Welcome! My name is Tommy Tippetts and this is my website covering my attempt to row the Atlantic Ocean, setting out in January 2012.
Below is my blog where you will be able to keep up to date with all areas of my preparation, from sponsors to securing a boat and all my training to prepare for such a challenge.
Please also take some time to look at why I am doing this row, raising money and awareness for mental health in this country and any small donation you can make will go a long way to improving lives of many people around the UK. Please click below to sponsor me on my row in aid of Mind. I am hoping to raise £25,000 for the charity and any contribution you can make, small or big, would be gratefully received.
Solo Atlantic Row 2011
Read Tommy's blog as he prepares to take on 'the World's toughest rowing race'
An interesting first week...
It has been 8 days since I set off from La Gomera at the start of the Talisker Whisky race and I must admit, I didn’t expect to be where I am 8 days on. It also seems much more like 8 weeks than 8 days. But, for all that has happened, I currently find myself sitting on the side of a small marina in the ‘Port’ of El Estaca on the island of El Hierro, currently without money, shoes or any respectable items of clothing (not that this is too much of a problem).
Before I describe the events of the last week I will say that things are looking up and although currently not making much progress towards Barbados, it is not all over and I am planning to be back under way at the turn of the year.
The start of the race was delayed for 24 hours due to strong wind conditions prevailing through and it was felt that with the weather turning calmer over the following few days, a 24 hour delay would be in everyone’s best interests. So on Monday 5thDecember 17 boats set out of San Sebastian harbour and started the long trip across to Port St. Charles, Barbados.
For me, I could not have got a better start. Moderate winds from the NE set me moving well over the first 6 hours. Boat felt good as did I, there was onslaught of sea sickness that created big problems in the initial days for teams, and for the time I was at sea I was not once ill, something to be said for solo rowers etc. It also wasn’t exactly benign conditions.
I had got down to the South of the island by nightfall and set about getting into my routine quickly, something that is important to do early. I got my head down (again something that some people really struggle with, I was sleeping really well at sea) and awoke to find the winds had shift SE and were pushing me backwards towards the South of Gomera. Not an ideal start, but something I would have to deal with during the trip. I got back on the oars and was able to row against the wind (and a .5 knot current against) and tried to then make a bit of progress.
By midday on day 2 (Tuesday) the E/ESE/SE winds had kicked in and were pushing me W/NW when off watch. I had the para anchor out and for the rest of the afternoon and would still drift West towards El Hierro.
These conditions continued for the next 2 days and chances of a proper routine being established quickly vanished. I ended up rowing from about 0400-1100 when the winds were the lightest, make up what I had lost and try and head South. For those of you following my route, you can see it wasn’t exactly plain sailing! It became hugely frustrating still being able to see Gomera to the North, and only by day 5 was I out of sight of land both at day and night.
Day 5 came in and the winds had dropped, the sea has a lot calmer and I was able to break out of the small area I had found myself in for the previous 3 days. I made good progress on Friday with no help from the conditions (although to me this seemed like bliss as it wasn’t wind/current against) and my aim was to get to the South of El Hierro before the strong NE’s kicked back in on Friday night. This would mean I could just run with the weather, rather than trying to fight it to go South to miss the island.
Friday night and I was set and ready for the big weather to really accelerate away.
I woke for my 0400 shift and started to make slow progress with little weather around to help. It was during this 3 hour shift that the weather built and by 0900 the NE’s were blowing 20-25 knots and the swell was rising to about 15ft. It was at this time that the problem on the boat was becoming noticeable. In the weather that we were experiencing, the only thing a rower can do is put the stern to wind and weather and go with it. This is where you will get the most miles and can reach over 10 knots surfing the big swells that you get. The problem I was facing was that in these conditions, by boat would not sit down wind and instead sit beam (side) on to the conditions. With the weather that was coming through, this was going to be a real problem as it is when the boat is beam on that it can be capsized (in most cases) For 24 hours straight I was trying absolutely everything to turn the boat stern into wind and face down the swell, but there seemed to be nothing I could do.
I spoke to Simon (Chalk, race duty officer) at around midday who offered some advice on getting the boat travelling forward, but none of his advice seemed to work. I also called one of the guys who rowed the boat last race and Charlie Pitcher, another solo rower, but none of the advice offered by these guys again seemed to work. At this point the weather was getting pretty big and a couple times there had been a danger of capsizing, so I was back on anchor, with bow to wind and all the weather hitting the bow and deck.
Saturday night was a long night. I found out later that the support boat had experienced gusts of over 35 knots . It was slow going moving things around the boat, trying to change the weight at each end to see it that would make a difference.
Simon had alerted the support boat of the difficulties I was in and arrived up at where I was about around 0630 Sunday morning, day 7. I had been through almost 24 hours without any sleep and hardly any food and was knackered. I wasn’t too far from the South of El Hierro island and with the wind/swell forecast to get stronger (a big low pressure system of the UK was sending 15m swells down this way) I took the decision to take a tow to the port than try and continue and risk getting lifted off a capsized boat which could well have set adrift. It was easily one of the most difficult decisions of my life by with the benefit of hindsight by all means the right one.
So this brings us to where I am now. Fortunately Woodvale still have a few cars down here with trailers, and I have someone coming across now to trailer the boat back to La Gomera.
I have spent the last 2 days speaking to everyone and anyone who has had anything to do with the boat and the common consensus is is that it is a weight issue more than anything else. What is quite likely is that being a boat built for pairs, it is just not heavy enough with just me in it and my kit. There is talk of centreboards and autohelms etc. It is also to do with the trim of the boat, where the weight is sitting. This obviously should well have been something I should have squared away, the problem is it is very difficult to train in winds of the strengths I was in as I would not have any way of getting back...this is the thing with ocean rowing, it is harder to train for it than it is to actually just go and head one way!
As I mentioned at the start, this is by no means the end. I am heading back to Gomera with the boat and will spend the next few weeks getting this issue of weight sorted out, and will know for sure if it is something more than weight that is the problem. There are a couple of boats leaving la Gomera in January, one is another Talisker entrant who had to pull out early, and with Woodvale’s work teams boat coming through in February, it is not going to be quiet out there.
It is early days with setting off in January, but I will know for certain by then if it is a problem I can solve, which hopefully it will be, and should be. Fingers crossed. Anyway 2 days ago I had it in my head I had another year to go before another attempt.
Charlie Pitcher, the guy who rowed JJ in 2009 in 52 days, offered some kind words. He said that in sailing it is not uncommon to have teams head out in big races with the wrong set-up on a boat and be forced back.
Will keep you up to date with my movements over the next few weeks, and how things are progressing.
Thank you to everyone for your messages and support, it is truly appreciated and has really helped over these last few days.
As I say, fingers crossed. I suppose this is all just another chapter in the book...