It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been preparing for an expedition, 2 years or 2 weeks, there is always five times as much to do in the last few days before departure than you realised. And the George Bass Expedition is true to form. On my first row, when I put my foot through the deck just a few days before we were about to leave and we had to re-lay part of it, I felt the same as I do today – on edge but fighting as hard as I could to get it sorted. I think we probably do this to ourselves on purpose as a subconcious way of building up our adrenaline levels so that we are totally buzzed, heads swivelling around from side to side, ready for the action. If you’re new to this sort of thing those first couple of days are so exciting you’re like a little jumping bean. It’s quite literally a dream come true. The older hands like me know how bloody aweful some of it is going to be and just how much hard work you have ahead of you so you know that you need an amped energy output to get past those first few days. So here we are, amped, primed, buzzed and itching to go.
But it’s never just down to us. Initially we thought we would have to delay because Marine Safety Victoria came back at the last minute and told us we needed a liferaft. I spent the best part of a day trying to find one, only to discover that nobody in Melbourne hires them out. It took me until yesterday to find someone on the other side of the country who would courier one down to us, but because of Australia Day (Thursday) being a public holiday, it wouldn’t have arrived until Friday. As the first 100% Australian ocean rowing crew doing an expedition in Australian waters it was important to us to leave on Australia Day. There is an intangible sense that in doing so we are doing our country proud. (I’ve been away for a long time but even I am starting to have a few Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi thoughts.) So we were all absolutely gutted that we would be delayed by even a day, especially when I’d informed the authorities in advance of our plans. But that wasn’t to be the end of the tale. Yesterday afternoon I recieved a call from Marine Safety to say that because our boat is under 7m we aren’t legally obliged to carry a liferaft. I explained that that was a relief because this is a solo boat with a short deck and no space to store one anywhere other than in a cabin so an axe would have to be taken to the hull if we ended up upside down and actually needing it! It was jolly nice of them to give us a bit of leeway. We’re somewhat of an oddity down here. This is the first time an ocean rowing boat has left Victorian waters and I’m sure the whole thing has left more than a few people scratching their heads.
And we were back on. Then I checked the weather forecast – 20-25ft southerlies predicted for Thursday. So I called it. Ben was in the workshop fitting the electrics and Clark hadn’t left Sydney yet so I rang them both and said that after the insane bipolar ‘would we leave, wouldn’t we leave’ moments we actually now wouldn’t be leaving on Thursday. We need to leave as the tide turns and at the moment the best time is looking like 4am on Saturday morning.
Clark arrives this morning and it feels like he’s already been with us because we’ve spoken to him every 15 minutes over the past few days. He’s bringing a treasure trove of kit with him, including bulging bags full of all our schmick new clothes from Zhik which will help us look more like a team and less like a rabble of wild monkeys, especially for our ABC interview today.
It’s been a tough week. Melbourne isn’t somewhere I know handy or boaty people so all favours have been called in from strangers and I don’t have my usual team around me. I’ve never been short of someone who can wield a drill, rig oars and sort out meal packs before. Ben is doing a superb job and together we’re muddling our way through it all. It’s been 5 years since I helped rig the lines on an ocean rowing boat so much time has been spent online looking at other boats and getting my head back around it. And my biggest fear – splicing, went away when I checked with Dad why we’d spliced our lines in ’07 and discovered he’d made me do it so it ‘looked nice’. No time for fancy pantsing around on this trip!
So we’re almost there and I can’t wait for the off. It’s ghastly out there but also incredibly rewarding. Bring on round 3.
If you want to see a few photos have a look at our Facebook page
Check out Margaret’s IV on the latest edition of Not the Footy Show, available as a podcast at http://rphmediapoint.org.au/podcasts/0000048720.mp3
I arrived in Melbourne on Thursday to be greeted by Ben grinning from ear to ear. Although we’ve been corresponding for a long time it was the first time we’d met face to face. Likewise, Clark and I haven’t met yet so roll on Wednesday when his merry face makes it’s way through those airport doors. He keeps calling us (20 times a day because there is so much to do) and his voice increases in pitch as he gets more and more excited. I knew enough about these guys to know that this was guaranteed to be one fun trip and I wasn’t wrong. As my friend pointed out one can put up with pretty much anything if you have the right team. But oh boy is there a lot of work to do before departure on Thursday. Ben and I are still fitting out the boat, we’ve been sorting out jobs for our support team, calling in favours from friends and strangers and working at a million miles an hour. So basically normal pre-expedition schenanigans!
Unfortunately Pete has laryngitis so has had to drop out which is really disappointing. Although I have to say that, after a chat with our weather genius Ben Keitch in Switzerland last night, I realise that not having fixed rendezvous points on some of the islands going to make it a bit easier to avoid ending up half mangled on a rock as I watch my last protein bar get swiftly sucked away by a roaring tide. I know the Bass is dangerous as all hell but chatting through it with Ben really bought those dangers home. And taking two people who are pretty new to ocean rowing means we can’t afford to take the same risks I would if it were my boat and I was with a really experienced crew. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of action no matter what route we take though. This is one of the most notorious stretches of water in the world.
Just wanted to send a massive shout out to Pat Langley and the guys at Zhik for kitting us out with so much amazing gear to keep us warm and dry. They helped me on my first row and it’s great to have them back onboard.
After 2 successful Atlantic crossings it’s finally time to row home so on January 26th (Australia Day) I will set off from Wilsons Promontory bound for my hometown of Hobart. I will be joined by fellow Aussie adventurers Clark Carter and Ben Turner on Ben’s ocean rowing boat, which is similar to the boat I rowed in the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race. We will also be accompanied by Peter Wells in his kayak as we cross the Bass Strait. We will rendezvous with Pete on islands in the Furneaux Group at the end of each day for a few hours rest. He will then leave the expedition on the northern coast of Tasmania and Ben, Clark and I will continue non-stop down the east coast, taking it in turns to row 24hrs a day until we reach Hobart.
We still need assistance procuring some of our provisions and equipment and can offer attractive sponsorship packages to businesses who are interested in working with us. We also need help with land support, including someone who is available from the 24th of January to the 5th of February to help drive gear down from Sydney, see us off and collect Pete in northern Tasmania. For further details please get in touch.
If you missed Ben’s interview on Weekend Today on Channel 9 yesterday you can catch me on Not the Footy Show – available to download as a podcast from Thursday onwards.
Thank you to everyone for their ongoing support and continued interest in my increasingly daring endeavors! I will be updating my website and Twitter regularly throughout the expedition. Check back soon for the more news.