The Boat and Equipment
When crossing an ocean, the most important piece of kit is the boat. For my Atlantic crossing, this was the 23 feet long Sedna Solo, now renamed the Brocade for my Pacific title sponsors.
The Brocade is a very special boat, designed to fulfill one role – to cross an ocean. Its lightweight carbon fiber hull designed by renowned boat designer, Phil Morrison (who also designed the Woodvale Pair, used by most crews in the Atlantic Rowing Race), was made to withstand the fiercest weather that the ocean had to offer, impossible to sink while intact. The two enclosed cabins create buoyancy chambers so that the boat self-rights if she capsizes.
The Brocade is 23 feet long and 6 feet wide, with cabins fore and aft and a single rowing position in the middle. She was originally built for Simon Chalk, ocean rower and founder of Woodvale Events, the company which organizes the Atlantic Rowing Race, with the intention of rowing the Pacific, but he never actually used her for an ocean passage. Since she was specifically designed for the long Pacific route, she was fitted with larger-than-average cabins to provide storage so I had plenty of space for her provisions and still live in relative comfort.
The hull is made of carbon fiber, with glass and foam sandwich cabins and 15mm marine ply decking.
The Birth of the Sedna Solo (now called Brocade)
The boat was purchased originally as a shell only (this included hull, cabins and deck). She then evolved into the Sedna Solo, designed and fitted to precisely meet my specifications. There were two main objectives: first, to turn the boat into an entirely self-sufficient life support capsule to carry me across the ocean, and secondly to provide a modicum of comfort to make a tough voyage as tolerable as circumstances would allow.
Since my background is in rowing and not seafaring, one of the most important parts of the design process was to seek advice from experienced, former ocean rowers on the specifications of the boat. Fewer than 300 people in the world have rowed an ocean, and every ocean rowing boat has been uniquely customized to the owner’s requirements, so there are as many different opinions as there are ocean rowers as to how the boat should be equipped. Ultimately, after taking all the advice, I had to make up my own mind about what would be best for me as an individual.
My top tip would be to fit load of grabrails. Ocean rowboats tip around a lot, and if you fall overboard the boat will drift away faster than you can swim to keep up with it. This is not good.
The rudder was built and fitted by Rowsell and Adkin in Exmouth. It is controlled by strings that lead forward into the cockpit, where they are set by hand and held steady by cam cleats. The rest of the work for the Atlantic row was done by Dolphin Quay Boatyard in Emsworth, with particular thanks to Richard Uttley. Subsequently, many people have worked on Sedna/Brocade as I continue to try and improve levels of comfort and safety on board.
For Stage 1 of the Pacific, a huge amount of work was carried out by a helicopter engineer in Hayward, California, called Rich Crow, whose time was kindly paid for by Bob Simmons and Kelly Luttrell. I will be forever grateful to Rich for all his hard work and creative innovations. After the first attempt at Stage 1 resulted in disappointment, modifications were made to the shape of the hull by Nancy Scurka and Mark Featherstone, crew of Steve Fossett’s super-fast catamaran Cheyenne, to improve boat stability.
The work for the Pacific Stage 2 was carried out in Hawaii, notably by Ian Tuller, Joel Paschal of the JUNK Raft, Scott Burgess, and Mike Rush.
Brocade is still a work in progress, as we strive always to improve. As time has gone on, the guiding principle has become simplicity. The sophisticated steering system, data-gathering devices, and cooking apparatus with which I started out have all been abandoned in favour of simpler devices. This strategy seems to be succeeding, with a significant reduction in the breakage and attrition rate of boat equipment.
Another guiding principle is redundancy. Two of everything – at least. The ocean environment is brutal, as saltwater and heat combine to rust, corrode, or otherwise destroy equipment. And the nearest marine store is usually several thousand miles away.
The Oars and Seat
The Croker Oars that I used on the Atlantic had the handles and spoons of a sculling blade but the shaft of a sweep oar. This made the oars long enough (3.3 metres) to reach the water from her elevated rowing position in the boat. Unfortunately the rough conditions on the Atlantic proved too much for the oars, and they all broke before halfway. I patched them up using sections of a boathook lashed to the oars with duct tape. The resulting oars were functional and strong but poorly balanced, leading to shoulder problems. I plan to use wooden oars on the Pacific, made by Sawyers Paddles and Oars from solid ash. The shaft extends seamlessly into the spoon, which will be reinforced with carbon fibre.
When you are going to be spending 12 hours a day on a seat you want it to be durable and comfortable. Fitted in the Sedna Solo was a seat supplied by WaterRower which has been extensively tried and tested during my land training on a WaterRower rowing simulator to ensure that is was not going to make life on the ocean a pain in the behind. It proved to be as comfortable as any seat can be in these circumstances, but the wheels, designed for indoor use, rapidly corroded in the saltwater conditions. The first seat had already been replaced with the spare because of this problem, and the spare was on the verge of giving out when I made it to Antigua.
For the Pacific I am using seats and runners built specifically for the purpose by Dave Robertson at Gig Harbor Boat Works, which so far have stood up well to ocean conditions.
The boat is equipped with 4 x 60W Solara solar panels, 2 x 40W flexible solar panels and two 52Ah batteries to power Simrad navigation instruments and VHF radio, Iridium satellite phone, Spectra water maker, stereo with water-proof speakers and Sea-Me radar enhancer. She is also fitted with cigar-lighter sockets used for recharging the batteries for the camera, camcorder, and other portable electronics.
For the Atlantic I used a PDA linked to a satellite phone so that I could post daily dispatches to this website using ExplorersWeb’s Contact 3.0 software. To show my position in real time whilst crossing the Atlantic, the Sedna’s Argos transponder dynamically updated my position.
For the Pacific Stage 1, I used a location beacon provided by MarineTrack, but we encountered problems with this particular unit (although other ocean rowers have had better luck with MarineTrack) and I ended up having to manually update my position via email.
Stage 2 of the Pacific brought the most successful tracking solution to date – the Solaradata unit. Tom Tessier of Solara worked closely with Archinoetics to ensure an effective interface between the unit and the RozTracker. Generally the unit reports at intervals of 4 hours, but immediately after departure and immediately before arrival we stepped up the reporting frequency to allow the online audience to follow my progress in close to real time.
The Sedna Solo – The Name
Sedna is the name of the Inuit Eskimo and Alaskan goddess of the ocean who provides sustenance for both the body and soul. It is said that when Sedna lost the tips of her fingers in a tragic boating accident, the digits transformed into whales, seals and other sea-creatures alike. As a result, Sedna is intimately connected with the sea’s inhabitants. The Eskimos believe that she can be called upon for plentiful supplies and can help with any ocean-related ventures, including interacting with whales and dolphins.
She is very appreciative of those who give time, money or efforts to protect the sea and those creatures who inhabit its waters.