It’s a little under four months before The Four Oarsmen take to the ocean to start their inspiring 3,000 mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic challenge. Over the next few weeks we’ll be catching up with them to see how their mental and physical training is going.
“Peter, you recently rowed across the North Sea as part of your training. Whilst you’ve been preparing physically for this, how did you get on mentally with the real life challenge?”
I’d only had a brief conversation over the phone with team mates Mike Tierney (ex-Parachute Regiment) and never spoken to or met Sean Mcguigan (ex-Royal Marine) before agreeing to meet them and Mike’s plywood boat “Bonnie Lass” at Lowestoft pier in Suffolk on the morning of the 12th July. The North Sea row was 3 years in the making for Mike who had attempted it twice previously and twice had to turn back due to perilous conditions. I was excited by the challenge but I would be lying if I didn’t feel an element of apprehension…
Upon meeting it became apparent very quickly that the weather conditions weren’t ideal for our North Sea crossing to IJmuiden (the entry port to Amsterdam). We were hoping for an offshore wind to help us across and we were faced with strong northerlies. In the morning, the Lowestoft Harbour Master advised us that the exit point to the harbor was too dangerous to leave from due to strong winds and tidal currents causing choppy waters.
The first 24 hours were tough going with strong crosswinds, choppy tidal waters and all three of us suffering from seasickness. I was sick on every shift for the first 18 hours. It was tough but I knew that if I could ride out the first day and simply keep driving the legs and arms, the sea sickness would eventually subside and things would only get better. Much to my relief, my body seemed to acclimatize and I was able to hold down enough food to provide energy to sustain the brutal 2 hours on, 1 hour off rotation.
At the half way point, spirits were high and we had made excellent progress. Physically I felt good and I had an inner confidence that all those hours on the rowing machine, in the gym and out on the water were paying off. Mentally, I felt positive and whilst I was enjoying the adventure I was struggling to get any sleep in my 1 hour break between shifts. By the time we’d taken off wet clothes, cleaned, eaten and drank we only had a 20-30 minute window to sleep before being back on the oars. Even though I was tired I still only managed 20 minutes sleep for the whole 45 hour journey which was sustainable for this time period but wouldn’t be for a longer crossing. I was pushing myself when rowing and unable to relax enough in my breaks to sleep properly. Sean and Mike were much better at sleeping for short stints and it highlighted that this is something I need to work on before our Atlantic crossing. Sleep deprivation and the side effects such as hallucinations is something that we have come to expect during our Atlantic crossing. Suddenly this became very real!
It made me realize that dealing with sleep deprivation combined with the timeframe out at sea (c. 40 days) is going to be a huge mental battle. This is without a doubt going to be the biggest physical and mental challenge we’ve ever faced. It also highlights the importance of mentally breaking down the journey into stages to achieve the greater goal of crossing the finish line. Easier said than done. Bring it on!
The Four Oarsmen will be setting off across the Atlantic on 12th December 2017, raising funds for Mind and Spinal Research UK, charities close to their hearts. To learn more about their adventure, click here.