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I rowed across the Atlanitc AMA!

Jun 11th 2017 by caitalexander • 80 Questions • 2085 Points

In December of 2015 I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean with a friend from college. It took us 58 days 5 hours and 6 minutes. All questions are welcome! -Also, apparently I can't spell. Sorry for the title.

Me Proof and More proof YouTube Imgur1 Imgur2

Q:

Yes hello.

What the fuck?

A:

Hello.

Not sure how to respond. Is it because you think I'm crazy?


Q:

Maybe I should rephrase.

Why the fuck?

A:

Better! I actually watched a youtube video about four guys that did it. It was so inspiring and looked like an amazing adventure. I just decided then and there and I wanted to do it!


Q:

Thank you! Follow up question...

How do I find joy in anything?

A:

My advice: get a dog..or a cat. Coming home to my dog being so excited to see me is the only thing that gets me through the work week!


Q:

I don't know you, but I love you. Dogs are the best!

A:

I agree! Check out my pup: http://imgur.com/a/FWyDr

She's the best!


Q:

You should check out dogspotting society on Facebook. Your pup would be a hit! :)

A:

Awesome! I will look into it!


Q:

How hard was adjusting to the 9-5 grind after that?

A:

I am still trying to adjust! Most days I sit and stare out my office window thinking about the ocean...


Q:

Well I hope you finish adjusting soon, and figure out how to make it easier after your next 4 voyages. :)

A:

Thank you!


Q:

Yeah, I'm not clicking on any YouTube links in this thread. I have to work in the morning and have a family that depends on me.

A:

Probably for the best!


Q:

What do you do when a hurricane hits?

Edit: Nevermind someone asked the same question, I read your response to them :)

A:

Thanks for the question! It's a common one. Luckily the tropical storm that hit us waited to turn into a hurricane until after it passed!


Q:

What is the night sky like in the middle of the ocean where there is no light pollution?

A:

It is absolutely the most amazing thing you can ever see. The stars were so bright and numerous that I would just stare until my neck started to hurt. We also rowed through bio-luminescent plankton which was mindbogglingly beautiful.


Q:

Can you tell us more about the plankton? Sounds hella interesting.

A:

Kind of a funny story.. both George and I had seen this "glowing stuff" in the water for a couple nights but both of us thought we were just losing our minds. Finally one of us said something. It was so cool though! When we would take a stroke and the water ran off our oars it looked like little gems falling down. Then the oars would make the water swirl and a huge cloud of the blue/green would come up. I tried so hard to get it on camera but it didn't work.


Q:

How far off the shore would you say the sky is without light pollution? I've always wanted to do this although I'll never own my own boat. I imagine it was even more breathtaking during the new moon.

A:

Hmm.. I'm not sure about that one.. We rowed for about 2 days before we finally lost site of land.


Q:

I crossed the Atlantic a few times in the Navy on a surface ship. Even with the little bit of light pollution from the ship, the night sky was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. So many stars visible that it's almost too much to comprehend.

A:

Exactly! It's so hard to explain. I've also been to some really remote wilderness areas but this was a whole different level.


Q:

I was in the Atlantic on a submarine. Very few lights. The way I describe it is there were so many stars they actually looked close. Like a ceiling that's only 20 feet up. Almost as if you could jump up and punch your hand through it. I'll never forget it and hope to repeat. I have plans to move onto a catamaran. Do you have youtube videos up? I'd love to watch them!

A:

That is a great way to describe it! I would love to have a sailboat some day for my house. Yes I do! Here is the link to my page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH-eItC2NRHMNyS4X2_Jq0w


Q:

How did you poop?

A:

In a bucket. It wasn't the most fun but it worked!


Q:

How heavy did that bucket get?

A:

Haha we emptied it after each poo.


Q:

Did you have any memorable moments encountering wildlife?

A:

We saw a bunch of fish that I had no idea what they were! We also saw some whales. The first time we saw a whale we rowed in circles for half a day trying to follow it and get a picture.


Q:

Sounds like an amazing experience. After reading about the hurricane I'm glad to hear y'all made it out alright!

A:

Thank you! It really was. I wish I could have had a camera on my head the entire time so I could remember everything.


Q:

GoPro and go again?

A:

That's the plan! Just have to get some sponsors on board.


Q:

If there's ever a time for /r/corporate to do good...

Here's an opportunity

A:

A girl can dream!


Q:

Probably pelagic fish like Mahi and Tuna

A:

I tried to look them up when we got back. I think definitely some tuna!


Q:

How on Earth do you tell if you move from one place to the next if you're surrounded by nothing but water

A:

GPS!


Q:

Two questions/comments:

 ***Background: I was a college  Big Ten Club level rower from a Big Ten school and farming state just like you 

1) What the hell were your hands like after two months of that nonsense? (Bonus points for photos). Aside from that, biggest health limitations or discomfort?

2) I was interested in opening your link and seeing you were from Luverne. I have a good friend I went to college with from NW Iowa who ended up in Luverne. Small town city I haven't heard of in a long time; if you need a tax lawyer for these sponsorship deals I can gladly hook you up.

A:
  1. Our hands were surprisingly ok! I think we rowed enough on the ergs that we had good calluses. They did have a lot of dead skin and were very sore but no blisters at least! There is a picture of my hands in the Video Diary video!
  2. That's awesome! I love how it is such a small world. I will definitely keep that in mind as I work toward more sponsors. Thank you!

Q:

You mentioned rowing through a hurricane..

How does one even do that? How do you manage yo keep a rowboat upright through a hurricane or tropical storm?

A:

When we found out the storm was coming we tried to row as far south as possible to miss the worst of it. Once the wind was strong enough in the wrong direction that we were not making any progress we deployed our sea anchor. A sea anchor, or para anchor, is basically a parachute with a hole in the top. You put it out in the water and it hovers ~50-75 ft away from you below the surface. It keeps you perpendicular with the waves so you are less likely to roll and it also slows down your drift. Once we did that we hunkered down in the cabins until the storm passed!


Q:

This is unbelievable. How confident were you in the boat? Was it tested enough for situations like that? Good lord.

A:

I loved our boat! I never once felt unsafe. The company that built her did an amazing job. We didn't have a single equipment problem on the entire journey which is basically unheard of. Before the race the boat had to be flipped over in the water to make sure it was water tight and also to make sure that it self righted.


Q:

That is truly amazing. Amazing accomplishment. Congrats.

A:

Thank you! If you are interested there is an amazing documentary on Netflix called Losing Sight of Shore. It's not me..but it is about 4 amazing girls that row the pacific ocean.


Q:

Holy cow the Pacific is massive and anything but pacific. Also how did you get food out there?

A:

We had to bring all of our food with us! 70 days worth.


Q:

Holy cow that's a lot of food! Also serious props to you, that is no small feat and you raised money for charity. You are some pretty cool folks

A:

Thank you!


Q:

Thanks for the reply! I get nervous driving through storms on the highway, I can't imagine doing what y'all did

A:

I think I mostly slept through the storm! It was about the second week of rowing and we were so exhausted. It ended up being a nice break!


Q:

Did the boat have everything you needed or were there support type vessels with you? If so, what kind of services did they provide you?

Also, does your mental state become an issue? I feel like I'd start to get a little funny doing the same thing day in and day out for 2 months.

A:

Since it was a race there is a sailboat that tries to sail around the entire fleet in case someone needs help. Luckily we never needed any help. If you get assistance of any kind you are disqualified from the race. I didn't think I was weird after the row but my family and friends said I was really spacey. They said it was hard to carry on a conversation with me because I would just start daydreaming.


Q:

Wow! That's a big pile of supplies. Just out of curiosity, how many calories and how many cups of fresh water did you guys consume per day? And what kind of stuff did you eat?

A:

We tried to get 5500 cal per day. We had 3 freeze dried meals each per day along with a bag of snacks that had a variety of things in it..granola bars, trail mix, chocolate.. etc. I think I drank 3 of my camel baks every 12 hours.. so 6 liters. We drank a lot! I don't think I ever stopped sweating.


Q:

How much rowing dod you do in prep for the journey?

A:

I rowed for 3 years in college on a club team so I had some experience. We did the row as part of a race and a lot of the people on other teams had never rowed a boat before in their lives! There was definitely a wide range of people from hard core athletes to every day people and everyone ended up making it across!


Q:

What school? If you don't mind sharing.

A:

At the University of Nebraska! It was just a small club team not NCAA but we had a lot of fun.


Q:

Did you ever feel like you weren't gonna make it?

A:

Yes! About 400 miles from the finish line we hit this weird current that was pushing us back East. It was super frustrating. We basically didn't move for about 2 days until we finally were able to break out of it.


Q:

Were you both conscious of the "Personal time" a human needs when at sea for 58 days? Did you accommodate for that or just ignore it?

A:

We kind of had our personal time during our rest hours when the other person was rowing. We never really got sick of each other because we didn't actually see each other that much!


Q:

Did you see any sharks, whales, wildlife of any kind?

A:

Whales, fish, dolphins, no sharks (thankfully) I think I would have been too scared to swim if we had seen sharks.


Q:

You swam?..that's crazy. I couldn't imagine more surreal moments then swimming in the open ocean.

A:

I have to admit I was pretty scared the first time I jumped in. I got used to it but it is a really weird feeling.


Q:

That's awesome, your fearlessness is inspiring

A:

Thank you! That was my goal for the trip..when I came back I wanted to inspire even just one person to do something that scared them.


Q:

Did you ever look down?

A:

Yes...and I saw...blue.


Q:

How did it feel going that long without a shower? I can only imagine how gross that must have felt....

A:

It was not fun..I did try to swim after each shift so I could at least get some of the sweat off! I also washed my clothes a couple times a week with freshwater so they wouldn't get crunchy. The first shower on land was pretty amazing!


Q:

Didn't you get that itchy salty feeling putting clothes back on?

A:

Yes! We tried to rinse our clothes with fresh water frequently because they got really crusty. I also would try to do kind of a sponge bath with fresh water after each shift.


Q:

You might have already answered this, but how did you have enough fresh water for the entire trip?

A:

So we had to bring an emergency supply which also acted as ballast weight. This was bottled water that was stored in the lowest part of the boat. Then for every day use we had a desalination machine that made fresh water.


Q:

That's absolutely incredible! How did it feel being in a tiny boat, knowing how incredibly deep the ocean underneath you was? Also, how did you get all the way across and still spell 'Atlantic' wrong?

A:

Wow that is really embarrassing! I don't think I can change it either. Whoops. I guess I was nervous and typing fast. It was weird being in a tiny boat but I think we got so used to it. Then when I watched some footage of our boat in the water it looked like a tiny toy!


Q:

All good, I'm only teasing. I honestly didn't realise it was even possible to row across the Atlantic until 5 minutes ago - what an adventure!

A:

I had never heard of it either! It's still fairly new..I think more people have been to space actually. Surprisingly though, it is one of the safest endurance sports. Compared to something like Everest it is really safe! I think 10 people have already died trying to climb it this year and since modern ocean rowing started I don't think even 10 people have died.


Q:

What did you use for navigation? If your electrical system failed what would you rely on to know your position?

A:

We had a very complex Garmin system called NMEA 2000. This included our GPS, AIS (which pings our location show we show up on other ships radar), wind/weather info, and navigation. We used the GPS a lot in the beginning because there were several small islands close to the one we started on and we wanted to make sure we didn't get to close. After that..we pretty much rowed west/southwest and went with the wind. If our electronics had failed we did have a handheld GPS that we could have used for navigation but it would have been very dangerous to be out there without an AIS. Since our boat was so small the big cargo ships could hardly see us. If we didn't show up on their radar there is a good chance we could have been hit.


Q:

Did you see many other ships out there?

A:

Quite a few cargo ships! We also saw one sailboat from France. They circled us a few times and talked to us. I think they were confused as to why we were in this tiny boat and were concerned that we needed help.


Q:

Thank you for using the AIS. I'm a ship captain and it's hard to pick up small boats on just radar, especially in rough weather and/or with fiberglass hulls.

A:

I never shut it off! I was so terrified. I knew there was no way they could see us. Congrats on being a Captain! I am hoping to get there one day.


Q:

What was a typical day like, what were you eating?

A:

We rowed 3 hours on 3 hours off. So one was rowing while the other was sleeping. Basically you would just wake up, get dressed, eat something, start rowing, finish rowing, change your clothes, eat something, sleep, and repeat. I did have to run the water maker every day around noon to make our fresh water for drinking. We mostly ate freeze dried meals and a lot of Costco bulk snacks!


Q:

Ahh, how was it adjusting to that level of sleep?I'm also assuming the ocean isn't the nicest place to lay down

A:

The first two weeks were pretty rough. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. After that my body slowly started to adjust and things got easier. Waking up to row at night was definitely the worst! The cabin was surprisingly comfortable! Laying down was OK it was hard to sit up though without smacking into the walls.


Q:

Since redbull didn't want to sponsor you,,,s,ounds to me like you should approach Costco

A:

They are on my list!


Q:

I have a couple of questions.

Looking through the pictures, it looks like neither of you lost much weight (not that there was much weight to lose in the first place). Was this due to a lack of exercising that you could do?

Also, did you guys end up having any sex during the row?

A:

We both put on way to much weight before the race! People made us nervous that we would lose like 50+ pounds. Girls on average lose only about 10lbs..the guys lose quite a bit more! No naughty time was had. We have always been just friends!


Q:

Thanks for answering! Reading your story stokes my desire to do a long distance hike. I am good at walking. I am good at not falling. And... I already have 'strategic' calorie reserves so it would take me longer to starve to death.

A:

The US has some great long distance trails for something like that!


Q:

I could probably manage the AT if I went Southbound. However, my job has me working long construction hours during May-October. I've looked into either AT or something below 40N Latitude. Unfortunately my wife tore her ACL a month ago, so it probably won't happen this year.

A:

Small adventures are always good too! I hope your wife heals quickly!


Q:

How long did you train?

Which season and route was best?

When is the inspirational Disney Release?

Can you too the door from a fridge? (Lats)

Peace out

A:

I trained for about 2 years leading up the race. I was rowing in college at the time so it was easy to stay in shape. For the southern Atlantic (East to West) the best time to start is in December. It is the time with the fewest hurricanes. East to West Atlantic is also probably one of the easiest routes. It has one of the most consistent currents and trade winds in the world. No Disney release. Just a few YouTube videos for now! My arms are still pretty strong and it has been a year and a half!


Q:

Have you thought about doing other oceans?

A:

yes! I want to be the first person to row across all 5 oceans. Right now I am working on getting sponsors so I can get a bigger boat. I want to take different people with me for each journey. I believe it is truly life changing and I want to share it with as many people as possible! After I attempt those...I would like to start a company that helps organize rows for people.


Q:

Two words:

Red

Bull

A:

You aren't going to believe this..but neither of us were big caffeine drinkers..I think the most caffeine we had on board was in the chocolate.


Q:

Nah, dawg. Sponsorship ;)

A:

I tried asking them.. they told me they could give me a couple cases of Red Bull haha.


Q:

I think they're saying Redbull would sponsor it...they probably would.

A:

I tried talking with them before the first one and they said they would give me a few cases of Redbull to take with. I haven't tried again since I got back but I probably should!


Q:

So, are your arms tired?

A:

Haha a little bit! I was overall just very tired when I got back. I kept want to nap like every three hours.


Q:

What was the plan if the boat was damaged and sank? Was there a small life raft in the boat somewhere? Handheld emergency beacons?

A:

Our boat had 2 emergency EPIRBS and our lift raft had 1. The race made sure that we had all of the safety equipment and training we needed!


Q:

What's your favourite sea shanty? Any spontaneous renditions of "row row row your boat?"

A:

So this is kind of embarrassing but we both had really weird songs that we loved. I was a big fan of Celine Dion's "That's The Way It Is", "Jack Sparrow" by Lonely Island, and "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel.


Q:

Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?

I am a bot. I have corrected 8154 people.

A:

Exactly! That song did it for me for some reason.


Q:

Honestly I'm more surprised that you chose a Celine Dion song other than "my heart will go on". Nice playlist though

A:

I just tried to download the most random songs! Even people I had never heard of in the hopes that I would not get sick of the music.


Q:

Wow this is extremely inspiring. Might have to try and do something like this within the next couple of years. Were there any times you were scared for your life?

A:

Do it! It will seriously change your life. If you want some inspiration watch Losing Sight of Shore...it's on netflix! I was never scared for my life but I did get a little nervous a couple times.


Q:

How much food did you have to take? Was it mainly tinned/dried food?

A:

We took 75 days worth of food. We had 3 freeze dried meals per day and lots of snacks! Our snacks included: trail mix, cheese its, goldfish, granola bars, candy (m&ms, snickers, hershey's), poptarts, mini muffins, and various other munchies. The snacks were mostly just calorie fillers and not meant to be very nutritious.


Q:

What'd you do with the trash?

A:

We kept all of it on board and put it back in the compartments. We have to show our trash to the race organizers at the finish to prove that we were not dumping it.


Q:

What about the poop bucket?

A:

Well we threw the poop overboard every time we went and rinsed the bucket out. The poop bucket was retired to a dumpster once we made landfall.


Q:

Man I hate even swimming in the ocean where I can't see whats around me, and you manage to travel across an entire sea! How were you okay with the fact that you're in this small boat with hundred of miles of sea under you? That seems terrifying.

A:

Sorry I missed this comment earlier! It was definitely a little freaky swimming for the first time..but the water felt so good that I quickly got used to it!


Q:

You mentioned that upon your return your family/friends(?) claimed you couldn't keep a normal conversation. Do you feel different?

A:

I don't feel like I was spacey but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by all of the noise.


Q:

What kinda supplies did you bring with you?

A:

Besides food we had our clothes which consisted of spandex shorts mostly, underwear, I mostly rowed in my sports bra or swim top, we brought goggles, cleaning gear for the boat, a pretty extensive med kit, ipods, pictures from home, santa hats for Christmas, lots of sunscreen, and a couple gopros!


Q:

What was the power supply for electronics?

A:

We had 220 watts of solar power!


Q:

Did the nights ever get super cold or really hot?

A:

The nights did get a little chilly! It was also that nasty wet/cold too. I had a light blanket that I brought with and usually would row in a long sleeve shirt at night.


Q:
  1. How did decide when was the best time to leave? 2. How long did you estimate that it would take?
  2. Was there any romantic activity between you and George on the trip and if either of you were not single, how did your s.o. feel about you being in a boat with someone else?
  3. What was the plan in case something horrible happened?
  4. How much weight did you lose by the time you were done?
  5. Were you noticeably stronger after rowing for ~60 straight days?
  6. How'd you poop and pee and what'd you do with the toilet paper?
A:
  1. The race takes place in December-February because this is the time with the least hurricanes.
  2. Our goal was to finish in under 60 days. We made it in 58.
  3. We had emergency beacons, a satellite phone, and a lift raft if shit really hit the fan. Maritime law would be our friend..any boat that is able to respond to a distress call has to.
  4. I lost 20 lbs. I had put on a lot of weight because people scared me and told me I would look like I was starved. I probably didn't need to put on as much as I did.
  5. Definitely! My back was so strong.
  6. We had a bucket for our toilet. We used biodegradable wipes for TP.

Q:

Who sings louder? I tried finding it in your videos but wasn't able.

A:

I'm not sure! I know I definitely sang super loud but I don't know if George got it on camera. We both just belted songs out. It was one of the only ways to stay motivated. I also have "We Didn't Start the Fire" memorized now! :)


Q:

Can i see what you boat looked like?

On a personal note, How did you figure out restroom issues?

A:

check out my first Imgur post here: http://imgur.com/a/QnXs0 it has a lot of good pics!

We had a bucket that we used as a bathroom. Wasn't the best setup but worked pretty well!


Q:

Did you arrive in Antigua? Seems like Antigua is the place. There was 3 or 4 that just did the same thing in the last couple of years (trying to break the record for time).

A:

Yes! We arrived in Nelson's Dockyard/English Harbor. It is the finish line for the race now so every year there will be a whole fleet going in!


Q:

I didn't even know this was a thing that people did. What is the history of this type of endeavour? Also, go big red!

A:

Thanks! Yeah I had never heard of it either. People have been doing this since the late 1800's! Some people did it in an actually wooden rowboat..like with no cabin or cover. I don't understand that! Modern ocean rowing boats started in the 1990's. The race started in 1999 and has been going every year since.


Q:

Who designed and built the boat? How much would that cost?

A:

There are basically two boat builders out there for these special boats. One is in the UK and their prices vary from ~20k-50k. We got our boat from a new company that just started a few years ago. They are in Port Townsend, WA and are called Spindrift Rowing. They are super cool and did an amazing job with our boat! Ours was actually the first American made boat to cross an ocean so that was really special!


Q:

wow that's amazing.. were you bored at any point?

A:

Oh, definitely! At one point my spotify playlists stopped working and I was left with two albums and some audio books. Lets just say I have those songs memorized. Sometimes I would count strokes..1000 would be about an hour. Definitely did a ton of daydreaming!


Q:

1) How did you guys stay clean? Was it even an issue? 2) Watching your video, seems like dryness was an issue, any recommendations in hind-sight? 3) Could your average in shape person do this? 4) Would it be possible to do an 8 hr on 8 hr off shift? 5) Have you ever done a long backpacking trip? How would this compare to doing say a week long 100 mile 30k elevation gain trip in terms of daily effort? Obviously a lot longer, but I hope my question is at least somewhat clear?

A:
  1. Sponge baths with fresh water! Lots of baby wipes! 2. dryness like our skin? or the boat was always wet? I don't think we can fix the boat thing..it's just too humid! 3. Definitely! There were very un-athletic people in our race. 4. I do not think you would want to row for 8 hours. Your butt would be dead and you probably would be barely moving by the end.