Last Thursday night I did my first night passage onboard Doireann along the south coast from Castletownshend to Old Kinsale Head. I've been keeping Doireann down in West Cork the last few weeks to avail of the predominant West and South West winds. The logistics, planning and what is actually possible for a small very hard to maneuver boat has been challenging to say the least! Most people are under the impression that I just get in go for a row, which is kind of what i thought when I got a hold of this beast of a boat. But she is specifically designed for down wind and open ocean rowing. Not along a coast with changeable winds and tides. Put me in a small marina and I will be bouncing off other boats like in a pinball machine.
So I have to get a lot of help to get anything done, launching and recovery onto the trailer is a lengthy process as i've to get the rudder assembly on and off, which involves getting wet. Luckily Henry and his Wife Marina have been amazing with their support so far and I'd be lost without them. They have their yacht Beoga down south also and have been shadowing me and helping plan different passages. Again a lot of planning goes into these and it all depends on the weather and tides. I am trying to tick as many boxes as I can each time I'm on the water. Just getting as much exposure as possible to everything involved from kit to all the electronics onboard. My last few outings i've been getting to grips with the autopilot and chartplotter. I've built some routes and followed them sucessfully and was even able to relax enough to take a quick nap during my night passage on Thursday.
So to my night passage... I need spend a minimum of 12 hours at night onboard at sea. So last Thursday I got a tow out to deep water from Beoga and let go a few miles offshore of Castletownshend in West Cork. I planned to row for Kinsale which as the crow flies as around 22 nautical miles. I had been up in Galway the day before and had a super early start to get down to Cork which seems to take longer every time I drive it. I've been trying to set the boat up as it will be for crossing the Atlantic, but the stark reality is it's nowhere near like that at the moment. So I've added extra weight in the form of 5L water bottles. I spent a few hours preparing some bits like securing the life raft on the main deck, as a race stipulation it needs to be easily accessible and secured by the painter line to the main deck. I then lashed on my 2nd set of oars which act as spares for the journey. More messing around with the spare autopilots making sure they were calibrated, then building a passage plan. Henry and Marina in their wisdom decided to quiz me on a few essential items for being at sea at night and all of sudden I wanted to crawl under a rock. Flares? Flashing beacon? Fog horn? none of the above, so they kindly loaned me some bits to complete my bare bones list.
But things went pretty smoothly out there and we picked the best night to be offshore, not a cloud in the sky and a massive meteor shower on the cards. The last light faded slowly around 11pm and Beoga disappeared from view, i was all alone on my little boat with only my nav lights and deck repeater for company. I nailed my routine for getting going under the autopilot. The problem here is that the autopilot gets a bit confused with the heading and direction of travel if i'm not pointed in the general right direction and going at least 2 knots. None of these things would be problem with another body on the boat but it's a bit trickier as a solo rower. Once I got the autopilot on course and following the route I had built earlier I was away. Not much to do now but row and watch the little screen on the back deck and the miles tick off very slowly to the next waypoint. This will be the bane of my existence out on the Atlantic, but my plan is to make manageable distances on a daily basis and bate myself into competition with myself to try and beat my daily totals. As i don't fancy having it slowly tick down from 3,000 nautical miles, i'd be driven even madder.
I was absolutely shattered starting this night row, which was the perfect sleep deprivation training. I'm really out of touch with that at the moment and it's something I will need to adapt to coming closer to off. I rowed for 3 hours then went below for some rest. I tried to stay to a bit of a routine but I was more concerned it making it to Kinsale by morning time, so it was a case of row as much possible. By first light I was within a few miles of Old Kinsale Head. But i was fighting the tide and reduced to 1 knot. The whole night i was averaging 2.3 knots which was slower than i had predicted for the force 4 following wind. But just then Beoga appeared to give a helping hand and tow me the rest of the way into Kinsale. We were treated to a visit from whales and dolphins so it was the perfect end to a great nights rowing.
We then came alongside in Kinsale and spent the night there. I got Doireann back on the trailer and came back to Galway the following day. What next ? Well more planning rows around the weather. Currently looking at rowing to the Aran Islands and back. If the wind doesn't play ball on that one i'll head south again.
I've got a talk coming up next week with some graduates from DIT and i've been thinking about some of topics i'd like to cover. One I get asked about a lot is mental toughness and how to become more mentally tough. It's kind of a broad term and to me it means how we can become more mentally resilient to deal with whatever it is we have in front of us in our lives. Most people think of it as who can suffer the most and overcome the cries from the body to stop during a endurance event or something along those lines. But to me of late being mentally tough is learning how to manage stress in life. A lot of stress is created in the mind and nowadays words like anxiety, fear and doubt are big problems for people. So it's my ability to get a better picture of what is going on and my main tool for that is writing. It's really interesting to reflect and write these blogs and other bits then take a step back and evaluate. Getting things out of my head and onto paper is a powerful tool. It helps me become less reactionary and therefore less stressed about what i'm doing and have to get done. What I love about the preparation for this row is that i'm re-learning some real basics about daily living.
I have multiple tattoos on my body, not once did I ask someone whether they liked them or should I get one. I got them because i wanted them. It's important to listen to others and feedback but take action selectively. To me this is mental toughness and i keep that toughness by surrounding myself with people who don't cast doubt over my decisions.