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...