What is the Talisker Atlantic Challenge?
Each year in December the small port of San Sebastian de la Gomera, in the Canary Islands, becomes a hive of activity as the Talisker Atlantic Challenge descends on the island.
Over a hundred people cram into its narrow sun-baked streets, squares and marina. Race officials, team members and their families, and support teams are to be seen everywhere, alongside around 40 distinctive ocean-rowing boats. The streets resound with laughter and a dozen or more accents: Danish, English, German, American, Norwegian, French the list goes on.
The one thing that brings this disparate group together is the toughest endurance event on the planet; a 3000m race through December and January that takes the team from San Sebastian, La Gomera (28.0N, 17.1W) to Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour in Antigua (17.0N, 61.7W).
Following two frantic weeks at the start of December where the teams make final preparations for the row, or in one memorable case last year fix the multiple leaks in their boat with the help of most of their competitors, the teams hug their families and loved ones goodbye and line up on the start line.
One-by-one the boats are then called forward to the departure pontoon, for a final check by the race team before they are dispatched, fastest first. This generally means that boats with more crew (four, five or six) leave before the triples, pairs and solos.
The boats each chose their own route, but by far the most popular is to head south-west initially, in order to get out from behind the wind shadow cast by the Canaries.
From there, the teams turn to starboard (right) just before the Cape Verde islands, pick up the trade winds and run west-north-west across the big swell of the Atlantic.
Despite the time of year, the proximity to the equator makes it very warm, an average temperature in the high twenties makes for uncomfortable rowing conditions and slightly worse sleeping conditions, especially in the cramped airless cabins which frequently reach a humid 40 degrees.
The heat is punctuated by the squalls and storms which can easily see waves reach 40ft combined with driving rain and gusting winds that make rowing anywhere a challenge. In these conditions crews normally seek to hunker down in their cabins and sit out the washing machine like conditions.
Food, food... Glorious Food!!
Let’s jump straight into this! Its no secret that those four Nauti Buoys love their food, and when I say love I mean real love. Hector has been known to serenade his ingredients prior to cooking and Nick to have eaten himself into a food induced coma that lasted 3 days!
Those of you who have seen the previous race participants upon their return will have seen that most of them returned a little skinnier then they left. In fact the average participant looses between 10-15kg over the course of the race!! Talk about a fantastic result for a crash diet! Anyone fancy joining us as a fifth member?
To prevent such dramatic loses, TWAC rules require the team to take with them 60kcal per kg of body weight per day (well that’s a mouthful). With the buoys (minus Matt) likely to weigh in at 100kg by race day, the team will be packing 6000kcal per day!
Now, time to get serious. Even with highly calorific dehydrated meals, it would be difficult for us to consume such quantities of food.
Luckily, Matt our team Doctor has a bit of a passion for nutrition and has designed our diet plan.
Like most team, we will be getting between 2600-3000kcal from high calorie dehydrated meals which we will be rehydrating with some lovely boat purified water (more about this awesome piece of kit in another post).
We ll then get about 1000kcal from snacks such as chocolate bars and sweets.
So, that’s only 4000kcal... where are the other 2000 kcal coming from?
That’s where Matt’s degree (Medicine) and keen interest in nutrition is of immense use (and hopefully the only time it will be of use). Matt’s task was further complicated by the fact the space on the boat is restricted and it has to be lightweight. Any added weight would slow down the boat.
Here is a little quote from Matt about his way of thinking about the problem and how he solved it:
“The best way for us to take those extra 2000kcal, is in a way that is easily digestible and that doesn’t sit too long in the stomach so that we can still get the other 4000kcal from the meals.
On top of that, it needs to be palatable and varied so we don’t get bored of it.
Finally from a nutritional aspect, it needs to have all main micronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) in a ratio that will suit out expenditure.
If it can also contain vitamins, minerals and fibres like a proper meal it’s ideal.
From my experience at work and my research, i found that meal replacement in powdered forms fit all the criteria.”
The team has been very lucky and quickly found a sponsor for this exact sort of product -Jimmy Joy- who have been supporting us for nearly a year now and have provided us with meal replacement shakes throughout our training. This has been of great help for all the buoys, those shakes have often allowed them to ensure they kept their kcal up during the busy days where eating lunch at work was just not possible.
The race rules also state that we have take 20% of the food as “wet meal” (essentially meals that don’t require water to be added to).
These are essentially 12 days of emergency food in case our water maker stops functioning and we need to hand pump water or need to rely of our water ballast.
Meals have a bit less science to them, as the buoys don’t expect to tuck into them and have just chosen the best kcal:weight ratio.
So there you go! A quick breakdown of the menu that will be served 24/7 aboard Mrs Nelson by the Nautibuoys.
Now time to eat, all this writing has made me hungry!
Time for an update
We’ve been fairly quiet over the last few months, but it’s been a case of looking like a swan (quiet above water, very busy below water) as we have been focusing on developing our campaign.
We’ve bought our boat - the incredible Mrs Nelson rowed last year by the impressive Swiss Mocean team who crossed the Atlantic is just over 30 days. We’re hoping for an even faster crossing this December. However first there is a lot to do. Mrs Nelson is being refitted and surveyed to prepare her for this crossing. But what does that involve I hear you ask?
Well there’s the normal repairs for wear and tear.
Then the batteries need changing.
Our water maker needs to be serviced, put back in and tested.
The electronics and cabins need to be refreshed and importantly our navigation lights need moving forward from the aft to comply with new race rules. We also need to test our solar panels - having enough power will be vital.
All our seats need to be serviced to ensure we are running on new, smooth, fast bearings.
The liferaft and lifejackets need to be serviced and we need to purchase all the kit for the crossing - satellite phones, VHF, immersion suits, torches, knives, sunglasses, huge amounts of suncream, food… the list goes on.
Finally, but definitely not least Mrs Nelson deserves some new threads, or to be more accurate some new decals of the very nautiest variety.
Hopefully this has given you a small glimpse into what preparing the boat involves, but do check back soon as the next instalment will cover crew preparation.
Until then - stay Nauti!
An Interview with John Lee Dumas and EOFire - Let's Ignite!
Getting ready for the Big Row- 27th January 2018
With 3000 miles to cover, extreme weather conditions and isolation; training and preparation for the row is key to succeed. Yet even with that, there are no guarantees that an unexpected event will not cut your race short.
Over the next few blog posts, we will go into our preparation for the big row. The posts will cover our physical training, nutrition, RYA courses, sleep patterns, mental preparation and a lot more!!
Let’s start off with a brief introduction to our physical training tactics:
In recent years, we have seen a shift in the type of onshore training performed by the winning teams. Until a few years ago, the general consensus was to put on as much fat as possible before the race and spend hours on a rowing machine doing long continuous sessions. The idea behind this was to build up energy reserves (fat) to be used up during the race where even the 6,000kcal per day diet resulted in a 15-20kg weight loss in just over one month!!
Rowing for hours on end was thought to help get the muscles used to continues efficient movements.
In the 2016 and 2017 race, we have seen a very different approach to the training with muscle mass and functional fitness being prioritised. This has had a phenomenal effect, when combined with favourable weather, on the times taken. World records have been broken three years in a row from 40 days, 2 hours, 38 minutes in 2015 to a mere 29 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes!!
The rowers are still experiencing huge weight loss throughout the row, as their muscles are being used as energy. This is due to the 6000kcal which they are ingesting, not being sufficient to sustain their energy demands. However, more muscle means more power which means the extra weight is not “unnecessary” fat.
The Nauti Buoys are working with trainers from Crossfit Aldgate to formulate a rowing specific functional program. As part of the program, the Nauti Buoys will be required to perform heavy powerlifting, olympic lifting, gymnastic work and high intensity cardio training on the rowing machines with occasional long sessions.
All this will be divulged in future posts so stay tuned for future updates and Nauti Tips!
TWAC 17 - The race that had it all - 20th January 2018
Hello and welcome to the naughtiest, nicest bunch of buoys to ever attempt to row across the Atlantic!
Its been a heck of a month - Christmas, podcasting, New Year, lead sponsor coming on board! Safe to say we’re all a little bit better fed than we were a month ago, but are energised for a tough year ahead.
Having spent time in La Gomera to watch the start of this year’s TWAC, we’re under no illusion about how hard this year will be. Every team we spoke to said the same thing: raising funds and organising the million and one things required before undertaking a challenge of this scale is even harder than the rowing. Our number one priority remains fundraising the remaining amount needed to ensure we can pay for courses, race entry fees, food, equipment, insurance, shipping fees, transport, navigational assistant etc etc etc.
We’ve been hugely helped by IG joining us as the boat sponsor, which enables us to really focus on getting the best boat for our world record attempt - a Rannoch boat as they are clearly the fastest available. We thank IG for their support and are looking forward to attending events with their employees to explain a little more about our challenge.
We’ve also been mega lucky to record a podcast episode with the one and only JLD for EoFire. The energy that man brings after a full day of recording is incredible - we spent the next week calming down. Check it out on 11th February when it is published, especially as JLD is offering a free copy of either of his books when anyone joins the Nauti 250.
In between the mountains of food, endless rounds of drinks and catching up with family we’ve also started our oar sale and have launched our “Buy a Mile” page. However Christmas and being around family brought home how tough it will be when we’re alone in the middle of an ocean for Santa’s special day! That feeling was only increased watching this year’s race; the teams battling bad weather, broken boats and the inevitable blisters.
Talking of the race - its been an epic! A brutal battle for the lead between The Four Oarsman and Team Antigua for a four man record, and Mark “The Beast” destroying every previous solo record! Then Kung Fu Cha Cha smashed the female record and became the youngest women to row across the Atlantic, although the Rowegians gave them a run for their money. We have been glued to our Yellow Bricks race tracker - refreshing the page every four hours to see what had happened.
So what next? Time to eat even more and hit the gym - Big Paul has been setting the bar as he breaks new PBs every week so the intra-buoy competition is heating up. We also need to book our training courses and find a boat - more about that next time.
Until then stay Nauti and remember if in doubt, do it twice just to be sure!