Big Blue and her crew of 16 will depart Morocco in early January 2011 and arrive in Barbados less than 33 days later to claim the fastest Atlantic crossing by OAR. No motors or sails, Big Blue is entirely human powered. The crew of 16 will row 2 hours on and 2 hours off, for the nearly 800 hours they are at sea. They will be rowing non-stop and unsupported!
I always say Situation and circumstance should never be allowed to dictate who we are and what we will be able to achieve in our lifetime. Allowing situation and circumstance to oppress us is a choice. I dream big and set goals for myself realizing possibilities and potential for success, being hopeful and willing to do what is necessary to achieve those goals. When I first learned of the sport of Ocean Rowing I was drawn to it. I knew I was going to row an ocean. I did not allow the situation of being a woman and a paraplegic stop me. I just had to work harder and work differently to achieve my goals.
This was the First Ocean Rowing Catamaran with crew of 16 to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to break the Atlantic world rowing record. It was my second time to row across the Atlantic non stop and unsupported. I rowed with Franck Festor, a single amputee from France in 2007. Highlights of all of my adventures can be found on my website http://www.rowoflife.com
My becoming involved with the Big Blue project and crew was the result of taking a visually impaired rower from Canada, Franck Polari, ocean rowing in one of my introduction to ocean rowing classes at the Long BeachRowing Association. It is not advertised any place, people generally contact me via e-mail interested in trying the sport. I took him out on a coastal row from Long Beach to Dana Point. His Sea Sickness changed his mind about ocean rowing. The project that he was part of had lost their skipper so he told them about me. I began receiving e-mails from Steve asking me to skipper their boat. I looked at what horrible financial shape I am in from ocean rowing without sponsors, gave much thought to my solo ocean rowing project and decided what the Hell! First thing was to jump right in and organize sea trials for the project. To make sure it happened as this crew had been let down and abandoned before. They were not prepared, much of the critical information they needed to ensure success of their project was missing. I signed on late in the game with some big challenges ahead. We started a Google group and a mass of e-mail correspondence began. I organized a sea trial and some sea survival training for the crew on Shelter Island New York. I traveled there and met the crew and David for the first time. After sea trials I returned to Long Beach. David worked frantically to prepare the boat and make arrangements to ship the boat. I continued preparing the crew and myself for the crossing.
Deb and I left for Morocco the day before Christmas. We changed planes to a Royal Air Moroc flight at JFK bound for Agadir. We were boarded on the plane and everything was going well. Then it began snowing and they took us off the airplane. They refused to bring me my wheelchair. I sat on the plane till the last possible minute even breaking down in tears begging them to bring me my own wheelchair but they would not. They forced me into one of the airport chairs and the worker commented after much protest as I began to comply and surrender “now that’s a good girl” It was miserable. Airport wheelchairs are not made to be self ambulatory and don’t work well even when pushed. They kept moving us from terminal to terminal and jerking us around. Everyone was upset and it nearly broke out into a riot many times through out the ordeal. Eventually they got us on the plane and on our way.We arrived at our final destination however my wheelchair did not.
In Morocco while preparing the boat and food I opened my box to find rats had ravaged it and I had lost 20 days of my food supply. I lost forty meals at about $5.00 a pop. Liz lost about six meals. I was so angry I had to go outside the gate of the boat yard and let out a big yell. What a waste. Deb and I paid a great deal of money to have a space big enough to sort the food at the house but the authorities would not allow us to move food from the boat to the house so our grand plan was offended and extra costs incurred to us by customs and port authorities. Expedition food is not replaceable in Morocco.
They clearly did not see past our pocketbooks and into the future where ocean rowers can contribute greatly to their economy. It would be better for them in the long run to welcome us and ensure our safety and success of our rowing projects. There are other places in the world to row from. I know I do not want to go back there. Cabbies did not want to give me rides and wanted to charge me more money. I had to use cabs because I could not possibly push the airport loaner chair where I needed to go. One of the days I had to take a cab by myself so one of our French speaking crew negotiated my cost with the driver and I got in the cab. My crew loaded the wheelchair on the cab and Deb was to unload it on the other end. It was not to cost me more money. He drove just out of eyesight and earshot of my crew, he pulled the cab over and I was terrified. I thought I was going to have to fight off a rapist but instead he just made me give him all the money I had in my hand and then he drove me to the house. Had I refused he probably would have pushed me out of the cab and drove off with the wheelchair. It sucks being victimized. The ride that was supposed to be 10 rnb (8 rnb with 2 rnb for tip) cost me 60. I had been robbed! I quit going in cabs after that. I just walked with my crew. The negative symptoms of life without my own personal wheelchair had become evident with more back, shoulder and wrist pain. The crew tried to help me out as much as possible and did not mind pushing me around nearly as much as I did. We would leave the boathouse at dark so avoiding all of the obstacles became more difficult. Abrupt stopping when hitting an obstacle nearly injured the person pushing me and nearly ejected me from the wheelchair numerous times. The wheelchair footplates kept falling off and the wheel had fallen off once. It was quite risky and dangerous to contend with before the crossing. I am always reminded that most of the time it is far more difficult just getting to the starting line than it is to row across.
To balance out the bad with the good I had contacted one of my friends from the Moroccan National Adaptive Rowing team Kalifa Monume. He drove down from Sale Morocco with his uncle and one of his friends. We had quite a memorable pre row party. They were there to help us put the boat in the water. It was great to see him again. Once the boat was in the water we rowed it around to the marina in Agadir where we would load it with our food and personal kit and then wait for the right weather to leave.
We got underway the next morning at first light. It wasn’t long before one of the members of our crew became violently ill. Food poisoning was suspect. I too had contracted some kind of viral infection that combined with stress and physical exertion triggered my myasthenia Gravis. Myasthenia gravis is an auto immune disease that is ocular or affects the muscles in the eyes. I have bouts of temporary blindness or double vision. The eyes will cross or eye lids droop or not open at all. The crew may have been concerned about it at first but then saw that I could manage rowing and getting around on the boat without my vision.We had to change our route and head down the coast to Tarfya, Morocco. We then called the Ocean Rowing Society and changed our port of record departure to Tarfya. We had some medical tests done and spoke with a medic there about Tom. He seemed to have recovered enough to continue. My physical condition had improved also and I was managing my Myasthenia with medication. When the tide came up at 7:25 PM we resumed our row.
The NE wind and weather kept us from going west and we found ourselves going SW down the coast a bit before the winds changed and we could finally go west. The winds did not favor us on this trip and I almost always find myself rowing against the wind. We had some 30-35 knot winds and made over 106 miles in one day. If that would have continued we would have had a chance at the record but that was only one day. The rest of the days we averaged about 65-70.
We had a solar water boiler (pictured above) made by the students of an engineering class at Cal State Los Angeles. The instructor Sam Landsberger was a contact I had made at the Abilities Expo in LA. I had tested it at the dock and found it to be working but it had stopped working when we were at sea. We just assumed that it was the wind that prevented it from heating up. Wind was not blowing at the dock. We set it aside and forgot about it till our fuel shortage made it necessary to try and repair the boiler. The intake pump was broken and not sealing so it did not have the suction to move the water and there was a blockage not letting the full amount of water to release from the boiler. I was able to clear the blockage and David fixed the pump for me. After that it worked great. The solar water boiler allowed us to heat water without using the precious little stove fuel we had left. I also built a solar oven out of a dry bag, and an emergency blanket. The solar boiler only makes enough water to rehydrate two meals at a time. This solar oven allowed us to keep the meals warm whilst waiting for the other meals to rehydrate. I also experimented with food in the last week as we had run out of regular rations. I made some pizzas from assorted left over bits in the solar oven that were pretty tasty. With the exception of 50 cliff bars there was not one scrap of food left when we got to port. Everyone had snack packs through the last day. We began rationing regular meals at 7 days out, cutting one meal and having breakfast and whatever meal pack happened to be pulled for the day, a lunch or a dinner. The Sat phone battery charging port broke on the satellite phone so I also had to fabricate an external Sat Phone battery charger. Debs called Iridium and found out what contacts were positive and what ones were negative. Then I cut the plug off and David and I put some wire connecters on the ends of the wire. I then used a piece of plastic and a rubber band to keep the connecters against the contact points. Is all about finding solutions!
On the ocean there are amazing sunrises and sun sets, there are panoramic ocean views, sky can be brilliantly specked with stars or can be so dark and cloud covered you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Extreme gratitude is what you feel when you get any amount of light to see at night. There is only a certain amount of serenity at night as it is mostly tempered with anxiety as the walls of water that are crashing down on you are highly anticipated yet invisible in the darkness. There is no way of knowing when, where or how, just that it will repeatedly beat you and knock you off your seat till you change watch. It can feel like the longest 2 hours of your life. See it coming or not, it will still knock you off your seat. Being that low to the water everyone gets soaked and everyone gets pelted with flying fish. There are fish around the boat constantly. Dolphins, whales, Dorado, tuna, sea turtles, sharks, jelly fish, even saw a few Portuguese man of war on this one. We witnessed nature, the food chain or big fish eat little fish many times when the Dorado would hunt the flying fish and the shark would then hunt the Dorado. We nearly participated by trying to catch a wounded Dorado that was swimming at the back of our boat for protection from the shark that had injured it. We thought it much too risky since the shark was following closely waiting for the kill and the inevitable demise of that beautiful fish.
When the sky has shades of magenta in it at sunset the reflection of the water will be like a liquid silver and when it is yellowish the water looks like molten gold. You are like the wind and the water, always moving. The water changes color and salinity or level of salt content changes and with it changes the smell of the sea. There is no smell of land, no pollution, only humidity. Even the water you drink is desalinated ocean water with no chemicals or chlorine in it. I look out over the ocean and at the GPS and think how privileged I am to be able to be at this place and at this time where no human being has been or may ever be again and I am thankful for my life! Then back to reality, a piece of plastic trash floats by and I am, once again, disgusted by the human race.
We rowed into port in Port St. Charles Barbados 47 days later to our awaiting friends and families.Barbados is amazing and the people there are extremely hospitable and courteous. The specialty at most restaurants is flying fish. I was surprised to find out how tasty they are.
Deb went to the Veterans hospital and got a better loaner chair for me to use in Barbados. Much better than an airport chair and I was grateful to have it but again, not my personal wheelchair. When I got home to Long Beach I discovered that it would not go through my bathroom doorway so I called Ernie at Colours Wheelchair and they set up a chair for me that will do the job till I get my new custom wheelchair. Colours Wheelchair saves the day! Royal Air Moroc and JFK are still not responding and my wheelchair is still missing.
2011 03 02 ETA of Big Blue in Port St. Charles-update 1
I spoke with Angela tonight about 7pm. She said they had 68.8 nautical miles to go (that is nearly 80 reg miles) to the North Point finish line. They have done about 70 miles a day, but have slowed down a bit. My bestGUESS at this point is between 10p, and Midnight Thursday night/Friday morning. I will be updating tomorrow throughout the day. After they cross the North Point, it should take about 2 hours to get to Port St. Charles.
2/21/11--Brother Report: This is from Aleksa: “Very special thanks to friends and family for all the texts today! Total morale boost while trying to deal with these ridiculous sores! Love you all!”
2/23/11—Brother Report: Aleksa has been rocking the Captain Underpants look for over a month now.And she wants everyone to keep texting her!“Everyday (sic) the messages are like Christmas!”
2/24/11—Brother Report: Aleksa says unto me: “Enjoying possibly one of the only times in my life where I’ll see so many stars so far away from any light.So many that the Milky Way blends in! Things like this make all the hard parts worth it.Wish everyone back home could be here to see what a truly amazing world we live in J. Song of the night:Find Yourself”
2/25/11—Brother Report: Aleksa has decided to name her bum sore, Petunia.Petunia apparently going to be partying like a rock star for the next 5 to 6 days.The sheepskin butt pad also went overboard. “Fail.”
2/17/11—Brother Report: “The water is warmer, the dorados are friendlier, and the dolphins are back! Less than 350 miles to go!PS: Excited tocome home!” 9 days until return to USA.
2011 02 23Clif bars don’t dry & The Trough by Angela
Via Sat Phone to Deb
First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND ANNIVERSARY TO STEVE!The celebrations have started and I will update on those later today.It did start with the traditional flares.Angela said she took some great pics of Steve and Nigel with the flares.She made Steve an apple brown Betty for breakfast and a HOT cup of coffee.They have been using the solar boiler for heating water and it does not heat the water hot, only warm.She pulled the stove out and heated water for Steve’s Birthday coffee.
There is plenty of food, but just not, what they are used to.Now they are eating at the “Trough”.Angela prefers “eating family style” but they keep correcting her.The expedition meals are two or four servings.They were eating their own packages, but now they are sharing these meals.Angela makes them and passes them out to each watch, then they dip into the trough.Angela tried to dry out Clif Bars to make into “cereal”, for 2 days Angela tried to get the Clif bar pieces to dry without success.They have moved on to eating desert for breakfast.Angela says they have lots of snack pack food, 75 foil packs of tuna. 250 drink mixes, 75 Emergen C packets and about 75 vitamin drink packets.They have about 5 days worth of food and 3 days worth of emergency food.
Everyone is getting along well.Angela put up her UN flag to fly on the boat to honor the spirit of cooperation.She has flown that flag on every Ocean Rowing trip on which she has been.The flag was presented to her by the UN for her first trip on RowofLife with Franck.It represented two people from two different nations, two different languages, two different disabilities, two different lives, coming together to get one job done.
Everyone is excited that the winds are behind them again. They were moving at 2.5 knots yesterday and today they are moving at 3.5-4knots.Morale is excellent now that the boat is moving quickly and the end is in sight.They have passed the 50-degree longitude line! The Port St Charles Marina is at Longitude 59 38’ 41.08”.Tarfaya is at longitude 12 55’ 48”.Therefore, they have travelled 38 longitude lines with 9 more to go.