Just outside English Harbour, Antigua, the welcome begins.

15 March 2006

It’s been less than 48 hours since I arrived in Antigua, and my feet have barely touched the ground, and after all this time yearning to get my feet back on solid ground too.

Right now I feel like I’m dreaming and that I’m going to wake up and find that I’ve got yet another day of rowing to do, but maybe I’ll soon start to feel that this is the reality and it was the rowing that was a dream.

I still get occasional bouts of groundsway, but they’re becoming less frequent. I’ve also still got the driving rowing rhythm going through my head – the beat that helped me get through the final days of my row, a constant repetition of affirmative mantras in time with my oarstrokes. It worked well in the boat but on dry land it’s driving me crazy. It’s over, I keep telling my brain, you don’t have to row any more.

I’ve been on a constant high since I arrived in Antigua, overwhelmed by the warm hospitality of the people here, and flattered by the attention of media here and in the UK. There has been a constant stream of people wanting to come and shake my (still very sore) hand, and to congratulate me on my achievement.

If you didn’t see the photo of my arrival added belatedly to yesterday’s dispatch, check it out now. How big is that grin?! And it’s weird to see how skinny I look – like a smile on a stick. I was able to weigh myself yesterday – 102lb or 7st 4lb or about 46kg – so I’ve lost about 30lb or 14kg on the way across. The Atlantic Diet – effective, but a toughie.

I’ve been catching up on some of the emails that Mum received during what I’m calling my Space Oddity period – the three and a half weeks between my satphone dying and my arrival in Antigua. Clearly there was a lot of speculation about what was happening, both with my comms and with my erratic progress across the ocean. There was a lot going on, too much to put into one dispatch, but I’ll give a quick summary here.

17th Feb: satphone stops working. Suspect the connection between the handset and the antenna is shorting out. Peter Beardow at 7E had told me that ocean rower Dom Mee had this problem and they suggested he use a chocolate wrapper to fix it, but didn’t say what sort of chocolate wrapper (foil or paper?) or what to do with it. Attempt all kinds of creative things with both paper and foil but no success.

Initially rather pleased to have total peace and quiet and solitude, an opportunity to find out who I am when I’m not being someone’s daughter or friend or blogger, but as time wears on and the last miles prove to be fraught with problems, there are times when I wished I had at least access to weather and eddy information.

27th Feb: being pushed NE by eddy – ever further from Antigua

1st March: discover that I’d mis-plotted the location of finish line by 1?, so instead of having 197 nautical miles to go I still have nearly 250. Faintly depressing.

2nd March: make VHF contact with USS Pomeroy. Manage to get message to Mum and Woodvale to let them know that it’s only the satphone that’s died, not me.

4th – 6th March: at the mercy of wind and eddies, being pushed the wrong way. More yell therapy.

6th – 9thMarch: sea like a mirror, and hot, hot, hot. Rowing hard, feel like my brain is boiling in my skull. Ocean seems enormous, feel like I will never get to Antigua.

10th March: disaster. Had put out Sid the sea anchor to try and halt south drift. It doesn’t work, and when I try to retrieve him the tripline fails – for some reason it’s not deflating the parachute. Spend an hour hauling on the dead weight of a ton of seawater, tying a slipknot and securing it into a karabiner to preserve progress made. Get Sid within 20 feet of boat but now trying to pull upwards as well as across, strength failing. See passing ship and dash into cabin to get on VHF radio. While in cabin the tripline breaks altogether. More yell therapy. No way I can now retrieve Sid, as his main line is too thick to be secured into karabiner. During VHF contact asked the ship (the Boston) to summon Aurora.

11th March: stuck on Sid, waiting for Aurora. Finally have fantastic surfing conditions (albeit still pushing me south) but can’t go anywhere anyway. Frustration. Aurora had given ETA lunchtime. Spend afternoon issuing increasingly forlorn pleas on VHF trying to contact them. Decide to take matters into my own hands – set up safety line across roof of forward cabin by lassoing the bow cleat and resolve to cut Sid’s line first thing in the morning if still no sign of Aurora.

12th March: psyched up to go out across the cabin roof despite rough seas. Emerge from cabin to see Aurora nearby. I ask them to keep an eye on me and be ready to save me if safety line fails, then wait until first light and clamber out onto cabin roof, knife clenched between my teeth. Get halfway across then slide off curved roof into the sea. Safety line holds and I clamber back on. Succeed in cutting the line. Retreat to safety of the cockpit and start rowing.

13th March: up at 0400 to start rowing. By 0700 Antigua is in sight. Survive on caffeine and slurps of sugar syrup to fuel 10 hours of non-stop rowing to make it into English Harbour to an incredible welcome. I don’t stop grinning for about 24 hours. I’ve done it.

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