“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” Sir Richard Burton
The first stroke
At 11:30 on Wednesday 12 December, Atlantic Discovery dipped their oars into the water for the first of 1.5 million oar strokes it will take to row the Atlantic ocean between the Canaries and the Caribbean.
The first stroke was the culmination of months and months of relentless campaigning, training, preparation, investment and forbearance. For Ben, it was the overwhelming moment his dream, born four years ago, became a reality.
It was also the moment the team’s world shrunk to the size of a 28ft vessel, containing everything they need to survive, and their ties with the world were set aside. From now on, they have only each other.
Waiting for word
For those of us left onshore, there is now a wait for about a week while the team become accustomed to their circumstances. We are unlikely to hear from them. The early stages of this extreme journey are challenging. They need to adjust to rowing at least 12 hours a day in shifts, sleeping in bursts of an hour or two, cleaning themselves with a cup of water and wet wipes, fitting in regular boat maintenance and eating rehydrated food and high calorie snacks. They are also acclimatising to constant movement.
It’s a galaxy apart from the past two weeks spent on the festive island of La Gomera.
The schedule for the team has been all consuming. Social events, farewell parties, photo shoots, rigorous safety briefings and checks, and, of course, spending last moments with family and friends. This whirlwind has occupied every waking moment. I can’t help but think that in a way, the soothing immersion in nature, with just the sounds of the sea, must be welcome to them all.
I’ve been part of the team for eight months; chatting to them every day, sitting in on weekly meetings, photographing their training drills, sharing teambuilding weekends, and watching them grow into giants, connect and meld as a unit.
So, as I sat perched at the waters edge, on my own, and watched the ocean rowing boat get smaller, and the sea become more vast, I realised that inevitably, my boys had taken a big part of me with them.
Then I caught sight of all the family and friends gathered on the pontoon, read through the hundreds of messages and emails, outpourings of support and goodwill, saw all the donations being made to our MS charities, and I realised that Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack have captured all our hearts. The next days and weeks and months will be spent watching their progress on the race tracker.
Generosity of spirit
The thing about such enormous human endeavour, is that it spreads with a ripple effect and infects everyone with inspiration.
Eric Kervarrec was moored peacefully in the San Sebastián marina when I asked him to take me to sea so I could photograph the team on the water, and he agreed without a moments hesitation.
Cameron’s Swiss Re team have set up a live tracker in their office and are taking bets as to how many fish he will catch on the crossing, how much weight he will lose and where Atlantic Discovery will finish in the race.
Ben’s dad Colin emailed 3,600 colleagues in Hiscox to ask them to donate to our MS charities. The boost in donations was wonderful.
Our platinum sponsor NAGICO Insurances Group recorded a Christmas video message from 10 offices in the Caribbean (Antigua, Aruba, BVI, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Martin and St Martin French office, Trinidad & Tobago) to show that they are always there and routing for the team.
Ben dropped his wallet in the street on the day before race start. A do-gooder picked it up and handed it to Leven Brown, our weather router, to return to Ben. (The people in La Gomera are wonderful, and Atlantic Campaigns has fostered heartwarming relationships with the locals.)
Emma Self designed the Atlantic Discovery logo and info graphic to track the team’s journey (which she updates every week) but she has also made a donation to our MS charities.
I can’t possibly include all the wonderful gestures people have made, all the donations, all the kind words. I just know that this huge wave of positivity is going to help the team reach Antigua and make all of us proud.