48 hours with Dolly Parton
Atlantic Campaigns (the race organisers) stipulate that we have to have 120 practice hours - 24 of those must be in darkness and 72 in the open ocean. Now that we can get out on the water, we're racking up as many of those hours possible with the hope that we'll be well over 120 by the time Dolly Parton is shipped in November (we're on 76 so far). We've just spent 5 days training in Burnham split into two different training rows. Thursday saw us on the oars for just over 8 hours. It takes roughly 2 hours to reach the mouth of the river (tide and wind dependent) and another couple to reach the wind farm that's just off the coast. Our aim for this outing was to get to the wind farm - previous outings had seen us get closer and closer and so we were happy to finally be able to anchor close by!
On Friday afternoon we planned our passage for a 48 hour row starting at 8pm that evening. It meant reminding ourselves of everything we'd learnt on our nav courses with Dawn in February. Tide times, wind speed and direction, darkness hours, depths that were suitable anchor spots, shift patterns etc. all needed to be taken into consideration - slightly more taxing on the mind than Bronze DofE it has to be said. Dawn checked through our final plan with us and we were good to go!
The first shift saw an incredible sunset, of which the photos do not do it justice. We worked in 2 hour shifts together as a team: two people rowed for two hours whilst one steered before anchoring for the next two for food/water/sleep/toilet breaks (the bucket becomes a real loo with a view once you're out of the river).
We then got into a really good rhythm as a team - spending more and more time on the boat means we're getting better at everything, whether that's moving around Dolly with our harnesses on and in rocky seas; cooking food; keeping each other amused with terrible chat; or making sure our transitions and anchor drills are slick.
Friday night and Saturday daytime remained relatively calm in terms of wind and waves...Saturday night is where it got exciting! We came off anchor at 8pm and it felt as though Dawn had flicked a switch on land just to test us a little bit. The wind and therefore the waves picked up, as well as rain. The next three hours were a bit of a battle against the waves but it was great training and definitely needed - we want to get to the start line as prepared as possible and flat seas won't do that! We than anchored for 6 hours to wait for the tide to turn. The seasickness definitely kicked in here with all of us feeling quite queasy - Hannah's chilli con carne was never to be seen again overboard but after a couple of hours the feelings had settled and we slept surprisingly well, especially considering the water is very loud against the cabins (think tumble dryer on a fast spin).
Sunday morning saw us rowing for 6 hours with the tide to get as close to the mouth of the river once again before anchoring and another couple of 2 hour shifts to get us back to the marina for a well deserved shower and trip to Tesco.
It was the best 48 hour row we could've asked for - well planned and executed with a great mix of weather and conditions to test us. 10/10 would do it again (lucky that, eh).