RACE SUMMARY FROM SAFETY OFFICER
Overview. Another fantastic year of amazing challenges and incredible journeys. As Safety Officer it has been an enormously rewarding experience having seen the rowers from the first days when they started looking at the challenge, through their training, inspections before shipping, La Gomera and then the whole journey.
All the crews have had a life changing experience. Nobody is the same as when they started. Being mid ocean is humbling and it strips away any pretence. It is an incredibly honest and raw experience and everyone grows. The lack of choice and the need to just get on and row means that everyone has to step up and deal with problems. It shows people what they are capable of and opens up a new world of options – I am already talking with rowers about their future adventures and challenges.
We have seen fast crossings, immense displays or grit and determination, emotional highs and lows and everything in between.
Every year the fleet is different in character and this year has been defined by the sheer goodwill, camaraderie and care for each other. It has been a real pleasure.
#Weather. This year was relatively calm and slow, there were some headwinds and times of frustrating calm. Every year it is tough but tough comes in many forms and requires different strengths to overcome. The row will always test everyone.
Though it was not as scary as last year crews had to dig deep for every mile and face the challenge of slow hard rowing with no surfing and no significant helping conditions. This is a test of resilience and mental attitude.
Having Vestas on board to provide detailed spot weather and routing advice has made a huge difference to crews and those that followed the advice benefitted significantly. For future rowers this also means a more efficient row and no need to spend additional money on weather advice as Vestas have access to far more data and tech than anyone else out there.
#Technical issues. Every year with increasingly high standards enforced and emphasis on knowing the boat and its systems the number of technical issues and mechanical failures reduces. This year was no exception and though frustrating for the crews that had issues the fleet as a whole had relatively few issues. As expected there were a number of autohelm failures, some power concerns, minor water maker issues, broken oars and a seat problem but nothing that put a crossing at risk.
#Health. Seasickness featured pretty heavily for some rowers but for most it reduced with time. There were many muscular-skeletal issues but in the light of the huge physical demand put on the rowers the problems were relatively minor. Skin problems of chaffing and sore bums are part and parcel of an ocean row but generally all crews finished in reasonable condition showing that the messages in the training course are being applied.
Significantly the physical recovery is very quick. The process starts as soon as the row stops. Some long showers followed by the ability to actually get the skin dry means sores and chaffing clears up in a few days. Sleeping in a bed for more than a power nap and good food allows the muscles to recover. Walking will take a while to get easy as muscles have wasted and need to re-establish themselves.
#Mentally the row can impact on each rower very differently. There may be a feeling of emptiness now the challenge has passed and a sense of needing to find another adventure. It can take weeks to get back to normality.
#Wildlife. As the conditions have been relatively calm crews have been able to see a great deal of wildlife and there is some spectacular footage of whales, dolphin, shark and turtles as well as flying fish, mahi-mahi and bioluminescence. This is also the first year we have had orca who visited and ‘bullied’ Au Large. This may have been one of the most wildlife abundant races.
Though the race is over and all rowers are safe ashore the process continues with boats being shipped back, crews giving presentations and fund raising.
This was another diverse fleet – age, intent, background and expectations – yet all came together and shared a life changing experience and we have seen friendship that will last a lifetime.
The crews have encountered – tiredness, isolation, anxiety, elation and have a strengthened appreciation of home and adventure, and the freedom that comes with lack of choice in a tough situation. Confidence and self knowledge will have grown and part of them will always be changed by this experience. It has been everything a proper adventure should be – physical, emotion, technical, with a real chance of failure and obstacles to overcome.
As Safety Officers, Lee Fudge and I are now training and preparing the fleet for 2019 and 2020 so it is time to sign off and say thank you to the fleet and thank you to the Dot Watchers and let you know that you are helping shape the future of the race. Friends, families and those who have found the race and become followers your support and engagement has been massively appreciated.
For those that are already missing following the dots – less than 290 days until the next race…