1. What do you eat?
I eat really healthily at sea (unlike on dry land, unfortunately!). And I try to keep my environmental footprint small by using unprocessed foods as much as possible. Foods also have to be long-lasting, uncrushable, light, compact, and full of calories. So I eat wholefood nut and seed bars (made by Larabar), nuts, dried fruit, and occasionally freeze-dried expedition meals. I also grow my own beansprouts onboard, using peas, beans and lentils in an Easy-Sprout pot. These are real superfoods, full of vitamins, enzymes and fibre. I mix them up with some tahini, nama shoyu sauce, and tamari almonds, and eat them with some rawfood crackers. Yummy! But despite all this good food I still tend to lose 25 pounds on each ocean crossing – and then regain 30!
2. What happens while you’re asleep?
It’s a significant disadvantage of going solo, that there isn’t anybody on lookout while I’m in the Land of Nod, but I can’t stay awake 24 hours a day. So I set the rudder to keep the boat on course, leave a light on so ships can see me, say a bedtime prayer and hope for the best. And the boat drifts where she will. But I plan my route carefully to take advantage of winds and currents, so about 80% of the time she drifts in the right(ish) direction. So long as I keep heading more or less west and/or south, I’m happy.
3. Have you read The Life of Pi?
Yes. The first time I read it as a hardcopy book [Find Life of Pi on Amazon]. The second time I listened to it on audiobook, while I was on my boat, which is about the same size as his liferaft. It came alive for me a lot more the second time around. [Find Life of Pi on Audible.com]. It made me very glad that the only animals I have on my boat are of the stuffed, squishy variety. But also a very interesting commentary on how we all create our own reality. Especially at sea. Read my review here.
4. How do you carry all your water?
I don’t. I have a Spectra watermaker that converts saltwater into freshwater by forcing it through a series of increasingly fine filters. I also take 75 litres of freshwater which serves a double purpose as emergency supplies and ballast to help keep my boat upright.
5. How do you communicate with shore?
By Iridium satellite phone. I also use the phone, connected to a laptop, to send emails and post blogs to my website. On the Atlantic the phone stopped working 24 days before the end of my journey, so I lost all communications with dry land. No weather forecasts, no blog posts, no calls to my mother. Strangely, though, I loved it. Not many people have the opportunity to experience such complete isolation, peace and quiet. It was a privilege.
6. Don’t you get scared?
The first couple of weeks on the Atlantic (my first ocean crossing) I was very scared, especially at night. But eventually I got tired of being scared, and started to get used to my new environment. It’s amazing what human beings can adapt to. There have been some scary moments since then, like when I encountered 20 foot waves and capsized 3 times in 24 hours during my first attempt on the Pacific in 2007. (The video of the US Coast Guard rescue is here, and to find out why I was their most reluctant rescuee ever, click here.) But generally, any time that things get hair-raising, I am too busy getting on with what needs to be done to survive (like, hanging on for dear life) to have time to be scared.
7. Do you have a support boat?
No. On the Atlantic I was in a race, so there were 2 boats “supporting” the competitors, but I only saw them twice in the 103 days, and I didn’t accept anything from them. It was important to me to maintain my unsupported status. On the Pacific I do get forecasts from my weatherman on dry land, but other than that I am totally unsupported.
8. Why go solo?
– I am pretty happy in my own company – although when on dry land I love being around people. It’s nice to have the contrast between the solitude and the sociability.
– I like to prove to myself that I can do these big challenges on my own. Being a lazy person, I know that if I had a crewmate I would end up letting them do the bits I don’t want to do. Going alone forces me into new learning experiences I may avoid otherwise.
– I know that when I’m stressed and tired I would find it hard to be considerate towards another person. In this respect I find it easier to be alone than to have company.
– There are a lot of decisions to be made – not just during the row, but about aspects of the boat design, course to row, etc. Being alone avoids disagreements and/or resentments over compromises. If there’s ever a mutiny on board, I’ve definitely been on my own for too long…
9. What practical tips do you have for anybody interested in rowing an ocean or organizing some other kind of expedition?
Follow the links below to read the lessons I’ve learned over the years, based on my own trial and error, but I would like to emphasise that I am not a psychologist, sports scientist, nutritionist, boatbuilder or business guru. What works for me may not work for you. But you may find this information useful as a starting point.
10. What is your boat like?
An ocean rowboat has to be a self-sufficient survival pod as well as a means of transport, so although the means of movement is very simple (i.e. two oars) there is a lot more to it than that. Click here for more information.
11. What technology do you have on board?
Probably far too much, especially given that seawater and technology are not a happy combination. But it’s important to me to share my adventures with people ashore, so as well as the usual life-supporting technology I also have laptops, cameras, camcorders, and phones so I can send back photos, video and blogs to my website. Here are full details of my onboard technology.
12. Isn’t it dangerous?
To an extent – anything to do with the ocean is dangerous. But equally I could get on the London Underground and get blown up, or go to cross the street and get hit by a bus. You can’t wrap yourself in cotton wool if you want to really live life. And I do all I can to reduce the risks. And I seem to go into a different mindset when I am on the ocean. I am extra-vigilant, and more sensible and practical than on dry land. I’m very aware that when you’re on your own in the middle of an ocean, there are no second chances.
13. What books have had the most influence on your life?
I love books! They represent so many opportunities to stand on the shoulders of giants, learning from those who have gone before, or who have a different perspective on life. See the favourites section on my Bookshelf.
15. What have you learned from your adventures?
A lot! Click here to read my personal lessons learned, as published in the Sunday Times.
16. You used to be a management consultant. Why the change?
I’ve been fortunate enough to find out through personal experience that money and material possessions don’t make you happy. I used to think that they would, but instead found that the materialistic lifestyle left me feeling empty and unfulfilled.
I did an interesting exercise one day – I sat down and wrote two versions of my obituary. The first was the one I was heading for if I carried on in my present lifestyle, and the other was the one I dreamed of having. They were very different.
So it was time for a change. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and look back with regret on all the things I hadn’t done. It was time to stop dreaming, and start doing.