Rowing across an ocean is hard (spoiler alert). So why do it solo?
by Rob Hamilton, AKA Atlantic Titan
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is truly an adventure race like no other. In December this year, rowers from around the world will gather in La Gomera, the Canary Islands, as they prepare to row 3000 miles unsupported across the Atlantic, to Antigua. I am taking part in the solo class of this extreme event, under the team name, Atlantic Titan, a challenge which is very timely given the need to social distance. Having been medically discharged from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst due to a knee injury I am keen to prove that Injury does not need to be a barrier to achieving the extraordinary!
After a hard day of ocean rowing training in Burnham-on-Crouch
As you can probably imagine there are more than a few challenges involved in rowing solo across the Atlantic. The race could take up to three months, depending on conditions, During this time, I will have to contend with sea sickness, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, 30ft waves, 30 degree heat, salt sores, dehydration, sharks, isolation and despite the fact that I will be eating around 6,000 calories a day I will still likely lose between 10kg and 15kg (I am told there are easier ways to lose weight!). With large waves and high winds there is also a risk of capsizing. While the boats are designed to self-wright, you will certainly get rather beaten up and possibly knocked out if you are in the cabin, which, as a solo rower, is an interesting thought, to put it mildly. Then there’s the toilet situation, let’s not dwell on this, it’s a bucket. Small wonder then, that more people have been into space and climbed Mt Everest than rowed solo across and ocean.
The advent of COVID-19 has certainly made training for such an adventure an even trickier prospect. Then again, adapting and overcoming obstacles is the name of the game for any adventure and rowing across an ocean is certainly fits into that category. I now have a good home gym set up, complete with a barbell, bench, Concept 2 rowing machine and the club captain of Eton Excelsior Rowing Club who happens to be my flat mate and has been teaching me to row in isolation – quite handy for someone with virtually no rowing experience. With the fully laden boat weighing in at around 750kg strength training is the mainstay of my physical training, with a few erg sessions a week thrown in for good measure. However, the physical side of the race is often exaggerated, the nature of the row is more about mental fortitude and determination.
Spending all this time locked away at home has been excellent practice, and as strange as it sounds there is a lot of crossover between lockdown and rowing across an ocean. Whether drifting across an ocean or stuck at home for weeks on end, it’s easy to lose sight of time. This can lead to serious affects on mental and physical health. Therefore, nailing down and sticking to a routine has been incredibly important at home and solo ocean rowers often live by the words “routine will get you home”. The idea that no matter how stressful or difficult things get, if you stick to your routine, you will make it home! After all, there is no one else on board to make sure that I start my 5am rowing shift on time or do the required odd jobs onboard. Self-care and looking after my physical health are also extremely important and rowing up to 20 hours a day will certainly take a toll on the body. Injury prevention is, therefore, an important part of training, especially when there is no one else to look after me onboard. While injuries will almost certainly happen, it is preferable to get them in the last week of the crossing, not the first, as there is no recovery in the middle of the ocean!
But let’s back up a minute. Rowing across an ocean is hard (spoiler alert). So why do this solo? Well, despite the hardships and isolation of solo adventures, I have always found myself drawn to them. There is something about the need for self-reliance and being wholly responsible for the outcome of a challenge that I relish. I suppose it comes down to my own curiosity and wondering just how far I can push myself as well as the ability to look back on what I have achieved and know that I alone overcame the various challenges – or perhaps I just like making life a little more difficult for myself! The medical discharge from army officer training has only furthered my curiosity about just what exactly I can achieve and who knows what may come afterwards! I appreciate that saying this probably makes me sound like something of a hermit, rest assured, I do enjoy trips with friends too.
I have had a love affair with the ocean since I was 10, when I learnt to dive and have been fortunate to dive some extremely isolated locations. In 2013, a friend and myself carried out dive exploration work on the remote Tablas Island in the Philippines, getting right off the beaten trail discovering incredible dive sites and even meeting a wannabe bond villain. However, many of my adventures have been solo, such as travelling through the Arab Spring of 2011 or completing the Lakes in a Day ultra mountain marathon. My running days may be behind me thanks to my knee injury but that does not mean my adventuring days are over!
Channelling Jacques Cousteau while checking out a recent wreck in the Philippines (Credit: Chris Baker, @bubblemaker_baker)
While Fourth Element may be a dive brand, I have always found their kit extremely useful for virtually all of my various adventures. I am thrilled to be using their equipment once more for my biggest adventure to date. I have no doubts it will stand up to the test!
If you would like to follow my journey or support my message of overcoming adversity, please follow the links below.
The start line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (Credit: Atlantic Campaigns)