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


Tips from an oceanrower

By Andrew Giles (Atlantic E - W 2003, Double)

By profession I am a mechanical engineer. I had some prior experience of endurance events such as 1000 mile push bike races, various marathon distance running races etc, but had zero rowing experience before embarking on the challenge. All that changed quite rapidly once we were committed to the 2003 Woodvale race! I completed that race with Faye Langham in 56 days and 4 minutes.


1) Nutrition

We made our own vacuum packed dehydrated meals because to buy them ready made was horrendously expensive - about £4000 compared to £2000 to do it ourselves. They were fiddly to do and we were a little limited in terms of menu which was Chilli con carne, shephards pie, soup, porridge, cereal, scrambled eggs, curry. But we took loads and loads of sweets and Faye also came up with a system to make bread which was an absolute lifesaver. Our biggest mistake was to take lots of chewy sweets because we expected that chocolate would melt. That wasn't the case! The small amount of chocolate we took was fine, but the chewy sweets went all gooey and were a pain to unwrap. If we did it again we would take mountains of chocolate. We also took loads of powdered drinks supplements with us, but didn't use any of it! That was about 4kgs of unnecessary weight. Despite their costs we did take three or four of the ready made 'Adventure' meals with us as treats and they were lovely.

2) Training

We started training in earnest about 1 year before the event. The first job was to learn to row which wasn't too hard to get to an acceptable level - you don't need to be technically great to row an Atlantic boat. We were out on the water 2 to 3 times a week in a 2 man scull, with the Saturday trip being a long trip (20 miles or so) and the others being interval based. In the gym we rowed on the Ergosat resistance 10 for 30 minutes during lunchtimes 3 days a week. Once a week we had a long non stop Ergo session (started at 15 km, resistance 8 on week one, then each week added 1 km until we reached 42 km and then held it at that), and then twice a week in the evenings we had a 30 minute ergo session followed by an hour of weights. In addition to all of that we were pedalling and running whenever time allowed. Cross training is very important because the way the boat moves about in the water and the effort you need to put in is totally unlike rowing on flat water or on a rowing machine.
Once we had bought our boat and got it seaworthy (about 5 months before the event) we tried to get out in it at least once a week, but we only managed to get out onto rivers and lakes. Our biggest failing was that we never had time to take it to sea which would have saved us learning several uncomfortable lessons during the race itself......

3) Sea Anchors and Drogues

Very very very important!! We had the sea anchor out 3 times in the race and the drogue out twice. Practice rigging it and retrieving it before the race, because when you have to use it in anger from the moment you make the decision to deploy it you have very little time to get it out before the situation gets dangerous. The sea anchor is a vital piece of kit and you need to think very carefully about where you rig it from and how you rig it. My overwhelming preference is to rig it from the bow so that when deployed the bow faces the oncoming waves, I would not even consider rigging it from the stern due to the loads transom would take. You need a very sturdy, reinforced mounting point too, and I would always have the sea anchor attached and ready to deploy - the last thing you want when a storm gets up is to be crawling on the bow of the boat trying to attach shackles etc.
I would go for a bridle arrangement to rig the drogue from the stern, and again, always have it rigged and ready for deployment. Have a nice long line for it to attach to, because the shorter it is the less effective the drogue is at maintaining your direction. Ours was 80m, but we also had another 20m so we could play with length to suit the conditions. You can also just deploy the line if you feel the drogue is overkill for the conditions, or you can deploy just the line with knots tied in it at intervals of 1 or 2m and this slows you down a lot.

4) Watermakers

We used the PUR 40E/Katadyne and it was superb. I attended the strip down course at Solent Marine in Southampton and this too was invaluable, both for a piece of mind thing, and also when our watermaker failed before the start in La Gomera there were no dramas, I just stripped it down, replaced the faulty valve and off we went again. I have some watermaker related tips:

i) Mount the watermaker securely and as close to the waterline of the boat as possible. This minimizes the suction head for the pump.

ii) Place the water intake as close to the centreline of the boat as possible, this minimizes the air sucked in as the boat rolls.

iii) Mount the water maker using wing nuts, so that in the worst case if you abandon ship you can quickly remove the watermaker and take it with you.

iv) Fit a piece of tube and a valve to the top of the filter housing to make priming easier.

v) Make sure the suction side of the pump is 100% air tight, then you will hardly ever have to prime the watermaker

vi) Don't bother taking loads of filters like we did! We didn't have to change ours at all.

vii) We used a 50l water storage bladder placed in a central storage compartment with a small hand pump to empty it. This was a great system and is recommended.

5) Routines At Sea

We tried all sorts of different routines and finally settled on the following as giving a good mix of quality rest without excessively long stints. We rowed two sets 3 hours on and 3 hours off at night when itís nice and cool so you sleep better and can also row for longer. Then once the sun came up we rowed 3 further sets of 2 hours on and 2 hours off. Nothing's great, but this was a good compromise.

6) Physical Effects

Your bank balance will develop a hemorrhage and your girlfriend/wife will probably leave you!!!!
Amongst the other physical effects sea sickness is very common due to the size of the boat and the way it gets thrown about. I suffered seriously for the first 3 days, Faye suffered for about 2 weeks on and off. It gets worse when you take your eyes off of the horizon and concentrate on a task such as updating the charts or logs, or even worse fiddling with the watermaker! By incredibly luck at the last moment we decided to take loads of oranges with us at the start. These turned out to be literally the only things we could keep down - we couldn't even keep water down, so the oranges were indispensable while we were suffering with sea sickness.
Everyone loses weight, we both lost about 2 stone, although I wouldn't advise particularly bulking up before the event - we were training so hard that we could eat anything and still not put on weight!
You get your sea legs pretty quickly, such that you can move around the boat in a heavy sea like an agile cat, but as soon as you get ashore you're all over the place! This especially amused the onlookers at Port St Charles when I got out of the boat onto a pontoon, tried to walk straight across it to the jetty but made a diagonal drunken beeline for the edge of the pontoon and then the water had someone not grabbed me! This is due to your leg muscles literally wasting away because you're not doing any walking and it leads to some very achy moments back on land when you're building them back up again.
But all in all so long as you eat well there's no problem. Having got off the boat I walked the 2 miles to our apartment in Speitstown (albeit aided by my girlfriend a bit) because I had waited so long to be able to walk. We'd been rowing non stop for the last 26 hours because we were racing two other boats, but after four hours kip we were in the pub sinking some Bank's Beer and bathing in glory! We then went for a 10 mile walk the next day so the physical aspect can't be too bad all in all.

The old bum takes a bit of a hammering though, so be prepared for some pain in that department. After every shift we used wet wipes and talcum powder and that was great. As things progressed we moved onto Sudacream which was also excellent. We took plenty of cushions of differing thickness so that we could vary the pressure points on the bum and try and ease the pain. Sheepskin is great for absorbing some of the moisture without going salt encrusted we took a whole hide with us and replaced the bits we were sitting on when they got too horrific looking. You never can escape the pain altogether though and I've still got one blood encrusted sheepskin on my mantelpiece as a souvenir!
Other effects? Well while you're at sea you'll sometimes be miserable and swear never to do this again, but a year later you'll be plotting and planning on how to afford to do it again!

7) Emergencies

We didn't have anything too bad really, the worst bits of trouble were caused by very sudden and violent changes in the weather. You just cope with these - it never ever ceased to amaze me how much punishment these little wooden boats can take. When we were holed up in the cabin on the sea anchor we got repeatedly engulfed, and I guess technically sank quite few times, but the little boat always bobbed up again. We were meticulous (some said anal....) in our preparation of the boat, and this repaid us many times over in that nothing broke at all, some stuff like seat wheels wore out quite often but we anticipated this and just replaced them as and when.
Other problems involved some near misses with cargo vessels, and we had a very close call with an inquisitive fishing trawler in a force 6 squall who thought we were a liferaft and wanted to rescue us!

8) WHY?

I originally decided to do this having been in a pub late one night and seen a clip of a finisher from the 2001 race. I saw how ragged and damaged he was and just decided to have a crack at whatever he'd just been through because I was looking for a sporting event I could really get my teeth into.
I've done plenty of challenges before and after this, but no other challenge has so completely blown people away when you tell them what you are/have done. People that have never been to sea think its an awesome adventure, people that have been to sea before often genuinely think you're bezerk.
No other challenge will so completely change your attitude to life and the little problems you face along the way, personally I've become a lot more laid back in my approach to everything and work now definitely plays second fiddle dreaming up imaginative new ways of punishing my body!