row-aurora-2019

Dawn Wood's

solo atlantic challenge 2019

row-aurora-2019
Barbados-arrival-interview

Crossing the Line

I have only gone and done it!!! I have rowed single handedly the entire way across the Atlantic Ocean!! Absolutely wow!! As I type this I am sitting in my villa in Barbados, I have not had a chance to blog since the 24th so here goes with trying to remember the whirlwind which was the last few days!!

25th February 2019
The conditions picked up nicely overnight and I decided to get a bit of a move on. So much so, I have now updated my arrival time from Tuesday morning to TONIGHT!! I have spoken to Angus from Rannoch who is organising the logistics of my arrival who has said this is amazing work, the only problem being the customs office closes at 10pm.

What this could mean is that I would not be permitted to go ashore, I would have to drop anchor or pick up a mooring outside the marina overnight and come ashore in the morning when the office opens. Not the end of the world, but a massive anti climax.

So the race is now on to get in on time. At 0900 today my boat speed averaged 3kts which gives me an ETA at the top of the island of 9.30pm. This is cutting it really fine as there is still about 5 miles to go from the ‘finish line’ into port, so Angus is now also trying to organise a tow boat to get me down the west side of the island as quickly as possible.

The idea of a tow the last part does not sit well with me as it feels a little like cheating the last bit. Of course it isn’t, and it’s got to be a better option than sitting at anchor waving at the people on shore all night. I wholeheartedly trust whatever plans Angus makes and all I can do is row my socks off this last few hours to try and make it in on time. 

The day is beautiful sunshine, reasonable winds and a bit of swell in the ocean giving me a nice row in (I love the choppy sea state) however, not long after confirming I could make the deadline if I kept up the pace, the currents moved round making the going quite tough again. I was able to almost keep up to 3kts (adrenaline is kicking in now) but gradually my ETA was slowly falling back. With nothing I could do but row, I just got stuck in, enjoyed my last day and trusted there would be a cunning plan to clear me through customs. 

What a great day it was too, I took the opportunity to get some final photos on my breaks and made sure my boat was set up for landing. I think it was about 2pm Barbados time when land first came into view, it was just a misty silhouette at first, but land it definitely was.

What an incredible moment, I stood up and looked over the bow of the boat for a few moments to take in the scene. Over fifty days since I last saw land and here is was again, beginning to appear over the horizon. I am sure if you check my tracker, you might even see the speed pick up as I get excited. 

Time has gone relatively quickly over the past 7 weeks. Suddenly it was as if time was going backwards. I would row for what seemed like hours only to find out I had been going for twenty minutes. I was loving every second, but I did find it amusing that with land now in sight it seemed like this was the longest stretch.

What was a fantastic motivator and also sped time up slightly was finding a radio station. The speaker I have been using also picks up FM radio. As I could see land I guessed the radio masts would be on the highest point, so decided to try and tune in. It was like finding civilisation and my first connection to the island what an absolutely brilliant moment. As I flicked through the channels there is was, Barbados Capital Radio playing some great music and giving me an insight into the news of the island that was now so close. Hearing voices for the first time was a great moment too, it put a great big smile on my face.

With some great music and the feeling of being connected to land again, I again found the energy to keep up the momentum. However, with the current slowing me down I now had an ETA of 10pm to the top of the island. This would mean missing customs and my window of getting ashore tonight. I decided there was nothing I could do but keep going and hope they would take pity on me and hold the office open. With my fingers and toes crossed I kept going (and singing.) 

The sun was now beginning to set on my final day on the ocean. It was pretty emotional to know that when it had gone behind the horizon, the next time I saw it would be dry land. I downed oars for half an hour to watch the sun go down and drink the beer I had been saving for this moment since my chance meeting with SV Lola over two weeks ago.

As the sun completely set I was then met with the magical sight of the lights of the island. It’s such a complete contrast to every other night, it took my breath away for a moment. 

Back to the oars and an ETA check, still 10pm to the top of the island! With the additional 5miles to get ashore this was looking doubtful I would be on dry land tonight. But I could only keep going and hope for the best. I continued to row into the dark with the waves getting choppier the closer to land I got.

I must have been hit by about five flying fish. The whole crossing without one, and now they were coming out in force. They glistened in the light from my navigation lights so I could see them coming but was not able to move out of the way quick enough for a few of them. 

9.45pm and I am just a mile and a half from the line when I am joined by three motor boats. One with crew from the Barbados Rotary, the Marine Police unit, and the third with Angus on board to help guide me in.

I was overwhelmed that all these people had come out to sea at night in these conditions just to ensure my safe passage to port.

The conditions were now not ideal, there were heavy rain downpours and the sea state meant that if I was in the trough of a wave I could not see the navigation lights of the other boats and they could not see me. I have hundreds of hours of sea time during darkness, but after being the only boat for miles around for over 7 weeks I was actually getting a bit nervous. 

I was in radio contact with Angus who gave me some great news, customs had agreed to stay open until midnight. This was actually happening, I was just a few hours from dry land and just half hour from completing the most incredible task I had ever set myself. 

At 10.15pm the radio crackled back into life “True Blue, this is Angus. Congratulations, you have just successfully rowed single handedly and unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Over the sound of the wind and crashing waves I could then hear the crew from all three boats cheering. The feeling was amazing, I could not believe I had actually done it and it was over.

This feeling was very short lived as I now had the pretty dangerous task of setting up a tow and getting into port. I knew once we were round the west side of the island it would be sheltered, but in these conditions the first part of the tow would need some seriously good seamanship from both the towing vessel and myself. It would also be slow and careful going until getting into shelter, so we were still against the clock to get in for midnight.

I set about connecting my tow line to the front of the boat and checked it at least 5 times to make sure I got it right. I was pretty tired and did not want to make any mistakes. If the line was not clear to run through it could potentially pull the boat sideways swamping it and throwing me overboard, or would just rip off any piece of equipment it was caught on like the light mast or, worse still, a piece of me!!

Angus then came along side for me to throw the line to. This is a DANGEROUS manoeuvre. If the motorboat caught a wave it could get picked up and ploughed straight into the back of me, we really needed to get this right first time. As the boat closed in alongside I threw the line and it was about to land just short when Angus seemed to develop bionic stretching arms and somehow got it and we began the tow. This process had taken 30mins so we now had an hour and fifteen mins to get to customs. At a maximum safe tow speed of 5kts this was going to take about an hour giving just fifteen minutes leeway! The clock is ticking!!!

You may think once under tow I could kick back and relax but this was very far from the truth. I had to be fully alert and ready with the hand steering. If a wave picked me up I could now end up being ploughed into the back of the towing vessel. So I had to have steer for the duration of the tow and of course the rain came down again for another 15min burst. 

11.40pm we arrive at the entrance to the marina where the tow line is disconnected and packed away. My last job is to row in and get on land. As it transpired the route in and berthing position could not have been any easier, it was extremely straight forward. However, in the dark with no local knowledge or experience getting into this marina and of course I am facing backwards I was a bit apprehensive about it.

Angus has now got ashore and called out “just go round that big blue boat and you will see everyone stood next to the pontoon you need to go to.” I looked around expecting a 50 or 60ft boat… nothing? “I can’t see a big blue boat” “it’s the only one there, right in front of you.” I looked round again and really could not work out where this boat was.

Then suddenly a lightbulb moment. When he said big he meant BIG!! There was a massive super yacht right in front of me “ohhhhh, THAT big blue boat!!”

So round I went to be greeted by not one or two, but a crowd of people cheering and waving flags and calling out support. I was totally overwhelmed, this was absolutely unexpected. 11.50pm I tied up on the pontoon to be greeted by Jaime and my parents. For once in my life I didn’t really know what to say – it was like being a rabbit in the headlights.

I went into the cabin to get my passport (11.55pm) and got off the boat to an amazing reception, there were camera crews from the tv station, photos, friends from home, people on holiday who had heard about what I was doing and came to greet me, the local rotary club, the minister for sport. I made my way through the crowd to customs (held up by my mum and dad as walking was not an easy task) hugging as many people as possible on the way through.

As the clock read 11.59pm I stepped into the customs office, I had made it with literally seconds to go. The customs officials were brilliant and I could not thank them enough for staying open late for me. All the paperwork was ready for me, I just had to check and sign it and I had officially arrived on the island.

Back out to the crowd and I began to meet and chat with everyone and thank them all for being there. I just could not believe the support I was being shown. I really felt like a celebrity posing for photos and being interviewed on camera. What a wonderful greeting and such a surprise.

So when I told you a few weeks ago about the Row Aurora HQ control room being set up by my parents this is part of what they had been organising. I could not have wished for a better arrival party.

After a couple of hours thanking everyone and sharing a few stories we went back to the villa we are staying in until Sunday when we fly home. 

Sleeping in a bed without having to get up to row in a couple of hours will be bliss.

I have a busy day tomorrow cleaning the boat ready for shipping, then I have lots of appointments through the week which I will update you on in later blogs.

Thank you for reading I hope you have enjoyed my journey. Stay tuned as there are blogs coming from my adventures in Barbados.

Dawn

  1. Sonia Harding on March 1, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Wow Dawn We both looked forward to your blog, well done Love Clive & Sonia xxx

  2. Nigel on March 1, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Dawn.
    You are such a star and such an inspiration. I heard you live on BBC Essex I could hear the excitement, the pride and humility and determination in your voice. Your venture and achivement is amazing.
    Well done.

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