The art of crossing an ocean

“Art is a personal act of courage, something that one human does, that creates a change in another.” Seth Godin

A remarkable painting (and my personal favourite) by Alfonso Andériz, Ballena - Whale, oil on canvas, 97 x 130cm - 2018

A remarkable painting (and my personal favourite) by Alfonso Andériz, Ballena - Whale, oil on canvas, 97 x 130cm - 2018

The courage of expression

The beautiful Spanish island of La Gomera has been the chosen point of departure for Atlantic crossings for decades, so it’s not surprising that the annual influx of the extraordinary clique of past, present and future rowers, has left an indelible mark on the tiny port of San Sebastián.

As a 2017 and 2018 race observer, I am familiar with the incredible emotional response these exceptional human beings evoke. Watching the tiny boats making their way slowly across the vast expanse of sea, imagining the highs and lows they are facing, feeling the upwelling of gratitude when they arrive safe, but changed forever, on the other side, is a rollercoaster for the watching world.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge inspires imagination and creativity.

The Exhibition

In 2016, a group of local artists in La Gomera began hosting an annual exhibition and we were touched to be invited to attend this event showcasing an array of genres reflecting the emotion of the race depicted in sculpture, photography, literature, music, journalism, painting, drawings, cross-stitch and poetry. Each of the rowers was given a small wooden carving, a talisman to remind them that they “never row alone”.

The gorgeous Grandads of the Atlantic receiving their talisman and good wishes for the row from the artist community in La Gomera.

The gorgeous Grandads of the Atlantic receiving their talisman and good wishes for the row from the artist community in La Gomera.

The artwork is magical and shows the local talent’s deep understanding of the journey the rowers face.

The artwork is magical and shows the local talent’s deep understanding of the journey the rowers face.

The memory book

Artist Eduardo J. Castro creates a notebook each year, and collaborates with Alfonso Andériz for the illustrations of the teams and their boats, while Juanma invites all the rowers to record their personal motivation for their journeys. It is a beautiful record of a special time, and they’ve done one each year for the teams.

Two pages are allocated to each team and the boat illustrated. Each team member is then invited to record their personal motivation to row the Atlantic.

Two pages are allocated to each team and the boat illustrated. Each team member is then invited to record their personal motivation to row the Atlantic.

the Photography

I have the greatest respect for the two main race photographers Ben Duffy and Ted Martin who are part of the fabric of this event, and who capture the heart and greatness of the rowers in the moments they are at one with the elements. They have both produced iconic photographs over the years which epitomise the magnitude of the participant’s achievements.

“I want each and every rower to look back at their celebration images and know I couldn’t have captured their emotion any better; a true visual representation of exactly how they felt at that moment, knowing they’d rowed an ocean. An image that will inspire them, and all of us, for the rest of our lives, to continue challenging, to continue exploring.” Ben Duffy

Ben Duffy does the official pre-race photograph for  Atlantic Discovery .

Ben Duffy does the official pre-race photograph for Atlantic Discovery.

the Tradition at the Blue Marlin

Almost a rite of passage, rowers scribe their names on the wall in the Blue Marlin Taberna - a local bar and eatery on the edge of the main plaza in San Sebastián. Studying the artwork gives one a sense of the history of these explorers and adventurers.

Look out for  Atlantic Discovery  on the right hand top corner of the taberna as you enter the door.

Look out for Atlantic Discovery on the right hand top corner of the taberna as you enter the door.

Atlantic Discovery  enjoying one of their final cold beers before the start of their row in the shade outside the Blue Marlin Taberna.

Atlantic Discovery enjoying one of their final cold beers before the start of their row in the shade outside the Blue Marlin Taberna.

the writing

Bruce Parker sent in this poem from South Africa. He penned it during Atlantic Discovery’s crossing.

Atlantic Discovery  (Crossing an Ocean)

 It started as a rhythm

The proud flash of an oar

Beautifully curved

Disciplined artistic efficient.

Sinews tensing and corded

We happily showed the ocean we could do as we pleased

And a stroke meant we were not there anymore!

 

Then the jokes more spaced with each in his world

Thinking about thinking.

Was this a universe marred only briefly

By our beetle tracks

Our supreme effort gone in a vanishing swirl?

We pulled harder to see if the swirl lasted longer

It didn’t that we could see.

 

Who was the master?

Were we only rough and poorly machined cogs fitted into the ocean

And run by the ocean?

Wasn’t this our show, ours to own?

  

Yes! It was our show and we had an island

Hidden now by distance and an endless skin of blue.

And we were headed there.

No matter how sticky the ocean!

Soon we’d see gulls and rocks and golden sand

And grin in the burning flares of victory.

 

At last it was quiet and we were at the end

Looking at Ellida with souls torn

For she was as much us as we.

Was this it?

All done and dusted and now to pack?

 ‘Wasn’t this our show, ours to own, ours to win?’

 

Standing in the dark

We watched as she rocked on her moorings

Feeling pain as deep as we’ve ever felt

As real as the oar grip our souls would always know.

 

What have we done?

For sure we made no mark on that great ocean

But we honoured ourselves and those who launched us

Tasted Discovery for sure, became men of the sea and

Made lots of friends, hailed those who helped and

Reached for the imaginings of those who could never follow.

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Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.