We were rowing to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Charity. My friend Tom Rainey’s father died of a brain tumour in 2012, and he wanted to do something in memory of him. The friend he planned to do it with had a back injury three weeks before they were due to leave, so I got the call up – mid ski trip! Luckily I had a good general level of fitness, but it was all last minute. I flew into New York on the Friday, the boat went in the water the following Wednesday, and we left on Sunday morning.
We rowed! Shifts worked two hours on, two hours off at night and one hour on/off during the day. There were no stop-offs in 4000 miles. Talking rubbish all the time helped. We talked about everything and never ran out of stuff to say. We were always there to pick each other up. Keeping morale up was integral to our success.
We saw sharks for the first three weeks, so we didn’t swim in the water. We went through a hurricane with 75 knots and a 90-foot sea, and we capsized eight or nine times. But we came out of it unscathed. You get used to the winds and the exposure – it is the mental challenge that is hardest.
I won’t forget amazing sunrises over a millpond sea and seeing stars in so much clarity. But the best part was the last two days as we knew we were going to get home. The whole time you have to believe you are going to get back, but you never actually think you will.
There were over 1000 people at the homecoming in Salcombe, Devon and 250 boats came out to meet us, which was awesome, particularly having not seen anyone but Tom for three months.
We weren’t prepared for how long it would take [the pair had initially been hoping to break the existing 55 day speed record for the route], how hard it would be and the psychological problems we would face. We couldn’t have predicted the very bad weather, but the delays meant that we were getting lower and lower on food. We had meals and snacks for 60 days but for the last 30 the snacks had gone. My body ran out of sugar. I was angry and irritable and struggling to control my mood. My skin felt like it was boiling. It got harder and harder and felt like my body was just eating away at itself. But the hardest part was feeling I was losing my mind the last three weeks. You can push through physical pain, but when you start to lose your head you lose your motivation, which is terrible. The row was dragging on and we just wanted to be out of what was complete hell. It was relentless and just ground you down.
No-one today stops and thinks for that length of time. I thought about literally anything. My perspective has been turned on its head. I’m more patient now, have more perspective, I have more confidence and am more sure of myself. I give myself more time to think about what I’m doing. I feel privileged to have experienced that at such a young age.
I live in Bristol working for an engineering company as a naval architect. I don’t plan to carry on rowing, although Tom put the boat back in the water and went for a row the other day. I may do another expedition at some point but never anything like that. It was just torturous. People say it’s addictive but it hasn’t hit me yet.