Guest blog: Atlantic Calling - Rowing an Ocean
Lloyd Figgins is an Adventurer with many years of expedition and risk management experience, the lure of a new challenge is never far away for Lloyd. In December 2011, he and his rowing partner David Whiddon embarked on a two-man expedition to row across the Atlantic Ocean. During their mission, the pair raised over £10,000 for the RNLI. Here, Lloyd shares with us some of his experiences of his time on the ocean, and his reflections on the physical and mental preparation necessary to achieve his goal.
“The catalyst for the expedition came from a lifetime of adventure and the influence of the great explorers who have always fascinated and inspired me. I have been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively and to have led expeditions all over the world, but this was always going to be the ultimate adventure: my Everest, my moon-shot.”
As far as doing something original in ocean rowing was concerned we discovered that the route from Morocco to the Caribbean was not only rarely trodden (or rowed) but that no pair had ever successfully rowed it non-stop. The last pair that had successfully crossed from Morocco did so in 1974, stopped twice in the Canaries en route and took 103 days to complete the challenge. The idea of either departing from or arriving on a continental landmass also appealed, so Morocco became our chosen departure point.
Looking back, we would never have made it without training and as you can imagine, taking on something the size of the Atlantic requires a fair degree of preparation, this can be split into 3 components:
We teamed up with Bournemouth University to help us through our training, they were more than willing to take on new guinea pigs! In the first session we had former Olympic rower, Bobby Thatcher, to put us through our paces on the rowing machine. We then underwent tests on our core stability, fitness, VO2 Max, muscle function, as well as getting advice on our nutrition and the psychological aspects of the row.
Jo Hawkes became my performance coach and through her connections she arranged an incredible 1:1 session with Dave Alred, who is the world’s leading authority on mental preparation. Dave has a philosophy based on what he calls “training ugly”. Jo and Dave’s idea of “ugly” included endurance sessions, which saw me cycling up to 40 miles a day, sprint sessions that had me being physically sick, as well as strength sessions that left me unable to walk! I was set a training programme that involved many of my sessions having me working at or above 90% of max heart rate.
As we would be rowing in 2 hour shifts (one man rowing for 2 hours, whilst the other rests) for 24 hours until we completed the row, this level of training was absolutely essential to ensuring we were properly prepared.
There is a direct correlation between your physical fitness and your mental ability to cope with adversity. The psychological team were not to be outdone and they put us through visualisation exercises and made sure that we had coping mechanisms for what we were likely to encounter. It’s worth noting here that everyone is different and therefore the ability to deal with adversity differs widely between individuals. It is a very personal aspect of preparation, but something that should not be ignored or taken lightly.
I visualised every conceivable thing that could go wrong and how I would deal with it. It was often a sobering process and more than once I awoke in a cold sweat in my bed at home after thinking of another worst case scenario. However, it served to better prepare me and make me train even harder. Having a team available to make sense of these emotions and how to deal with them was invaluable, not just in the build up to the row, but during and after it.
In addition to this I also had to fit in a sea survival course. The RNLI have a world class facility down in Poole and so in August I spent a week with them being put through my paces, which included time in the “tank” where they are able to recreate wind, waves, rain, thunder, lightning and even a total blackout. They even went so far as to take me out to sea in one of their Trent Class lifeboats, stick me in a locker in the bow of the boat to see if I would be seasick! .......................I wasn’t.
I actually enjoyed all aspects of training and it certainly paid off when we got to the Atlantic.
Life on board
Day to day life on board involved a combination of rowing, eating, rowing, sleeping, rowing, doing chores such as washing clothes and ensuring the boat was properly maintained and more rowing. I actually loved being on the oars and the ocean is constantly changing. Sometimes the sea was very calm and at others we were dealing with forty or fifty foot swells and storms.
Our skin suffered and it was impossible to keep dry. I was often soaked by huge waves, which would knock me off my seat, but you just have to climb back on and continue rowing. Yes it was hard, but this is where the “training ugly” really kicked in and actually I started to enjoy the adversity. I have no doubt that being both physically and mentally prepared for this challenge was the key to me enjoying it so much. I saw the positive in everything, even when it seemed everything was stacked against us.
Other major highlights for me were the sunrises and sunsets as well as the solitude. It was a sad moment when, on the final day at sea, I watched the sunrise for the last time and knowing that I wouldn’t be passing this way again for a while. A large part of me didn’t want it to end, but I knew my time with the ocean was coming to a close and that she had allowed me to cross safely and was now delivering me back to land where I belong.
We completed our journey after 60 days 17 hours, making us the first pair to cross non-stop from Morocco to Barbados. It was an experience that will stay with me forever.
My next challenge will see me running the length of Britain from John O’Groats to Lands End in a series of 45 back to back marathons in order to raise funds for Hounds for Heroes. I am speaking at the National Geographic Store in London on 27th September at 7pm. You can also follow my progress at www.lloydfiggins.com
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