Six day rowing expedition to Indonesia – training trip report

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:

  1. Get away from Singapore, and as far out to sea as possible – hopefully losing sight of land.
  2. Test as many of our systems as possible in real-life environment –  more specifically:
    1. Water making
    2. Ground anchoring system
    3. Parachute anchoring system
    4. Sleeping system
    5. Food and nutrition
    6. Manual Foot Steering
    7. Physical conditioning
    8. Personal hygiene
    9. Team dynamics on a multi-day trip
    10. Mental conditioning as to how we would handle sustained days and nights of rowing
    11. Immigration procedures between Singapore and Indonesia
    12. Tide and current streams in the Singapore Straits and Batam and Bintan Islands
    13. Communication systems and schedules with project manager and shore based expedition coordinator Dave Field
    14. The ability to pre-arrange and rendezvous with film producer Alistair Harding in remote areas with no phone coverage
  3. 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.


Click here to see our route in an interactive map

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.


Departing One 15 Marina on Sentosa Island

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.


Simpson’s Donkey enjoying a tow across the shipping channel, Singapore CBD skyline in the distance


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.


Arriving at Nongsa Point Marina in Batam

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.


Charlie and I depart Nonga Point under human power

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.


Pushing the boat out during the storm, note the line of rocks we ran into in the background.

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.



Arriving at the fishing jetty with Simpson’s Donkey tethered ‘safely’ to a bamboo pole (Photos: Alistair Harding)

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.


Charlie asleep on the back deck – quite comfortable to sleep.

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.


The world is round!

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.


Enjoying beautiful rowing conditions on the way home

“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.


Six days, a few blisters, scratches and sun burn later we arrive at Raffles Marina.

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.









Posted on October 29, 2016, in Rowing Home. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A very enjoyable read! Keep them coming.


  2. This would be a great adventure on it’s own Axe, but for you guys this is just foreplay for what is bound to be an epic challenge.
    I really like the structured approach to your goals and enjoyed reading about the challenges you faced. Glad you didn’t include any photos of Charlie and yourself naked on the rocks and I hope that Simpson’s Donkey wasn’t damaged in rour rocky altercation.
    As a friend said to me once “you don’t learn anything when things are going well” and it seems like this trip was a good learning experience for you guys. Like get a stronger anchor line. Perhaps consider dyneema or spectra if you want to keep the weight down.
    Good luck with preparation and I look forward to future updates.
    Cheers from Australia


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