Taking Dolly out for her first spin.
Well, that’s another milestone checked off the list! And what a milestone it was. Our first few days with Dolly on the water are done! In the days leading up to our first long weekend with her, the nervous excitement built. What if we didn’t enjoy it? What if we were all deathly seasick? What if after the first few minutes of rowing we thought – lawd, how are we going to do this for two hours on and two hours off for ~ 50 days…? (these thoughts don't ever really go away though!). But as soon as we made our way out of Burnham marina into open water, our worries blew away on the rather stiff breeze. The simplicity of blades in and blades out, powering our own way through the water, demystified the whole experience for us. With such a huge challenge, you can get caught up in the hundreds of elements that go into making the crossing happen. From raising the sponsorship to get to the start line, to life on the boat - understanding how to use your nav, getting to grips with the electrics, knowing the ins and outs of your water maker - what we actually need to do once we leave La Gomera is very simple. Be consistent. Keep rowing.
Day one - Friday
Day one of our first weekend aboard Dolly was a big one. After an early start in London, we arrived at Rannoch HQ at 8am to start Dolly’s transformation. The Atlantic Antics took such good care of her, all we need to do is make her our own. Hair-dryers in hand, we set to work on her extraOARdinary makeover; removing all her stickers and decorative decals to make way for our own partners, supporters and colours!
This is not as easy as it seems... Those stickers are stubborn. Built to survive an ocean crossing, they were not going easily. It was a battle we eventually won about two hours later – at the expense of the skin on our hands and a large proportion of our snacks. This was just in time for our friends at Rannoch to get Dolly hitched up and down to Burnham Yacht Harbour.
At the marina, we met up with Rob Hamilton. Rob took part in last year’s race as Atlantic Titan, completing the crossing solo in 53 days, racking up an impressive number of Reece’s bars consumed, kilos lost, and creepy hallucinations. Not only an Atlantic-crossing legend, but a new-found model for our wavy caps, Rob set about helping us prep Dolly for launch.
Once on the water and moored up, we began going through Dolly inch by inch, checking we knew where everything was stored, which hatch held what and running through our equipment lists. Rob gave us the luxury tour of the stern cabin, including the autohelm, electrics and nav.
Once we had confirmed our route, it was time to set off! With Kat on the rudder and Abby and Charlotte on the oars, we inched our way out of the marina and out into open water for the first time! Heading out to sea with the wind and tide felt like a breeze, reaching breakneck speeds of 5 Knots, it felt like maybe rowing an ocean wasn’t going to be too tough after all...
After heading down the Crouch to the mouth of the river Roach (such glamorous and exotic names for their waterways in Essex), we anchored up, with Abby practicing her bowline knots and anchor throwing-skills. Whilst on anchor it was time for lunch and seal spotting! We brought along a number of dehydrated meals to try and ranked them with a very vigorous ranking system (delish or not) to help us pack only the finest gourmet meals for the crossing. It's going to be hard enough as it is, need to make sure we have a decent dinner to look forward to each day at the very least! Once a seal was spotted and lunch was over, Rob retreated into the cabin to give us some privacy as we christened ‘the bucket’ and prepared for the row back.
Heading back against wind and tide was a different story. Our speed dropped down as did the light pickup we felt on the way out. A fair bit heavier (ourselves included after a good feed), it took us quite a while longer to get back in. As slack tide continued, we pulled into the marina about 4:30pm. Manoeuvring the boat back onto the jetty was not our most graceful moment, but luckily we won’t have to do any of that on the open seas! Once moored up safely, we cleaned off the anchor and the deck, and debriefed the day.
We also began to plan our row for Saturday, but with storms rolling in and wind gusts looking pretty spicy, we were advised not to take Dolly out. Whilst we definitely need experience of high seas and big winds before our crossing, not the best idea to risk wrecking Dolly on our first outing as a trio. With that in mind, we headed for a quick dinner in town and then back home to London to spend Saturday planning.
Day two - Saturday
After an unexpected night on dry land, we headed over to Abby’s garden to continue our planning. So much more goes into this challenge than the row itself. It’s a second job. Our work for our partners, continuing to drum up sponsorship as well as all our courses and learning in the lead up to the row take up just as much, if not more time, than rowing itself. We spent the afternoon together running through and checking the kit lists, medical lists, courses we had left to do as well as plans for upcoming fundraising events. Once that was done we had an early dinner and headed back down to Dolly for a night on board!
We arrived about 8pm, and set to work packing her up for the evening. Abby and Kat shared the more spacious bow cabin, while Charlotte was on her own in the stern. The night’s sleep wasn’t as bad as expected (the celebratory can of wine before bed probably helped). But you could feel every movement in the night - with trips off to the loo, or just a roll sending Dolly rocking. Luckily on the crossing we should get used to the rocking (here's hoping...) and we shouldn’t have to share cabins, with someone always on shift. Wine unfortunately will not be on the menu...
Day three - Sunday
Waking up to a sunny morning on the boat was the most incredible feeling! Firing up the jetboil for a cuppa, we had a chat about our planned outing for the day. With tides looking most favourable later on in the morning, we headed into town for a bacon butty. Once back and packed up, we rowed Dolly out into the Crouch about 11am. While not the storms of Saturday, the wind was pretty nippy and conditions were heavy as we headed out to sea. But the feeling of our first real outing as a trio was amazing, filling us with new-found confidence and excitement.
Once out, we meandered our way through sailing boats and windfoils to open water. We practiced our anchor drills again and tested some more meals for our lunch, while discussing upcoming plans for longer rows and the importance of a playlist filled with bangers. Once slack tide hit, we hauled anchor and headed back to the marina. Back in around 4pm, we gave Dolly her second scrub of the weekend, and packed up ready for home.
While not quite the weekend on Dolly we had planned, the time we spent on her was magical. From having Rob on board on day one showing us the ropes (literally), to taking her out as a three for the first time – especially after the year Kat has had - and getting a feel for how we’ll live together for up to 50 days, made the challenge feel so much more real. It brought home why we are doing this – the fame and the glory of course – but also to raise much-needed money for our incredible charities.
Please don’t stop helping us get to the start line, and giving us the opportunity to give back. We’re putting in the hours, the blood, sweat and skin off our hands to make this dream a reality. Thank you all so much and keep your eyes peeled for more updates coming soon!