In June this year, four British men plan to row their way into the record books by becoming the fastest four-man crew to row the Indian Ocean. Only half of the crews that have attempted the crossing have been successful - less than 50 people can claim to have rowed across the Indian Ocean. To put that into context, over 500 people have been into space, and Everest has been summited over 7,500 times. The quartet will start their journey in Exmouth, Western Australia and row 3,600 nautical miles in a 29-foot long ocean rowing boat until they reach their destination in Port Louis, Mauritius.
One of the crew is Billy Taylor, a Firefighter with Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue service.
Ocean rowing is a sport that has seen a surge in popularity over the past few years and in 2014 Billy took part in the inaugural great Pacific Race, which consisted of crews from around the world racing head to head as they covered 2,800 miles between California and Hawaii. Billy and the 3 others that he was rowing with managed to take 2nd place, coming in just 13 hours behind the winners after spending over 45 days at sea. The experience did nothing to put him off Ocean Rowing and this year he and another of the crew that took part in 2014's race are going to find themselves at sea and battling the elements once again.
The 4 men who make up the Indian Ocean 2018 crew are not just taking on the row to challenge themselves. One of the crew, Robin Buttery, was diagnosed with Young onset Parkinson's Disease 3 years ago. He and Billy have been working together with Professor Helen Dawes at Oxford Brookes University to collect research data to learn about how such an extended time of endurance exercise affects somebody with Parkinson's Disease. The CLEAR Unit at Brookes is dedicated to helping those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and offer rehabilitation programs to help manage their symptoms. It is well known that exercise is probably the best way to do this but what is not known is how much exercise is best to achieve the most positive results. By using video analysis of the two men alongside blood tests and nutritional intake diaries it is hoped that Brookes will be able fine tune those rehabilitation programs so that people with Parkinson's receive the most benefit possible. This is ground breaking research that has already shown promising results from Robin's intensive training program. It also gives Robin an opportunity to show others who have the condition that a life of fun and adventure does not have to come to an end with a diagnosis.
The crew will be doing this completely on their own and will have no support boat to come to the rescue if something goes wrong. Everything that they will need to have a successful crossing will have to be packed into the boat before they leave and at just 29ft long and 6 ft wide it is not the most luxurious mode of transport and their cabin, in which they will sleep two at a time, is roughly two thirds the size of a double bed. When they are not rowing they will be cooped up inside this tiny space that they will call home for between 60 and 75 days. They will row in 2 hour shifts, meaning that while one pair is taking their turn on the oars the other will be inside cooking, eating, navigating, making good any repairs that need doing and sleeping. After 2 hours they will swap places and the pattern repeats itself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which means that they will never get more than 90 minutes of sleep at a time for up to 75 days.
They are taking 1500 freeze dried meals with them so that they will consume 6000 calories each every day to try and avoid serious weight loss (Billy lost 15 kg in the 45 days it took to complete the Great Pacific Race) and they have a desalinator on board to provide them with the fresh water that they will need to re-hydrate the meals with and drink. If anything breaks or if they have any medical issues they will have to deal with it themselves with the equipment that they have to hand.
On top of all that they will have to deal with whatever mother nature decides to throw at them. The Indian Ocean is well known for serious weather conditions and they have to be prepared to take on tropical storms and waves that can reach up to 40 feet in height. Some days they may find that they end up being pushed back towards Australia. When you chuck in salt water boils, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, cramps, chaffed testicles and swollen limbs you begin to understand that this far more of a mental challenge than it is a physical one.
Their motivation when times get tough will be the knowledge that they are doing something to help others and raise funds for their two chosen charities. Well, that and the fact that there is no way to actually get off the boat so they may as well just stop whinging and get on with it!!
Research conducted in the USA has proven that firefighters are nearly 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's than average, so we wish Billy and the Indian Ocean Row Crew the best of luck with their incredible challenge!!
If you want to follow their adventure visit rowtheindianocean.com and please donate if you can.