Two Irishmen to row across the Atlantic Part 2
Setting the scene
Some of you folks may have read my previous post (which I will link below) In that post I went into some detail about two Irishmen, two fellow Galway men who set themselves one of the hardest challenges imaginable. Damien Brown and Fergus Farrell set out to row across the Atlantic ocean from New York to Galway on Ireland's West coast unsupported, which means that there is no safety boat alongside them for emergencies, it just them their oars and the roaring waves and schwalls. Ok, let's take stock for a second, that is the Atlantic Ocean. THE ATLANTIC OCEAN. I've crossed it myself around sixteen times in my estimations and for the most part it was pleasurable, and I'll tell you why it was pleasurable, because I was in a feckin aeroplane with a couple of experienced pilots flying me through the sky with little mini bottles of whiskey, all the movies I could shake a stick at, games, music and anticipation of my upcoming American or Mexican holiday. Now, I did say "for the most part above" as I have encountered turbulence, crying babies and not being able to sleep.
Now think about Damien and Gussy making the same trip, except remove the aeroplane, the pilots, the mini bottle of whiskey, the movies and give them a 6.2 metre rowing boat called Cushlamachree, some oars, a few dry towels, enough food rations and push them away at New York and say see ye again in Galway lads. That's 5000km folks, 5000KM!! THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.
Holy shitballs. If you think you're having a bad day, just imagine rowing like fuck for 12 hours and at the end you've gained no ground and need to do it all again in a few hours, oh and chances are the current or winds might have thrown you back 5 miles. As promised here is a link to my first post on the subject which goes into the back story, including Damien's illusive rugby career and appetite for challenge after hanging up his boots and Fergus's near death experience, which left him over 95% certain to be paralysed, it's an incredible journey these two lifelong friends embarked on back in June this year. In the rest of this post, I will bring you some stories and details that I have learned by following Damien on Facebook and listening to his Podcast called Deep Roots. I will give links to both below and it would be great if you could give both a follow.
Leaving New York
In any walk of life, be it sporting, academic or otherwise, it is said that making a start is the most difficult part of any journey, challenge or task. It could be taking that first step towards studying for an MBA or lacing up those runners (trainers/sneakers) for a first run in a long time. I must say that I agree with this outlook and simply making a start is often one of the biggest obstacles to surmount.
Funnily enough for Damien and Fergus's planned expedition across the Atlantic, the beginning was also going to be a huge challenge, and not because they hadn't trained or prepared. On the contrary they had trained for over two years for this and planned it meticulously with every small detail scrutinised and checked. Rather the challenge was getting out of New York safely. For any of you that have been to New York, you will understand that the Hudson is very busy with leisure craft, business boats, tankers, ferries to name a few and the guys would have their hands full to navigate safely along the river and out into the expanse of the Atlantic.
Ok, so let me bring you through the lads first week, based on what I heard Damian describing on the Podcast back in June.
As some of you may be aware, this ocean crossing was not and is not Damian's first rodeo. Four years ago he completed an Ocean crossing in the opposite direction starting off in the Canary islands and travelling Westwards towards the picturesque island of Antigua. That one was arduous to begin with, but Damian persevered as he always tends to do and made it to the finish line where he was greeted by family and friends.
As he walked slowly around the island streets in the coming days he was taken aback by how many of the islanders stopped to talk to him, as they recognised him from his Facebook posts. He was not the only one to make the crossing and there were many individuals like him as well as teams of guys who made the tough trip across the Atlantic in 2018. One of the teams was a local team from Antigua and Damian was amazed by the pride and affection that the islanders showed towards their own team who crossed the Atlantic, these guys were now legends on their home turf. Within those moments Damian knew that he was going to row the Atlantic once again, and this time leaving from someplace in North America and finishing in Galway, his own hometown and my hometown too.
He is one of those guys who sets his mind to something and nothing stands in his way until he has achieved what he set out to achieve. Then his close friend Gussy found out about it, and after "courting comfort" for many years, he decided after recovering from probable lifelong paralysis, that he would look for challenges in life. He raised €70,000 for charity a year after recovering by walking from Athenry to Dublin and he too wanted to push himself further - so got talking to his buddy Damian and few short years later, here they are ready to row an ocean.
After planning this for literally years, the lads got off to the worst possible start. There are certain things which are nice to have on multi-month Ocean crossing in a row boat and there are other things which are absolutely essential, without which the trip would be impossible. One of the can't-do-withouts is a Satellite phone. This piece of kit is of upmost importance to raise the alarm in an emergency situation and to retain contact with the outside world. The guys had one sourced many months ago, but in the days leading up to the start date, guess what failed? Yep, you guessed it, the Sat Phone. Dead as a doornail and the lads needed one or they couldn't set sail. Frantic telephone calls were made, social media plees were broadcast, but nothing was turning up and luck would have it the shops that were likely to stock them were shut for the weekend, so the lads were up shit creek without a paddle.
They were racking their brains for a solution, when a solution presented itself, a group of Sherpas that Damian was acquainted with through a mutual friend happened to be in America and could lend them a Sat phone, so long as it was quickly replaced, and the guys were giving serious consideration to this, and then they found out about a guy 60 miles away that had a second hand one on Ebay - they piled into a friends car and made the spin across New Jersey, checked the Sat phone, done the deal and things were back on track, they were ready to go, frazzled yes, but ready for departure, most definelty.
They said their last goodbyes and at 10pm New York time on June 13th they pushed off pier 59 in Chelsea piers and the voyage had begun. As mentioned earlier leaving New York and traversing the Hudson is no mean feat, but that was if they left in the morning as planned, but in the end, they needn't have worried, because at 10pm, they had the Hudson river almost entirely to themselves and were able to quickly make their way out towards the "ferocious and unforgiving" Atlantic as Damian described it in one of the early podcasts.
It dawned on me when listening, that it must have been special in a spiritual sense to cross that expanse of water that so many Irish people and descendants of both men would have made on boats in the opposite direction back in the 1840s when the worst famine in living memory impacted Ireland and millions left on "coffin" ships, so called because many who got on never got off - they starved, died of disease, drowned etc on the way. May they all rest in peace.
Day 1 couldn't have gone better for the guys, as they got out of New York safely and out into open water. The first few hours were OK and then the sea state changed and things got progressively harder and harder with howling winds and towering waves. For the first ten hours, they lads did one hour on the oars, while the other rested and swapped over and back like this as they got on their way. They pushed this out to 90 minutes intervals after those ten hours and as time went by extended it to 2 hour stints on the oars, straight through the night. They were exhausted, jaded, you name it and were even momentarily falling asleep on the oars while still rowing, sleep rowing in effect!
All of a sudden it was Day 2 and the conditions were not improving, they were actually getting worse and for all of their exertions, they were hardly making any ground in the forward direction towards Galway. In times like these there is a special piece of kit known as a Para anchor.
As you can see from the image above, it is a parachute type device that you deploy off the back of the boat, that can hold up to two tonnes of water and when deployed correctly, it should hold the boat in place when dealing with very high winds or storm conditions. I'll repeat that bit again when deployed correctly. The lads struggled with this and they needed it as soon as day 2 unfortunately and after spending a lot of time deploying it, it did'nt seem to be doing it's job very well, as they guys were still losing valuable mileage while on Para anchor.
As if that was'nt bad enough, Gussy forgot to close the hatch properly and a big wave hit the boat and a shit tonne of water got dumped into the cabin, meaning wet sleeping bags and clothes and a mess of water to clean up from the floor. If there is one thing to say about rowing an ocean, it is "relentlessly tough, monotonous and slow" and you need to have bucket loads of character, patience and mental strength to prevail.
The conditions contimnued to be difficult into day three and it is no surprise that the two lads had a bit of a blow out to let off some steam. Ocean rowing is as tough as it gets when you're on the oars, but even off the oars on Para anchor is tough, squeezed inside an incredibly small space, that is hot, humid, probably fart-filled and you know you still have around 4800km left to row. The argument was good though in the sense that they both got a bit of their chest and then the high winds and nasty weather conditions abated and they were able to carry on, pull in the para anchor and get back on the oars and start earting into the disatance to Galway.
I suppose the thing about these podcasts is that you don't get any of Gussy's perspective, as it is only Damian who speaks and makes the podcasts, but by all accounts poor auld Gussy had a tough day on day four. He would not really be used to these conditions in the same way as Damian would have been, as of course Damian has previously done an ocean row. Adter a terrible nights sleep, Gussy wakes up and wallops his head of the roof and that is just the start of it, the tiredness means that he bumps and bangs every limb, muscle and atom in his body of something that morning and Damian hears him say "Torture Torture Torture" under his breath. There is no turning back now though, he is in for the long haul and will have to learn to deal with the tiredness and malaise.
If step one was to get out of New York safely, then step two was to get over the continental shelf and on into deeper waters. The continental shelf portion of the row can be quite dangerous as the shallow waters along the shelf can lead to waves that are very steep. This means that the boat is very susceptible to capsizes, which is obviously something to be avoided. As the guys got towards day 6 they managed to get beyond the continental shelf and so had one less thing to worry about.
Day 6 was an emotional one for the guys as it was Father's day in Ireland. Damian gave a shout out to his Dad Big Joe brown, who he reckoned would be somewhere in Ballyconneely, most likely on the14th or 18th tee looking out on the Atlantic and not quite able to see the lads yet.
Gussy was missing his three children Amy Bradley and Philem and Damian was missing his daughter Elodie who he sent a lovely message to over the podcast saying this with lots of emotion in his voice.
'Elodie I love you, I miss you, see you soon.
Ok, that's all for Part 2.
Want to know more?
Join me in part 3 of this post and I will fill you in on Damian and Gussy's adventure to date, and there are plenty of twists and turns since leaving New York over 80 days ago, and they are still a few hundred miles from Terra Firma in Galway.
Also, if you can't wait for that, follow the big man at any of these places. I have been listening to his pod casts the whole way along which have been brilliant and very motivational.