Could this boat take me across the Atlantic?
Damian Browne is a retired professional rugby player (second row for those in the know) and stands an impressive 6’5”, towering over me as we meet and shake hands for the first time at Shannon Airport on a cold November evening. I had flown in from Birmingham after a flight of just over an hour and grabbed a pizza at the airport. The drive to his house near Galway took about an hour and we chatted most of the way about his journey across the Atlantic last year. I had so many questions and he was happy to talk, though I suspect that by now he has covered this ground with many other people. Perhaps not many for whom the answers seemed so important.
A wealth of experience.
Damian went with the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge and we spent some time discussing the pros and cons of that route versus an independent row. We talked over the differences between his boat (built and refurbished by Justin Adkins) and other ocean rowing boats, and his enthusiasm for Justin’s approach was obvious. Our conversation rarely paused and we covered such things as sharks (he only ever saw one), safety harnesses, cooking, sleeping (or not), avoidance of other shipping (he had one close encounter but nothing too scary), and the punishment I can expect my body to have to deal with (sores on hands, feet and bum in particular).
Anxiety setting in.
His house is situated close to a harbour and inlet but is nevertheless on a very quiet road. I walked the one kilometre to the harbour in the morning while Damian had a session in the gym, and the few people I saw waved a friendly greeting as I passed. It was very peaceful, in stark contrast to the whirring anxiety that was my mind. I had slept very badly and woke in the night with stomach cramps and as much worry as you can shake a stick at, but it wasn’t clear to me at the time where the source of my anxiety lay.
Getting myself some breakfast earlier I had noticed that Damian’s kitchen was littered with very scientific looking foods and supplements. Damian is very keen on physical fitness (see how I avoided the word “fanatical”?) and is the epitome of what I am not. OK I’ve kept myself reasonably active over the years but this is a different league. And perhaps here is where part of my anxiety lies – how do I measure my ability in ocean rowing against someone like this?
Somewhere in our conversations I made the mistake of asking how much training he did before the event, and how important he felt that was. His reply, which was “a lot”, was humbling and intimidating in equal measure because this is a professional sportsman approaching an event which he knows will challenge him.
His boat, named Darien by the only previous owner, was at his parents’ house in Galway, and we arrived later in the morning. It was covered in polythene and I helped him to uncover it, feeling increasingly that I was in an alien environment and that perhaps I should just slip away and go home. The footwells were full of rainwater so he set the bilge pump running and it all emptied out over the next half hour, while we talked over the various things we could see before climbing aboard. Much of it was familiar ground from the many, many accounts of ocean crossings I have read, but nothing seemed to diminish the fear which was bubbling up inside me. Eventually I was able to climb inside the cabins and took some photos, and Damian went through the electrical systems and showed me all the hatches, explaining what he had used them for.
Having exhausted boat related topics, he showed me all the kit that came with the boat, and there was a lot! I can’t remember half of it but it included things like safety beacons, life raft, life jackets, wet-weather-suits, medical kit, tool box and much other important stuff.
Recovering from the weekend.
Finally we covered up the boat again and went inside for a cup of tea, then Damian dropped me in town at the bus station (he had a training session to attend). The flight back to Birmingham and the drive home were uneventful and I got home about 11 pm, exhausted and feeling distinctly unwell. The next day at work I bailed out mid-morning and went home to lie of the settee, which I also did the following day.
I’ve pretty much recovered now but my anxieties about the whole campaign rumble on. This is definitely the biggest and scariest thing I have ever taken on and I‘m going to need all the help and support I can get! Please share with your friends (who knows, one of them may have a secret dream to cross an ocean!)