After the storm – Charlie’s version of events..

Today we hear from Charlie Smith on his version of the recent events – enjoy his descriptive writing!


“When you are going through hell, keep going!”

That quote from Churchill rings in my ears in the dead of night.

Everything is dark in the early hours of day 25 and we are stuck on para anchor as another storm looms over us, threatening to send us further North East and away from safe harbor. We are hundreds of miles from shore, and the only sign of life is the faint lights of passing cargo ships, with the constant danger that we may just be in their path.

That’s why I’m on deck, to keep watch every 15 minutes for two hours while Grant tries to grab as much rest in the cabin sodden with salt water. The humidity drains you of the little energy you have left. Sleep is broken and frightful, as the hull amplifies the events unfolding outside and the boat jolts and whips on the anchorage lines holding us fast to the winds howling over us.
We are just over 800 nautical miles into the adventure of a lifetime, having rowed from Singapore on January 3rd and have departed from Palau Bawean in the middle of the Java Sea days before with favorable winds and little current speak of. But today that has all changed as we rounded Madura to begin our entry into the Bali Sea, and we were confronted by the enormity of the task as the weather began to grow menacing and beyond anything we had
encountered before.

There is nothing more humbling then experiencing elements in all of their might the full force of nature that doesn’t care of us at all in our tiny boat. I sit curled up, cold and wet, trying not to think when the next wave is going to crash over the boat in the dead of night, and all you can hear is the sound of the thunderous skies and the stormy black seas all around us. Every once in a while, one of these monstrous waves crests and crashes over the boat, everything-including me- is tied down to the deck as the water tries to rip what it can from us. It’s in those dark times you feel stripped of your ego, all the while the demons inside your head continue to chatter and question your choices that brought you here.
There is no escape from it, there is no ‘pause’ button. If you stop rowing nothing changes, and the weather at times seems never forgiving. Unlike other endurance events the challenge is to keep pushing on knowing rest is right there, where you can just stop and there is no consequence-out here the challenge is to keep going without knowing when that rest will come and the consequences are very real.

As every minute of the shift ticks by slowly, you realize that you are losing yet more ground and the chance of reaching Bali is slowly slipping away. We make the call. It’s time to pull up the para anchor, and a slight pause in the wind direction we decide it’s better to fight standing on our feet than to lie down on our backs. We begin taking 90 minute shifts and working on one goal- to keep the boat moving-however slowly-towards Bali and safe harbor. Rowing at many times with just one arm, feeling the strain throughout our bodies.

That was just one day, one of the darkest so far in the trip. Each day has brought a new dawn and a new set of challenges, we soon learnt that nothing is constant. The weather, temperatures above 40 degrees and the water so flat it was as if we were staring at a plain of glass, to nights so bright with lightening it was as if we were within a cathedral of light. We have experienced nature at her most beautiful, and felt her force in an environment we can never tame.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had time to reflect on the events that unfolded aboard Simpson’s Donkey, and it’s only now that I’ve begun to realize the magnitude of what we have done so far. This experience in a way has only just begun, but the memories of leaving Singapore seem so distant now given all that has come to pass. This has truly been a life changing experience with so many things to test our fortitude and to stop and realize we are truly on something amazing.

Beautiful sunsets, pods of dolphins, even savoring the small items on luxury onboard like a can of coke and a bar of chocolate- you begin to realize that all of trials and suffering is worth it. You get to see yourself in your raw state, and feel immersed in this world which feels liberating from the daily hustle and bustle of ‘normal’ life.

Being able to share this adventure is a gift. When all is said and done Grant will be the only person who will truly understand what it was like out there, a bond being forged by our shared experience and test of will. I couldn’t have asked for a better rowing partner, both working towards a clear goal and supporting each other through the bad times and share the good times.

It’s easy in these environments to become insular but Grants determination is infectious, we watch each other’s backs and look after each other. “Have you drunk enough water?”, “have you eaten?” even asking the simple question of “how are you feeling?”- begin able to open up and talk makes life onboard that bit more bearable.

We have many more trials ahead, and with the rest we have had I can’t deny I’m looking forward to cutting my teeth further. With what we have overcome so far and with the team we have, I truly feel we can keep going, come whatever may.

Able bodied seaman and first mate – Charlie Smith.rough-seas

Posted on February 3, 2017, in Rowing Home. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Great story. That’s a tough little boat!


  2. Margaret Harris f

    It’s exciting to read ;your experiences on that boat. You both have just what it takes to weather it all. Keep on rowing; my prayers are with you. Aunt Margaret from Utah!


  3. Maurice Perwick

    Hi Grant and Charlie, you really are overcoming the odds even though it’s often overwhelming. It’s the residual and inherent reserves you have in yourselves., mind and body, and in the design of the boat that carry you through. Caring for each other is a good thing! Best wishes on your continuing and successful journey, Maurice.


  4. That’s a great read Charlie. I guess by now you really do know what you let yourself in for when you teamed up with that kid from the backblocks of Taranaki. Row you bastards row ! All the best Don & Gay


  5. You are both Awesome!! What a fabulous team! I am with you in spirit every day. Merry


  6. God speed you guys…. Fair winds and calm seas…. Stay safe…



  7. Just an amazing blog That carries the reader along with you two amazing individuals. I am so pleased I met up with Axe on his Everest experiences.
    I hope you will be bringing out a must read book. Cheers Kate (UK)


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