Posted by: Helena Smalman-Smith | October 4, 2011

Aberdeen Angus?

Since Helena is taking on the role of rower for this trip, instead of occupying the coxing seat where she is usually to be found in rowing boats, we took a late-ish decision to have an electronic autohelm fitted. The big risk with these, of course, is that we won’t have enough power to use it, as the water maker gets first call on what electricity there is. But at least some of the time we should have enough for both.

So, it was with great excitement that we set off for another 24 hour row from Christchurch harbour out along the coast on Saturday. We knew that we needed to calibrate the autohelm, and after a while (and with a helpful text from Chris Martin, Atlantic and Pacific rower who we’re very lucky to have as part of our land team), we figured out enough to start the process. After a frustrating hour or so, we disconnected it for the night and resorted to manual/foot steering during the hours of darkness during which revelation struck Helena about where we’d been going wrong. So at first light, after a nourishing breakfast of Chunky Kitkats , we started calibrating again, and everything worked like the book said it would. Great! We set off rowing in a straight line, and then gingerly pressed the Auto button to switch it on. Within 5 seconds, it slammed the rudder hard over, turned the boat right round, and then sat bleeping pitifully to indicate that it couldn’t maintain its course. To cut a long story short we rowed back into harbour using manual steering again.

Now, at this point, you need to understand that ocean rowers are legendary for anthropomorphising objects and non-human beings. In other words, they give names to everything from fish to sea anchors. So you’ll understand what we mean when we tell you that by now we were agreed that Angus (the Autohelm) was quite the worst cox either of us had ever come across, and we have met several truly dreadful ones in our time.

But we hope that all will be well in the end – after a short contemplation, Cris Rossiter, at the boatyard which fitted it pronounced that it sounded like Angus needs to reverse his operating sense. Quite so. So we’re hoping to head off to Bewl Water in Kent at the weekend to row round in more circles and sort Angus out. So that when we head out of La Gomera in the Canaries, he’ll help us steer a straight course towards the Azores, rather than back towards Aberdeen.

The photo below shows Helena using her all-important improvisation skills – when you’re lacking a key piece of kit at sea, you have to be creative! (For the non-rowers amongst our readers, do post a Comment if you can work out what we’re talking about.)


  1. Interesting mittens!

    • Alice, you got it! Socks work just fine as improvised rowing gloves.

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