These guys are literally the best.

In all my years of doing “weird adventure racing stuff” I’ve never known a team like this one. I was an absolute novice when i ordered my boat from Angus two years ago, with Rannoch’s help I am now in the best possible shape to tackle an Atlantic crossing…solo.

The Boat

I first met Angus two years ago, over coffee in my office overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral in the city (i’ve since retired), where we ran through all of the options. Like a little boy in a sweetie shop i chose ALL the options, not really knowing what it was I was ordering! One thing I was sure about, and that was that I wanted to create THE BEST solo rowing boat I possibly could. Angus showed me the CAD/CAM drawings for their latest prototype design, the R25 SOLO with a new wet/dry cabin, and I am so glad that I went for that design. I cant imagine a more perfect rowing set up for a solo rower.

I received regular update calls and emails from Angus regarding the boat build; when it first came out of the mould, when the bulkheads were being fitted, when the electrics were being fitted etc. When the boat was actually seaworthy I had a personal tour by Mike, Gary and Charlie himself!

I brought the family down from Yorkshire to inspect the boat, and make some decisions regarding equipment and optional extras etc.This was the first time I had actually seen her, and I was blown away with the quality of the construction and also the obvious care and love that had gone into building her.

In February 2018, I received a call from Charlie, saying that we needed to name and launch her, so I drove down to Essex and we did just that. Sadly it was too stormy to get her out of the marina safely, so we quickly launched her, named her and took her back to Rannoch HQ

Boat upgrades and equipment

After all of my big training rows, I often thought of modifications and improvements that i could make, which I discussed with Angus, Charlie and Mike. One of the great things about Rannoch is that they are really positive about the feedback and each time, they invented and designed a system to deliver the improvement I was hoping for. Whether it was to design a bracket to hold an electric outboard, upgraded and continuous loop steering system, moving around bulkheads to suit my style, adding grab rails etc.

On three separate occasions I took the boat to Burnham-on-Crouch for modifications and improvements, they were always able to accommodate. Absolutely brilliant!

Lizzie has been incredibly patient and helpful, sourcing almost all of my loose equipment and providing guidance (and paperwork) from everything to flag etiquette to velcro storm straps and life raft etc.

Handover

You expect a decent handover when you have spent the amount of money that these boats cost new, and I wasn’t disappointed. I planned a  handover and a three day training row in March 2018 with Angus and Charlie.

We started gently with a “how to attach the rudder” and an intro of all of the equipment – I admit there was a lot to take on and some of it went over my head. I then spent the night in the boat in the Marina to “get used to her”, eating, sleeping etc., and just after first light Angus turned up and jumped on board.

 

I  took her out, guided by Angus and when it was safe we put down the oars and ran through how she handles, how to time the stroke, how the rudder works, how the auto helm works (i think I slept through that bit) etc. etc. I rowed up and down the estuary and then headed up river and we met Charlie for lunch. Over lunch we ran through the plan for the following two days; The following morning Angus would follow me in a tender and run through some technique refinements and equipment checks while i rowed. That afternoon I would row down to the estuary on my own, anchor up and then head out to sea on the tide, turn around and then head back to Burnham Marina on the tide. I did just that and what a wonderful experience it was.

 

 

Training

After the initial handover and two day basic training I drove my boat to Yorkshire where I kept her on my drive, taking her up to the Marina in Hartlepool every other week for a days rowing. Charlie mentioned to me that there was the possibility of doing a Rannoch organised training week in the mediterranean and I did this twice once in Palma in May and the second time in Portugal/western Spain. Anyone new to the sport I would recommend doing this. I had already spent about 80 hours in the boat at this point, but nonetheless my skill level went up 1000% after the Palma trip.

Palma

This was an Rannoch organised weeks training trip with myself for 2-3 days and a 4 man crew straight after me for another 2-3 days. I drove down through France and Spain with Angus and we stopped off in Barcelona to meet some friends who had parked their yacht there and treated us to Dinner. We arrived in Palma the following day and berthed my boat and I scrubbed her and got her ship-shape. The following day I deployed the very clever outboard motor mount that Mike had invented to navigate the miles of Marina at Palma and it worked perfectly; attached to a separate leisure battery.

We got about 500m from the Marina and Charlie jumped on board to show me proper ocean rowing technique. We rowed for a few hours and refined the use of the Autohelm and how to handle the wind at different angles on the bow and after about 4 hours we headed back into the Marina. The following day, Angus came on board and by this stage it was very very windy, perfect conditions to use the Para Anchor, this went well and we deployed this a few times to practice the drill.

That evening over dinner we planned a 3 day trip; The plan was  for me to row to the other end of the island the following day, then turn and head due North to Barcelona. This should take three days. A mistral (storm systems) heading the wrong way was due in, but I should miss it. The following morning I set off, Angus was in touch via the Garmin InReach he lent me and all went well for the first day. On the second day i lost comms with Angus when his handset went overboard and unfortunately the store system came in, days ahead of what was predicted. The following morning I was woken at 0200 with the boat being thrown around violently. I came out on deck to investigate and was immediately catapulted overboard. as the boat capsized. I got back in but the drogues and para anchor had been taken off my boat to the other boat for training, so I had no choice but to row solid for 48 hours. I arrived in Barcelona two days later and 8 pounds lighter. But I probably learned more in those few days than all of the other 250 hours put together In fact, I completely changed my sleep, nutrition and race strategy.

Solitude training

One of the things i was most nervous about ahead of my Atlantic row was the total isolation and solitude for months and how that might affect me mentally. I decided to take a long week (10 days) in a remote Scottish bothy by a loch. When I discussed my plan with Lizzie at Rannoch she thought is would be a great idea to rent a Rannoch Explorer class boat and then I could row in isolation. Genius!

Lizzie put me in touch with Nichola at Explorer and we sorted out a deal for the boat. The Explorer is amazing. light enough to put on a roof rack or light trailer and launch-able on your own. She really is the perfect solution for adventures like this. After a week of isolated training I no longer felt concerned about being on my own head.

Mission accomplished.

Galicia

During all of my training rows in the North Sea, and also the mediterranean, it was impossible to replicate the type of waves and rolling seas that I would experience in my Atlantic crossing. During one of my “boat upgrade” visits to Rannoch, I was discussing this with Charlie and he hatched a plan:

I would drive the boat from Yorkshire via Santander to Portosin. On Lizzie’s recommendation I contacted Royal Cub Nautico who allowed me to berth her for free. Charlie and Angus then flew out and meet me. We hired a RIB to tow WhiteRows offshore and spent two days practicing the drills that i still had concerns over, MOB, Para Anchor, and most importantly stroke placement in heavy seas and how to “surf” the waves in an ocean rowing boat. On the third day we took WhiteRows to the most westerly point of the Spanish coast and over lunch planned the next three day’s adventure.

Charlie and Angus headed home and the following morning I rowed offshore (c10nm) until I found the big rollers. Although very intimidating at first I quickly found a routine and practiced surfing for a few hours before turning south and I headed for my anchorage for the night at a nearby island which I reached around midnight.

The following two days I charted a course and headed for Vigo, further down the coast towards Portugal. By this time I had become a local celebrity and a number of local pleasure and fishing boats came out to meet and talk to me, offering me fish, wine, beer, and ahem..other stuff. I declined.

Rannoch are doing my weather routing during my crossing and during this row, we rehearsed and practised texting codes for wind direction, wave direction as well as proffered COG and SOG.

So all in all, I couldn’t have asked for more from Rannoch. Not only have they built for me arguably the best ocean rowing solo boat there is, but the after-sales support, training and advice I have received is second-to-none.