Rough Seas and Weight Loss: Notes from his Father

December 27: Well, our best laid plans to keep Oliver in his boat - through the “Oliver’s Parents Christmas Challenge” team effort - worked...for all of 24 hours. Today we learned from the Race Director’s occasional report to families that the Homeward Bound had capsized twice today (12/26) but, no reason for alarm, Oliver was o.k. When Oliver called us later in the day, he described how he was at the oars when his boat was suddenly rolled by a “cross wave”. Fortunately he was tethered (as was his EPIRB, which also went overboard). Unfortunately, his feet were still strapped in to the rowing footplate. As the boat went over, he managed to wiggle his feet out of his shoes and went into the ocean, still tethered, but clear of his boat. While he sought to climb back on board, the boat was rolled again. He hung on and was thrown on to the deck as the boat righted itself (as it is designed to do, we are repeatedly assured).
When training for ocean rowing, boat rolling is much discussed but - since it can’t be practiced - the first time it happens to a rower, in the middle of the ocean, it has to be a shock. 
When seeking permission from your parents to row across the Atlantic, a rower also has to explain and rationalize boat rolling to their incredulous parents. The argument technique used can best be described as “false reassurance”. First, the word “capsize” is never used - until the race is started and it is too late. Second, when acquiring a boat, it’s capsizing record is one of its key attributes. The Homeward Bound, which made its maiden voyage in last year’s Atlantic Challenge (as a duo), reputedly was the only boat that never capsized that year - that was a key selling point to us. And third, once you realize that it is extremely likely that your son’s boat is going to roll during the Crossing, then you pin all your hopes on the idea that these boats are designed to “self-right” themselves. I guess it is comforting for us tonight to know that Ollie’s boat does, in fact, self right.
For his part, Oliver called today’s double roll, in his typical laconic way, “quite the adrenalin rush”.
Not surprising, he is back tonight coping with rough seas and a heavy wind at his back (see below). When he called, we could barely hear him the wind was so loud. He has gone 70nm in the last 24 hours - the most yet and definitely wind-driven. The weather forecast shows calming over the next few days before a big step up on January 2-3.

 

December 30: Oliver reports that he is pushing along in quiescent seas with winds at a relatively subdued 9 knots. The weekend ahead is forecast to be calm before high winds forecasted for Monday/Tuesday turn the Atlantic back into a washing machine spin cycle. With the luxury of two days of calm ahead, we can redirect our intense concern with his immediate physical well-being towards a fixation on our greatest long run concern - which is weight loss.
On race day, Oliver was weighed in at 168 pounds, which is above his natural 160 but well below the 180 pounds he hoped to weigh at the start. During his time at home in the Fall, he had stuffed himself to get up to 176, but evidently dropped back to 168 during the long wait on La Gomera.
His effort to fatten himself up in anticipation of the race was driven by the knowledge that 25% weight loss is common amongst Atlantic rowers. His reasoning - that at 160 pounds, he did not have 25% to give - was fully supported by his parents.
Isabella and I initially thought - mistakenly as it turned out - that the boats were either space or weight constrained and Oliver could not afford to bring anything more than his “official” food supply of 450,000 calories (5000 calls/day for 90 days, almost entirely consisting of freeze dried camping food of the kind you buy at REI ) plus his comfort food. Oliver packed an unhealthy amount of comfort food, including enough Swedish Fish packets to last the journey. He also tried to persuade us that Sour Patch Kids were an effective cure for seasickness. 
Since his boat was designed for two rowers, it turns out that Oliver had unused space and weight allowance to burn.
Discovering this new reality upon our own arrival in San Sebastián de La Gomera, Isabella and I scoured the small town’s markets buying up more food and sneaking it on to his boat. My guess is that we loaded him up with about 250,000 calories additional. While we procured substantial quantities of vacuum sealed Serrano ham, oranges and other local fruits, I take particular pride in have cornered the market on the town’s very limited supply of Pringles (a small portion of Oliver’s Pringles cache is shown in the picture below, in this peek inside his living compartment; next to the substantial supplemental supply of sunblock forced upon him by his mother). While Pringles are the ultimate in that horror which is American processed food, they do have the virtue in this case basically of lasting forever. Hell, if I had found any of the other Four Horsemen of the Processed Food Apocalypse in San Sebastián - Twinkies, Lunchables and Pop Tarts - I would have bought them out as well!
And, indeed, Ollie reports that the Pringles have held up well and outlasted the oranges (7 days), the vacuum sealed Serrano ham (3 days) and the PBJ sandwiches his mother made him (1 1/2 days). But man does not row by Pringles alone, Oliver has to get used to properly preparing and then eating the freeze dried camping food that is now his one and only staple and that does not come natural to him.
So excessive weight loss is our greatest long term worry for Oliver...along with being swept over board, being hit by a freighter, sunstroke and going crazy from loneliness...
that’s it!

January 5th: Day 22

A note from Oliver's father:

As dedicated dotwatchers already know, earlier today Oliver stormed through the half way point and, as of 8pm UTC, had ‘only’ 1301 NM to go, having already rowed 1350 NM (which translates to 1553 actual miles travelled). He attributes his recent string of high mileage days to more time spent rowing, which he in turn attributed to his aversion to spending a lot of time in his living cabin, the current condition of which he describes, simply, as “disgusting”. He was gratified to reach the half way point but noted that the 1301NM remaining is a “long way to row”.
In the race up front, Swiss Mocean continues to close on the front runners, now just 19NM behind Team Antigua and 60NM behind the Four Oarsmen. Notably, both of the front two have significantly increased their mileage in the past 24 hours but remain a little behind the torrid pace of the Swiss. It is as if the front two hear foot steps and, indeed, I am sure they have heard from their teams that the Swiss are coming on. I am curious as to how these three teams are going to handle the remaining 8-9 day “sprint” to the finish - do they go to 3 on the oars/24 hours day to the finish line which, obviously, is 18 hours of rowing each day for each man for more than a week? I am glad that I am not on any of those boats. 
Tonight Ollie called me very briefly to ask my advice about his course as he fixed his rudder for the night. Have shifted a couple days ago to a “due west” course he was wondering whether he should go back to a more southerly setting. I, of course, had no clue as to what the right answer was so I reflexively reverted to “CEO mode” by saying something like “Ollie, I personally don’t have an informed opinion on that but I have people who do...” Those people being you - specifically, the sailors and other maritime types who have taken an interest in Oliver’s journey - if you have informed advice on his proper course at this point, please let me know what it is so I can pass it on to him!

January 13: Day 30

Another Update: Oliver is set to finish in a few weeks thanks to an above average amount of bad weather which has helped to push him forwards (at the cost of increased discomfort). This one is more poetic than the last, sounds like he is really connecting to the water.

Day 30:
It's strange to think that I've only been out here for a month when it's felt like a lifetime. I'd like to think that time is passing so slowly because I'm getting the most out of every little moment. Though in the scheme of things I should be grateful for such uncharacteristcally fast weather conditions. Now that I'm more than halfway, Ive really tried to savor every amazing experience. The Atlantic is truly magnificient. It's hard to put into words the feeling of standing on a 3 foot high boat, surrouned by waves as big as buildings, crashing around you for as far as the eye can see--the saltiness of the ocean spray. Or the nights where the water is as flat as a mirror and the sky, littered with countless stars, makes it sparkle. But even completely surrouned by nature thousands of miles from land, I've still been reminded of mankind's impact on nature. Almost every day I've seen various pieces of trash drift by my boat. And when you consider the vastness of the Atlantic, the idea that I'm seeing this much garbage is frightening. Being witness to this is more moving than I would have even thought, making me more inspired than ever by the work of Oceana and others to save our oceans and clean our waters.

December 30: Day 16

Oliver has given us, his family, two major updates on days 4 and 16 to post on his behalf. We are working on updating his website blog (https://homeward-bound.com) as well so please stay in tune. We had the chance to talk with him today, and things are going well. He's currently dealing with a number of sores that refuse to heal, but he is in high spirits and is making good progress. He still has a ways to go to make his fundraising goal of $100,000 for ocean conservation so please spread the message and donate if you can here: https://www.youcaring.com/oceana-956071

Day 4: Things are okay. Still pretty seasick couldn't sleep first night kept puking too much. Tried rowing in dark but made nausea worse. The foot steering is hard on my knee but its getting easier with practice. I lock off the rudder in one direction when I try to sleep but if the conditions change I get broadsided by the waves so I try to wake up and check it as often as possible still nearly capsized twice the other night. I haven't really seen muchh yet other than a lot of water (everything in the cabin is already drenched). But things could be worse. It is a little bit lonely out here. Who knew being confined to a 20 ft boat in the Atlantic by yourself would be lonely right? It's really been a mental struggle staying positive when you think about how much time I have left out here. I'm sure itll get more enjoyable once I adapt.

Day 16: Things have gotten a lot better after the first week and I've settled into a routine. On the physical side, my body is already a lot weaker than when I started and I have trouble finishing my rowing shifts. I'm trying to increase my calorie intake but I've already lost so much weight from the first week where I barely ate. The weight loss has made everything harder even when I'm sleeping I have to constantly change positions because I'm so bony and my hips get sore. Mentally things are a lot better though. I've gotten used to just thinking about different things for hours on end almost day dreaming in a way. I've had a lot more practice now that my speakers are gone (I lost them when I capsized). But it's amazing how unfamiliar actual thinking feels, at home life is busy you never really have time to just sit down and think.

Here are some highlights (not all positive) so far:

-Woke up one morning to see a massive tanker headed straight for me and had to radio them to change course. The guy stationed on their bridge got a little annoyed because no matter what info I gave him (coordinates, bearing, ect.) he couldn't physically see me. But all ended well.

-Capsized 3 times two days in a row. I was on deck all 3 times rowing. The first two which happened together were more of a thrill than anything scary and made me less worried about it in the future. The third one was less of an adrenaline rush and more of a near death experience which I would rather not go through again. It threw me off mentally for a little bit but you can only hide in the cabin for so long!

-Got visited on Christmas morning by a sailing yacht which was awesome! They sang a Christmas carol and wished me well which was the best Christmas present I've ever gotten.

Bike Across UK - Highlights Pt. 1

Mission: Bike 1000 miles with all our belongings in saddlebags from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. South to North. Sea to Sea.

Day 1 Lands End - Launceton, England (95 miles)

We started off our adventure in Cornwall with two of the hottest days of the entire summer. These were also our hilliest days which only made it more interesting!

Highlight: We found at as we were eating dinner at 7:30 that we needed to get to our inn by 9 pm or else we wouldn’t be able to check in. We still had more than 2 hours to go (at our normal pace) so we ditched the food and sped off hoping that somehow we would be able to make it. After biking down a dirt path for 2 miles we hit a highway which we had to cross but the only way to was an overpass which was under construction. Without a moment’s hesitation my mom followed me in the muddy pasture filled with cows as we walked our bikes towards the highway. Once we had finally reached the road we were greeted by barbed wire which we eventually managed to get our bikes and ourselves over holding the wire apart for each other. Long story short we made it to the inn with 5 minutes to spare muddy and exhausted. It was quite a first day.

Trying to get to the highway.

Trying to get to the highway.

Day 2 Launceston - Taunton (78 miles)

Highlight: An all you can eat Asian buffet which in my defense after a month of pub food was a nice change up.

Day 3 Taunton - Bath (60 miles)

Highlight: A 2 mile descent through a nearly pitch black cycling tunnel into Bath. Every few feet were speakers playing relaxing music while also changing colors making the whole ride down really surreal. Then to top it off a relaxing 2 hours in the hot springs of the famous Roman city of Bath!

Lowlight: I slowly rolled into the center square of tourist-filled Wells only to keel over still attached to my bike pedals as I struggled to unclip. Out of the hundreds of people watching, one kind British man approached me and asked if I had had too much to drink. Good times.

The massive cathedral in the town of Wells.

The massive cathedral in the town of Wells.

Day 4 Bath - Brecon, Wales (80 miles)

Highlight: Almost getting blown over by crazy winds while crossing the 3000 foot Severn Bridge from England into Wales.

Day 5 Brecon - Church Stretton, England (50 miles)

Highlight: The inn turned out to be 7 miles closer than we had thought, a welcome sight after a hot day.

Day 6 Church Stretton - Chester (55 miles)

Highlight: We spent half the day at the Shrewsbury Food Festival pigging out on a ton of different British delicacies. Afterwards I hopped into one those giant inflatable hamster balls and took on a bunch of small kids trying to knock me over. Lets just say it was the biggest American win since 1776. Veni Vidi Vici.

Day 7 Chester - Clitheroe (70 miles)

Highlight: I got lost in a very remote part of the countryside with no cell service and an excited little kid named Arthur guided me through cow pastures and over streams (I carried my bike through most of it) to the nearest road. I gave him a little reward and smiling he ran off. It was a really cool moment that made the whole day worthwhile.

Arthur guiding me through the pastures.

Arthur guiding me through the pastures.

Bike Across UK - Highlights Pt. 2

Day 8 Clitheroe - Carlisle (98 miles)

Highlight: Finding a Mcdonald's in Carlisle to shelter in after an entire day of freezing rain.

Day 9 Carlisle - Bothwell, Scotland (92 miles)

Highlight: Crossing into Scotland with only 350 miles to go!

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Day 10 Bothwell - Killin (70 miles)

Highlight: Seeing the site of the famous Battle of Bannockburn in which the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce and a smaller Scottish army defeated the English king Edward II.

Lowlight: A member of our trio was run off the rainy road by an aggressive truck and in the process crashed headfirst into a telephone pole. Luckily, other than being a little bloody he was okay. Only an hour later though the same rider crashed into the back of a car which had suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. However, other than a few more bruises and cuts, he was okay.   

Day 11 Killin - Aviemore (95 miles)

Highlight: Seeing Scotland’s famous hairy cows for the first time!

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Day 12 Aviemore - Invergordon (55 miles)

Highlight: Having to walk across Cromarty Bridge because our bikes were being blown off the sidewalk by crazy winds.

Day 13 Invergordon - Bettyhill (90 miles)

Highlight: Reaching the north coast and seeing the sea for the first time.

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Day 14 Bettyhill - John O’Groats (50 miles)

Highlight: The entire day was great. With perfect, sunny weather we took our time riding along the coast towards the finish. And then to top off the whole journey, riding down the hill and right up to the finishing post at John O’Groats.

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Total: 3 Countries. 1018 miles. 42 pints of ale. And a whole lot of smiles.

Sea Survival Training - Teignmouth, England

Hi guys,

I'm very excited to be launching the team website and getting the blog started. I am currently in Teignmouth, England a small town on the southern coast doing sea survival training. The town is incredibly welcoming and surprisingly lively considering its size. A common joke among the locals is that Teignmouth is a drinking town with a fishing problem. In the week long course, I practiced a lot of different skills that will be essential in case of an emergency including first aid, operating a mayday call, deploying my life-raft, and abandoning ship. I'm just hoping I won't ever need to use them though. Because I'm rowing by myself some of the training was redundant (it's hard to do CPR on yourself once your heart as stopped). Something interesting I learned was that actually no matter how warm the temperature of the water is (unless it's close to your body temperature) you will still die from hypothermia eventually -- cheery I know. On a different topic my attempt at gaining weight hasn't yet to bear fruit. Instead of the 20 pounds of muscle I want, I might just have to settle for a beer belly on this visit to England. 

-Oliver

Teignmouth, England

Teignmouth, England

A 4 person life raft which wasn't even comfortable with two of us in it!

A 4 person life raft which wasn't even comfortable with two of us in it!