Fiann's expedition journal, delivered at the time via sat phone:
So far none of the days were as bad as the first one, wet, windy and dark. For some time we had to row against the wind and the waves but now nature is supporting us.
Dolphins are like friends, they stay with us for long time but whales are more mysterious, they just pop up and then disappear. Yesterday we saw a pilot whale.
Rowing in the night literally feels like drifting in outer space. The ocean is totally dark and you see only the cloudless sky, full of stars. I may have only seen such a sky, high in the Himalayas. It feels like we were pushing ourselves away from the stars, catching some of them by the oars.
Planktons shine beautifully with each stroke. The oars seem to activate the release of fluorescent light. It looks like magical trail left behind by our space ship in the sky. Sometimes a bit of plankton ends up on the deck and shines like a special button or sensor of the spacecraft.
I am very tired and my hands are full of blisters. Pain limits me more than my endurance.
I miss the clouds, but I know that the appearance of the kind of clouds I like, would mean that there are low and high pressure systems, converging, an experience I would not like to have on the boat. Still, a blank sky makes me feel a bit claustrophobic.
Rowing, when injuries don’t bother me is a pleasure. I feel as if the boat is flying. There are some days when my sore hands and back don’t bother me that much.
Another beautiful night: Although the waters were not still, stars were reflected in the ocean. It was unbelievable, like jewels being poured into our lap. The sky filled with shining stars kept moving softly in any almost random directions, depending on where the boat was moved by the waves.
But then, the waves were high enough to bring me this dynamic quality of the elements that I love. In the 13th Warrior, at the beginning of the movie, you can see what it’s like for a small boat to be among big waves. They were just 2m today but crossing them felt like some unreal computer game. So far, this is the part I like the most. You go up and down and sometimes between the waves as if through a passageway. It’s mind boggling that boat remains on track.
Soon there are going to be 5m high waves. I am really looking forward to that experience. And, although it has not been forecasted yet, it is possible we’ll be rowing in 10m high waves.
The waves you could see in a movie from an ocean trial in Agadir were absolutely nothing compared to what we met today. When we arrived in a zone of strong winds, I felt as if we entered a kind of water realm or water city. Normally when I think about the great expanse of the ocean, I think far and wide. This landscape took on 3 dimensions. I’ve seen the ocean many times but rarely have I beheld big waves from the water level, and this time, even more startling, they were coming at me.
In the middle of a long stroke when we cautiously raised our eyes to observe the waters ahead we saw the color of a wave you usually don’t see right next to your boat. We saw the white foam of a breaking wave. This wave would not float beneath raising us gently like the others. Like an angry sea monster whipping its tail, this one hit us like a wall, lifting us off our seats.
We will soon be rowing over the sunken Island of Atlantis. This may be why I kept feeling that we were traversing new routes and new lands; never just the same ocean waters. I really feel like we are passing through different countries.
I learned the shape of the water is created by 3 factors: waves, swells and currents with many types in different combination of height, width, shape and dynamics exposed differently in different angl of sunlight.
Waves sometimes seem to be mysterious supernatural beings, like silent hermits passing our boat.
Now the waves are 5 meters high, extremely enjoyable and entertaining; best part of our journey.
The floating summits and valleys of the ocean water-mountains is like having sex with an ancient sea goddess, with nature itself or the spirit of the ocean.
We don’t sleep much. On the 3rd night shift yesterday (6th hour of the nighttime rowing) our captain had a vision that he was rowing a train. I had a vision that I had crab legs instead of oars.
If I stick to the vision of a spaceship that the boat reminds me of at night, on some of the nights I can call this a spaceship rodeo. While in most cases our objective is to develop the highest velocity possible, in these cases the objective is to remain on the rowing seat keeping the boat on track. Ocean water moves irregularly to the extent that it doesn’t allow you to keep regular full strokes, moreover you have to keep balancing with your body weight each time the boat leans. Sometimes you can’t even keep a basic stroke because you are being lifted and turned by the wild activity of the rodeo. It’s very dynamic and entertaining. During these times it reminds more me of white water river kayaking than rowing although we’re in the middle of the ocean.
Some nights were dark, wet and windy. Waves were slapping into the boat regardless of our maneuvers. There is nothing pleasant in finishing a 2hr night shift in absolute darkness, totally soaked, getting back to the cabin, closing it tightly so that the water doesn’t flood in, sleeping in an ultra small space next to two other rowers and after 2 hrs, putting these wet clothes back on and getting back to rowing with the waves hugging you every 15 minutes.
Some days though, were so different. My favorite rowing mode reminded me of fairy tales of ships sailing in the skies. What first comes to mind is Laputa, the castle in the sky by Miyazaki that has old wooden ships with big sails and many oars, free of the earth's gravity, sailing amongst the clouds. I felt as if we were one of these flying/rowing vessels. This was the only way to move through high but noninvasive, randomly moving waves where long complete slow strokes and consistency was crucial; much more important than the power or the speed of the stroke. And as I am on stroke for my shift, I enjoyed it and attempted to enter this rowing mode as often as possible. I believe if experience like this were offered as one of the weekend attractions, there would be plenty of people ready to pay for it. :) It was so contemplative and soothing, almost effortless. 2 hours were passing in seconds followed by the feeling of sailing in the sky. As it was so strongly against the physics of rowing, we were almost fully convinced of rowing in a different realm than water.
Sometimes when I was looking at the waters against the sun, it was black, covered with hundreds of white reflections of cold sunlight. It reminded me of high parts of the Himalayas. Sometimes after a longer time of being exposed to different conditions, scenes and the spirit of the environment, I realized that at such times we activate different spheres of our inner spaces and deactivate those that we would frequently use when we are in familiar settings. When I’ve been asked what is like above 6000 meters, I should say, rocks and ice. But I would say rocks, ice and spirits, because the third element was almost tangible. The same element was appearing while I was observing heavy black ocean waters for a long period. I find it refreshing, to reset my mind at times, by exposing it to different environments, and conditioning it in different ways. It’s so healthy and revitalizing, like rebooting computer.
Last night our rowing was quite intense. You don’t see the water in the dark so when you are rowing you have to assume the water level. River rowing is very smooth because the water level is stable. Ocean waters are in usually unpredictable.
Suddenly out of nowhere I saw a axe blade flying from the side and striking the front of the boat. I burst into laughter because I had instinctively imagined we’d entered a land of local natives who were attacking us with a tomahawk. What had actually happened was that captain rowing behind me, misjudged the water level and pulled the oar very hard causing a surprise shift. After stroking for a while, things calmed down and we were back on course.
We are 6 guys here. I really like the company of sportsmen. First of all I love their ability to have fun without alcohol. Second I am convinced their healthy condition reflects upon their mind level, making them bright and nice to be around. This was our circle, ocean rowers, connected by one similar feature. We were all looking for experience beyond than what the world most frequently offers today.
We have two shifts. I am on stroke for first shift. Being on stroke means the guy who sets the stroke – speed, length and technique. Captain Matt is on the second position, behind me, so I can’t play computer instead of sleeping while captain is trying to sleep, haha, because I am sentenced to spending all my time with him. Matt does not like today’s society requirements and expresses it by constantly speaking in rapper slang despite being English. Graham is on the third seat of my shift and only the load of muscles this 110kg monster has, justifies his similar snoring volume, haha. He rows well. For the second shift Rob is on stroke. He is quiet, humble and dedicated and carries a true sportsman’s spirit. He is highly developed in team sports dynamics. Motivating and supporting others is something I could learn from his impressive attitude. While Matt is the head of the team, Rob is the heart. I guess I can be defined as being a bit of the muscle. :) Second position after Rob is Adam. Captain described him this way, “He’s so easy going that he is almost horizontal!” I love that sentence. Adam is a multidisciplinary sportsman and an artist in his free time. Thomas, third position on the second shift is an ultra long distance cycler. He is like a child, but not childish just joyful and enthusiastic.
I’m grateful to be here.
Most ocean rowers use heavy-duty painkillers but I do not. In fact, don’t feel any pain (anymore) and I consider this quite an achievement. I enjoy the rowing shifts finding them very pleasant. It’s just the eating and sleeping conditions that makes this experience extreme. That is aside from the shift at the end of the day. This is the biggest challenge. There are 6, day shifts and 6 night shifts. After our 4th night shift we’re exhausted and rowing becomes very difficult. During this time we've all hallucinated. I’ve mentioned some of my experiences already in earlier blogs.
Recently saw a hand coming out of the ocean and wanted to shake mine but when I realized it was a hallucination, Istepped back. On another occasion the captain had a vision of rowing a train or a car and not being able to find the exit off the highway, haha!
People have been tracking our trip and some other ocean rowers have given their impressions. They’ve described this as a sort of a battlefield but to me it’s like racing the swells that remind me of horses. Shining like a huge bright flame in the night sky I revel in the beauty of the moonlight as the dark shape of waves like galloping horses pass by.
The reflection of the moonlight fills the trail on the water behind the boat. It is long and moves gracefully like a flame, holding me in its spell for hours. We had a magnificent day of complex cloud formations. Sometimes these huge clouds break into each other like fantasy beings clashing and deluge us with rain.
I have a lot of beautiful dreams, maybe because of where my mind is when I’m rowing. We are plugged into nature and charged by its energy to the extreme. I am no longer disturbed by what usually disconnects me from the source of life energy. When I am rowing my mind is free. I have no agendas, schedules, phone calls.... My mind is simply uncluttered and when it opens, there’s space for my deeper subconscious mind to speak to me. The most beautiful dream I had is very long. I will describe the end of the dream, which was the crucial part. I was standing before the sea under the night sky. I saw pounding waves in light, illuminated by a being that was drifting close to the shore. We were facing each other. She looked like the storm goddess and the personification of death. She was in white robes, calm and composed. She sat on a raft made of dead people placed randomly but in a beautiful design. The bodies were not rotten. It reminded me of a Greek sculpture. She sent her thoughts to me through her eyes. She tried to convince me to join her but I wasn't willing.
I believe that many of the beautiful dreams I had were from the effects of gravity. The rocking boat turned my reality into floating shapes, morphing landscapes etc. that often showed up in my dreams.
The most frequently used hair-brushing device in my case is a knife. I have no clue how Vikings handled it. The salty water and ocean air, wind and sun combined with sleeping on a rocking boat that makes your head move repetitively naturally forms dreadlocks. All this ruined our hair very quickly. I read that Vikings washed their hair once a week. I have no idea how they did it during those long sailing voyages.
It was quite funny, Rob, who was on stroke in the second shift, came suddenly in the middle of our night shift and said, "Would you guys open the back door?" We burst into laughter. Obviously he was sleepwalking.
Flying fish emerge from the water in formations just like birds. They keep flying out and diving into the water again. There are plenty of them. The closer to Barbados we are, the more we see them. It’s no wonder they are they the national symbol. Many of the flying fish wound up in our boat. No exaggeration, there were about 10 each morning!
I am listening to music a lot. I brought my favorite album by Fejd called ‘Storm’ that l listened to throughout the trip. Here are some samples of their music:
Fejd - Offerök
Other than that I am listening to audio lectures, mystics talking about life, accomplishment, joy and fulfillment originating mostly from knowledge of Tantra, Taoism, Sufism; all these paths that enable us to explore and experience life, even demanding it as the only way to obtain wisdom and growth.
Once I saw a beautiful scene created by windless weather and heavy rain. It looked so symmetrical as if designed by computer graphics placed on a repetitive pattern of waves all around. It reminded me of Zen paintings that depicted Boddhidharma sitting in front of the pounding waves of the ocean. It was simplicity and minimalism in visual expression, just as nature made it.
Once there was an extremely strong wave coming from the side of the boat that hit it like a train running full speed on a track. It broke just before our boat, soaking us completely. While it was coming I could hear captain’s voice making a train station announcement: "Welcome to the South Atlantic Express to Venezuela stopping over the Sara G!"
When I row I see the cabin in front of me. When a wave like this hit us, I saw everything flying around in the cabin. Once I saw Adam sleeping and rolling along all the walls of the cabin: bottom-side-ceiling-side, as a reaction to a strong wave hitting the boat.
The weather changed as we approached Barbados. Before nights were cold and days were bearable, now nights are bearable and days are too hot but at least when we get soaked it doesn't freeze any more.
On Feb. 8th, 2011 at 11:16 GMT the team arrived in Port Saint Charles, Barbados weathered, worn and victorious but also slightly wistful for the satisfaction that would fill them in the coming days and years came through a close encounter with an ocean that freely shared its heart and soul with them for 33 unforgettable days, that now, alas, they would be parting.
Why I believe we succeeded
Preparations: First of all we had the benefit of Captain Matt’s past experience. It was the third time he rowed this route and the second time this year. Based on his experience he strategically planned this trip with a keen sense of what we would be facing. Utilizing a satellite phone he kept in touch with experts on the weather conditions throughout the trip. He also knew the boat intimately and had spare parts to replace every single component. He selected the crew based not only on fitness and performance but also on whether our attitude would help the team keep positive and motivated. So we ended up as a team of positive people, which I attribute as an essential element of our success.
Team performance: The general requirement for ocean rowing is to be able to row 2:15 split (rowing speed parameter: average time for 500 meters) for 2 hours 3-4 times a week. Our results were much higher. I could row 25km 1:57.3 split fastest and I could row below 2:00 split during all the training, often more than 4 days a week. All the crew were approximately there.
Weather: Something you can never control. Apparently the storm goddess that appeared in my dream gave us a break.
Luck: I don't like to talk about luck, but you might say we had some bad luck when our centerboard broke. If your boat runs across a lost fishing net and ends up with irreplaceable damage, which is probably how it happened, you might call it that.
I write this with a heart of gratitude for Captain’s management and for the good fellowship of the crew.