How to row across an ocean

How to row across an ocean 

Words: Mark Thomas

Stuck in a rowboat in the middle of the Atlantic? Great job, that means you’re halfway there…
Gavan Hennigan
Gavan Hennigan

Some things you wouldn’t choose to do. Say, rowing across the world’s second largest ocean. But you’re not extreme environment athlete Gavan Hennigan. On December 15, he set off to break the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge solo record, paddling from the Canary Island of La Gomera to the Caribbean Island of Antigua – a 5,000km trip with potential for hurricanes and 30m-high waves.

“I’m 100 per cent prepared to suffer,” Hennigan told us the week before, and he knows all about that. At age 21 he was suicidal and in rehab for substance addiction.

“Coming from such a dark place, I want to embrace the here and now. I want to be the fastest Irishman to ever cross the Atlantic.”
Gavan Hennigan

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1 Pace yourself

“I’ve worked out that I’ll need to do about 1.5 million strokes, but I can’t set off by counting them or I’ll be mentally exhausted. Instead, break the day into manageable chunks. Row for two hours, then do a job on the boat, be it navigation, communication, or checking on the solar panels. I’ve been training to do very low heart-rate stuff. I haven’t rowed over 125 beats per minute, so it’s very low impact and stress on the body.”

2 Don’t necessarily go in a straight line

“Have waypoints that you’re aiming for. I set targets of about 250 or 500 miles that I tick off along the way. Winds can push you in all directions. Sometimes it might be worth going with the wind in the wrong direction if you know it’ll push you the right way in a few days’ time. The sailing term for this is ‘velocity made good’.”

After 49 days and 5000km... #twac2016 #rowgavrow

A post shared by Gavan Hennigan (@soulogav) on

3 Stuff yourself

“I’ve put on an extra 10kg over the last six months and I’m aiming to eat 5,000 calories a day during the journey – which is the lower limit of what’s recommended. I have freeze-dried expedition meals and MCT oil, which is similar to coconut oil, but more potent. It’s odourless and tasteless, but calorie dense. A teaspoon on top of meals is an extra load of fat and around 300-400 calories.”

4 Get naked

“Wear shorts and you’ll get a lot of rubbing, because of the salt and the fact that you’re constantly wet. Calluses on your bum and your hands are a perpetual battle, so getting naked is the easiest way to go. I’ve also got a piece of sheepskin to sit on as it contains natural oils that are meant to be good for your skin.”

5 Hold on to your butt

“I’ve got a few buckets on board and a toilet seat to throw on top when I need to go. I’ve coined a little phrase for that called ‘bucket and chuck it’. Everything on the boat has to be tied on – including yourself – so you need lots of lanyards. It’s amazing how quickly a boat can get away from you. If you turn into the waves there’s a high chance it’ll capsize, so keep downwind or into the wind, not in-between. My boat is designed to self-right, the cabin serves as a massive air pocket, so I keep the hatch doors shut.”

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03 2017 The Red Bulletin

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