Oliver Bailey – final blog: A philosophical review of our challenge and a big thanks for all our support!
What a wild ride! Without tempting fate and incurring the wrath of Venezuelan pirates at the ultimate denouement, this voyage has always felt high risk, but never beyond that of an organised rescue. We’re nearly at the finish line, so It’s time for a final blog and comment on our expedition.
Apart from a recent and extraordinary challenge that saw American “the iron cowboy” triathlete complete 50 triathlons in 50 days consecutively – a truly astounding accomplishment – rowing an ocean is apparently the de facto endurance challenge, 12 hours of cardio activity for 50 days. There are shorter, more intense challenges such as the Marathon Des Sables, Spartathlon and Chamonix 4000 which are gruelling long distance slogs over varying terrain and elevation that all deserve honourable mentions but these aren’t really comparable with the unpalatable mix of components ocean rowing delivers. What have we learnt? Well, despite our ever increasing list of ailments as we near the end of the journey, our bodies continue to astound us. They are a marvel of engineering purpose. The body’s ability to adapt by fine tuning it’s processes to suit environment and deliver the best possible chance of survival (even if that means some temporary functional collateral damage) lays testament to the beauty of human and animal kingdom evolution. To quote the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurrasic Park “nature finds a way” – that is, life goes on and nature perpetuates. Ocean rowing illustrates the body’s adaptability and conditioning very well; none of us are achey or physically tired from rowing, the aches passed on day four and now 12 hours of pulling at the oars is the norm – like taking a brisk stroll all day. We’ve had big problems with contact points that have turned septic but with the help of antibiotics and fungicides our wounds and rashes are healing nicely and the damage inflicted on our hands and feet has faded to nothing. Looking at our hands, you’d never guess we’d taken a million oar strokes. Our nails are exhibiting subtle signs of nail death perhaps due to slight kidney malfunction from dehydration and or higher exposure to salt water. The body will shut down non essential systems or drags on energy or nutrients to conserve areas of concern, starting with nails. You have to admire the blind watchmaker, evolution. We are survival machines!
The philosopher and metaphysicist Friedrich Nietzsche, once said that reality has no intrinsic meaning, other than that which we as humans, apply to it. We are inherently curious creatures and create our own sense of wonder through science and the humanities; our journey through the natural world has long been the foundation for the arts. Some of our finest literature has examined man’s tricky relationship with nature; Byron, Shelley, Kipling, Conrad and Mellville etc. Byron in particular understood physical challenges of which he attempted a few amongst his travels, including swimming the Aegean straits near Cannakle in Turkey. So exploration, challenges and adventure are very much part of the human condition. We undertake them because we can and because we should. Proving to ourselves and to others what is possible. How far can our courage take us? How many mental barriers can we break through? These and many other questions are answered throughout literature, in the news and online on a daily basis. We are constantly progressing, aiming to know more and be more. Our culture enriches nature and adds sense and feeling to another wise sterile world; our sense of aesthetics turns an ocean of liquid water on an unremarkable rocky planet under the glare of an unremarkable star into a scene of vivid beauty when we lay witness to it as Mariners – a wild sea at sunrise a thousand miles off the African coast, a full moon reflected off the surface of rolling swell as a warm breeze from a now distant continent rushes over our little boat westward toward our final destination in the Americas – this is why we explore, for these moments. In reaching out for remote areas or harsh environments, we conquer them and take a step closer to a harmony with nature.
I would like to think myself and the other Team Essence members have contributed a small nugget of progress to file under “human endurance challenges”. I won’t do historic explorers an injustice by likening our achievement to their first ascents of the great peaks or reaching the poles or crossing the north atlantic in a dory in the late 1800s with a tin of biscuits and a bag of tea leafs – these were brave and monumental feats; but we have added a little something to a world that now seems so small and exhausted by ease of travel and communication. We have crossed an ocean using manpower only, via a passage that no vessel our size, has ever voyaged along before. We are five normal men, five amateurs – all experiencing the same hopes and fears along our journey as anyone following our story would in our situation. If we can go a step further and inspire or encourage others to attempt their own challenges of any scale, then we have succeeded.
I suppose this is the crux of my final blog – we have proven that with enough time, hard work and planning – this kind of victory isn’t beyond anyone. We are all capable of surprising ourselves with our versatility. As mentioned previously, we are all plucky survivalists, it’s in our genes. So if this row has taught me anything, its to say yes to stuff that scares me, because the satisfaction of overcoming it far outweighs not doing it. I will strive to do more and see more. At the end of my life I don’t imagine I will look back fondly at say, my swashbuckling career in finance, but I will cherish the time I took several months away from it to row across the Atlantic Ocean – this is a memory that matters and has given a little more meaning to my life and I am grateful to have accomplished it …and for such a worthwhile cause.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone for the support they have shown myself and the team before and during our journey. All of your thoughts and comments have spurred us on and given us comfort and laughter, during difficult times. Thanks to Del Ashley and the team at Inmarsat for allowing such a high degree of communication between us and everyone on land. On a personal level I would like to thank Matt Bennett and his company Acorn Group for inspiring and supporting us on the challenge, without him this wouldn’t have been possible. I would like to thank our support team in the UK and Trinidad for their tireless work on all of operational aspects including satcom, navigation, weather reporting, social media and marketing…so Jade, Silver Fox and Jules, a big thanks. Finally I would like to thank my girlfriend Francesca and foot nurse, for her massive input and time into this project and for all the emotional support she’s delivered during my periods of doubt.
I feel another challenge coming on…