"The ultimate test of a man, is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." Martin Luther King
Towards the best possible row
My admiration for the four men in this team grows day by day; through the setbacks and through every one of their triumphs.
I've been told by ocean rowers that crossing the Atlantic ocean in a tiny rowing boat, standing against tempestuous Mother Nature and overcoming unimaginable physical and mental tests, is something that can be taken on by anyone.
But I really don't believe this is true. It takes a special kind of person to take on this extreme journey.
For starters, you need courage in every strand of your DNA, super-heroism rooted in your heart chambers and, the ambition to do it, so strong in you, that every neural pathway sings with the will to achieve this seemingly-impossible goal.
These are the qualities that I'm starting to see in the team, and my respect for this charming, crazy and endearing bunch of guys is growing steadily.
Teaching isaac to row
This weekend, Mother Nature played a little trick on my boys - the first of many - I'm quite sure!
On Friday, Ben, Isaac and Jack flew to Switzerland to stay with Cameron on the banks of Lake Zurich. Their mission for the training session was to row a wide riverboat - kindly lent to them by the RGZ Rowing Club - 60 km around the heart of the largest city in the country, while coaching Isaac on the finer points of rowing. Photographer and drone expert Daniel Williams joined the team to record their progress on the iconic alpine waters.
On Saturday, Mother Nature woke up in a bad mood. The team, unperturbed by her cloudy brow, launched at 8am.
(Now, we all know that ignoring a moody woman is not always the best course of action...ho hum!)
While the more seasoned rowers schooled Isaac, Mother Nature dialled down the temperature and lowered her head. Atlantic Discovery were 10 km into their row when they began to realise that the boat was taking on a great deal of water.
Too much, according to Jack (in water up to his knees from the stroke position)
It was fine, according to Ben (only seeing two inches of water from the bow)
What about my photographic equipment?, panicked Dan.
It was a tense interlude until, as one, they entered survival mode and pulled towards the shore with all their might, just making it before the boat went under and they were dumped unceremoniously into the shallows, the echoes of distant laughter ringing across the dull skies.
Cold and wet, the guys salvaged the boat, their pride, and their indomitable high spirits; they were laughing when they messaged me to say they had "sunk", "they were trying again tomorrow when the weather improved" and their agenda had been"rejigged".
A glance back in time
STÄMPFLI Racing Boats, established since 1861, are the Bugatti Veyron of the rowing world. They are the only company that still build wooden boats in the traditional way and are committed to the ongoing improvement of rowing boat design and production; the team were in for a treat.
"STÄMPFLI has generously sponsored Atlantic Discovery two pairs of brand new ocean rowing Croker skulls," explained Cameron. "I was so pleased when they offered to support us. Everyone I have spoken to in the business is friendly, welcoming and genuine. They really go out of their way to be helpful too. I have a great deal of respect for the company and we had a wonderful time visiting the workshop and being talked through what they do by Dani. We are deeply grateful to be associated with this premium brand."
#girlpower for the boys
Back to the flat and a chat with Sophie Stabell, captain of the record breaking four-women Rowegians rowing team from Norway (they rowed Ellida across the Atlantic in 2017). Sophie shared invaluable advice on preparation, the row, food and managing Ellida.
Ben said afterwards: "The ocean rowing community is such a special group of people. Always so willing to help and offer advice. I loved hearing all the inside information and Sophie is inspirational in the way she answered all our questions - thanks Sophie!"
Then the rainbow...
From the drone flying above the skiff, Sunday looked like a tropical island far below. The water like glass, the early autumnal colours bright, the skulls scooping rhythmically, the kilometres falling away with ease.
Atlantic Discovery completed the circumnavigation, foot steering the whole way and achieving a top speed of 11.23 knots. Dan was able to get some amazing drone footage of the rowing, you can see his short film on our social media channels. (Amazingly, he was able to launch and land the drone on the rowing boat - I'm sure there are not many photographers who would attempt that - skillz Dan!)
Jack-bot has also got to be mentioned here - in the rainbow section - because this weekend he gained the respect of his team mates for setting the pace and putting welly into the row, despite feeling very ill (I'm not going to say anything about man-flu because he never even mentioned feeling poorly!). Go Jack-bot, love your stoicism.
Focus, precision and timing
The highlight of the weekend? Isaac said it was the discovery of how important it is to focus on precision and timing when you're on the oars. "Concentration is key to synchronising effort with your team mates to maximise forward propulsion. I was really surprised at the difference this makes. Chatting or looking around isn't really an option: while you're rowing you've got to work hard. Thanks guys for the coaching, I feel like a really solid part of the team now."