Introduction to Ocean Rowing Seminar


We reached our first ocean rowing milestone today, an ‘introduction to ocean rowing’ seminar, held at Twickenham Yacht Club, in the UK, attended by our team virtually from Georgia, Sweden, and the UK as a webinar along with other race participants in the USA and Canada, and other such places, and a group of people there in person. Myself and Brij managed to borrow keys to our lovely neighbour’s apartment, which was ace as it meant we could use the wifi, and attend the webinar in a little more comfort, having spent the day decorating the house and doing stinky jobs with paint and things.  It was quite late here, so we were a bit sleepy, having showered for the second time in the day, owing to it being about 35degrees and feeling very humid.  So we pretty much sat there, hot and sweaty, and scratching mosquito bites, focusing intently on our laptops, with head phones in, ears alert trying to capture every word.  Sadly there was a problem with the audio set up, so it was hard to hear what was being said properly, especially with a back drop of Georgian neighbours shouting across balconies at each other and tyres screeching on the road, but it was all good, very exciting, and also informative.  Having read several books on ocean rowing, it was all pretty much as expected, with nothing too new, so I took that as a good sign that we’d already done a lot of research on what we were getting ourselves in to.

The session began with a short presentation on the history of and introduction to the sport and the Pacific Rowing Race by race organiser Chris Martin.  This is what Wikpedia has to say about Chris:

Having been dropped from the GB squad, Martin turned his attention to Ocean rowing and in 2005/06 rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo, as part of the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race[11] in 68 days, 15 hours and 19 minutes to become the 31st solo ocean rower to cross the Atlantic Ocean on the East to West route.[12] During his row he also conducted observations on the ocean currents affecting his boat Pacific Pete for Earth & Space Research as part of Ocean Surface Current Analyses Real-time (OSCAR).[13]

Martin remained an active member within the Ocean Rowing community and was one of the co-founders of the Association of Ocean Rowers.[14]

In 2006, Martin assisted a team of Royal Marines in rowing from London to Paris as part of their preparations for breaking the record for the Atlantic east to west route.[15]

After this Martin spent three years preparing for a double handed row with Mick Dawson. On 8 May 2009 Martin and Dawson set off fromChoshi, Japan into the North Pacific Ocean.[16] After an eventful journey where the crew sighted the US Naval research vessel SBX-1.[17][18] and ran out of food requiring a helicopter resupply [19] from Wayne Lackey[20] 189 Days, 10 Hours, 55 Minutes after the pair set out from Japan they rowed their boat Bojangles underneath the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday 13 November 2009.[19][21]

In 2010, Martin and Dawson were given a Guinness World Record for being the first team to row across the North Pacific Ocean.[22] The footage they filmed on their trip was turned into a documentary presented by James Cracknell for Discovery Channel and was aired for the first time on May 10th 2012.[23]

In 2011, Martin set up New Ocean Wave, to arrange the Pacific Rowing Race from California to Hawaii, to be run in 2014.[24]. Accomplished ocean rower Roz Savage is also part of the New Ocean Wave organising team as a race consultant.

He looked a lot smaller and skinnier than I’d imagined, having corresponded with him for quite some time, and also looked like a very friendly chap which was quite reassuring.  The presentation was fairly short so that was good, and gave plenty of time for presentations.

The row itself will be from Monteray Bay, California (outside the aquarium), and we should see a lot of whales as we leave as apparently its a popular area for whale watching boat tours. We’ll then row just over 2120miles to Honolulu Port in Hawaii (just south of Pearl Harbour), having spent time with hitch hikers that might include storm petrels and albatross.  There will be a lot of people seeing us off on the race, a lot of media, and again when we arrive in Hawaii by the sounds of things, and according to Chris, one of the highlights of the row will be the 360degree view from the boat, with no buildings or objects to obscure the view.  That means 50% sea, 50% ocean, with our little rowing boat in the middle, and some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  The route has been designed to take into account the prevailing winds, and up to 40 crews of solo rowers, pairs, and fours will be entering the race, which is the very first of its kind in the Pacific Ocean.  We are entering as a team of four, myself, Brigid, Ulrica, and Michelle and we have absolutely no interest in winning the race at this stage, rather to get across safely and have a lot of fun together on the way.  But, for the team of four who gets across first, they will have a trophy named after them, and this will be up for grabs in every future row on this route.  Plus there are lots of world records.  We suspect that we may have an advantage here, as Brigid is from South Africa and there are not many South African rowers, and we suspect she may be the first ever female, we also don’t know about Ulrica as a Swedish female? And we will certainly be the only team entering the race from Georgia!!

One of the reasons for entering the race, is to gain the support and expertise of the race organisers and support crew, as the race will form the basis of our hard core training ready for stage 2 of the row, from Hawaii to Australia to do outreach work for OPG.  Our plan, if all works out, is to put our boat on display at the River and Rowing Museum in my hometown of Henley On Thames in the UK (home of the children’s story ‘The Wind in the Willows’) for the 3rd-7th July 2013, which is the start of the Henley Royal Regatta.  Henley also happens to have the oldest rowing club in the world, called the Leander Club, which is where a lot of the Olympic rowers train, so it makes sense to put our boat on display here if we can.

During this time, our boat will be an exhibit, for the 100,000 River and Rowing Museum visitors per year, and 20,000 visiting school children.  Those visiting with their schools, will have the chance to climb into our boat and get up close to it (and our kit), and we’ll give them the opportunity to draw or write on it, in response to the question ‘what does the ocean mean to you?’.  When we are in the UK, we’ll be able to take our boat out onto the River Thames, with support from New Ocean Wave who are organising the Pacific Ocean race, and we’ll get the chance to play with the boat and get used to how it works and what life will be like when we get to the sea.  For the most part, our fitness training will be about building up core strength and stability, mainly through yoga, as well as team time spent doing any other activities we enjoy, like swimming, pulling tyres on the beach, running, and we are also looking to find a company to supply us with a rower that we can practice on, but the vast majority of our rowing will be in Henley, or in Sweden for Ulrica, who’ll be supported by the university team (I’m still waiting on news on my PhD in Sweden).  One of the great things about the Henley Regatta, is that there will be crews competing from the UK, Sweden, and South Africa, so we hope to meet with those teams during the regatta and to get a chance to go out with them, meet their coaches, and to get some tips.

After the regatta, or possibly just before, we will hold a launch party, and plan to invite the Duke of Edinburgh, since he hasn’t been to the Museum in a few years, and one of the reasons for rowing is to help promote the Duke of Edinburgh/International Award for Young People, and we are the first to offer this in Georgia, and we’ll be promoting this throughout, beginning with the launch of OPG International on 26th January 2013 to include the 8million young people already taking the award in over 140 countries.  Hopefully we can get the Duke and some other folk to draw or write on our boat too. We also plan to have the boat at the Royal Geographical Society in London just before it goes to Henley, so that our OPG Patron Paul Rose, who is also Vice President of the RGS can sign it and help us promote both the award and the row, and maybe we will be able to get Michael Palin to sign it?

In May 2014, our boat will be shipped to Monteray, California where we plan to put it on display at the Monteray Museum of History, Art, Maritime, and Innovation, so that children there can add to the writing and pictures on the boat.  We may even be able to get it onto the sea, to have a go at rowing in sea conditions, though hopefully we’ll get a chance to do this whilst its with our boat builder too.  And then in June 2014, we’ll begin our race to Honolulu, with the added security of speed boats and support boats to help us if we get into any difficulties.  The race itself will cost us £16,155 which will include all of our medical support, insurance, shipping, and pre row support, so we have a massive task ahead as this is one of the biggest costs.  We’ll have a tracker attached to us so that the race organisers know where we are at all times, and people will be able to see us on the race website and our website which will be great for the kids we meet with.

Once the race ends in Honolulu, our team will continue onwards, unsupported, though we should be able to just extend coverage from the race itself, for the continuation of our row, by which time we should be much more experienced, which will be important for navigating coral reefs and currents.  We need to do a lot more research, but from a simple point of view, our plan is spend a couple of weeks in Hawaii, travelling around the islands, restocking, making repairs, and doing outreach work with young people, plus diving on maritime archaeology sites for my PhD.  During this time, our boat will be on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art, where children will continue drawing and writing on it.  And we’ll do the same at each place we visit, which looks to be: Monteray-HonoluluKiribatiTokelauAmerican SamoaWallis and FotunaFijiVanuatu-Cairns.  Rather bizarrely, it turns out that Brigid wrote a blog over a year ago about her dream of going to Kiribati, and she couldn’t believe it when I added it to our list of places to visit for the row, especially as I’d never heard of it until now! Freaky!!  We’ll be leaving our boat in museums and galleries at each place, to promote the International Award, to link the kids up with our guys in Georgia, and to promote OPG as a free online tool to promote environmental education and ocean conservation, and at each place we’ll let the kids draw or write on our boat, and have them read what previous guys had added to it.  When we get to Cairns, we’ll be leaving the boat there permanently to become both a piece of art and history.  Its a massive shame that we won’t be able to get our Georgian kids to see the boat, to sit in it, or draw on it, but logistically it’s to hard to organise unless we ship the boat here or bring the kids to the UK or any of the places we aim to visit on route to Australia.  So will have to think on that some more.

After a few weeks of searching and looking for the right person, last week we hit upon our  boat builder.  He’s agreed in principal, so now we need to put a budget together, find the money, and hope that he has time to build it for us, especially as this will be a fours boat, not his usual solo or even pairs boat.  The person we’ve chosen to build our mean machine, is a lovely guy from London, called Charlie Pitcher, from Rannoch Boats, and this is him when he made BBC News for becoming the fastest row across the Atlantic Ocean, 400miles ahead of all the other competitors!  Charlie is a pretty busy chap right now, so we hope he can build our boat in time, and that we can secure funds in time, as in March 2013 he is off to try and beat his Atlantic record on his solo row.

There are lots of things that really appealed to us about Charlie, and made him shoulders above everyone else we looked at.  He’s from the East coast, is married with three children, and is also involved in an arctic expedition, has raised money for his own rows, as well as money for different children’s charities.  He has the kind of personality that works for us, fits our ethos and agenda, ad being an ocean rower, he’ll know exactly what life is like at sea, what is important in terms of comfort, safety, and speed.  We also really loved the design of his boats, and that he has stepped away from the crowd, and made adjustments to the design of the ocean rowing boat that suit a purpose and are cleverly and clearly thought out.  This kind of attention to detail is the passion of one who loves ocean rowing, and its clear that he still wants to row, there is fire in his belly, and we want someone to build our boat who has that kind of spirit and love for what they do.

The Rannoch boat is also different to typical ocean rowing boats, as it has the main cabin at the front, which helps when waves break, and also gives extra protection against the wind and elements when rowing.  It has a special compartment at the back of the boat, which is water tight, and perfect for storing your life raft, emergency kit, medical kit, and other such items.  One of the best features of the Rannoch design, is that it has the sleeping area going under the boat, so you are really low down.  This is much beter for the inhabitants when the boat is listing and rolling as it can help with seasickness and stop you falling off bunks and things.  But more importantly the elements of the boat mean that the centre of gravity is in the best place possible, which hekos for stability and for speed.  The wind is behind you for the most part, so you can get a little bit of a free ride.  Charlie also fits the boat out with equipment that he really likes, which has been tried and tested by himself.  Couple of nice videos here, of Charlie’s single boat:

Having already spoken to Charlie about him potentially building our boat for us (it will take around 14 weeks to build), it was great to hear that he would be at the seminar today talking about boats, though a massive shame that we weren’t able to be there in person to meet with him. Great to listen to him though.

The final part of the webinar was a panel discussion with 5 ocean rowers: Chris Martin, Roz Savage, Andrew Morris, Sally Kettle and Charlie Pitcher so that was cool, and we got to ask them lots of questions about things.


Most of this was fairly standard advice, but I made some notes and this is what I got from the session:

  • Pacific Ocean row is a unique event, and first ever Pacific race – good selling point.
  • Promote yourselves to local media rather than the big press, since larger papers scout smaller ones for interesting features anyway.
  • If you are in a minority group, you’ll have a better chance of finding a sponsor (great for Brigid and Ulrica!).
  • Pick your media targets, easier for race participants in America where such events are still quite novel. Get on chat shows like Elen DeGeneres, but in UK, its much harder.
  • Take photos of you doing things, aim them at global media leaders if you can.
  • Think outside the box, Sally got publicity for her row by appearing as a contestant on Ready Steady Cook show.
  • Chat shows are great for coverage.
  • Use and build up your own social media: facebook, twitter.
  • Do podcasts and blogs to raise interest and followers.
  • Be open and honest. Ocean rowing is not a high adrenalin sport, so its less attractive to certain sponsorers.
  • Aim at magazines and newspapers, you need to get in their first (especially with 40 boats competing in this race).
  • Sally suggested having an interesting story as that is what people are interested in, rather than the row itself.

Timing and Fundraising

  • Try to raise the money first, then do PR.
  • Though sometimes PR can help you to get funding.
  • Often things come together at the last minute.
  • Easier to get things once you’ve done something, as its only a plan right now, so harder to gain funds.

Should you Raise Money for Charity?

I thought there were a lot of really interesting perspectives on this.  I know that Sally got funding for her third row by contacting a charity called Shelter Box, and they basically bought her team’s boat, on the proviso that they used the row to generate publicity and funds for them.  Which seemed to me to be a good trade.  This also linked well to Roz’s view that charity and also sponsorship should be a two way street.  Sally said that the charity should support you along the way, in return for your efforts, and Roz said that you should only raise money for a charity if you are really passionate about them.  It isn’t necessary to raise money for charity, but it can help, especially if the charity is good at giving you PR.  Roz didn’t raise money for charity on her rows, from what I remember, whereas the others did.  However, Roz was doing her rows to raise awareness of environmental issues and has donated to charities in other ways by raising awareness rather than money.  That was quite interesting.  Later on, Roz also spoke about charitable causes being tax deductible, so if you are raising money for charity (at least in the UK), then you can claim tax back on items purchased for the row.  That was one I hadn’t thought about, doesn’t really apply to us, but well worth knowing.

Fundraising for your Row

Lots of points to note here, again, nothing completely new, but worth refreshing the memory on.

  • Have sponsors pay to have their logo put on your boat.
  • sell advertising space.
  • Sponsor a mile. Both Roz and Chris have done this. This seems to work mainly for charitable fundraising, but Roz did it to cover her sat phone bills and running costs. Chris also introduced a random prize, such as a fluffy toy for particular miles.
  • Charlie said that you’ll end up with about 30 main sponsors for the row on average.
  • Who to approach? anyone you know, write a brochure and send it to all of your family and friends, and ask them to send it to anyone they think might be able to help.
  • Roz said she has lots of sponsorship stuff on her website.
  • Sponsorship usually ends up coming from corporate sponsorship, a few large sponsors, and a handful of microsponsors.
  • Broaden your network as much as possible.
  • Follow up on any contact, and thank people who passed your details on to their contacts.
  • Hand written letters work much better than cold calling or emails.
  • Put all your efforts into finding sponsorships, and if you don’t have time, then hire someone who can do this for you.
  • Don’t remortgage your house or take out loans, not advisable, especially if you end up losing your boat or not making it across, or whatever.
  • Continuously follow up and network!
  • Make use of any discounts and also people who are happy to donate their time.
  • Sponsorship is a 2 way street, keep them sweet by mentioning them often, and thanking them, give them photos and videoclips, especially if you need their help in the future for other projects.
  • Look for as many donations in kind as you can, this will knock huge amounts off your budget.
  • Say thank you as you go along your way, good for ocean rowing as a sport, good for community, good for legacy.
  • Get business cards.
  • Put together a sponsorship proposal.
  • Remember that the boat is the biggest cost, but also the biggest asset as you can sell it for about the same price after the row if you look after it well.  It will hold it’s value.
  • Sponsorship often comes in at the last minute.

Team Dynamic

This was the bit I was most interested in, but which we had less time to cover.  Still very interesting.  We asked the question of how to deal with team issues, such as when people are not pulling their weight equally, as we thought this could be an issue we may face as a team on the row, especially as we know that everyone has good days and bad days.  We wanted to know how to deal with this.  Unfortunately Roz is a solo rower, so it was mainly Sally who could answer this one.  The team’s advice was basically, to sit down, be honest with each other, and talk about it.  Know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that some will be good at some things, but not excel in others. To play to strengths.  And then just accept that we are all different and deal with it.  One particularly good piece of advice, was to sit down together and ask yourselves ‘why are we here’, in other words, what is your main motive for doing the row? Because if the main motive is to just get across safely, whilst another is wanting to win the race, then you could have issues.  Have knowledge of each other’s goals, never just assume that you all have the same motives.

Essential Items

One question was, which items did you find essential, which would you leave home in hindsight?  Weirdly, the common theme seemed to be an electric toothbrush, and I know Roz also took a huge quantity of dental care stuff with her on her rows.  Other commonly agreed on items were, a huge variety of music, ipods, audiobooks, and movies.  Charlie actually took 2 ipads with him on his row, so he could watch movies and things and read books when resting.  He said he had one for using, and the other was a spare, wrapped up in waterproof storage bags, just in case the other died.  He also said that he found speakers to be a bit of a waste of time, and he ended up using mainly his headphones.  All suggested taking spares, and also having a regular film night, especially if on a team row.

Polyphasic Sleeping

This basically involves 2hrs on and 2hrs off, i.e. rowing for two hours and resting for two hours.  Our team are a bit undecided about this right now.  Traditionally, crews do this, but we are tempted to take an alternative route and to try and keep our sleep fairly regular and normal as possible.  WIth a small cabin, we’ll likely be hot bunking, with two rowing, whilst the other two rest.  One good idea, came from Chris, who said that he and his team mate would do a 2hr cycle, plus an hour for dinner, which they always had together.  This was something I thought about briefly, but hadn’t considered, and I think it will be really important for morale if we can stop rowing and eat our main meals together, otherwise we won’t see each other outside of our two hour shifts, even if we rotate crew.  The advice from all the panel, was to mix it up, in order to keep things fresh and energised.

Prior to the row, all of them used different techniques for training in polyphasic sleeping and constant rowing.  Roz rowed for 18 hours a day, in 4 hour shifts, with a  hour break in between.  But she didn’t advise this as it gave her tendonitis in her shoulder on her first row.  ow she has a more laid back approach and just tries to keep generally fit.  Charlie said that the most important thing was to have core stability and strength, and this seems to be the message from every ocean rower I have spoken to.  Yoga will be ideal for this, especially when combined with other activities for fun and team working.  All agreed that the best rowing training was being out on your boat, and it also has the advantage of reducing anxiety on the start line.

Mental Training

All the panel agreed that this was by far the most important aspect of training, even more so than physical fitness.  In training for her rows, Roz spent time with psychological sports coaches in London, and even though she didn’t understand it all at the time, she found it made more sense once out rowing, with lots of lightbulb moments.  Roz also suggested that we have a picture, schematic, poem, or whatever, that motivates us and grounds us, to laminate this and to put it on the wall so you always see it.  That can then help you through your darkest hours, calm you down, and motivate you.

Training Courses and Timeline

Our team need to now undertake several training courses, mainly with the RYA.  In first aid, seamanship, navigation, sea awareness, sea survival.  We need to raise money for these, but we already know that we can take these in Turkey, or we may wish to do them in London whenever we get to go there.  We’ve already applied for funding for some of these as part of our OPG work.

Other Useful Info…

  • go out and play in your boat as much as possible (if Charlie builds our boat, we can hopefully get him and the New Ocean Wave team to join us).
  • best training programme: rowing on the water.
  • repatriation insurance is included in our entry fee, no matter who picks us up or where we end up.
  • Total loss insurance is difficult to come by, but not impossible.
  • fear=anticipation of things, rather than actual events. fear is all in the mind.
  • keep your boat tidy, keep everything stored away in special places, put everything back as soon as you finish with it, if something needs fixing, do it now, don’t wait.
  • Charlie’s one golden rule on his row, was to ALWAYS be attached to the boat.  Your boat is your life raft, if you are attached to it, then you are safe, even if the weather is nice and water is flat calm. Can attach to ankle or waist.

So, that was pretty much the session.  We learnt a lot, processed a lot, had some ideas, but were mostly very excited and it feels like its becoming real now.  What became most clear, was that we need to raise the deposit of £300 which will allow us online access to all the information, charts, discounts, PR department, sponsorship help, and a whole lot of other information.  Until we get that, we are really just fumbling around in the dark.  One of the major benefits of being in the race, is that a lot of stuff is included, and there is more hand holding than in most races or in doing things unsupported and by ourselves.  So this will ensure that we are really well prepared for the second stage of our row from Hawaii to Australia.  So our list pretty much looks like this in terms of a timeline now:

  1. raise and pay £300 deposit
  2. build and purchase boat
  3. ocean row training, PR, organise exhibition

probably what we’ll do now, is put together our brochure, get business cards sorted (some of the free ones you can get online), and then we’ll ask family and friends for ideas on how we can raise the money and people to contact, and we’ll continue applying to funds through OPG.  We have two application due by 1st August so that’s the plan this week.  We;ve been getting an average of 200hits per day on the rOwPG blog/webpage so far, and have been asked to write for several blogs, so that is a brilliant start so far.  One idea is to add on £1 per OPG workbook sold, to add to the ocean row pot, though I’m not expecting to sell many of our books, since they are very specific, but could help a bit.  Really need to find a Bagrationi sponsor as we’d like them to donate in kind for our OPG Ceremony, but also to be our main supplier of sparkling wine for the launch event in Henley and for our OPG Award ceremony with the Royal family here in Georgia next year, and to christen our boat.  We’d love to promote them at the Wine and Spirit Fair in London in May too, and anywhere that our boat is on display.  So I need to work on that this week.

Not the most exciting blog in the world I know, but exciting in terms of the ocean row, and I’m eager to get things moving now.




About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in Art, Britishness, Environment, Four Birds a Boating/rOwPG, Health and Fitness, My PhD: Environmental Psychology, Ocean Rowing, Oceans Project, Photos, Plastic Pollution, Royal Geographical Society, Wildlife, Wine, yoga and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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