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


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Atlantic Report

Our spirits rise with the wind


July 29 2004

After a near miss with a tanker the crew of the Pink Lady are on schedule for the record

WHATEVER wind we on the Pink Lady meet out here, one thing we can be sure of meeting is ships, because we are now on or around one of the main shipping lanes from Europe to America. Our closest encounter occurred on Sunday night, as we rode out yet another easterly on our sea anchor. It began for me as a dream. Ensconced once more in the forward cabin while the other three sheltered in the slightly larger rear cabin, I was dreaming of a beautiful day in Cambridge with a woman I am missing very much. This was a day we had several weeks before I left for Newfoundland. In my dream, as in real life, we are lying in the meadow opposite the punt operators, with our M&S picnic, and blue sky and weeping willow above. Young men and women are playing on the docile Cam, punting badly, laughing and falling in.

Suddenly, something is not quite right in the dream and I hear an engine. There are no engines on the Cam. Next thing, vague from my dream, I gaze through the hatch and, puzzlingly, see no sea and sky, but a wall of steel. In a second I am back in the real world, standing on the deck, screaming “Get out, get out!” to the other end of the boat. Mark’s head appears, he looks my way and sees nothing. He turns around and sees a huge tanker, the Liberty Bell, about 50m (160ft) from our stern. If these ships are big at a distance, believe me, they are huge close up.

Men were shouting from the deck but I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and she was wallowing dangerously close. I grabbed the VHS radio and spoke to the bridge. In an American drawl the skipper told me he had thought he was going to have to pull off a rescue. As we spoke she was turning a big circle starboard, and I told him we were OK. As we bade farewell, I felt a moment of sadness at the brevity of contact at sea, but also relief. From now on we have decided that when we are at sea anchor, one man will always be on deck as lookout.

If I am learning anything on this trip, it is that my resources of patience run deeper than I had imagined. I owe my new-found discipline to a pep-talk from my son Adam, a Royal Marine who, before I left, told me how in the field he puts on his “seven-day” or “two-week” head: that way he manages his expectations. That is something we are learning to do out here.

On Tuesday, however, it seemed that our previous fears about not claiming the record may have been exaggerated. Our spirits are rising with the wind. As I speak, the GPS tells me that the distance to the Bishop’s Rock lighthouse, which lies on our finishing line, is exactly 800 nautical miles, which is not bad. I’ve found a new way to deal with these big numbers: to me, 800 miles becomes 8.0. Consider that if we can maintain a minimum continuous speed of just over two knots, each day will cut back that total by 50 miles, or, in my case, cut this total from 8.0 to 7.5. At that rate we could reach the rock in 16 days, which will put us in comfortably at less than 45 days.

The rate, of course, depends not only on our resolve and our muscles, but on the conditions. West-East Atlantic rowers can normally expect favourable westerlies to push them home once they pass the halfway mark. We have had none. We have been promised two or three days of wind with a westerly component that started today (Tuesday). But three days after this, who knows what systems we might meet? There is an outside chance that the high will build over the next week. If it does our troubles will be over. If it doesn’t, they will be just beginning.

Obviously, we cannot wait to be reunited with our friends and lovers, and the quality of those relationships will, we hope, be enhanced by what we have all gone through; let’s not forget the people at home who are going through their own kind of emotional trial. To be stoic and see this through is a tremendous boost for anyone’s character, and for their resolve, and that’s what everyone at home who cares for us is doing. And none of us here fails to be grateful for that. This could so easily have been a deeply selfish act at the expense of other people’s emotions. But by choosing to be a part of this, too, they have enhanced our experience and also gained something from it themselves.

As told to Sara Lawrence

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