Catch Episode 6 of the epic adventure to catch all the action of the final farewell!
A special thanks in this episode goes out to Axe, Charlie, Stephanie Rawlinson, Peter Hutton, Brent Rubbo Raffles Marina and Axe’s parents Ngaire and Jack!
The last three days have been very eventful since leaving Belo village in Bangka Island. As we departed around 3PM in the afternoon we made for the middle of the Selat (Strait) where we thought would be the strongest currents. We soon picked these up and rode them for 1.5 days, averaging over 2 knots and at one point had a storm blow in behind us which saw us travel at over 6 knots for 45 minutes! Selat Bangka is HUGE and we could not see one side of Sumatra when out in the centre. Towards the southern point we got caught in the middle when the tide changed and had a 5nm battle to get to the Bangka side at 4AM as the current pushed us north. We were exhausted and dropped anchor in 5m water and rested for 4 hours until the tide changed and we set off again around 9AM.
We rounded the southern tip later that evening of Selat Bangka in a glorious sunset and rowed into the night with lovely tail current, which did not last long. We soon found ourselves battling a strong southerly setting current and I started to develop stomach cramps and diarrhea which sucked the energy from me. In the early hours we were hit by a massive electrical storm, similar to the one we encountered as we entered Selat Bangka. Massive bolts of lightning and thunder all around us and I lost control of the boat for 1.5 hours as she was blown all over the place and we did 360 degree turns. I hate these storms and get quite scared. It was when it passed however we were blessed with beautiful tailwinds and following seas for three hours and made 3 – 4 knots. It rained most of yesterday and I was exhausted and weak from feeling sick, so kept up rowing but in my off shift lay and rested. I feel better today and this morning we saw a pod of dolphins and a sea snake as we cleaned the hull of the boat.
Charlie is a great rowing mate, and always remains cheery even when tired. Dare I say it he is actually quite cute as during the evening time when he is sleeping, he sleep talks like crazy to me; telling me all sorts of wonderful stories and offering to come back on shift after being asleep for 10 minutes! We are having a real adventure out here, its not easy but nothing in life of value comes easy. At times I wonder what the hell I am doing, at times I love it, at times I miss my girls so much I cry silently in the cabin, but I always try and remind myself I am lucky to be in this situation. I leave you with this beautiful poem my mother sent me the day we departed:
I THINK I CAN
If you think you are beaten you are:
If you think you dare, you don’t;
If you want to win but think you can’t;
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose you’re lost;
For out of the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in a state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger and faster man,
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
This afternoon Simpson’s Donkey completed another epic milestone! We arrived safely and in one piece to Bangka Island. The surroundings here are beautiful and the locals are showing a lot of interest in the boat and expedition; it is great to have the local support and be surrounded by so many smiling faces.
Did you know that these islands not only hold pristine white beaches with crystal clear waters and coral reefs – a hot spot for diving and snorkeling, but they are also the largest producers of tin in Indonesia! It is quite fascinating what you learn when exploring new shores.
Check out some snaps below on our arrival!
SIMPSON’S DONKEY HQ UPDATE:-
“On Saturday evening at 2030hrs on Day 5 of the expedition we crossed the equator, Axe rowed hard up until 20m before the line then we sat in the cabin together and watched the numbers tick over as we left the Northern Hemisphere and entered the Southern Hemisphere – we celebrated by sharing a small bottle of coke.”
Hello from Simpson’s Donkey!
It 1200hrs on day 5 here on Simpson’s Donkey as we send this update on our progress. The last 5 days have seen us make some decent progress but not without out share of challenges! Our farewell departure from Raffles Marina on Day one was everything I wished for. I did not want to publicise the date and wanted only a few close family, friends and supporters down to see us off. And that pretty much was exactly what happened as we had a very nice send off as we pushed off at 1405hrs. It was very surreal to leave from our beautiful home base for the past year at Raffles marina for the very last time and I looked back with a pang of sadness as we rowed slowly out of the marina and turned Simpson’s Donkey south. The plan on day one was to make it to One 15 Marine at Sentosa Island using favorable tidal currents. The little donkey was loaded with over 200kg of extra weight and this made our progress a little slower than normal however we immediately noticed she sat more stable in the water. The tidal streams were not as strong as we hoped and due to our slow progress we reverted to rowing two-up (two at a time) for the last 4 hours, we actually ran into the next tidal cycle and had a battle for the last hour to even make it into one 15 marina safely. Here we arrived at 11pm and moored up for the night.
Day 2 we departed at 1430 hrs, this was the day that I said goodbye to my wife Stephanie, and daughters Kate and Rachel who had come down to see us off. As every minute drew nearer to departure I felt sadder and sadder and held Rachel and Kate in my arms treasuring every second with them. Saying goodbye to Stephanie and the girls was the hardest thing I have ever done and my tears flowed freely as I gave them one last hug. My heart broke into one thousand pieces as I turned and pushed off the berth and we slowly rowed away. A huge part of me wanted to quit the expedition right there and then and go back home with them.
The plan on day 2 was to clear immigration in Singapore and make it over the shipping channel to Nongsa point marina in Batam, Indonesia to enter Indonesian waters officially. The shipping lanes were very busy as we rowed up to the crossing point. Here I monitored the AIS (vessel tracks) on the chart plotter looking for an opening and immediately saw we had a chance right then. So rowing two up we set off across and managed to pick the timing perfectly. Massive vessels were coming from either direction but we made it over. We then had another battle into beam on winds which caused a choppy, messy sea before finally arriving at Nongsa point after 7.5 hours continuous rowing 2-up at 10PM. Getting into the poorly marked marina channel was hairy in the dark and we ran over a shoal of 0.6 m depth which was lucky we did not hit the bottom. I had to radio ahead to Alistair to wave his torch from the marina to guide us in in the dark.
Day three we set off at 1430 hrs and headed south down the channel between Batam and Bintan Islands, we immediately began two hour shift patterns with the intention to keep the boat moving 24 hours per day. That evening I managed to sleep for around 4.5 hours in my breaks between shifts and Charlie also managed some sleep, and we also made decent mileage south bearing in mind the strong tidal streams we had to fight. Now on day 5, we have kept the little Donkey moving continuously for almost 41 hours and seem to be able to make the 40nm (70km) per day which I am working on. Life is all about adjusting to the routine of living on the boat, 2 hours on and 2 hours off, eating sleeping, rowing, maintaining our bodies and the boat, navigating and communicating using the sat phone and email system once per day. We had one exciting moment on the eve of day 3 where we ran aground on a poorly marked shoal on the chart. It was pitch dark and quite scary but we managed to get off with a few scratches to the rudder only. Charlie is rowing well and we both have developed pizza bum and working at cleaning and applying creams here to mitigate this. The north east monsoon winds are NOT blowing at all at the moment which surprises me and the sea-state has been like glass for the last two nights which makes rowing, eating and sleeping much nicer. Night times are lonely for me but beautiful also. The stars and the peace is a welcome change from Singapore hustle and bustle.
In 13nm we cross the equator – which is about 7 hours time so hopefully I can send a photo back from there.
Love to you all,
Axe and Charlie.
A quick update for you! It was a tough day of 7.5 hours of two up rowing with one 15min break last night just to reach Nongsa; it was a good honest workout! Customs has been cleared, the tides are right, the wind is behind us and we are headed off into the night. Hopefully it is a more pleasant evening!
Stay tuned for more!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Simpson’s Donkey has left the building… well, we’ve left Singapore at least! Today was a big day because crossing the shipping channel between Singapore and Indonesia was our first big challenge… but everything went off without a hitch and we even had time for one last quick call home before entering Indonesia and moving on to the next big challenges ahead!
Finally after two and a half years of preparation the wait is over!!! We pushed off today from Raffles Marina at 14:00 to begin the most epic adventure of our lives! Thanks to all the supporters and sponsors who came down to wave us off. Stay tuned and spread the word, Simpsons Donkey is on its way!!
As departure looms closer and closer – please see the link below where you can follow our progress in real-time. This is an on-line interactive map which updates our position every few minutes.
Check out the page attached at this link to see our position!
In a few days time we will push off from Raffles Marina for the very last time. Using the assistance of an outgoing tide, we will dip our oars into the water and turn Simpsons Donkey south, finally begin the Rowing from Home to Home expedition. This is the biggest and most committing expedition of my life. It is difficult to explain the amount of work that has gone into this. The whole team has gone well beyond the call of duty to do their piece to make this difficult and intricate puzzle fit together.
To all the sponsors, supporters, friends and family who have chipped in, rolled your sleeves up and helped us – thanks you so much. We would not be here without your support.
Our exact departure time and date is unfortunately not something we are sharing publicly as we are trying to remain focused on the task ahead. It is within the next four days however.
I leave you with these words which an ocean rower sent to me last week:
“I’ve been following ocean rowing expeditions for 7 years now and the way you were preparing for it is exceptional. I wish you a big chunk of nerves and patience. What you are about to do is much tougher than anything before in ocean rowing. When you set to row across an ocean, even the Pacific, you don’t have much to think about other than row and check the GPS once a day. On the other hand, you will be non-stop calculating the best route among the islands, thinking about where to go, forecasting wind, waves and currents. 99% of the time dealing with issues, calculating where to go. Which is very hard, because you have to think all the time, but I’m sure you won’t lose your mind! From what I’ve seen from Facebook trial rows, you are also one of the best prepared expeditions before the start. I’m sure you will be up to the task. One chunk (island) at a time!”
I am am very happy to announce that Rob Hamill from New Zealand will join the Rowing from Home to Home team!
Rob is a well known kiwi, having represented New Zealand in the Olympics and world championships for rowing, but perhaps most well recognised for winning the first ever trans-Atlantic rowing race in 1997, together with Phil Stubbs.
Rob has a fascinating past, through his adventurous and sporting background, to his tragic family history with his brother’s horrific murder in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. He brings a wealth of experience in large and complicated campaigns, positivity, and ‘can-do’ attitude to the team. Rob will join me in Darwin in early 2017, and we will get to know each other a little better on the 4,500km cycle ride across Australia, whilst making plans for the final stage of the journey – the knarly Tasman Crossing. If Rob can handle my jokes for 4,500km across Australia I am sure he should be able to put up with me for two months on the Tasman as well! But time will tell! You can find more information on Rob through his website: http://www.robhamill.co.nz
Welcome to the team Rob and thanks for being part of the journey!
It is with great pleasure we release episode four of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries. This personally is my favorite episode to date as it covers some real action from our training row in Indonesia and our successful crossing of the shipping lanes which I am really quite proud of as it is a rather daunting stretch of water to negotiate without engine, sails or support boats.
We are so close to departure now – I can almost smell the start line. On one hand I feel enormously excited and on the other hand I feel intense sadness at putting Stephanie, Kate and Rachel (my wife and 2 daughters) through this ordeal. Sitting on the sidelines and watching from a distance is always the most stressful position to be in. Every minute I have with them is precious, and the closer we come to departure – the more precious these moments become. I guess this is fundamental to what gives things value. The fact that life does not last forever. And our time with our loved ones is not eternal.
I have resigned from my job, and dedicated the last two years of my life to this project. Every single day – chipping away at the mass of hurdles and obstacles which are in place. If I wasn’t absolutely 100% committed to the task I would have given up a long while back. In terms of preparation, we are miles ahead of many of teams that I have researched that have set off on ocean rows. But the route from Singapore to Australia has never been rowed before. Their are many question marks that we will not have the answer to, until we enter the arena. I keep asking myself the same burning question.. “Have we done enough?”
Time only will tell.
We are leaving!
That’s right, the Rowing from Home to Home expedition is all set to depart Singapore’s sunny shores.
As such we will be hosting a leaving party this Saturday evening, 1900hrs (thats 7PM) on wards, there is even free beer for the early birds! A massive thank you to the Trenchard Arms on 47 East Coast Road, Singapore for hosting our farewell party. All details below – see you there!
Check out what happens when we encountered our first storm in our recent training row to Indonesia… Enjoy!
Enjoy Eposide 2 of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries. In this episode we get to know expedition team mate Charlie Smith better, and take a look at the detail of the preparations we are going through.
Thanks to Keppel Bay Sailing Academy and Marina at Keppel Bay, Raffles Marina and Daniel Lundbery and the team at UFIT Singapore for assistance with filming this episode.
We will be producing video diaries like this throughout the expedition, you can catch them here on this blog – or you can watch them on the expedition facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GrantAxeRawlinson
I have missed the process of writing during these past few busy months so it is nice to sit down and type our this trip report. This is an overview of our recent 6 day training expedition to Indonesia.
I had three goals for this training expedition:
- Get away from Singapore, and as far out to sea as possible – hopefully losing sight of land.
- Test as many of our systems as possible in real-life environment – more specifically:
- Water making
- Ground anchoring system
- Parachute anchoring system
- Sleeping system
- Food and nutrition
- Manual Foot Steering
- Physical conditioning
- Personal hygiene
- Team dynamics on a multi-day trip
- Mental conditioning as to how we would handle sustained days and nights of rowing
- Immigration procedures between Singapore and Indonesia
- Tide and current streams in the Singapore Straits and Batam and Bintan Islands
- Communication systems and schedules with project manager and shore based expedition coordinator Dave Field
- The ability to pre-arrange and rendezvous with film producer Alistair Harding in remote areas with no phone coverage
- To not lose or destroy the boat in the process of the expedition – in other words return safely to Singapore – Simpson’s Donkey and the crew intact!
As you will read from the report below we were generally very successful!
To see an interactive GPS tracking map which you can zoom in and out of please click here.
Monday 17 October
Charlie slept overnight on-board Simpson’s Donkey at Raffles marina, in anticipation of an early start. I arrived at 6:45AM, and Charlie reported “it took longer than normal to fall asleep!”. We readied the boat with the last few bits and pieces we required for the next six days and set-off just after 7AM, bound for One 15 marina on Sentosa Island, some 42km away. Immediately we noticed a stiff westerly breeze which kept us working hard to stop being blown towards the Singapore shoreline. It was also low tide, which I knew beforehand meant as it started to rise we would be fighting currents all morning to make it the 8nm to the end of the Tuas hockey stick (Singapore Island most south-westerly point which we would need to round). We battled away for five hours to get here, rowing one-up and two-up, before gratefully turning east to enjoy a tidal stream in our favor. We had an uneventful crossing of the busy shipping channel at this point which normally is interesting due to the high number of vessels coming from all directions. But today we whizzed across without even a course change. How that would change on our return journey!
It was great to be back out in the boat, back to rowing one-hour shift patterns, we made excellent time to reach Pulau Hantu at 2pm (the scene of our grounding and broken rudder in a previous expedition). This time we did not call in but continued on for Sentosa Island.
I had arranged with good mate and Captain Peter ‘Stitch’ Hutton, to bring his beautiful motor launch ‘Witch fish’ out for a rendezvous at Pulau Hantu, where we intended to practise towing Simpson’s Donkey as part of our emergency response training. We were ahead of schedule however, so we kept rowing, and were well past the next busy shipping channel when Captain Stitch and First Mate Brett from NZ pulled alongside in Witch Fish. We soon had their water ski towline attached to Simpson’s Donkey with a sturdy bow line and we began towing.
Having never towed before, we had no idea of what speed would be comfortable or how the little Donkey would handle being towed. It soon became apparent she loved it! Seven to eight knots was a comfortable speed with no need to steer her as she followed obediently behind Witch fish. Charlie and I sat back and enjoyed the scenery as ‘Rowing from Home to Home’ was renamed ‘Towing from Home to Home’ for the last 3km into One 15 marina. We berthed at One 15 for the evening, both returning to our respective homes onshore for a lovely shower, sleep and especially for me a catch up with my girls.
Tuesday 18 October
I had a keynote presentation to the sales and marketing team from Air New Zealand at 9AM on Tuesday morning, conveniently located at a hotel right beside the One 15 marina. Straight after the presentation, with some bemused smiles from the Air NZ team, I trotted off in my number ones, carrying my laptop in the already roasting mid-morning sun and made my way with sweat trickling down my back to Simpson’s Donkey, where I met up with Charlie. We quickly had the boat ready to go and rowed her a short distance to the mouth of marina where we met with Captain Stitch and his merry crew on board Witch Fish.
My initial plan for the training row had not been to head to Indonesia at all, but head up the east cost of Malaysia to Tioman Island. However upon researching the route I saw that the logistics of this exercise (mainly to do with immigration clearance) were going to cause my already thinning hairline to recede even further. Charlie had earlier in the year suggested a trial run to Batam which I had not been in favor of due to risks involved however after much deliberation I finally decided Batam may actually be a logistically more easy option. One thing in Batam’s favor was that it would allow us a test run in the actual conditions we would see on the initial stage of the journey.
So the plan today was to get safely across to Batam Island, a distance of around 37km. But distance was not our main concern with this crossing. The two bigger issues we faced were that we had to cross an international border, i.e exit Singapore as individuals and clear Simpson’s Donkey out of Singapore waters (in nautical terms a vessel requires ‘port clearance’ to leave a countries waters – this port clearance certificate is also crucial to get into the next country you will enter). Also we had to cross the Singapore Straits, a very busy international commercial shipping channel which separates Indonesia and Singapore. At its narrowest point this is only 2nm in width, however crossing this in a slow vessel is akin to a turtle standing at the edge of a motorway and waiting for a gap in the traffic to sneak across to the other side. I decided to err on the side of the caution for this very first crossing and get towed across using the services of Captain Stitch and his merry crew in Witch Fish. (I did ask how the name ‘Witch Fish’ came about but, and he muttered something about someone’s daughter coming up with it – that’s all the story that came through).
I had spent a good deal of time in the previous ten days arranging immigration and port clearances both with the Singapore side and the Indonesian side, so this process went smoothly at least in Singapore. We towed the 3km out to Sisters Island where using channel 74 on the VHF radio, I contacted the Singapore Immigration. A small gray boat soon appeared and using a fishing net the crew expertly came alongside and collected out passports and paperwork, processed and returned it all in no time flat. I tried to imagine what it would be like in two months time, rowing Simpson’s Donkey out, laden with 60 days worth of food and having just waved goodbye to Stephanie and the girls. Part of me look forward to this and the other part dread it.
We were soon bobbing happily along behind Witch Fish at 7 knots as she made her way out of Singapore waters and approached the shipping channel. One thing we got used to in Singapore is constantly being surrounded by ships, but as we entered the channel I was still surprised at just how busy this part of the world is. The one good thing is that it is very well-ordered, with 4 separate lanes which limit travel to four opposing directions. In essence, you cross a small two lane road, then a major two lane highway of shipping traffic. We only had to make one evasive maneuver and were soon over the 2nm of traffic lanes and heading down much calmer waters towards Nongsa point marina on Batam Island.
Charlie sat dozing on the back deck in the sleeping position and I lay in the cabin, thinking through the next few days and what it would bring. We arrived in Batam around 2.5 hours after we left One 15 marina, and gently pulled into the picturesque Nonga Point marina. Here we hit a small hurdle with the support boat as their paperwork to clear customs was not in ‘order’. Things in Indonesia have a way of working out with time, and after two hours of waiting – well, things were all in order again! Unfortunately this delay in paperwork meant that the support boat had run out of time and had to return immediately to Singapore. We had originally intended for Witch Fish to follow us for an hour and film us using a drone, but this was not to be.
So Charlie and I rowed out of Nonga Point Marina all by ourselves into a beautiful sunset. After the noise of being towed over at very high speed (7 knots is very high speed for an ocean rowing boat!), and the opulence of Nongsa Point Marina – it was refreshingly tranquil to head out by ourselves, with the only sounds being our voices and the splash of our oars as they hit the water.
Our plan now was to work our way south through the channel between Batam and Bintan Islands, where we had pre-arranged to rendezvous with expedition film producer Alistair Harding on a small jetty identified off google earth, around 47km distant. I had tentatively told Alistair we would be there around 9 – 10AM on the Wednesday morning, however with a proviso that I knew nothing of the tidal streams in this part of the world. (I had inquired and was told that no information existed!).
It soon become apparent as we left the marina that we were battling against strong currents. With Charlie rowing we were making 1.2 knots only. Our approach when working against currents is to get in as close as safely possible to shore – in shallow water the current is generally less. Unfortunately around this section of coastline, fish farms and nets (basically long rows of wooden poles) dominated the first few hundred metres of shallow areas, and limited our ability to get to close to shore. We resorted to rowing two-up, and managed to make some progress, however the closer we got to the eastern point of Bintan the current continued to increase until we were not making any forward speed at all.
I changed course and we attempted to head out into the channel and cross over to Bintan Island . We resorted back to one-up rowing, but with myself in the engine room rowing as hard I could in a southerly direction, we were being blown directly backwards! We were actually heading north towards Singapore at 1.3 knots! This was not a nice situation and I prayed this current would change with the tide. We once again made a course change and headed back to the shore we had just left on the coastline of Batam, having eventually made a large circle you can see on the route map, taking around 2 – 3 hours of great effort to end up back at the same spot! I got a little angry now, I like to use anger positively in my life to motivate me to get things done and have used this ever since I played rugby. So we both jumped in the rowing seat and together managed to get Simpson’s Donkey bow pointing south and make slow but steady progress. After 45 minutes of hard rowing we were around the troublesome south-easterly point and set a bearing for 180 degrees.
The tide now started to turn in our favor, so we started to get current assistance however unfortunately at this time southerly breeze also blew up which meant a headwind. We still managed to make decent progress for the next 6 hours apart from a number of very troublesome encounters with fish farms. These have no lights at all and extend sometimes over a kilometre into the sea. We inevitably ended up running into a couple of these and had an interesting time untangling ourselves. They really were annoying and also scared the jolly roger out of us when we hit them in the pitch black.
Wednesday 19 October
Around 4AM, even rowing two-up we were struggling to make headway against the increasing strength of the this southerly headwind. I made a call to tuck in behind a small island and drop the anchor, and hopefully wait for the winds to die down. We had practised anchoring in Singapore so had no trouble setting the system up. As the island we were sheltering behind was small, we had to get close in, around 5m water depth only to get out of the wind. We let out just over 15 m of anchor line. In the lee of the island, it was calm and peaceful and I set my alarm watch for 5:15AM, 75 minutes of rest.
No sooner had I shut my eyes than the alarm was beeping, shaking me from my slumber. Charlie was lying on the deck in our sleeping position while I was lying in the cabin. I poked my head out to see the sun starting to appear and a very still morning. Over the space of the next ten or so minutes however I noticed the skyline to the west start to change and massive black ominous clouds started to build. “Something ugly is coming in mate – let’s get everything lashed down or stowed” I said to Charlie. In what seemed like an instant, the storm was on us, and the overnight southerly changed to westerly winds which had the little donkey bucking and twisting on her anchor. The storm bought torrential rain which stung our bare skin and faces so we both retreated to the cabin and watched the wind speed as the gusts came in, registering 25 knots and more. (I have a feeling our wind meter reads slightly less than the real wind conditions due to its mounting location, layer we heard wind speeds of 50 knots reported from the same storm from yachts moored a few miles north).
Needless to say, we both felt safe in the cabin, just as long as the anchor held. Then in one combined moment, the anchor line snapped and the wind swung around to the north. We jumped from the cabin to find ourselves being pushed very fast towards a long line of cruel looking rocks poking their ugly heads from the shallows. With no chance to take any evasive action we braced ourselves as we ran aground and heard the awful grinding and scraping noises that no captain ever wants to hear as his beautiful boat hits rock.
For a few seconds I stood and assessed the situation, the rocks did not seem to have holed the tough material of our hull, and they looked like they would be safe enough to stand on if we could jump in to push her off. We were both completely naked after taking our wet clothes off to get in the cabin, so firstly we had a mad scramble to put back on our soaking wet pants and top as the rain and wind continued to pelt out bare skins. With our sandals on our feet we then both jumped into the water and tried to push the donkey off the rocks. The rudder has the deepest draft on the boat and this was unfortunately stuck holding her fast but we managed to rock and roll and push her until she was free. Then very slowly we pushed her metre by metre away from the shore until we were in water up to our necks. The seafloor was sandy with massive amounts of seaweed which was better than being horrible mangrove mud which would have been impossible to walk in. However the seaweed tangled and scratched our legs so it was with relief when we finally managed to both dive into the boat and let the wind push us out into deeper water. Just before I jumped in I ran my hand over the rudder to feel for any damage, and whilst I could feel a couple of small chunks missing she generally seemed in good condition. For the next hour we took turns rowing, as the rain and wind smashed us. At least we were safe riding the storm out in deeper water, however we became seriously uncomfortably cold and it was good lesson that even here in the tropics we need good wet weather gear.
Eventually the storm blew through, and the sun came out. We tidied the boat, re-gathered ourselves and continued to head south determined to make the rendezvous point with Alistair. Around 10AM we noticed a motor yacht heading directly towards us. As there are not many boats in this part of the world, and piracy is not unknown, we were a little nervous until a friendly Australian female voice shouted out – “I have just been looking at ya website – you guys are crazy! Your AIS is working well though. But you are in the shipping lane here, we are staying close to the coast to avoid the shipping lane”. I stood up and did a 360 degree panorama. If I strained my eyes I could just see one vessel very far away on the horizon. Compared to the volume of traffic we row in Singapore this place felt practically deserted. Like a ghost town and even though we were technically in a shipping lane – the risk was about zero of being hit by something because literally, nothing was around! I have noticed in the boating world that people with boats with large engines tend to be more nervous than us in our human powered craft about some of the places we are going through. We had a quick chat and soon waved our goodbyes.
Around 12:00pm we made radio contact with Alistair on the VHF radio. “Alistair Harding, this is Simpson’s Donkey, come in”. “Simpson’s Donkey this is Alistair Harding, what took you so long?”. It was great to hear his voice after only just after 14 hours of being apart, but after an eventful night the positive power of communication with people was clearly evident.
At 1300hrs we pulled into a rustic fishing jetty made with bamboo and other timber and tied up. Alistair had enjoyed his own adventure getting to this spot by taxi, being caught by the same storm that caught us as he was out photographing in the morning. We did some interviews and downloaded our video footage to him. After a boil up of our jet boil stove on the jetty, we refilled our thermos flasks, had a freeze-dried meal for lunch then said goodbye to Alistair.
As we rowed off, heading further south, my motivation to keep moving further away from Singapore seemed to evaporate. We had worked hard to make the last 47km, and I was now getting used to the tides. I had come to the realisation that this close to land we could not row against them so would need to time our passages north or south with them. The previous 15 hours had taught me that on ebbing tides (falling or outgoing tides) the current pushes south and vice verca when then tide rises. This was invaluable information for when we would set-off in January at least for the first few days being close to land. Once we get away from the land the influence of tide and tidal currents become much less of a factor to worry about.
So on the return journey I knew we would be constrained to passages of a few hours when we could make progress north and then would need to stop and wait for the currents to turn again on the next tidal cycle. After some discussion with Charlie, we decided to stop further southerly progress and alter course and head directly east over to the west coast of Bintan then follow this back up in a northerly direction to Batam. For the rest of the afternoon I felt a wave of depression fall over me as tiredness crept in. I missed Stephanie and the girls massively and had no decent phone coverage so far to speak to them properly. I could not help but think what leaving in January for weeks at a time would be like, having to say goodbye to them. Mainly the depression was bought on through being tired. We rowed one hour on, one hour off as the night descended. Around midnight we were heading north and starting to near the point where the channel between Batam and Bintan narrows and current speed picks up. As we got closer to this point we noticed we were fighting the current. On the way south we had been making 4 knots with the current, with only one person rowing, which indicates very strong currents, so I knew there would be no way we could row against this current for 6 hours. We did not have an anchor after losing it during the storm, so stopping safely for any length of time was not an easy option. I spotted a large navigation beacon on the chart and decided to head for this. We soon noticed its light blinking in the darkness and as we got closer decided to see if we could tie up to this for a few hours to wait out the tides. We managed to throw a line around its structure, and waited, one of us taking the opportunity to sleep and one of us on watch.
Thursday 20 October
At 3:45AM we untied and rowed a few hundred metres out into the strait to test the current direction. It was still pushing south, so we returned to the beacon and tied off again and waited another two hours. At 5:45AM we untied and as soon as we hit the strait felt ourselves being pushed north. So off we rowed into a glorious sunrise. The morning was beautiful, the seas were calm, the wind was negligible and it was really a pleasure to be out there. The ability to have a few hours decent sleep also contributed to the positive spirit. Apart from a couple of high-speed ferries, we only had to dodge two ships at anchor all morning as we made our way the 30km back up to Nongsa point marina. When conditions are favorable, an ocean rowing boat is a very effective mode of human-powered travel. You carry everything you need on-board to live on, and have no reason to come into land at all as kayaker’s do. This means you can keep the boat moving all through the day and all through the night, as long as you rotate your shifts in a way that allows the resting partner enough time to recover and continue. Sleep is the real secret we found to sustained rowing for days on end. Without sleep, things begin to unravel very quickly and the body and minds ability to endure and perform is rapidly diminished.
Good nutrition is another area we are taking very seriously. Our bodies are the machines on this boat, and they need the right fuel. Our nutritional plan has had a great deal of thought and development put into it and I will write a separate blog on this in the future as the subject demands it! Compared to our earlier attempts on earlier training trips our food on this trip was much improved. I very much enjoyed chewing on snack packs such as home-made dehydrated fruit (beautiful mango, apple, banana, pear, kiwi fruit and apple), beef jerky which we had dehydrated ourselves at home so it contained none of the poisonous preservatives and MSG that the store bought stuff contains, raw nuts, cheese and main meals of healthy New Zealand Back Country cuisine freeze-dried, smoked fish pie (beautiful), cottage pie and roast chicken dinners. Another popular snack of ours is noodles with a tin of tuna added.
Back at Nongsa point marina, we berthed the little donkey beside super-yachts and massive catamarans. We then cleared immigration that evening, ready for an early start the next morning. I spent a good deal of time planning the tides and currents for our return journey the next day back to Singapore. I knew we needed to get all the way back to the Sisters Island immigration point in one tide cycle of six hours, this is when the currents were favorable for our direction and with a distance of around 34km this was very doable. The most difficult part of this journey of course was recrossing the busy shipping lanes back into Singapore waters. Unlike the way over where he had the luxury of a 250HP engine towing us, this time we would be by ourselves under human power. I was confident we could do it after I ran through the calculations, but it also hinged on the wind, if there was a northerly headwind, it would make crossing the lanes very tough work.
Friday 21 October
That night I slept under the stars on the jetty beside Simpson’s Donkey, while Charlie slept on the back deck. We rose at 5AM, cooked breakfast of noodles, tuna and coffee then set off rowing at 6AM. Condition’s were ideal and my tidal predictions worked out perfectly all day. We made excellent progress for six hours, rowing one hour shifts all the way up to the crossing point. Here we had around 3km to cross over the four shipping lanes and things became interesting. I turned on our electronics radar reflector, VHF radio, and began carefully monitoring our GPS Chart plotter which shows other vessels speed and position and I set it up to show their predicted position vector ten minutes in advance. From this I saw a steady stream of large ships coming through the western lane. The eastern lane was much quieter. We waited on the side of the channel for at least 5 vessels to pass, and after around twenty minutes of ‘pacing the sidelines’ I spotted a gap.
“OK Charlie – let’s go!” I muttered between my legs as I engaged the autopilot onto the rudder through the back hatch. I then took my place in the aft rowing position and together we rowed two-up, pushing the boat along at 3.5 knots as we glided silently through the shipping lane with the autopilot guiding us. Our timing turned out to be perfect, we had no issues at all with crossing the first two major lanes and it was almost anti climactic. We now only had the two smaller lanes to cross and these were slightly busier, but the vessels were smaller and going at a slower pace. As we were partway across these our friends from the Singapore coastguard intercepted us and stopped us. The Singapore coastguard in my experience is a professional bunch and very friendly and helpful to deal with. They definitely do a great job of monitoring the waters around Singapore, and as usual, after a brief explanation of our intentions and documents, they escorted us for a few hundred metres before gunning their engines and heading off. We kept rowing two-up for the last few kilometres to the immigration point at Sisters island where by this time Charlie had been on the oars for 4 hours. He had performed magnificently under pressure and was well in need for a break under the hot sun. I could tell, as he had begun to stop enjoying my jokes! Unfortunately the immigration boat informed us of a large delay and as the currents are fierce around Sisters Island we had to work our way around until we found some form of shelter in the lee of the winds and current and wait. The gray boat appeared sooner than expected however and thirty minutes later we had cleared into Singapore and headed east across to St Johns Island to wait out the next favorable tide.
I have a very good idea of the currents in Singapore due to the extensive modelling that has been performed on them through the reclamation activities. I thus knew the next period of favorable currents was not kicking in until around 2AM. Again we found being short of an anchor was not ideal here, so we tied up to seaweed (yes not a perfect anchor! but it worked for a while!), and then an old stake. We enjoyed some well-earned R & R here as we relaxed, ate, swam, cleaned the boat and checked our mobile phones. When darkness fell we took turns sleeping while one person sat on deck on watch. We slept fitfully in the muggy night.
Saturday 22 October
At 2AM my alarm pinged and we rose and prepared another meal of noodles and tuna with coffee. I then jumped on the oars and by 3AM we were happily rowing the remaining 42km journey back to Raffles Marina. This section we have rowed now six times, so we are quite familiar with the route. It can be very busy with two shipping lanes to cross and strong currents to contend with, but we were not expecting any surprises. With the tide pushing us along nicely it was more of challenge to not row too strongly, rather than to keep the boat moving. Timing wise, we needed to be rounding the Tuas hockey stick no earlier than 9AM to catch the incoming tide to push us the last eight miles up to Raffles Marina. If we arrived here too early, we would be stuck expending massive amounts of energy battling tidal streams and making very little progress. I have come to learn during the preparation for this expedition that it is better to sit out and wait for the tides rather than battle against them. We expend so much energy when trying to row the boat at speeds below 1 knot, which is a typical speed when fighting tide. Keeping the boat on course and with forward momentum is a challenge, every time you stop rowing for a drink she immediately does a 180 degree turn and starts drifting backwards and its a battle to get her pointing forward again. So we normally resort to rowing two-up at speeds of less than a knot, but this is not sustainable for more than few hours as neither of us gets a break to rest. So even though it can be frustrating to sit and wait for a few hours for the tide to turn, in the long run its the most efficient solution of making ground with the least effort.
Around 7AM as we were less than 2nm from the end of the Tuas hockey stick, smack in the middle of the last very busy shipping channel we needed to cross, when those same ominous black storm clouds we had seen four days earlier appeared on the horizon. We quickly stowed and lashed everything down and in less than 5 minutes all hell had broken loose. The storm hit us from the north and the winds were too strong to continue our row west. Our only option seemed to be to turn south and run with the wind. We soon saw we were being blown at an alarming rate back towards Indonesia so we left the boat to her own devices, and she naturally turned broadside or beam on into the wind. This made for more rolling motion but the speed slowed down slightly. It would have been an ideal position to put out our sea anchor, however due to be smack in the middle of a busy shipping channel this was not the place to increase our footprint from 6.8m to 60m, with a long line and submerged parachute off our bow. We rode the storm out for the better part of an hour until it blew through, then set about regaining the lost ground to the Tuas hockey stick. For one and a half hours Charlie battled on the oars as I manually steered, the wind was still blowing strongly from the west but with a strong opposing current pushing us west meant Simpson’s Donkey was difficult to steer. We finally rounded the hockey stick into much calmer waters at 10:15AM, and Charlie had a well deserved rest and I sat down in the engine room to take my turn on the oars.
The next hour and a half was brutal as even though the tide had changed and was coming in, the currents had not yet changed and I fought the current doing a pitiful 0.7 knot speed. But gradually the currents reversed and with home in sight, Charlie jumped back in the rowing seat with me, and we had the little Donkey at speeds of up to 5 knots as we smashed our way the remaining 8nm up to Raffles Marina arriving at 1400hrs to a rapturous welcome with live music, models (real, human female ones), beer tents and extravagant cars and yachts awaiting. Actually as it turned out this was the Raffles Marina Rendezvous event and nothing to do with us but it was nice to imagine!
It was great to see Alistair at Raffles Marina with his trusty camera in hand, capturing us as we came in. I actually found the sudden transition from being on the boat to lots of people, music and unlimited luxury to be a little over whelming and I had to take a few moments to go and sit in the stables with the little donkey quietly to regather my thoughts. We quickly tidied the Donkey and in less than 45 minutes from her arrival had her back safely in her cradle sitting in the security of her stables.
So we did it. 280km (albeit around 40km of it was towed) but we made it over and back safely to Indonesia, with a few scratches and a great deal of hard-won and positive experience. As all previous expeditions we made a long list of changes and enhancements we need to make, thankfully these details are getting more and more minor all the time. I came away from the expedition with the following takeaways:
- I gained a great deal of confidence that our preparation is right on track and we are very nearly ready to depart
- Physical conditioning – I had one day of rest on Sunday and was back in the gym on the Monday. Physically I felt very good, with no problems at all with my lower back and legs which were extremely sore on earlier rows. Charlie also seemed to handle it well – so our combined conditioning program which has focused on strength rather than long endurance sessions seems to be effective.
- Personal Hygiene – we both experienced the start of ‘pizza bum’ – where sores start to develop on our backsides from the salt water and pressure. We do need to clean more regularly and also apply nappy rash cream for the first time in a few years.
- Food and nutrition – we are in a process of continual refinement on our nutritional plan and recently welcomed the addition of Gary Moller – sports nutritionist from New Zealand, to our team. Our food is very tasty and generally of really high quality with little preservatives or poison added. We still have a few refinements to make, especially with adding supplements and super foods to our daily intake, but I am confident it will be a delicious menu we can look forward on our voyage.
- Tidal streams in the Batam/Bintan area. I now have a much better idea of what the currents do with the tides in the first part of our journey which will put us in a good position to get through the first three days and hopefully get away from shore and the effect of tidal streams.
- Team dynamics – Charlie and I both got stretched enough on the voyage to see each other getting tired and under pressure at certain periods. When things needed to be done, we both continued to communicate, (although my ear does need to be trained to understand a deep ‘Essex’ian’ accent and some of Charlie’s adjectives!) and work together as a team.
- Daily check-in with project manager Dave Field in New Zealand. We set-up a plan for two check-ins per day 2AM and 2PM Indonesian time, which was 7AM and 7PM in NZ. This did not work that well as I did not manage to stick to two check-ins per day. I feel one check-in would be more realistic.
A massive thank you to all those who supported this effort including:
Raffles Marina for hosting Simpson’s Donkey
Nonga Point Marina for assiting with our entry and exit from Indonesia and very friendly service of Mr Prakash and team.
Captain Peter ‘Stitch’ Hutton and crew – for towing us over in Witch Fish
Dave Field – project manager in New Zealand
Alistair Harding – Filming and rendezvous
TC – drone pilot
Stephanie – my wife for managing the home front while I was away
Tailwind Nutrition Singapore – for supplying delicious electrolyte drinks
And lastly, Charlie Smith – my team mate. I could not ask for a more committed and hard- working team mate. Thank you for sharing the experience.
Yesterday Charlie Smith and I returned safely to Raffles Marina in Simpson’s Donkey after a six day training row to Indonesia. We tested our systems, got smashed by two storms, ran aground, got very sun burnt, battled headwinds and strong tidal currents, dodged oil tankers and cargo vessels and learnt more in six days than a year of what reading books on the subject would ever teach us. Oh, we also had a fantastic time!
Thanks to all those who supported our journey, Dave Field our project manager in New Zealand, Muhtar Latif our electronics specialist, Alistair Harding our film producer and of course Stephanie my wife for managing home base so efficiently without my input. Also a big thanks to Captain Peter ‘Stitch’ Hutton and his crew for being our support vessel on the way over to Indonesia. A video episode will be dedicated to the training row and the exciting footage we collected but for now, it is my great pleasure…. to introduce to you episode number 1 of the Rowing from Home to Home series – produced by the unassuming yet amazingly talented Mr Alistair Harding – we hope you enjoy!
PS: We aim to produce episodes EVERY two weeks from this point forward throughout the expedition, but this costs money so we ask for your support. If you enjoy this episode – share it with as many friends as possible, this more views and support we get the easier it is to find the means to keep producing these. We don’t do this to make money, we do it because we love it, we hope our passion shows through in our work and we hope you love it too!
Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson
In this interview we get the privilege to know ‘Rowing from Home to Home’ team mate Charlie ‘Prince Charles’ Smith better. Charlie will be crew mate on the first leg – the never before attempted, 4500km rowing journey, completely by human power, from Singapore to Darwin. Charlie discusses all sorts of issues, from his life in Romford, UK, how he plans to handle Axe’s notorious humor, and even his method of dealing with sexual frustration on board the vessel.
Charlie, what’s a boy from Romford doing out here in Singapore?
Well I first moved out here about 2 1/2 years ago when a job opportunity came up with work. At the time I had little knowledge of Singapore apart from what I’d read in some guidebooks, but thought it’ll be a great experience and a chance to travel and see a part of the world that was completely new to me.
What’s the major differences, both good and bad, between life in Romford, UK compared to life in Singapore?
Living in Romford was great as a kid, and I made some life long friends through rugby along the way. But it wasn’t until I started discovering climbing and the freedom it gave me that I started really using Romford as a base for training and then going on mini adventures around the country-so long as you don’t mind the weather so much! Singapore Is a complete contrast, It’s a thriving city, based in the heart of Asia and a melting pot of cultures which makes it a fantastic place to live. However when I first moved here I did find it hard to keep the fire of adventure alive-until I stumbled upon ocean rowing by chance and then eventually the Rowing from Home to Home expedition. The only real downside for a Romford boy is the heat and humidity!
How did you become involved in rowing from home to home?
I’d be lying if I said I grew up dreaming of jumping into an ocean rowing boat and setting off on an expedition like Rowing from Home to Home. I’d never even thought about if before, until I was delayed for 12 hours at Heathrow airport 2 years ago, with only a book to keep me company. That book was Adam Rackley’s Salt, Sweat and Tears, an account of Adam Rackley and James Arnold’s successful voyage across the Atlantic in 2010. The incredible physical and mental strength of Rackley and Arnold – and all those who had attempted to row an ocean before them – sparked something within me.
It’s by chance really that while I was researching what it would take to launch such a campaign that I was introduced by Rannoch Adventure to you Axe. Since then it’s been an invaluable experience, from starting to train together and eventually becoming the second crew member on such a unique and challenging adventure. It was definitely something that I couldn’t pass up!
You speak very fondly of your parents – so what do your Mum and Dad think about you being part of Rowing from Home to Home?
Well it was certainly a shock when I first broke the news. I had a difficult time explaining why anyone would want to do this, let alone their little boy. Life is precious and it took a long time for them to come to terms with my choice, by showing them how committed both of us are for making this a success and the precautions we are taking to control the risks involved.
Despite their reservations they have been so supportive over the months and the years, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Having the support of my family back home is one strongest my sources of strength and none of this would have been possible for me without them. I’m so proud to have them as parents and for believing in me, and supporting my dreams.
In 2018 you have plans for a solo expedition on the Atlantic. Tell us more about this?
When I first learned about the Ocean rowing, I came to learn about the Talisker whisky Atlantic challenge. a 3,000 Mile rowing race across the mid-atlantic against teams of fours, pairs and solo rowers every year. My goal is to be the fastest solo rower in the 2018 race, and weather depending complete the crossing in under 60 days. Being a part of the Rowing Home expedition is invaluable with the knowledge and experience I’ll need to not just row, but to compete across the Atlantic.
How are you training for rowing from home to home and how much more training do you think you will need before you start?
Speaking to past ocean rowers has been vital in forming a comprehensive physical training program, as we will be spending months rowing upto 12 hours a day each. Compound lifts such as the Squat, Deadlift, Overhead press and row are staples in my programming, as they develop all of the major muscle groups and develop your ‘core’ strength in the back to sustain us rowing. I train 4 times a week at the gym with additional rowing seasons out on Simpson’s Donkey, or if this isn’t possible in my flat where we have a rowing machine.
Being physically fit is important for an expedition, but training also encompasses learning as much about your boat and seafaring which can make all the difference. We have been spending as much time as possible onboard testing not only ourselves but the equipment, rowing schedules and the changes we can make to improve our life at sea.
At 26 years of age you are nearing the peak of your sexual drive. How do you plan to handle sexual frustration whilst on-board the boat?
Well as you know you have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Keeping an element of surprise on-board will break up the monotony and frustration we can sometimes feel on the oars!
What do you think will be the most challenging part of rowing from home to home for you?
This will be the biggest challenge of my life so far, and has been close to 2 years in the making for me before we depart. With any true challenge there will always be that element of self-doubt at some stage, at second guessing the path you have chosen. Preparing yourself for reaching you’re perceived physical and mental barriers and moving past them is hard to practice without pushing yourself, especially when tired, hungry, sleep deprived and feeling the effects of physical exertion. It’s why I think to a certain extent people do go out and have these adventures, to find out who you really are.
Like with other ultra-endurance events when you find yourself in that situation, when the chips are down that you realise that the biggest challenge of all is your own mind.
You have been working specifically on the nutrition plan for rowing from home to home, can you describe this to us?
Creating a nutrition plan for ocean rowing is challenging in several ways. We will each need to consume around 6,000 Calories a day to sustain our workload, with a significant amount coming from fats (approx 40% of the total calories) as well as Carbs (20%) and protein to repair our muscles (20%).
Finding calorie dense foods when compared to their weight is a must, as well will be carrying 80 days worth of rations onboard. At 1.5kg each per day thats 240kg of food which we will need to carry at the start of our journey. Examples of these foods are dehydrated ration packs, dried meats such as Bwa Kwa, Biltong, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits as well as some supermarket staples such as instant noodles and tinned fish.
Another factor is finding and preserving foods when refrigeration is not available. food will need to be stored in vacuum sealed packs to preserve them in tropical temperatures and prevent any foods spoiling in the very warm temperatures.
Hydration is also a major concern, consuming 12 litres a day alone will not replace the salts and essential minerals lost through sweat on a daily basis. Finding the correct supplements and electrolytes is key in preventing chronic fatigue and muscle cramps, and working closely with nutritionists and dieticians to make sure we cover all of our bases and leave nothing to chance.
During your training expeditions, what was it like to eat, sleep, row, go the toilet and live on this tiny space?
Coming from a city like Singapore it’s an adjustment to go from a thriving city to such a confined space, but it’s in many respects a liberating feeling focusing on one goal, and throwing everything you have at it. It’s not without its challenges of course, apart from rowing under the blistering sun, sleeping in short, 2 hour intervals, eating dehydrated ration backs you also have to maintain focus around one of the busiest ports and shipping lanes on the planet. Even things we take for granted such as personal hygiene and using the toilet become different beasts entirely.
But it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency, and working towards a vision of what you can achieve if you apply yourself which makes the whole process worthwhile. It’s funny, as soon as I step off the boat after the rows, It’s not long until I find myself wanted to be out there again living and breathing it.
What’s the biggest challenges you foresee facing in the row to Darwin?
There are a number of challenges to an expedition such as this, but for me it would be navigating through some of
the most complex waterways in the world due to currents, shipping, weather patterns, which put alot of weight on our seafaring skills. This will be especially important during our final stretch into Darwin via the Timor sea, in which we will have to time our crossing carefully to avoid infamous bad weather at that time of year.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Charlie – how can people follow your future plans after ‘Rowing from Home to Home?’
You can check out my facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/charlierowsatlanticsolo
Or my expedition website: http://www.charlierows.com/
Do come and join us on the 8th October at the beautiful Raffles Marina venue in Singapore for the Rowing from Home to Home open day from 4 – 6PM.
See the boat, meet the team and hear the story about the expedition! I will be giving a 30 minute presentation on the expedition, followed by a tour of the boat and you are welcome to join us after for drinks and dinner at Raffles Marina – on your own account 🙂
All welcome, bring your kids, free parking onsite. Details in the flyer attached!
This is free to attend and register your interest by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/672731089565671/