Training Blog. Four-day row to Falmouth and back.

By David Murray – 26/07/21

Reflecting on our latest training row to Falmouth, with sore hands and tiredness, I have an overwhelming sense of achievement and a growing confidence that Guy and I are well on our way to becoming ocean rowers. The contrast between this and our first out and back training row is like chalk and cheese. Whatever the Atlantic chooses to throw our way we are a lot more prepared, thanks to the support from our team, Duncan Roy and the amazing course at SeaSports SouthWest. We have done our mandatory hours and completed over 90% of the drills with just the water maker and electrical courses to go.

The plan was to meet at the quay at Batson, around the corner from Salcombe. Alyson, Archie and Ruby our dog came to support whilst I got preparations underway before Guy arrived at the quayside. Emails, calls and messages had been flying back and forth between us all week as we finalised the route and, with the prospect of some high temperatures and light winds (though ironically from the west right on our nose going out and from the east right on our nose coming back!) we had decent conditions to look forward to.

Local legend, Banger, who looks after Lily shoreside, was self-isolating, so Mike Wrigley had brought Lily down to the quay ready to be loaded up with supplies. The previous day I had been busy applying the latest sponsor stickers – thank you to Fieldhouse, our new PR agency, MoneyCorp and Rocketmakers for your kind support. Some great friends, the Cloughs, had also come down to meet us, including Myles, with whom I had cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End a few years ago and Imy O’Brian, a TWAC 2024 future rower. Lily always attracts attention and whilst loading her up and prepping, inquisitive people were asking questions, such as what type of boat she was? Where were we going to? When was the race? etc – always a welcome distraction. A look of amazement was not uncommon when we told them we will be crossing the Atlantic, which we think will take 2 months, and to be honest I am also amazed that in less than 5 months, Guy and I will be setting off for Antigua!

Salcombe is special for both of us. Guy has holidayed here even before he was born and religiously since then with his growing family. For me, it’s where my Dad, a great friend of Guy’s, lived all his life and one of the inspirations for my row.

Day 1 – 2 – The outward leg.

We decided that we would do a pre-row check on the main pontoon at Whitestrand. This would enable us to go through all the supplies, route, tides, objectives etc before the 200km round trip. It was also a chance to grab a last-minute coffee and bacon sandwich. At 11am we were off…

As we made our way up the estuary we were met with nods and waves from passing boats, Lily an intriguing site amongst the yachts, dinghies and gin palaces!  The plan was to row 2 up until we turned right heading west to Falmouth at the mouth of the estuary, then revert to our planned race format of 1 up rowing, 2 hours on 2 hours off. Both Falmouth and Salcombe are on the same latitude and both are natural estuary ports. So far so good. I was looking forward to the two hours on and two hours off. This would give me a chance for rest and recuperation, as well as time to familiarise ourselves with the chartplotter, VHF and other safety equipment.

The shift changes came and went. The sea state was calm with the usual bit of swell coming out of Salcombe as we pressed on past Hope Cove, Thurlestone, Bigbury and on towards Plymouth. To avoid the busy shipping lane coming out of Plymouth Sound our goal was to get past Plymouth before nightfall, which we did. After a stunning sunset, darkness descended with only the moonlight to light our way. This was really our first full night’s row in race format and I was personally was looking forward to it. For safety we have an AIS system, used to alert us to other boats on a “collision course” and them of us. I was on a late shift when suddenly I heard the roar of a high speed motor boat coming towards us at speed, no AIS alarm, no lights ……a moment of concern and then whooossh – it was 50 metres past our stern. I could just make out that it was a high-speed RIB. It passed without incident and there was no need to wake Guy.

Then a slightly weirder event happened. In readiness for our shift change at 3am, Guy came out of the stern cabin and said rather hurriedly “David, I think we are just about to run into something!” I shot out of my seat and in the gloom of the night was what appeared to be a lighthouse, some half a mile away! Quick as a flash Guy jumped into the cabin, looked at our chartplotter and confirmed there was no lighthouse in the vicinity. I pointed our high-powered search light out into the night and it illuminated an old fashioned sailing boat under full sail coming towards us. After we made a slight course adjustment it glided past just a few yards away and we caught sight of a shadowy figure at the helm. No greeting, just silent and going on their way. Maybe it was the night playing tricks, but we thought we’d just seen a ghost ship!

Daylight broke spectacularly and the day continued, making good progress with the tide and with barely a knot of wind against us. At around 5pm we arrived at the mouth of the Falmouth estuary and then spent over an hour getting into Falmouth, having radioed in and secured a mooring at Falmouth Haven marina. When berthed we got Lily ready and prepped the two cabins. We were going to spend the night here ready for the return leg start with the tide the next day.

Day 3-4 The return leg – Eddystone.

Breakfasting at daybreak, we waited for the tide to help us get out of Falmouth. Meanwhile we were visited by Oli and his father and friend Patrick Dawe-lane. Oli was part of the ExeEndurow team which circumnavigated the UK in 2020.

We spent a very enjoyable hour talking about Lily with Oli giving us tips and chatting about their trip which, when you consider the tides and the unpredictable UK weather, was an amazing feat for four young lads with an average age of just 21! It was clear he very much missed being on an ocean rowing boat and hopefully he’ll join us in Salcombe in early August for a trip out.

By 11am the tide was in our favour, so we set off past St Mawes and back on our homeward leg. With both Guy and I feeling slightly more refreshed, we ploughed through and made excellent progress. We decided that given the “light” winds we would head directly for the Eddystone Lighthouse, some 12 miles off Plymouth Sound, and continue to adopt the same shift rotation we would be using for our Atlantic row, including cooking, boat maintenance, personal maintenance and fuelling.

We are often asked what we eat. Well, it’s a mixture of dehydrated ration packs, sweet snacks, quick energy bars and drinks, for both longer and snap fuelling. Despite the promising contents, the ration packs are a far cry from the real thing. You pour hot water into the bag and something that resembles baby food is ready 10 minutes later. We boil the water using a fast-camping stove called a JetBoil. The previous week a very kind neighbour had fashioned us up a static gimbal using two pieces of wood and some bungy cord and it worked a treat! The design was based on a pic sent to us from a fellow TWAC 2021 team, OneOcean! Being the main lead on the food, this is probably my most challenging task. Both Guy and I have agreed that good edible food is our number one priority, no matter the cost. My pork with green pepper was a huge hit, Guy’s beef mash not quite so successful.

During the day, again, the heat was relentless – good training for the Atlantic. The only interesting event was when I spotted what looked like a large lump of plastic or discarded life raft off our port side. We started to make for it until a gathering stench revealed it to be large decaying seal! I have never smelt anything quite so disgusting in all my life and it most definitely hastened our stroke as we rowed a swift retreat.

Making good progress, we rowed through another stunning sunset and into the night. Personally, I loved the night rowing, the silence, the night sky, the sparkling lights in the water. Due to the tides we made slower progress and our ETA to the lighthouse slipped from 3am to 5am, but this made our arrival even more special. I was lucky enough to be rowing as we neared and right on our shift change we arrived at Eddystone. Prompted, Guy popped his head out of the cabin and was greeted with the lighthouse silhouetted against the sunrise about half a mile off our bow. Amazing!

The Eddystone lighthouse has played an important part in our history and is vital in such a busy shipping channel. It’s steeped in amazing naval and engineering history. During the initial construction of the original wooden structure in 1696 by Winstanley, a French privateer took him prisoner and destroyed the work done so far on the foundations, causing Louis XIV to order Winstanley’s release with the words “France is at war with England, not with humanity”. Such was the strategic importance of a lighthouse in this location.

Passing the lighthouse we hit a very strange sea state; our speed dropped to less than 2 knots despite the following tide, I hopped over the side to take a look and see if we had picked up seaweed or something on our rudder, but that was clear, so when the tide changed again we had to row two up, otherwise we would have either stayed still or gone backwards.

As the tide continued to hamper us, we decided to head inland towards Hope Cove, so we could make shelter if necessary and wait until the tide turned. The wind and currents were not quite as strong closer to the coast, so doing a knot and a half at best we carried on for 7 hours together to reach Salcombe. Radioing in we were given our usual birth at Whitestrand (thank you Salcombe Harbour) and tired and weary we managed to get a bite to eat and headed into the cabins to sleep.

After giving Lily a good washdown, Guy headed wearily back home to Little Marlow. I went back home ready to get a call from Banger so we could get her safely back into his yard. The end of an amazing event-filled 56 hours of full-on rowing, including 19 hours of night rowing and covering over 200 km.

Job done.

Our thanks:

  • To Rodney and Sandra for a lovely evening meal in Flushing
  • To SeaSports SouthWest for the course a couple of weeks ago that helped us no end on the row
  • To Duncan Roy for his help and support throughout out rowing journey, moulding us into ocean rowers
  • Our shore-based team – Clare, Louisa, Simon and the team at UnLtd, our charity. Also the legend Banger for looking after Lily so well
  • To our families and friends
  • And to all our sponsors and supporters who are helping us make this amazing journey happen