By Susan Ronaldson on July 2, 2018
Almost exactly a year after saying yes to rowing an ocean, last weekend I watched our new boat Poppy being launched. It was a quite emotional – whilst I’ve always believed we would row the Atlantic, having a boat makes it all seem very real! We’ve been touched and amazed by the generosity of friends, family and even complete strangers who have contributed to help us get this far. But we had to reach deep to the bottom of our personal savings to make it happen- which in a way makes this more special as it is not only the culmination of a year of very hard work – it’s years of hard work!
I’ve always remained positive about achieving our goal, but the most concerned I’ve been was whether we would actually have a boat! We wanted a second hand boat to stay true to our mission to cut plastic use, but there were very few and all were being snapped up! We had a nervous wait for Poppy but were very lucky the Atlantic Ladies choose us to ‘adopt’ her. There is a special connection between our teams – they were the first female trio to complete the crossing and it’s their world record we’ll be out to beat!
Poppy is a very beautiful and well-crafted boat, built by Justin Adkins of Seasabre. Justin has been incredibly helpful and supportive of us, spending time to teach us about every single piece of equipment and feature. And there is a lot to learn! Poppy is what they call a pure boat meaning she is designed not to catch the wind as much. So you should expect us to be a bit slower than the first wave of boats into Antigua as we’ll have more rowing to do!
As I’ve said many times this week when asked how we got on, on the river, rowing is hard work!! (You’re probably giving me that – ‘didn’t you know that?!’ look! Well yes!) After having not rowed on water since October but having spent lots of time transforming myself in the gym, it was interesting to test how I would find it. What I found was that there is no land based substitute for actually being in an ocean rowing boat. It tests every single muscle and clearly some not reached by an erg. The biggest challenge for me was my back- poor posture that I get away with on an erg translated into pain on the water. It was also a challenge for my body to recover when we were doing shorter shift patterns – shorter rows but shorter recovery time.
Caroline and Jess took to it all brilliantly and left the weekend seemingly floating! As pleased as I was for them, it made the contrast with me even harder and I left as low as I’ve been this year. Worried whether I could fix my back and really conscious of being 10 years older. I spent the week doing exercises to fix my back - I’m also literally retraining it by consciously holding my posture. I was tempted to walk around with a book on my head!
We had a greater challenge this weekend as a beautiful, relaxing row on Saturday morning turned into something quite different when the wind got up to 15 knots against us, tunnelling down the narrow point of the river Crouch. Whilst we womanly battled it for some time, we had to improvise and pick up a buoy, before being towed into Fambridge to unexpectedly spend the night. It was a bit hairy but I loved it because we pulled together brilliantly as a team, having to improvise and all chipping in to find solutions to the challenge.
I know the girls found it tough that we didn’t get the hours in this weekend we wanted- and the lesson that you can’t control the weather means we could lose future practice. But for me, whilst understanding that I didn’t row many hours, there was huge relief that the exercises plus changing my rowing technique seemed to work for my back. I loved every minute of it- even when we were being blown onto the bank and then desperately clinging to the buoy – and mainly because, even though I’ve known we’re a great team, we all worked together and stepped up when we needed to. I feel even more confident of our ability to meet the challenge ahead.
We were rewarded for our change of plans when we got up at 4.30am to beat the forecast strong winds on Sunday, with the most beautiful sunrise out on the empty river. I grew up going to Burnham on Crouch- I’ve always loved it and it’s still proving to be my happy place! This week we’re taking Poppy to Henley for the regatta. Sadly we’ll be land based but hoping to gather some more funds. We still need to raise the rest of our fees, our shipping, clothing, the remaining equipment and our flights and accommodation. So a long way to go! Please support us at www.statusrow.com/support.
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