Clive met up with the lovely Gillian from Citylets, who are one of our amazing sponsors, to record an episode of their “Let’s Talk” Podcasts. You can listen on Soundcloud below or find the podcast on any of your normal podcast providers. We think our ginger ninja did a fantastic job and it’s well worth a listen!
Citylets got on board as a sponsor with us because of a strong rowing connection in their team, and they’ve been great to work with. Gillian has even been ‘accidentally’ shut in the stern cabin of the boat with Fraser and lived to tell the tale!
Citylets take the legwork out of finding flats to rent in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and across Scotland. They have an extensive property database containing comprehensive property descriptions, so if you’re looking for rented accommodation, Citylets allow you to personalise your search to help you to find the property you’re looking for.
We’re just back from an intrepid voyage South of the Border into deepest Yorkshire (specifically the barracks at Ripon) to have our boat inspected by the Atlantic Campaigns Team. This was a softer version of the pre-race inspection we’ll go through in La Gomera, where in the past teams have been failed and prevented from racing until their boat’s issues have been resolved…so it was a little stressful!
The boat was packed up and left Scotland around 6am driven by Fraser, who, doubtless to get some sleep deprivation training in, had pulled an all-nighter at work and got to bed at 4am. The minute the inspection was over he curled up in the back of the car and was out like a light.
Ripon was chosen as it’s the base for The Salty Sappers – a crew of Royal Engineers who’ll be racing this year too – and a halfway house between us and Wrekin Rowers, another TWAC 21 crew who hail from Shropshire. Nerves about the inspection aside, it was great to talk to all of these guys and share the challenges we’re all going through to get to the start line, and (like all of the crews we’ve encountered thus far) they were all really nice lads. The Sappers even had a barbeque fired up!
The inspection involved laying out all of our kit in a pre-arranged pattern so everything could be cross checked and any missing items noted. Despite having the majority of the kit we need on the enormous and exhaustive list, we still have a large number of upgrades, spares and ‘on-order’ items that will need to be checked in La Gomera.
Although the kit list is seemingly huge, it has been refined over the years by Atlantic Campaigns to keep the boat functioning and the crew alive. There’s just not room for spares for everything and with five of us on board we’ll have a very limited space for personal items, so Dunc may have to leave his teddy bears at home.
Our inspection was done by Fraser Mowlem, the assistant safety officer for the race. We’d met him virtually before as he ran the day-long zoom course on Ocean Rowing that we completed earlier in the year. The man’s a font of wisdom and was really helpful as we went through the inspection process.
As the spreadsheet king, Clive was in his element and before long all boxes were ticked, Fraser M gave us a figurative pat on the head and a biscuit for being good boys and wagons rolled Northwards to get us home before the natives remembered they can still legally shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow from the walls of York.
We’ve finally taken delivery of our boat from the Maclean brothers who competed as team BROAR in the 2019/20 race. It feels great to take on the baton from a previous Scottish crew and is even more fitting because it was this boat crossing the finish line on the pub TV that caused Dunc, Fraser and Ian to put their deposits down then and there (amazing what a few pints can do!).
We’ve not been able to do much more than give her a good clean and remove the previous sponsor stickers from the hull, but with restrictions about to be relaxed up here in Scotland we’re aiming to get her on the water as soon as we can!
I’ll freely admit that we were all ruinously hungover the day we first saw her in the flesh, so it was both exciting and daunting to clamber aboard with a clear head. The deck area is bigger than I remember but unfortunately the cabins seem to have shrunk a bit! If you’d like to experience what she’s like for yourself we will be taking her down to North Berwick Harbour regularly this summer so you can hop on (on dry land) and see what you think. Keep an eye on our social media for dates and times.
Sticker removal was a real family affair down at the harbour. Everyone got stuck in with the heat guns whilst the kids tested the seats and oars, and we soon had her looking clean and white – a blank canvas ready for new sponsors and stowaways.
Speaking of sponsors, we’ve had some questions about how you can support our challenge, so there’s some information below. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to know more.
Make a Personal Donation
To make a personal donation you can either donate any amount you’d like to our Gofundme account or, if you’d like your name to be applied as a vinyl sticker to the deck and hatch area of the boat (see the interactive model below at the bottom of the page), you can become a Stowaway for £250. Check out both of these options here
Become a Corporate Sponsor
If you’re a business and would like to get your logo on the hull, buy a race oar, get involved in our ‘Race Us’ online event, or even get a full vinyl wrap of the boat, you can check out our Sponsor Packages page to see what rewards we’re offering, or download the PDF (11MB) by clicking the image.
Last year’s race figures are due out soon, but the 2019/20 race reached a global audience of over 800 million, so sponsoring us will take your brand into new waters both literally and figuratively!
I suppose by now we thought we’d be able to get out and train together in the same boat or gym. To be honest we’d take training in the same garden right now! We’ve started using a great online platform called Ergworld which lets us link up our rowing machine monitors and train together virtually, but it’s not quite the same as being on the water. Luckily we’ve been given a great alternative!
Just before Christmas we bought 4 pairs of Concept 2 sweep oars for our Atlantic crossing from the great guys at Oarsport, and when they heard about our challenge they very kindly offered us the loan of the new Wintech Coastal Single Scull, which has been developed to compete in FISA coastal rowing competitions, for a few weeks. And it’s great!
Having this single scull has allowed us to get out onto the water whilst restrictions prevent us from training together, so it’s been a fantastic tool to help us learn how to scull! As you’ll see from the footage, none of us are scullers so it’s been quite a steep learning curve to go from pulling one big sweep oar in a 4 man skiff to feathering 2 oars in a finely balanced racing shell, but it feels like it’s improving our technique as well as forcing us to be more flexible in the hips to absorb the waves – something we’ll have to get very used to on the Atlantic!
The model we’ve been using is the carbon fibre-based racing shell, but the same design can also be constructed using cheaper materials to produce an affordable alternative for those who’d rather explore than race. If you’re interested, get in touch with the guys at Oarsport for more information.
Ross has been interviewed on the Reverse Rett Podcast by the charity’s founder Rachael Stevenson! It’s a great interview and answers a lot of questions we’re often asked about the challenge. Give it a listen by clicking on the button below.
During the conversation, Ross and Rachael chat about what’s actually involved in racing across an ocean in a very small boat with four other people, and the motivation to do this for his 9-year-old daughter, Eliza, who has Rett Syndrome. Ross shares how the challenge came about and how the team continue to prepare to set off later this year despite the ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic.
Reverse Rett is our chosen charity as you know, and they host an annual fundraising dinner at this time of year. Ordinarily this is in a fancy London venue and everyone gets dressed up for an evening’s food, entertainment and enriching spirits. This year they decided to take this party online rather than cancel it altogether, and hosted a really successful evening featuring musicians, a magician, interviews and stories, Matt Smith, Romesh Ranganathan, Russell Howard… and us!
We agreed to donate the prize of a day trip with us on our ocean rowing boat around the beautiful Firth of Forth where we live, and they asked if we could be interviewed as part of the show. Of course we agreed and you can watch our section from the show below.
The Big Night In online was a huge success – instead of the 500 guests they are limited to by the venue, there were 2000 tickets sold for the online show and some amazing prizes on the silent auction and prize draw. We were amazed by how much was bid to spend a day with us and are delighted that we could support the evening.
As I write this the finally tally for the evening hasn’t yet been finalised, but by the end of the show itself the total was already over £53,000 which I think is an astonishing amount for an online show!
Much to everyone’s relief, the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge will be going ahead as normal, with the race starting 1 month from now (squeaky bum time)! Atlantic Campaigns who organise the race have been working hard to ensure that competitors are able to stay as safe as possible during the pre-race run up in La Gomera and it looks like most of the crews will still be competing.
Sadly for some crews, travel restrictions have meant they’ve had to postpone their campaigns for a year or even two. We’ve been chatting to The Pacific Boys from the USA, who should have been racing this year, but had to defer, and were on the waiting list for our race in 2021. The great news for them is that they’ve had their place confirmed, so we’ll (hopefully) be able to share some beers with them in La Gomera next year!
Having to delay is far from ideal when you’ve spent so much time building up fundraising and fitness, and mentally gearing yourself towards the challenge, so we really feel for the crews who haven’t been as lucky at securing places yet and really hope that the pandemic doesn’t adversely affect our crossing.
Because of crews like The Pacific Guys coming into the fleet, our race is now full with 37 boats taking part! It’s going to be some race! Seeing the crews we’ve been following on social media making their last preparations is just about giving me heart failure with the amount of work we still have to do before our race starts in 13 months time.
But at least we have some big news on our race boat coming very soon!
Ross has started writing a blog for our chosen charity Reverse Rett to keep everyone involved with the charity up to date on our progress. There’s a copy of his first entry below but you can also stay up to date with the blog on the My Challenge of a Lifetime section of the Reverse Rett website.
My Challenge of a Lifetime
By Ross McKinney
Ross (2nd left) and the Five in a Row team
Four years ago, and nearing the age of 40, I took up rowing for the first time. I never rowed at. University or even gave it much thought in my youth, apart from maybe a pootle around a duckpond on holiday. Living by the sea in North Berwick is a blessing and there are loads of amazing opportunities to get out on the water. After my first outing in a St Ayles skiff (a four-oared wooden rowing boat), I was hooked. What started as the odd social row soon became competitive training, racing at regattas and even taking home a bronze medal from the Skiffie World Championships.
Fast forward four years and I am now part of a 5-man crew aiming to race across the Atlantic Ocean!
Five In A Row has entered the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and will be competing in the 2021 race from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It is 3000 miles across the ocean and we will be racing 24/7 for 5-6 weeks. It is going to be a huge physical challenge and is also going to test our mental strength not to mention our friendship, as we will be living in extremely close proximity! What keeps my focus is that my personal challenge is nothing compared to what my daughter, Eliza, has to go through every day. If I ever need inspiration at sea, it will be her strength to fight Rett Syndrome that keeps me going.
Ross and Eliza
Four of our crew (Duncan, Ian, Clive and myself) are based in North Berwick and actively involved in the local community and the Scottish coastal rowing scene. Fraser is based in Perthshire, many miles from the sea, but is a keen adventurer and sportsman. During the long days of lockdown, we have had the welcome distraction of planning for the event.
The race does not start until December 2021, but our campaign is already underway! There is a huge amount of preparation – from sourcing a boat, kitting out the boat, planning our meals, working out our rowing schedule, completing safety courses…..and of course lots of physical training!
The other major challenge is how we are going to fund all of this and get us to the start line, as well as raising as much as we possibly can for Reverse Rett! My emotions going into this campaign have been all over the place, from excitement at the challenge ahead, fear as to what the ocean may throw at us and not to mention what the impact of Covid-19 may mean for our plans.
It is also an incredibly selfish adventure to take on, as it will mean leaving Catherine, our four young children and two dogs for about two months (and overChristmas!). In fact it was Catherine who told me to go for it in the end and has been incredibly supportive of the whole venture – for that I am very lucky! I’m also extremely proud to be able to support Reverse Rett. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge attracts a huge following and media coverage, so I am very keen that we can use this to raise awareness of the charity and the amazing work that they do.
We have a huge range of both corporate and personal sponsorship options for anybody who would like to support us, including becoming a “stowaway” on our boat for £250 and having your name or even your child’s name on the inside of our boat, so they can accompany us across the Atlantic!
We are looking to establish regional ambassadors to support our campaign and help our fundraising for Reverse Rett. If you think you could help with contacts or fundraising, please get in touch via email@example.com or via social media.
We enjoyed our first World in a Day event so much we agreed to do it again this week, but this time some of the participating rowers online suggested that doing only 20 miles when just another 6 would take you to a full marathon was just a wasted opportunity!
The response from our crew was that the guys were keen and if they couldn’t do it on the day (taking around 3 hours out from home-schooling and work may not be popular!) they would get a full marathon knocked out asap. Fraser still hasn’t got access to a rowing machine so has to sit this one out, but we will be reminding him of his obligation as soon as that changes.
Once again it was difficult to know how to pace it, but after last week’s 32k at least we had a better idea of what we were in for. I had no target other than completing the distance in one go without my arse falling off, and I’m pleased to say the whole thing felt pretty comfortable and my average split was faster than last week’s.
Four of us have now completed our marathons as you can see above. Much like the row itself I think this was as much as test of mental fortitude as physical capabilities, and seeing the evidence of my crew-mates’ efforts only reaffirms the faith that everyone is willing to push themselves to conquer these challenges.
Lockdown is a real problem for training. There’s the obvious lack of opportunity to train as a crew, but the bigger issue (at least for me) is trying to maintain the motivation to jump onto that ergo and row. Clive, Dunc, Ross and I all compete on the Scottish Coastal Rowing circuit and we, like many others, are staring down the barrel of an entire season going by without ever stepping into a boat. It’s not good for your head.
Dunc messaged the group to say he’d found a lockdown ergo challenge for us to do and we signed up immediately. Anything that breaks from the current norms and gives you a challenge to get your teeth into has got to be good!
World in a Day is the brainchild of Mark Beaumont, cyclist and adventurer extraordinaire, who wanted to recreate his epic Round the World record by covering the 240 miles that he’d cycled each day during that challenge, but this time on his turbo trainer. His aim was to get another 79 cyclists to do the same so that between them they could cycle the whole world in one, very sweaty, day.
The first session, hosted on a massive live Zoom call last Thursday, was a great success and on the back of that John Davidson (of Mad Giraffe Atlantic Rowing) decided to get in on the action and recruit 150 rowers to help him cross the Atlantic in one day. It meant rowing 20 miles or 32k each which would easily be the longest any of our crew has ever sat continuously on an ergo.
What a fantastic day! The online peloton (Zoom chat) meant you could see and chat to the other rowers and cyclists taking part, and periodically Mark brought on special guests to be interviewed, including Jamie Maclean of the Broar brothers who rowed Talisker last year and Laura Penhaul of the Coxless Crew (their documentary Losing Sight of Shore is on Netflix) who rowed the Pacific in 2015.
There was no competition mentality and since it wasn’t a distance any of us had tried before it was quite relaxing to just find a rhythm and stick to it. The other guys all had childcare and homeschooling to deal with, so split the distance into manageable chunks, but I had decided to do it in one go, reasoning that I might not want to get back on again if I stopped! I started fairly conservatively to make sure I didn’t blow but by the end had found my stride and was ticking along very nicely. I finished in 2 hours and 15 mins and had a little trouble standing up after the finish, and my crew mates all put in big finishes for their last sessions. The video below is of our post challenge reactions. We’re all in surprisingly good form, which probably explains why we’re going to do it again next Thursday!