31 May 2005, The Isis, Oxford
I am back in Oxford, on the bank of the Isis, watching the Summer Eights bumps races. The last time I was here I was taking part, and it was 18 years ago. Argh! How old does THAT make me feel?!
Some things change - the old Univ boathouse burned down 6 years ago, blades are now cleavers rather than macons, and all the rowers are clad in lycra - still considered very modern and rather risque in 1989.
But other things don't change - the surge of adrenaline I still get when the starter's gun fires; the determined grimaces on the rowers' faces; coaches whizzing along the towpath on bicycles with scant regard for their own or anybody else's safety.
This is where I started my rowing career, long before I dreamed of rowing an ocean.
The objective of bumps racing is to catch up with and then hit the boat in front. Once contact is made both crews stop rowing, and the next day they swap places in the starting order.
A good crew with a fast start might only have to row fewer than 100 strokes in the whole 4 days of racing... compared with the million strokes or so it will take me to get across the Atlantic.
27 May 2005, Emsworth, Hampshire
I've been skulking.
It may have appeared from my website that I've been on board Steamy Windows all this time, but in fact I got back 10 days ago. I'm now living in a rented cottage in Emsworth, Hampshire, and have been keeping a low profile while I got myself sorted out and settled in.
This is going to be the perfect base for the summer - I'll be keeping my boat on the Thorney Island army base, just a few minutes' bike ride away, and also using the gym there.
Next month the guys there are giving me one-to-one tuition for my mandatory First Aid At Sea course, skipping over things I won't need (bit hard to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on myself...) and focusing on more useful things, like how to stitch up my own wounds, pull a tooth, and deal with blisters and saltwater boils.
A friend has negotiated on my behalf to get a substantial discount at the Emsworth Chandlery for all my boat supplies. Within 5 minutes of my front door I've got butcher, baker, greengrocer, library, train station... and a dangerous number of good pubs.
Emsworth is a gorgeous little coastal village (see photo) and I already feel very at home here. If it wasn't for the exciting prospect of the Atlantic Rowing Race (START DATE 6 MONTHS TODAY!!!) there'd be a serious danger of me getting much too comfortably ensconced here to ever leave.
13 May 2005, Ponta Delgado, the Azores
Hello again, Ponta Delgado!
We arrived back in the Azores on Wednesday afternoon. The staff in the Skippers´Bar were delighted to see us again... or maybe not!
We´d been unlucky in that the weather forecasters changed their minds shortly after we set sail on 4th May - the revised forecast showing that we´d be heading into increasingly stormy conditions as we headed north. We slugged it out for a couple of days, and then came to the difficult decision that there was little point in making life miserable for ourselves, so we would return to the Azores and wait for more favourable conditions.
Once that decision had been made, our luck changed and we managed to avoid the worst of the weather on our way back to the safe haven of Ponta Delgado, and in fact enjoyed several days of very pleasant downwind sailing.
This is a less than ideal situation for skipper Russ, to embark on the final leg of his circumnavigation only to be thwarted by a freak period of prolonged easterly winds.
But purely selfishly, I´ve achieved everything I needed to during this phase of my preparations - I´m now confident that I can cope with big waves, dark moonless nights, being in a small boat far from land, night watches and disrupted sleep. All this will stand me in good stead come November.
And get this - I´ve managed to find myself an ocean rowing boat to practice in! Well, OK, more of a coastal rowing boat... the local yacht club just happens to have a craft designed by ocean-rowing legend Gerard D´Aboville, which will be the perfect way for me to get some training in before I head back to the UK.
Photo: crewmate Claire strikes the warrior pose atop a mountain in the Azores
11 May 2005, 41 40' N, 21 28' W
This little fella stopped off on Steamy Windows for a breather. We were 300 miles from the nearest land. You're a small bird to be travelling so far, I thought. There again, a lot of people say the same to me.
At least I'll have copious amounts of food and water to sustain me, and a bunk to lie in when I need a rest. This little swallow had nothing. No wonder he dropped in for a rest.
Unfortunately we were clean out of live insects to offer him for lunch. Eventually, possibly disgusted with the standard of hospitality, he flew off on his way.