Chief Eng. Shane Chadwick and Bosun Theo Jones have lived in close quarters at work on several yachts including Mosaic, Constellation and D’Natalin IV. Soon they will test their friendship, and their lives, in an even smaller space. The two will row 2,600 nautical miles (3,000 miles) non-stop in a 7m plywood rowboat west from the Canary Islands to Antigua. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge race is slated to begin Dec. 15 and will take between 40 and 60 days.
“You’ve got to do something mad at least once. You only have one life,” Jones said by phone in England where he was on break from his job on M/Y Plan B. He left the yacht in April to do his OOW oral exam and to prepare for the row.
“I was thinking about this while at school. My parents said it was a bad idea and told me to get a job first,” he said. “So … I’ve had the job.”
“It’s something to give a go,” Chadwick said by phone from England. “Some people are surprised, but once I set my mind to something, I do it.”
The men are training to join about 30 boats made up of solo and groups of rowers for the race, billed as “the world’s toughest row”. Since April they have relocated to Marina Port Vell in Barcelona to get in their best physical shape, prepare their boat and get sponsors and donations. At the end of the October they drive the boat to Cadiz to catch a ferry to the Canary Islands to train until the race start.
James Houlgrave, now chief officer of M/Y Thumper, has known both men since he met them about seven years ago on M/Y Constellation.
“They are a pair of characters, but they know the sea and what makes boats work,” Houlgrave said. And that’s important he said, because, “this is not something to undertake lightly.”
Each man will burn about 8,000 calories a day and each expects to lose about 10 kilos (about 22 pounds). They will subsist on canned and freeze-dried food, and snack packs for 70 days. A watermaker will make 23 liters of fresh water an hour.
“I imagine the hardest part is they will be so isolated,” Houlgrave said. “And what the Atlantic can throw at you, weather. Things go wrong, often at night and quickly.”
“I’ve been in a liferaft myself; the boat took on water in a bad storm in the night and the boat went down,” he said. “Fortunately for us it was in the Med and someone would find us. But they’re out in the Atlantic.
“I have a respect for what they are doing,” Houlgrave said. “But I get nervous thinking about it. While their friends and family are safely at home, these two just have to both be concerned for each other. There is nothing else on this trip.”
Chadwick and Jones are keenly aware of the potential hazards inside the boat.
“The major thing is getting on with each other, the psychological side, keeping cool and keeping the relationship,” Jones said. “That part is a lot harder than people believe.”
Outside the boat, the Atlantic Ocean can big storms, which increases the risk of capsizing.
“If a big wave hits the stern, the bow goes in water,” Jones said. “If you fall out, you have a ton and a half of boat chasing you. That terrifies us both.”
Jones said rowers have retired from race when that happens to them.
“People go home after that, that’s the biggest test,” he said. “And big container ships are not watching for us. We’re so small and wooden that we don’t show on radar as easily.
“We will have AIS [Automatic Identification System] and a radar reflector but if electrics go out, you have nothing,” Jones said. “At night we can’t see waves and we just have a rope attached to us. It’s quite daunting.”
The boat will have a couple of batteries, solar panels, a Garmin, a compass, a satellite phone and the ability to run weather reports, plus a land contact, Chadwick said.
“There is a small cabin in back and if weather picks up we have a power anchor and we’ll point into the wind,” he said. “It is self-righting.”
When asked what annoying characteristics may come out in small quarters, Jones was quick to answer.
“I think it will be me making up the rules,” Jones said. “We have surfboards attached to our ankle even on sunny days, but sometimes during training we haven’t done it. It will start to get irritating, but I don’t want to be rowing alone.”
Chadwick also had a ready answer.
“What will bother Theo?” he wondered. “I do talk a bit much, too much dribble.”
The question of what would be fun during the race took more time to answer. Heading to a bar at the end was about all Jones could come up.
“In the general big picture, we just can’t think about two hours on and two off for more than a month,” Jones said. “There are not a lot of activities, maybe a swim, fishing and getting messages of support from friends and family. Those e-mails will be a huge lift.”
They have a major sponsor [Hesco, a defensive barrier systems company] and hope to build their media following and gather donations for two charities: Think Fragile X Foundation is a genetic condition causing intellectual disability, behavioral and other challenges. (“A good friend of mine has two children that have been diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome,” Chadwick said.); and The Not Forgotten Association, which helps ex-military service people who have been injured.
Although the priority is to be serious in preparations for every possible scenario, the duo stay positive by sharing their progress on social media sites as the race start approaches.
“We administered an IV drip on each other and learnt how to stitch,” said a Twitter post accompanied by a photo of Chadwick flat on the floor in a practice leg splint.
“Trying on the immersion suit and the dogs loving it,” said another post with a photo of Jones in a gumby suit covered in jumping dogs.
“Rowing is a partnership, like marriage, but you’re in the deep end,” Jones said. “24/7 together, going to the loo in bucket, no escape. He had blisters on his buttocks and he thought it was bad so I had to inspect his bum. It’s mad; it’s very strange.”
But they have a plan to alleviate more of that.
“One other amusing thing that happens on this row is that we row nude,” Chadwick said. “It’s so the chafing on our bottoms is reduced to a minimum.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.