I actually quite like the B.B.C World Service, a sure sign that my marbles are departing!

UP

A good days rowing today. I'm reaching a point where I can sustain a good level of effort during my 12 hours at the oars. This is due to getting to understand what level I can maintain and also to an increase in my overall strength which will serve me well for the latter stages of the trip.

I was thinking today that it was a good job that I am rowing on my own because nearly all my plans have had to be changed on the hoof and if a partner had been involved there would have been endless opportunities for disagreement. As it is I just do what I feel. The chocolate discipline has collapsed; I had eight mars bars today. The rot set in on the day I hurt my shoulder and didn't row, and now I have about 30 chocolate bars left, and at this rate they will last until about the end of the week.

Still, once they're gone they're gone and I won't have anyone to blame except myself. My Spanish continues to improve. I'm getting very bored with my tapes and will be pestering my personal Spanish teacher for more when I get home.

UP

My shoulder feels fine so I rowed properly today. It was just as well as I will be here for Christmas otherwise. I was thinking today about how impressively organised Ellen MacArthur is. She does everything in the finest detail. She has a sleep coach and a sleeping strategy. I have two pillows, one of which sags in the middle and a damp mouldy sleeping bag. It is too hot to sleep in the bag so I have liberated a dustsheet that was acting as padding around the battery, and now I have a rather itchy sleeping sheet.

I'm not quite demonstrating the same level of professional planning, but then again, it is the improvisation that creates a good story and I'm on a journey and not a rowing race. Anne has finished in 56 and half days and that smashes the previous woman's record - well-done Anne! I don't think I will be that quick. I reached 40 degrees west tonight; another milestone falls, and tomorrow will be 40 days at sea.

UP

Although I started rowing very gently, I think that today I have been able to row through my shoulder strain. By the end of the day I was applying virtually full pressure; I will see how it feels when I wake up. Waas turned up today - it was good to see her again.

I thought that maybe the penguin gull had scared her off for good. Pengu, as I have named the gull, turned up a few times today, but Waas returned quicker after each Pengu visit. So I hope that means Waas is not feeling too intimidated? Later in the afternoon, I saw three white buoys surface about 50 yards on my port oar. They were evenly spaced and football sized. After 20 seconds or so they disappeared. Was it the surf playing tricks on me or was it a lookout system for a UFO lurking under the waves? I just don't know. The shark bogies under the boat tell me it's the mussel affecting the rowing.

I haven't cleaned the rudder for ages as it's so hard to get to but I went for it today and scraped off 30 or so baby mussels. The four or five blue fish following had a great meal, but none took up my tempting offer of a plastic squid with a fishhook inside.

UP

21st February 2003

A quiet day today. My shoulder still hurts so I rowed gingerly in the afternoon only. I took the opportunity to do some cleaning. This place is a complete tip. I gave myself a scrubbing too and feel much better. In the afternoon I read and fished and did a little bit of rowing. At one time I reeled in my line and literally, as the bait left the water, I saw a Tuna looking at the bait. Was it that I was within a hairsbreadth of catching the Tuna? Would one more metre of line have seen me having sushi for supper? Or did the Tuna know it was a lure all along and followed it in order to look me in the eye and say in fish language "you're not in my league, son." I shall never know. I have rubbed industrial quantities of Ralgex into my shoulder so I hope it gets better tomorrow or I may be overcome by the fumes. It is the middle of the Atlantic and my cabin smells like a rugby changing room. Stop Press! He's just done it again. I was cooking supper and having a quick fish. I pulled in the line and, yes, same thing, same fish. He was definitely having a laugh at my expense. That it should come to this. Humiliated by a Tuna. But you mark my words; by hook or by crook I shall have sushi before I finish this trip.

UP

20th February 2003

It feels like there is something under my boat holding it back. I went in at lunchtime to have a look but apart from some shark bogey all looked normal, so I put it down to a continual treacle sea. Just after lunch something went ping in my right shoulder so I spent the rest of the day resting it and reading. I hope it will be back on games tomorrow. Because I wasn't rowing this afternoon I have completely blown my chocolate rationing. I had enough marsbars, twix, kitkat etc for two per day for sixty-five days in total. I ate seven today and feel a bit guilty now, but it was nice. Not rowing changes the view of the sea. Whereas rowing I am always looking for large waves to avoid or a spot to put my oars in, when I am not rowing it just becomes a hypnotic continuum, great for whiling away hours in daydreams or rather constructive brainstorming and planning sessions - Nah - it was daydreams.

UP

19th February 2003

I started rowing early this morning and tried to compensate for yesterdays lack of miles, but the treacle has thickened overnight and today was even slower. I am being pushed relentlessly south. If it goes on too long I will be landing in Brazil. I phoned Stubbsy to get a weather check and he put me onto John Searson, a weather expert par excellence. Apparently the south heading winds will get more pronounced over the next few days and will then reduce. So treacle till the weekend it is then.

UP

18th February 2003

Some days I row hard and make good progress, some days I row just as hard but get stuck in a treacle sea. Today was the latter, but I didn't really care as it was such a beautiful day. Cotton wool clouds made animals and faces at me all day. Another seagull turned up today, though no sign of Waas. The gull is large and black, save for a little white tummy. It's wings look pretty stiff and overall it looks like a young flying penguin. I'm definitely getting west. The sunset tonight was 23.30 G.M.T. As it was so sunny today I made lots of water and washed my two t-shirts and one pair of shorts in fresh water. They feel much cleaner now. Salt water doesn't get clothes clean and the salt it leaves behind is really irritating on the skin so fresh water to wash in is a real treat.

UP

17th February 2003

Thatís today. One hundred percent cloud cover all day and yet only one squall at the end of the day. I had rice and sardines for lunch while fishing with my octopus lure. I had no luck at all so might go back to using the flying fish bait. One of those quiet days today where nothing huge happened but I ploughed across another piece of ocean. If I time it right I can get the boat on top of a big wave just as they break. When this happens the sea beneath the boat goes see-through, Colgate blue and I can see into the middle of the wave for a second. Then, whoosh, the wave throws me forward, rushing in at the scuppers and flooding the deck, a great way of getting my feet clean. Iíll have an early night tonight as I overslept this morning. Must have been the Tia Maria. No headaches today though.

  UP

16th February 2003

I think the spring on the hatch hinge has just gone because it comes crashing down on my head on a regular basis since it first battered me while I was on the phone. I haven; bleed anymore but have a bit of a permanent headache and feel slow and lethargic. That could just be me feeling lazy of course. Past the halfway mark after midday and had my midway party. It was a pretty subdued affair. Halfway doesnít look any different. Bit of an anticlimax really but I drank my one can of beer and it tasted good. I subsequently raided my goody jar and drank a miniature Tia Maria (I donít know how it got in there in the first place), and a good bit of whisky. I have taken to putting whisky in my tea instead of milk. The rowing is now getting in the way of tea making. I also found a small bottle of port but that is going to have to wait until my birthday. A definate weather pattern has emerged over the last few days. Cloudy until ten, then slowly clearing. Blisteringly hot from eleven to four, then slowly clouding over again. Then coming in from five to eight, nasty dark clouds with visible rain lines off them. They move fast and come in spitting and howling. The sea gets confused and the wind gusts unpredictably. The sea goes from azure blue to oily grey and then just as suddenly as it arrives it vanishes. I think these go on all night as every now and again the cabin gets blasted by waves and I hear rain pattering down on the solar panels. A quick thanks to the guys at Black Sun for all their sterling work on the website. Everyone says its going really well and remember Black Sun; loyalty solutions from Putney to Peking.

UP

15th February 2003

Funny how a day that canít go wrong can. I had an interesting day today. I will pass the halfway mark tomorrow and this set me thinking about the trip. Up until now I have been approaching it as a task to be completed. This is wrong. I am not completing a task but enjoying a journey for its own sake. I should not be wishing away days and miles that I have spent so long plotting to organise. With this in mind I had a good day at the oars. At lunchtime I sorted out my rations and kept 35 days worth. The rest went to feed the fishes. I hope they like pasta and rice. I am sure penne and fusille will cause a stir among the local fish population when it reaches the floor of the abyssal plane, currently about three miles straight down. After lunch I listened to Arsenal beat Man. U. and then England beat France at Twickenham; all was rosy in the garden. I even had a great supper and only got hit by one wave while drinking my tea. So I decided to take my evening position on the G.P.S. It wonít acquire satellite and is therefore as useful as a briefcase at Woodstock. This is of grave concern to me as without it I am reduced to navigating by stars and sun. I can still get to the Americas but the precision required to hit Barbados is beyond me. I was considering my options over another cup of tea Ė panic seemed the best one. Then I remembered the spare G.P.S. It was of course in the last cranny I searched, and Iíd checked all the nooks first. The fat lady was warming up and considering a late comeback when finally I found it. My spare G.P.S. has been pressed into service. It has been designed for hikers, not sailors and is not as hardy as my main one that has just failed. I hope it lasts the next thirtyĖodd days.

UP

As I stuck my head out of the cabin this morning a large wave came over the deck and drenched me - a bad start to a bad day, but I'm getting used to a regular soaking from Neptune. It is in fact amazing how quickly it is possible to adapt to almost any minor discomfort to the point where it ceases to be noticed. Sadly, my knees and bum are not minor discomforts. My left knee has been playing up for some time, so I put more power to the right.

Well, today that went also. So whereas the left doesn't like being bent, the right doesn't like being flat, but I haven't worked out a rowing position to suit either of them yet. I think it is safe to say that arms and back are taking me to the West Indies. As for my bum, I have a large knee pad on each cheek; it hurts every time I sit down and I can't even change positions; so I will just have to put up with it. I amuse myself with a good singsong in the evenings - ABBA in Hindi and listening to the World Service.

UP

13th February 2003

Phoned Jo this morning and as it was raining I just stuck my head out of the hatch to get a satellite signal rather than putting on foul weather kit and going outside. This was a mistake as half way through our conversation the hatch slammed down on my head, catching me across the front.
Not too much blood, but I have been feeling groggy all day. I hope a night in the coffin will cure it. I've decided that I don't do drizzle. Sunshine is fine, just slap on some sun cream and row. Stormy seas are fine, and hard rowing are fine - climb into the foul weather gear, tie on the harness and row, but drizzle I don't like. Too cold for a T-shirt and too clammy in a Musto. The drizzle has not been invited to my half way party. I had good winds today - westerlies for the first time, so that I can catch up with Anne in a day or two and help her on her way; she must be nearly there by now.
I look forward to the happy feeling of anticipation of seeing the family and loved ones, which she no doubt must be feeling. As I took down my ensign at the end of the day, I noticed that it was a bit frayed at the edges; it is nice to know that I not alone in that respect!

UP

A fine day today, rowing steadily to 35 degrees west, the halfway point; I hope to be there in about four days or so. I haven't done so much night rowing as thought I would do, mostly because I'm so knackered at the end of 12 hours of rowing, that at the end of the day, night rowing has little appeal. However, I do spend some time just because it's so amazing, and I rowed a bit last night.

The moon isn't full but it's pretty big and gives great light. The sea at night is alive with phosphorescence. The bow causes a shimmer, but the biggest effect comes from my oars as they go in and stimulate the little nodules of green algae - like swimming fireflies. The action of the oars sends them swirling off behind the boat, so they fade quite quickly and go to sleep, which is a shame. This is a truly spectacular sight.

UP

The storm passed rather quickly and then settled about four miles to starboard, so I sat outside drinking tea and watching the light show, it was very cool. The storm left a surprisingly calm sea and I didn't drift last night, but the up side was that I got some sleep.

Very handy, as I was wondering how long it would take to die of sleep deprivation. I don't think I'm going to find out now, and I'm sure my life will be better for not knowing (!!). At night, the waves lapping at the boat sound like people talking softly in an adjoining room. I catch snippets of sentences and cut off words. It's almost as if a Gin Palace had decided to sidle up to me, and the occupants were discussing whether to let me join their soiree.

I can't mingle without the proper attire, and besides, my white tie is severely crumpled at the moment, and I have loaned my black tie to a dolphin to go to a fancy dress ball, dressed as a penguin, but he hasn't given it back yet. I have a stowaway. I was working the water maker today and a small ant emerged and scrambled across the hatch. Three questions came to mind. Why did he take so long to show himself? Does he know where he is? Does Waas fancy a snack?

UP

The flying fish are getting to be an issue. I wish I had bought some oil and flour with me, because every morning the deck is covered with plenty of dead fish, all perfect for turning into white bait. The flying fish move and fly in shoals. They must take to the air to avoid preditors, as they never fly straight. Like a squadron of the First World War fighters, they take to the air and bank left or right.

It was just a matter of time, but I'm surprised it happened so quickly. Yes, you've guessed it; a squadron emerged off my right oar and banked left straight into my boat. There was fish paste everywhere, and I got attacked by three of the little kamikazes. The boat then took on a 'Grimsby at low tide' ambience. The letters on the oars continue to fall off, and they now say 'anna', 'live' and 'to' - very cryptic I'm sure! I have never been afraid of thunder and lightning, but I've never experienced it while being thrown around in a 22' plywood skiff. So, am I afraid of thunder and lightning? I'll tell you when tomorrow comes, and I hope that's soon!

UP

My sister's birthday today; happy birthday Jane. A fairly uneventful day today, I rowed a lot, listened to my tapes and daydreamed. At lunch, I unhooked the oars and used black tape to spell out Joanna on one oar and then Oliver and Toby on the other. Unfortunately, the tape isn't particularly good at staying on in seawater, and now they say 'oanna and Toy and Olive'. I shall have to think of a better plan. Flying fish are becoming a regular feature; they even land on me while I'm rowing. I will have to clear the decks regularly or the deck will become smelly like my cabin.

UP

This morning I found several small flying fish on my deck, very reminiscent of the old man of the sea. I tried using some of the sardines sized ones for fishing bait but didn't get a bite. Not to worry though, I wouldn't have known what to do if I had caught a proper sized fish! While I was having breakfast, fishing boat appeared and started closing on me quite fast. I hailed it on the VHF but to no avail. I checked its course - a collision course with me. I grabbed a white flare and started waving madly and then I saw some men on the fore deck waving back.

They had seen me, so the flare went back in its box. It was a Spanish trawler. They had seen my boat and had assumed that I was a dismasted yacht and were coming over to assist. They hadn't answered the VHF because no one spoke English. With some awful Spanish, and some massive over acting, I explained that I was all right and in fact a rowing boat. They took it remarkably well I thought! It was Saturday today so I spent the day listening to football commentary and news about the cricket world cup on the World Service. I hope they do some live test matches - they will be great to row to.

UP

This morning I'm physically aching and don't want to get up as it means more rowing for my tired arms, legs and back. For motivation, I tell myself that the more I row the quicker I will get back to Teddington with the children I adore and the woman I love. That gets me up.

A steady day's rowing followed, and I was getting blase about the natural beauty around me; someone must have noticed and sent a seagull for me to marvel at. A strange looking bird, with its thin tail as long as its body. It shooed off Waas and Sis, and hung around looking for food. I remained loyal to Waas and Sis and declined to indulge my expectant diner. He circled a few more times and them drifted off on the breeze. Waas and Sis gingerly reappeared a couple of hours later. Then the most amazing sight. Dolphins - but not merely in tens as last time, this time in hundreds.

I'm not joking, but at one point the entire sea seemed alive with leaping dolphins I was totally surrounded by tight packs of the creatures clicking at me and launching themselves across my bow, stern and just feet from the oars, all at the same time. I think that the entire pod must have numbered 200 - it was simply breath taking. I had to concentrate on my rowing and didn't stop, so I have no photos but I will carry a clear picture in mind for a long time.

UP

Whilst writing my log I stuck my head out for one last glance around. I don't know why I bother; I haven't seen a sign of human life for three weeks. And there it was, just beside the moon, a block of flats with red and white lights. It was a decent sized container ship tracking parallel to me, three miles away and no danger to me at all. I went inside to sleep but couldn't.

Every time I closed my eyes I heard the engines rumble closer, so eventually I went and sat outside until the lights disappeared over the horizon and into the night. This placated my jumpy mind, which then let me sleep. A butterfly settled on my boat today. I don't know how it got this far from land, but I unwrapped a boiled sweet hoping it might settle and get some energy from the sugar, but it just flew off. I wonder if Waas ate it? Good progress today, but physically exhausting. I hope that the winds and currents will help me through.

UP

Another day pressing south, perhaps the last. Throughout the morning I listened to various speeches and after lunch I went for a dip. I was happily cleaning the hull when suddenly something touched my knee. I would like to say that I clutched my lifeline and boldly turned to face the enemy, but I can't say that because in reality I exited the water in a blind panic. Once I was in the boat and still with my mask on, I turned to see what it was, and stuck my head over the side. Nothing! The Boat makes one knot when I am not rowing.

I turned my attention to the stern. Nothing, and then I spotted it, ten yards astern one foot under water; there was the monster, famous in these waters for attacking lonely rowers, that evil, man-eating plastic coke bottle! I was glad that I got out so quickly; another second and it would have had my leg. Now both my knees are clicking and sore, I suppose the rowing is responsible for that.
I hear that Anne is doing extremely well, over two thirds completed already. I hope she has not got noisy knees and a sore bum like me. Well-done Anne.

UP

Another problem from the great flood has emerged today. A spare loo roll, which I thought was dry, was, when unwrapped, soaking wet and therefore totally useless. I am sure you can imagine why I discovered this today, but never fear, I am reading a huge book so as long as I get through three pages a day I shall be O.K. I made good progress going south today, perhaps only one more day going south, and then west to Barbados. No doubt the wind will change then and shift north! Overall, today was a bit of a sad day.

Some days are glorious and exciting and other days scary and exciting, but I have spent them increasingly thinking about my boys Oliver and Toby. While it makes me happy to think of them and listen to the tapes of them talking, it makes me sad that I am not there to read them stories and tickle their toes. Waas has turned up again and brought her friend; I've named her 'Sis' as in sister of Waas. They skit along the waves and generally show off for ages. My knee is clicking louder but my ankle seems to have recovered.

UP

3rd February 2003
I'm almost too tired to write today; I think sleep or the lack of it is catching up on me. There wasn't much wind today, but I managed to get a good way south by surgically welding my bum to the rowing seat and gluing my hands to the oars. I listened to a tape on Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins; it was good stuff to listen to when one is engaged in a mini Titanic struggle. Waas visited me several times today, and brought her friend along too.
I can't go on calling her just 'her friend' so I will have to think of a name. I could not get my short wave radio tuned properly today. I had the right frequency but all I could get was unstructured musical melange with instruments coming in and fading out without reason or warning. I was about to strip the radio and see if there was a problem with the aerial when I realised that I had been tuned to a jazz programme!

UP

After one of the most miserable nights of my life, I got up at 4 0'clock in the morning and made tea and sat outside reading by torchlight. I was thoroughly cold and the damp now seeped into my bones. Fortunately, the sun came up and this was almost a pagan experience as I willed it to come up quicker. By 7a.m I'd had breakfast and started to sort out my kit to dry.

This was a laborious task as each piece had to be hung out off the deck to protect it from the spray, so this had to be done one piece at a time. By 3p.m my sleeping kit was dry and my clothes were well on the way to drying out. My spirits improved hugely as I got hot and had a swim and generally stopped feeling so negative. I even managed to giggle about the whole thing. Neptune must have felt guilty about that wave, and in late afternoon a steady southerly breeze for two hours salved his conscious. I've just completed my damage check, like in Star Trek, but the status report is a bit depressing - one broken cocktail glass puts the kibosh on my celebratory birthday drink and one lost air guitar.

I knew I had it in the cabin because I was playing with it a few nights ago. Thankfully I have a spare one! Waas, my friendly bird, only came once today, I wonder if he is losing interest in me? My left knee is clicking ominously as I row, and my right elbow is sore. Not even twenty days into the trip, and already my body is falling apart. Still, let's see what chef is making for supper, perhaps that will cheer me up.

UP

A terrible day, it started well enough, but the waves were large. I put on my Musto, Ellen MacArthur's audio book, and harness, and had a thoroughly enjoyable morning being thrown about on the westerly rollers. I thought I was having the ultimate Imax experience. My coffin was getting unbearably damp, and my camera was showing condensation warning signs in the afternoon. So I decided to open the rear hatch, and this was fine.

At seven we fully open the hatch to remove the Ensign for the night, as I always did, but for some reason I neglected to shut it. The hatch was open and the seas were pretty big, and I distinctly remember thinking I would close it after completing a chore I was doing. Then disaster struck; a massive wave engulfed the entire stern, and in the process delivering about 20 gallons of water into my cabin in less than a second, and I had only just dried it out. I dived into my cabin, and shut the hatch. Bolting horses and stable doors sprang to mind. The cabin has ten storage lockers full of food and communication equipment, clothing and batteries etc. and every one of them was wet. I had no choice but to start baling. My main bilge pump doesn't work for some reason, and the cabin is too small to operate the hand pump, so I used a saucepan, then cups and then sponges in each of the compartments.

I emptied the water into the outside foot well and periodically pumped this out using the hand pump. Fortunately, I had been really meticulous about wrapping up my communications equipment and camera and I got them in first, stuffing them into the bow locker; I think they will be all right. The baling process lasted until after sun down, my sleeping bag is literally dripping on the deck; my clothes are wet and my pillow needs wringing out. I am cold, fed up and feel sorry for myself. It was my own entire fault - I left the hatch open and paid the price. Before I left, my motto for the trip was ‘a closed hatch is a happy hatch’. I have been pretty good at keeping that up, but now I have a calm and sleepless night ahead of me to contemplate how much more discipline I will need for the next part of the trip

UP

Two weeks at sea today; not very long but already I feel that this is the natural order of things - the repeats of the World Service and water as far as the eye can see. Whilst planning this trip I roughly assumed that I would be cleaning the underside of the boat every two weeks. Well, two weeks is up, so, not as bravely as I'd like, in I went.

In my mind a large shark was lurking below the waves with jaws open and rubbing his face and tummy with his fins; but when I got in there was no sign. However, I now know why. The hull is covered in snot-like green vegetation string, so clearly my shark had a cold, and I managed to choose the time when he was off eating an octopus. Anyway, I grabbed my spatula and sent the snot into the deep. At this very moment sea anemone in the ocean deep is probably muttering to itself and wiping sharks snot off its tentacles.

Over resent days I have seen a black and white fish swimming around and under my boat. It was only today that I realised that I actually had twins escorting me to the West Indies. They are both eight inches long and cigar shaped and they did not think much of me. I rowed until dusk and called out in French, but to no avail - maybe German tomorrow.

UP

I only managed 7 hours on the oars before feeling very fatigued. Today's audiotape was Angela's Ashes; it was quite an emotional roller coaster, and I blabbed a lot. I think a lack of human contact is putting me on an emotional trigger. Perhaps I am beginning to think more deeply about stuff or I might just be soft.

A fine red dust has been settling into the corner of my boat for a few days now, and I have only just realised that it is sand coming from the Sahara - which makes me feel like Michael Palin. My friendly bird continues to show up each night at dusk; she circles a few times just to check I'm all right and then goes off home. I shout my hello's and wave, but I don't think she speaks English. Tomorrow I will try bon soir oiseau, and see if that gets any reaction!

UP

I ran the water maker today in spite of the rough sea. It performed well and taking the pitch and yaw in its stride. Either the wind and the waves are dropping or I'm getting blaze' and I managed to do four hours at the oars, although it didn't seem to change my speed in any meaningful way. There is little to do at the moment, and meal times have taken on a great importance. This evening I had lamb casserole, rice and a Mars bar but not in the same bowl.

The day was going very well until 7p.m when I went into my cabin to take down the Ensign. In order to do this I lay on my back to open the rear hatch and stick out my hand. Tonight just as I did this a wave came over the edge and smacked me in the mouth. I was so furious that I lay there fuming, and then its friend came along and did the same thing again. There wasn't actually much water, but enough to add to the condensation and damp atmosphere of my coffin; tonight will not be comfortable.

UP

Still the storm goes on. I'm running very low on water; but I can't use the water maker in these conditions. I've taken to standing up in the boat facing astern and watching the waves as the boat drops off the back of a big one. It really does feel like being on top of the world, as in a trough surrounded by waves in water. They always look like they are going to break over the boat, but they rarely do. There's not much to do; I just lie in my coffin (as I've started to referring to my cabin as) daydreaming. The storm is giving me good mileage but at the expense of my sanity.

It's not such a good deal as it may seem. The Atlantic has more miles than I have marbles! I have a little central foot well just between the rowing position and the cabin; it is a sheltered area for cooking and cleaning etc. It was filled with water this morning; I baled it out and all the other holes as well, even the so-called watertight hatches leaked and were letting in water. Anyway, a huge wave came over the side of the boat, nearly drowning me, and refilling the foot well, so I baled it all over again. Well, it's not like I've got a train to catch.

UP

Very boring day today, the wind and waves are just too big to row in. I tried a few times throughout the day but with scary results and shaken confidence. I stayed in the cabin for a while until the claustrophobia got to me and I went outside for a while. It's very exposed on deck, and very windy, and I soon went back inside - a rather dull routine.

Can't read outside as the book will be blown away, I can read a little in the cabin but it soon makes me feel sick, so mostly I just lie on my back and look at picture of the boys; they are both so lovely and I miss them. I hope they aren't giving Jo a too harder time, as it must be hard for her.

UP

A bit of a blow going on out here today. In the morning I started rowing and soon after that a large wave took one of my oars and it was difficult to get it back. It nearly went in the drink in the process. I retreated to my cabin after lunch, and have been there ever since. The sea is throwing progressively larger waves against the hull, and each one makes a sickening thud; but I still feel quite cosy in my sanctuary even if it is very hot.

Every time I stick my head out of the hatch I see large rollers bearing down on me. It is almost like fields at home, only they are blue and wet and don't have any sheep on them. The activity of the day was learning Spanish and listening to some hilarious Brian Johnson speeches. I think today is a right off! I will have an early night and see what tomorrow will bring.

UP

I think I made more progress today. The boat seems to be moving a little quicker, but it still seems to be heavy; that will improve as I scoff my provisions. The water maker produced 4 and a half litres in one hour The sun was so strong that it only took three hours to recharge the batteries after this effort, all in all I think that this is pretty efficient and encouraging as I am now totally dependent on the water maker, having finished my jerry can.

It was 30 degrees C in the shade at lunch, and there wasn't any shade but a fresh breeze keeps it bearable. I prepared my supper and had green Thai curry and vegetable soup. It was delicious; I woofed it all and listened to John Peel on the world service. I thoroughly recommend it if you have absolutely nothing else to listen to.

UP

Today was, I hope, a turning point .I have been trying to go straight south to avoid an area of sea in which previous rowers have been caught and sent north for three or four days. I have been drifting dangerously close in a triangle at night, and been trying to correct my course during the day by rowing south. In order to achieve a southerly course against wind and currant going southwest, I've had to row southeast. It has been hellishly hard to gain mileage, and every night I drift southwest again!

Well, today I found out that it was storms, and not local currants that took previous rowers north, so now I am heading merrily straight across the bay as the wind and currant have been trying to do today. I hope to achieve better mileage now. A bird circled me cheerfully several times today .I wondered what it was doing so far from land, and he was probably thinking the same thing! To celebrate my new course I'm having steak stew, mash, peas and tea for supper; not quite steak and chips in the cellar of Chez Gerard but nectar to me all the same.

UP

A better day! I found some McVite's Digestives where they were stock piling with my Hobnobs. It was easy to keep a course today and I slipped into a routine of rowing for 45 minutes for one side of the tape and then resting for 15 minutes listening to the world service. I find that with an hour's lunch I can maintain this regime from 8 to 8. Lunch is becoming a treat to look for ward to although I must stop talking to my food!

I had a long discussion with my dear darling sausage before scoffing it today; it has got to stop. I lost my dirty bucket today; a bit of a disaster, but I am improvising with the over the side squat technique as there's no bidet here. Pug, my constant companion throughout the day decided to give me a parting treat and set the clouds alight for the rest of the night, and now it's dark with just a few twinkling stars and it's bedtime.

UP

I was up early to recommence battle and by the time the dawns' warm rosy fingers had started to show I had already pushed for an hour. The wind had dropped and keeping a southerly course was easy, but I didn't seem to be going very fast. My body rebelled, and by mid afternoon I collapsed and listened to BBC world service for the evening.

My cabin is soaking every morning with damp from my breath, but I dare not open the hatch in case a wave gets over familiar. I tried to find a position to sleep in to sooth my aching back, but sleeping in my damp sweat is not what you call a luxury holiday, however, I am so tried that I will sleep anywhere.

UP

January 19th 2003

Good news, sea legs arrived in the post. Bad news, eaten all the Hobnobs! Prospects of the rest of the trip without the Hobnobs seem boring. Even more so now that I can keep them down. The wind is still trying to shove me west, but I am still trying to get south, however, I think the wind has the edge. 14 hours I rowed today with little to show for it.

This just can't go on, either the wind will break or I will! Might as well row on then, as my cabin is damp and an uninviting place where I struggle to sleep. It is certainly not a refuge, more like a pit, and my bum hurts too much to stay there any longer.

UP

January 18th 2003

Rowed steadily away from El Hierro all day. I need to get south to pick up good trade winds. Only sick once, and managed a little food and living on drink, sweets and dried apricots.

The sunset was amazing and night rowing was possible using the lights of the Island of El Hierro for now. Should meet Canary currents, which should save some time tonight. I have a full moon tonight and I have a fantastic view of Orion.

UP

January 17th 2003

Started before dawn and my established rowing routine was broken down into 2 hour sets. I rowed all day and finished at 8.00 p.m. I hope I can continue to maintain this and head further south and clear the Island of El Hierro, therefore finishing off rowing around it tomorrow.

The weather here is 20 degrees, the cloud cover is kindly protecting me from the worst of the sun. I don't think this will continue as I break out into Atlantic proper.

UP

January 16th 2003

Departed 14.43 watched by a small cheering crowd. The boat is well set up and all is well apart from the fact that my e-mail is not working yet.

I rowed out trying to look brave, and hoped that no one saw the tears behind the sunglasses. The boat is rowing well but I was sick three times during the night. I also had no sleep because of the strange noises.



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