I CAN SEE LAND!
As I begin this the time is 20.11 (boat time), its 23.11 in the United Kingdom and roughly 18.11 in Antigua. We have just passed under the 60nm marker and are rowing and hand steering currently holding 3.2 knots. I am in the bow cabin with the laptop safely under my arm to write the final blog. It’s a weird thought to know that this time tomorrow (fingers and toes crossed) our feet will be firmly on Antiguan Soil… but here it goes, you’ll be hearing from me all throughout the night.
The deck repeater no longer shows thousands of miles to our final waypoint but rather only 55 miles until we cross the finish line. Overwhelming does not quite cover it.
In the past few days we have felt every extreme emotion possible, we have swung from mega highs as we zoom along at 3.5 knots, to frustration and sadness as our auto helm finally lay to rest.
It’s strange because throughout the journey we unanimously agreed that “the last 500 miles will fly by” only for them to arrive, and they have felt the longest.
I cannot begin to describe to you the gut wrenching fear I have experienced knowing we are so so close, yet really so far and the fear that something might break, someone might hurt themselves or some freak accident will end the row- it has probably been the worst week of the whole journey, and I’m sure the others would agree.
Being forced to hand steer has turned out to be more enjoyable then we could have predicted. We have been fortunate that the weather and winds have been speeding Nelson to the final destination, so for the majority of time we can row 1 up whilst the partner hand steers, swopping half way through the shift. In some ways I prefer it, you have the control – your hand grasps the steering ropes and you pull in the direction you need to go. There’s no relying on a machine to do the job, instead we stand on deck, legs braced moving with the wind and the waves and the pull of the boat.
You take so much more on like this; you see more, hear more. I can hear the waves that come rolling in on the side, or the angle of the boat changing with the beam of sunlight or moonlight letting me know I need to correct my course. Truthfully our senses work better than the chart plotter which has a delay in recognising changes – this way we have been far more accurate.
I am still in somewhat disbelief that this journey will come to an end. This has been my life for more than two years, something that has taken up the majority of my headspace (and frankly not always in a healthy way) since my return from the 2013 attempt. I haven’t really allowed myself to dream that this would happen, that it could happen. In many ways the scenery never changes and so it seems impossible to comprehend that in just a few hours this will all be over. I wondered if it would feel different – the last 100 miles; would the water suddenly turn turquoise like the idyllic postcards of the Caribbean? Perhaps dolphins would start to magically spring out of the waves and allow us to swim with them. But no, if you plucked a scene from 400 miles in and swopped it with 60 miles to go, not a lot would be different. The sea is still a dark blue, the sun still burning hot on our backs and the waves still doing what they want, when they want.
It’s not the boat that has changed, nor the weather or the sea, if anything it’s the people inside.
00.21 Back again from another 2 hour rowing shift, this time we are 46nm from the finish line. I’m now off shift for 3 hours and meant to be sleeping but guess what?! I can’t.
We are currently racing to the finish line averaging around 3.5-4 knots an hour, at this rate we will be arriving into English Harbour mid-morning-ish – woah now, steady on! Is it weird that I want to slow down? This all feels a little bit fast and it’s happening too soon.
It’s the strangest thing; we have spent 40 days now pushing our bodies and minds to the limits, further then we thought was possible, all for this one moment.
We have dreamt, obsessed, cried about seeing family and friends for the first time, that first shower or clean bed sheets, yet faced with the reality that that is a mere 10-12 hours away I suddenly couldn’t think of anything worse.
You see life out here is simple, you have your goal (the finish line) and you know exactly what to do to get there. The work is hard, emotionally draining and beyond sleep deprived but the sense of achievement is immense and for the first time in all our lives we actually feel a tiny slice of being ‘proud’ of ourselves.
How on earth are we meant to go back to normal life? What in our normal, mundane day-to-day lives can give you the same feeling? Yes there are goals at work, bonuses, promotions etc. – but it’s not that same, it never can be.
Hmmmph my mind is getting all-philosophical in the early hours of the morning, but if I’m honest the Atlantic has a very special way for allowing you to reflect.
The stillness of the water at times, the night skies that are solely lit up by the stars we navigate by, or a gentle breeze on the sunset shift – these are all life reflection inducing moments – and they happen often.
Each of us has at some point shared our reflective moments and what this means for us moving forward. We have talked about our childhoods in depth, our parents and siblings, times we have been disappointed in ourselves or thought we could have handled a situation better, our love lives, current boyfriends, ex boyfriends and potential future boyfriends for some.
I can tell you about the ‘Hen and Gee’ dvd that is a compilation of funny moments featuring Gee and her younger brother Henry – captured on vhf (how old does that sound?) or the tales of Ginny Collins (Bella’s mum) and the adventurist life she has lived, or perhaps that Olivia’s favourite books as a young teenage girl were that of Jilly Cooper. Likewise they could tell you about me berating my younger brother Sam for not learning the Spice Girls dance routine ‘quick enough’, and Bella could probably repeat in length the ins and outs of my first date with my boyfriend Jamie – a day that I will never forget.
Above all else the row is incredibly humbling. Really what matters in life? At home we crave materialistic things; expensive makeup, hair salon appointments etc etc. But none of that seems to even matter out here. I can tell you the number one thing I think about for 20 hours of the day is my family and my friends. They are everything in our waking and sleeping thoughts, the one and only thing that at times has kept us all motivated and given us the will to push on.
How lucky we are to experience this, to feel so loved by many (we get forwarded your Facebook comments!) and to take part in such an incredible challenge. I’m so overwhelmed by the emotion of the row that I almost forget to mention that we are going to finish in second place- WHATTTTT? 2ND PLACE? Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could achieve that. Yes, we always wanted to do well, that is the whole ethos behind ‘Row Like A Girl’ to smash the perceptions of ‘like a girl’, and to make it mean amazing things – but even we, could never have predicted the outcome. I think about of Charity and the ‘Because I am a girl’ campaign and how in the final hours of the challenge it all seems so oddly aligned.
06.44 Back again for the final installation of Laurens rambling head thoughts – we are now 23nm from the finish, and in 3 miles we will put the call in to the Duty Officer and the finish procedures will begin to take place. We are, at our current speeds, 6 -7 hours away. Can we see Antigua yet? NO!! It’s so cloudy. We are willing the sun up and the clouds to give way to land. Woah Land, not seen that one in a while. It truly is a ‘mind blown’ moment thinking of the last time we saw land, other human beings, trees, mountains, concrete.
I can remember so vividly 40 days ago leaving the marina of La Gomera – has it really been 3000 miles? Have we really just rowed ourselves all that way and now we are in Antigua? I can’t get my head around it, none of us can…
Apparently the more hardship you experience with a person the greater the bond, the more pain, anguish you overcome together the stronger your friendship will be. What does that mean for us four? I don’t know yet, but right now I don’t know how it will feel to not see them for 24 hours a day. It’s been a very special experience, and without getting overly emotional (woops too late), I can’t really find the words to describe what I think and feel for Gee, Olivia and Bella.
07.33 Time to call the Duty Officer and tell them we are 20nm from the finish line. It’s here, the last 6 hours on the boat, the last time spent with these three amazing women. Am I ready for this? Probably not, but I can’t wait to have a sip of champagne so let’s go. I’ll let you know how it feels.
P.S. We can see land!!! 14m and counting.