Heads Together and Row: Team Q&A part one
22 January 2019
Earlier this month we asked people to send us any burning questions they had for Heads Together and Row, which we could put to the team in a Q&A about life at sea.
We received lots of great responses and sent a selection of the best ones over to the team to answer. There were so many we’ve split them into two parts, with the first set of answers below and the rest found here.
Thanks to everyone who contributed - we hope you enjoy their responses!
What keeps you motivated to keep going?
Toby: Tricky. I have to remind myself that time out here is finite. That’s easier now we’re counting down. A shift will only last two hours…then rest or sleep. While hours are hard especially at night, the days tick down fast. There’s also the joy of calculating best case scenario arrival dates based on daily averages! And best of all to knock me into shape is thinking of getting home to Theo (Toby’s son). If all else fails, Justin will remind me that I have no choice and I’m bloody late relieving him on the oars!
Justin: Mainly the thought of getting off this damn boat. Plus the fact that I only allow myself to be in my Happy Place (a technique the team were taught by a psychologist) when I’m on the oars, and I am inordinately fond of it. I should probably say something here about teamwork and not letting my crew mates down.
Rufus the Henley Squirrel: I’m literally tied to the navigation light. I have no choice. Help me. Please help me!
How many hallucinatory people do you talk to and what do you talk about?
Ali: I don’t have any recurring people as such, although we had some tinsel bunched up on one of the side bars for a while and that kept turning into a mannequin head in the corner of my eye at night! Early on I had someone running down the side of the boat to my right and even now I keep jumping as I think someone is behind me!
Justin: Happy Place time again. All the people in it are real, but they don’t currently play quite as big a part (or any part) in my actual life as they do in my Happy Place. It’s a parallel universe where magical things happen. A bit like Mary Poppins for grown ups.
Toby: I couldn’t say how many people I talked to during that dark first week. Friends, colleagues, family - even a couple of old pets - our dog and my mum’s horse. The latter sometimes feature in my real dreams back home too. It was weird - like dipping into a dream world while conscious. Quite nice mostly - just a little confusing especially when we thought we were talking to each other. “What did you say? What? No, you definitely said something… About killer parsnips?!
What are the most useless and useful pieces of equipment on board, and what could you not live without?
Justin: I brought too much stuff for cold weather and I’m pretty sure there is stuff at the bottom of my kit bag which is starting to drool and growl, but I haven’t dared look. The Sudocrem has been amazing, as have the cabin fans. And I wish we had a spare autohelm. We have flying fish on the boat, but I don’t think they were on the original kit list.
Toby: Well it’s not useless but we brought two jet boils, a dozen spare lighters and 16 canisters of gas. We haven’t heated water once, choosing instead to eat meals cold, skip tea/coffee (but drink the sachets of milk) and have packed it all away. A spare autohelm drive cable or two would be on my must pack list if I ever did this again (which I won’t!). Of the kit that isn’t mandatory, probably the most useful is the BGAN (satellite comms equipment). Sending and receiving emails with friends, family, the wonderful people at Henley Business School and all our other supporters makes life so much better out here. It’s enough that I’ve tried my iPod and run out of podcasts with hundreds of miles to go. Going without comms with the outside world isn’t worth thinking about.
What has been the scariest moment – and the most exhilarating?
Toby: Most exhilarating for me continues to be the early night shifts when it’s dicey but in our favour. Bouncing around in the dark everything seems much faster and flying over and between waves reminds me of skiing moguls in a white out. Scariest I’m reluctant to say - I have a nagging feeling it’s yet to come! But the early days of getting into the bow cabin (which we affectionately call the coffin due to its shape and size) in bigger seas and thinking about the prospect of waking up upside down in the dark with water coming in the vents - those moments will do until scary gets here!
Justin: When the autohelm died in the middle of a storm and we were broadside on in some huge waves. Most exhilarating was the first night of big waves following us.
What have been your highlights and low points so far?
Justin: Low point was the 12 pre-race days in Gomera. I felt hopelessly out of place and utterly lost. Plus the beep beep noise as the autohelm tries to self destruct again. High points have been the serenity and the dawn finally appearing after another long night. Plus Toby the wonder tech bringing the autohelm back to life.
Toby: Highlights have been the race start and the bigger milestones (just passed 1/4 left which means time to start booking flights and somewhere to stay in Antigua!) plus all the dolphins, whales and a giant turtle. And Betty of course! Low point would have been 4-7 days in. Probably knackered, empty and weak, dehydrated from seasickness, confused by medication side effects, and in a dark cabin writing emails to loved ones just in case I never saw them again.
Have you eaten all the nice food first and now been left with the not-so-nice food?
Toby: I wouldn’t go as far as ‘nice’ but yes. Yes I absolutely have. I have raided packs I stashed amongst days 50-60 e.g. a bag of Christmas caramelised mixed nuts and chocolate coated raisins. That said, if we get to day 49 we will go from dry/re-hydrated rations to wet rations which will be a serious bonus! I know for a fact there are things like all day breakfast and sticky toffee pudding in there and we can’t touch them until day 49 as they form part of emergency rations in case we run out of water
Justin: No. I put mine in no particular order, so every day is a surprise. Some surprises are more welcome than others.
What is your favourite food on board and is there anything you are sick of the sight of?
Justin: Peanut butter. And no. I am a little gannet.
Toby: Muesli by far. I only had six ration packs so it’s all gone but cereal and milk - sooo good compared with cold re-hydrated gunk. Best meal was the beef and pearl barley stew I had on Christmas Day - similar and almost as good as home made cottage pie
What's it like living in such a small space with the same people?
Toby: We generally get on well. But it is a very small space and moving involves changing positions with someone so everything has to be synchronised - not easy when we’re all tired. I will not miss queuing to chat to Rufus (that little bucket we believe is on its second Atlantic crossing!) And having done it for one night on para anchor I’d sooner strap myself down on deck than share the bow cabin with someone again. It’s not sleep - it’s torture. Made all the better when you find out the person you’re squeezed in with has a tendency to run in their sleep like a dog!
Justin: Every bit as joyous as you would expect. Although so far we have got on remarkably well considering the pressures we are under. We move as carefully as we can but the boat still attacks us on a regular basis.
Rufus: Have you met these humans?! What is there to like? The singing? The endless benign chatter? After this trip if I ever see any of them again it will be 1,000 years too soon. One of them hangs his boxers out to air on my head!!!!
How do you find sleeping on the boat and what do you dream about?
Justin: As someone who regularly sleeps in his car, I’m very happy sleeping in the boat. I may have to buy a bed that rolls, as I find the rocking motion curiously comforting. I’m sure I dream but annoyingly I never remember them.
Toby: Noisy, hot, wet, bashing about in the waves all makes it hard to sleep for long and my body clock is set to about 40 mins typical sleep period. So not great but it could be worse I suppose. Starting to feel the growing fatigue more and more as the days pass and no prospect of more than a few hours max in one go between here and Antigua. Dreams seem to be a mixture of dreaming about the row and life back home merged together. On occasion I’ve dreamt about friends being with me rowing although in odd locations rather than the mid-Atlantic.
What is the one thing you miss most?
Ali: A comfy chair!
Justin: Bird song.
Toby: My son Theo. But on a material level it’s a bed, then a shower, then real food. No hot meal for 50 odd days - I’ve started to imagine Antigua as one big collection of restaurants serving club sandwiches.
Are you rowing naked?
Toby: Yes. But mostly we’re covered up during the heat of the day so only really during dawn or dusk. I’ve not found it to be good for the bum either so tend to always wear a layer now - shorts or boxers - never both!
Justin: No. The joys of cool air and sweat free skin are more than outweighed by the seat pad abrasions and innumerable trips to skin care clinics that would undoubtedly follow.
Have you been playing games or singing songs to pass the time? If so, what are they?
Justin: We tried I Spy but Toby said we weren’t taking it seriously. Various other parlour games have come and gone but now I just talk to the voices. And it turns out I know lyrics to lots of 80s and 90s songs. This has proved something of a mixed blessing.
Toby: I Spy got boring pretty quickly so we moved on to virtual landscape I Spy, e.g. desert island or a circus. But Justin and Ali ruined that by cheating! Virtual battleships was fun for a while but people kept ‘misplacing’ their ships. One game featured coming up with a new set of bingo calls from 1-99. Probably the less said about that the better. Singing is good - Justin knows the words to most things. But no-one else likes my singing! Making up stories I enjoy. The best to date involves an English gent of a badger called Bilbo, a Mexican snail called Brian or Speedy - bit of a wheeler dealer, and a Peruvian squirrel called Minstrel - an actor. Set originally in the late 1800s in London, they end up discovering the lost city of Machu Piccu with the help of some magic shoes (similar to red DMs) gifted to them by a mysterious old lady. Now settled there running a successful tour guide and hotel business, they are looking for their next adventure if anyone would like to write it for us?!
As of 1600 GMT on day 42, here’s how the team are getting on:
Position: 17 degrees 23.85 N, 052 degrees 16.92 W
Speed/Direction: 2.6 knots @ 267 degrees
Distance rowed: 2177 Nautical Miles (2505 Miles)
Distance to go: 544 Nautical Miles (626 Miles)
12th in Fours crews
Henley Business School is working with Heads Together and Row on a research project looking at individual and team resilience. Click here to find out more.
Visit the Heads Together and Row website to find out how you can support the team and their charities.
Photo of the crew: Ben Duffy/Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge