Posted by: Helena Smalman-Smith | February 19, 2012

The arrival

R – Sunday morning.

Now mostly recovered and back to normality, it all does seem to feel like a bad dream, horrible cliche that that is. As I write this, about 18 hrs after getting out of the boat, the horrendous waves, the fear, the feeling of being trapped, the heat, the boredom, the worries, the pain and the discomfort are all forgotten. All I remember now is the fantastically easy last couple of days and the euphoria of the arrival. I can see now why so many ocean rowers tell us how great the whole experience is, often do it again, and encourage others to try. No, no, no – do not let either of us think about doing this again….”if you ever see me in a boat again, you have permission to shoot me” as the great Sir Steve said. BUT we are very keen to get back to normal civilised river rowing, which will feel so strange. My 14 kg single scull might feel odd now I have got so used to 1000kg and I suspect I will be very frightened of the balance and might even fall in!

On our final night at sea we did quite a lot of rowing and also got pushed a long way even when trying to sleep. Conditions were so perfect for the last 24hrs at sea that the sea current and wind were pushing us rapidly down exactly the line that our GPS showed towards the offical finish line and making it so easy – except that we arrived so much earlier than everyone on land was expecting us. The support yacht only found us in the last mile – which, like the first mile all those weeks before, was done rowing together at a very lively rate exhibiting our fine rowing skill. If only all the bit in between had been so easy. It was just unbelievable, after all our navigation problems and fears of ending up in Florida, that we could get ourselves to Barbados, let alone almost exactly hit the centre point of a mile-wide offical finish line from a starting point 3000miles away.

A great suprise was to see Lisa, our great friend and fantastic co-ordinator of information flow during our time at sea, on the yacht at the finish – with her great camera too, the result of which is that you can already see pictures on our website of our last few strokes. Mostly out of sheer laziness, and as we had not much earlier expected to arrive at dusk, we accepted a tow for thr 8 miles from the finish to Port St.Charles. This turned out to be a fantastic decision, as it meant that we could arrive at the Yacht Club before it got taken over by wedding, and so be able to have a proper arrival celebration. And so it was. My mother, in her late seventies, had made the most exotic trip of her life to come a meet us, accompanied by Helena’s stepmother Elisabeth (who is rather more used to the Carribean), which has just been so wonderful.

Amazingly, getting back to people, land, showers, toilets etc seemed to much easier to adjust to than expected on the days when I had felt like a forgotten long shipwrecked near corpse floating in a tiny coffin. Admittedly, I wobbled drunkenly for a couple of hours, had a bizarre ear problem, and I was vague and unable to cope with decisions and having to be interviewed and congratulated by everyone immediately upon getting onto land. Gemma Campbell (Woodvale organiser) was, as always, just fantastic, moving us (literally, as we stepped off the boat) from photo shoot to interview to immigration office to food to bar, all far too quickly for me to cope but with all with patience and tact. Once finally allowed to get to a hotel, to shower and change I felt pretty normal again – I even shaved off the beard before dinner last night as it was a bit of a messy thing with too many grey hairs. Even going to bed, eventually, felt really wonderful but yet not that strange. However, waking up only a few hours later and trying to walk to the loo, the floor swayed all over the place and the walls tried to hit me. Having so wanted so badly, for so long, a proper bed and cool air to allow a proper sleep, I can’t. I’m up long before dawn craving a real cup of tea and reading some of the newspaper cuttings my mum had brought over for me.

Weight loss? We found some scales at the hotel… Helena seems only to have lost a few kilos, but I have lost over 10kg. (Yes, lwt again, 70kg, but to my suprise not the 67kg I got down to to race about 14 years ago..). Metabolism is an odd thing – not just as H was barely eating at sea whilst I was at least happy eating when I could – but also that we have lost a lot of muscle that was not required, rather than the middle age flab around our hips.

Although we are the last crew from the official race to arrive, by quite a long way (something we are not used to in “normal” rowing), our thoughts and hopes are on some others still to cross and those who did not complete. Of the pairs that might have been a similar speed to us on early evidence but got recovered back to land, and of Tommy the solo rower who might have been company for us and who is now doing well having restarted a month ago (being solo must be so scarily lonely, but having other boats in a “race” might have helped – and he no longer has that). And of Simon Chalk and the Titan crew who are about to set off on a record attempt – we wish them all the best conditions – see



  1. Huge huge well done! What an amazing adventure – I am absolutely in awe. Enjoy the recovery and safe trip home.

  2. What a relief!

    I am so glad for you.


  3. My parents could talk about little but this post, which we’d missed in transit, when they met us at Edinburgh Airport last night, and had it waiting, printed out, for us as soon as we got to their flat, not long before midnight. It is, as they implied, eloquent and evocative, and a pleasure to read a longer piece from R (I know H will not take offense!), but what impressed us all the most is your honesty. It made me think that I should not have deleted the last sentence I had originally written in our FB Congratulations post, which was along the lines of “But the best thing of all is to know that you are both safe”. I deleted it because it made it sound as if we have spent the last 2.5 months biting our nails and wishing you weren’t out there. (Possibly true in my parents’ case!) Nothing could be further from the truth – we were willing you to succeed on a daily basis and are still irrationally bursting with pride and emotion at your achievement, but actually, knowing you are both safe, relatively healthy and back on dry land is the best bit of all. I had a funny feeling sleeping through the night would not come easily!

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