BL16 - Page 44

In March this year, former Royal Marine
Lee Spencer smashed the world record for
able-bodied solo rowing across the Atlantic,
despite having lost his right leg in an accident.
Here he describes how he dreamed of liver
and bacon as he battled the waves...
ou travel backwards when
you are rowing. The sea
was racing, the waves
pushing me westwards,
when a black wall of water
somewhere between 40 and 50 feet high
engulfed the horizon behind me. It was
coming my way – and fast – with white
crests forming at its peak. I was staring
straight at it, into the abyss.
The expletives that came to mind are
unprintable. I knew that waves like this
come in threes, the second bigger than
the first and the third bigger than the
second. I braced myself, remembering
that as long as I kept my craft, Hope,
at 90 degrees to the waves, I could ride
them. In theory! But my faith in theory
was fast diminishing as the last swell
rose up and bore down.
The belly of the wave pitchforked
Hope down into its trough and I felt a
backward somersault coming on. I was
at an angle of more than 45 degrees, and
my feet were far above my head. Then
the wave engulfed the boat. I did not
somersault, however, and emerged with
oars still lashed to the stanchions, me
still in place, and spare sculls still
bolted to the deck.
That, thank goodness, came near the
end. The sea was dangerous for much of
the crossing, with heavy easterly swells,
great for breaking Atlantic records but
lousy if you’re scared of waves. And
none too good if you want to prepare
a three-course dinner with wine. (More
of that later.) The middle section, where
I sat with the blades, was only a foot
above the water, which is ideal for
rowing, but means you are continually
soaked from both sides and the front.
One of the biggest chores was dealing
with the salt. You have to wipe yourself
down every four hours with wet wipes
to save your skin from cracking.
Hope is 7.5 metres long, flatbottomed and will surf down waves,
reaching up to 20 knots, though the
fastest speed I clocked was 15.2 knots
on a day when I covered 87 miles.
irst rule of solo navigation: Man
and boat must not part company.
So I clipped my rigger’s belt to the
deck, only taking it off in the cabin,
where I retreated after two hours of
rowing, rarely resting for more than an
hour. You can never really sleep because
you have to be vigilant at all times, so
deep exhaustion as well as fear crept in.
I served 24 years in the Marines, with
three tours of Afghanistan, and was a
volunteer for special undercover duties
for the last eight years. But I was always
part of a team, and that is comforting no

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