BL16 - Page 45

went swimmingly until the solarpowered navigational equipment
shorted after becoming waterlogged. As
I was trying to repair it I felt an urgent
call of nature, which was the onset of
gastroenteritis. I had to navigate 600
miles to Gran Canaria using a chart,
a hand-held GPS and a compass. Not
easy when having to relieve myself over
the side every few minutes. A pack of
food must have got contaminated.
I lost five days in the Canaries getting
the navigation fixed, knowing that a
Dutch rower, Ralph Tuijn, was setting
out from Portugal for a world record
attempt. I set off at a furious pace and
hit “the wall” after six weeks. One
minute I was fine and the next I had no
energy. The last three weeks were the
hardest of my life, physically and
mentally. Thank heaven for the sat
phone. Talking to my wife Claire, and
to my friend, Leven Brown, the rower
and adventurer, was great. Tuijn quit
when he reached the Canaries.
Military rationpacks of wet food
soon acquired
Michelin status
matter how hairy the circumstances.
Here, in the wide-open hostile ocean,
you are utterly alone, and weather is the
mother of all enemies.
Food was part of my coping strategy.
I’d listen to podcasts and music while
preparing meals in my head. I rationed
6,000 calories a day for 90 days, but was
burning 8,000 to 12,000. Just as well
that I had set off fat, fit and strong
because I finished three stone lighter
and weak as a kitten!
Breakfast was typically freeze-dried
porridge and fruit or granola. Lunch
would also be freeze-dried delights,
such as potatoes, peppers and scrambled
eggs. For a treat, I added chorizo to the
mix on Wednesdays and Saturdays,
which were also when I changed my
underwear. These twice-weekly treat
days were great morale boosters.
Daytime was punctuated with snack
packs of sweets, protein bars and
biltong. The evening meal might be
a carbonara, cooked on a jetboil stove.
This was one of the more dangerous
procedures, as one cup of scalding water
would have spelled the end of the
whole thing. My rations were like posh
Pot Noodle, and they were jolly good in
their way, but after a while you do start
to think about the real thing.
Curiously, I started fantasising about
liver and bacon, which in reality is not
my favourite meal. I became so obsessed
that back in London I went to Langan’s
Brasserie to scratch the itch. It was bliss.
My “wine cellar” comprised a bottle
of whisky, which I never touched for
fear of losing concentration. But the
military ration-packs of wet food, soon
acquired Michelin-star status, as did
a stash of oranges and tinned fruit.
Having one leg means that I was very
unstable walking about the boat, so I
had to shuffle about on my bottom.
Also, about 70 per cent of the power
generated from rowing comes from the
legs, so I had to compensate with my
upper body.
The first five days out of Portugal
t one point I was followed by
a sperm whale and her calf.
They came right up to the boat,
then dived underneath me. I could have
touched them. There were jumping
dorado, turtles, a huge 20-metre whale,
and I was frequently trailed by sharks.
If I’d been quicker, I could have eaten
the flying fish that whacked my head.
In 2015 I rowed the Atlantic with
three other disabled former servicemen.
We only had three legs between us. That
helped me come to terms with the
amputation. I realised that I was still the
same person I was before the accident,
which happened when I went to the aid
of someone who had crashed on the M3.
I was hit by flying debris when another
car hit the one blocking the fast lane.
As a man who had defined himself
through physicality, the accident was
devastating, but I found myself and am
ready for another challenge. Maybe
kayaking the Amazon?
Lee “The Rowing Marine” Spencer
completed his voyage in 60 days on
11 March 2019, smashing the 2002
world record by 36 days. He is the first
disabled person to cross the Atlantic
unsupported. He has raised £90,000 for
The Endeavour Fund and the Royal
Marines Charity. Support him at uk.

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