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/
We departed this previous Thursday evening at 5:30 PM with a plan to make a complete, self-supported circumnavigation of Singapore by human power (using Simpson’s Donkey rowing boat). Well, as complete as you can, because you see, in reality it is impossible to row around the Singapore mainland. Why? Because someone built a bloody big causeway which you cannot pass under.
What we can do however, is start on one side of the causeway, and row 80nm (130 km) all the way around to the other side of the causeway. Not a complete loop then, althouugh some might say this is being pedantic as you are only missing a few metres of the causeway section. We would actually have to leave out a few hundred meters either side of the causeway itself, as from previous kayaking experience I know that the Singapore authorities get more jittery than a long-tailed dog in a room full of rocking chairs when you get close to their sacred bridge which separates Malaysia and Singapore.
Building on the ass-bruising, back-breaking, sleep deprived 1st expedition three weeks earlier, we made a number of experiential based changes, possibly the most important being taking a pee bottle (to avoid falling over board or urinating on yourself or your partner whilst trying to finish your business whilst standing on a slippery, rocking deck, holding on to two of your most prized possessions by one hand each – one of those being the boat of course). Revisions were also made to our radio and camera systems, shift patterns, food, water, rowing techniques, footwear, and more….
Rather than subject you to a blow- by-blow, 31 hour account of the row, I would sum it up saying, we missed the crucial timings in terms of tide by a couple of hours all the way around. There are some hot spots in terms of currents around Singapore, and if you don’t get past them with the tide at the right times then it gets really tough to drag a half tonne rowing boat around them. Right from the start, we had a head wind of 8 – 10 knots which slowed us to a speed of less than 2 knots for the first few hours. This affected us all the way around as we were never able to catch up the time and had to battle indeed around points such as Changi finger and the Tuas hockey stick, as we missed the timing of the favorable tidal streams.
So after 31 hours and 108km, we rowed into Raffles Marina at 3am on Saturday morning, cutting the journey short by 22km. Here the tide was against us and the remaining distance would have taken around 7 hours at the pace we were at to reach the causeway. Upon which point we would have had to turn and row back 23 km all the way to Raffles Marina where the boat is housed. Making a very long day and effectively spoiling sacred weekend time with my family. You can see a real time interactive map of our route here: https://axeoneverest.maprogress.com/circumnavigationofsingaporebyhumanpower
So the complete-around-the-island, unsupported loop challenge remains. Once again as per the first training row, we learnt an enormous amount and will make changes before preparing once more to do battle with the multitude of challenges that attempting to row a loop of Singapore by human power entails.
Rowing a boat two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours per day, in the tropics is an experience that is difficult to describe in words. Under the intense Singapore sun, it can be nothing short of a brutal, miserable suffer-fest by day. There is no escape from the heat and sweat. Just trying to live on this tiny platform, to keep clean, to eat, to drink, to sleep is a challenge let alone trying to row 12 hours per day each. The vessel traffic was thick and fast, and the ships were just massive as they glided past us every few minutes, keeping us constantly on lookout and making evasive maneuvers. However if this game was easy, everyone would be doing it. I am looking forward to the next outing, Enjoy the photos.