Rough water

  Ellida  crests a big wave

There is something, almost primal, about watching a rowing boat, powered simply with hearts and minds, harness the energy of the seemingly relentless sea.

This weekend I was invited to join Atlantic Discovery for their second two-day training session.  I was honoured to meet Ellida for the first time, the most important member of the team.  She is a beauty; with long clean lines, grace and strength, and a backbone of experience:  2018/19 will be her fifth Atlantic crossing.

A glimpse of their dream 

First on the agenda was a session of open ocean drills at Weymouth on the Dorset coastline.  My task was to take some photographs of the team on the water.  From the moment we left the protection of the harbour walls, the brisk breeze and bumpy sea made the boys come alive:  their eyes lit up and they braced themselves for the rough water, carefully alert, feeling the boat respond beneath them, learning how she handled the swell, surfing a few waves and, of course, finding time for selfies.

 Atlantic Discovery enjoying the rough water

Watching them from my privileged position on the support rib, I felt a deep sense of awe and respect.  And, I understood.  Atlantic Discovery, and the beautiful Ellida, are going to cross the Atlantic together.  This is what they have all signed up for.  The adventure.  The challenge.  The hardship. The extreme journey. The exhilaration of meeting the elements head on. 

Today they glimpsed their dream.


After a fantastic morning on the water, the boys stripped and polished Ellida and finished the day with a frank discussion about where they were as a team.  I was impressed.  The team only formed a couple of months ago and they are very different people.  They were honest and mature in the way gave feedback to each other and, I felt, began to the lay the foundations for growth.  It would seem that this team understand the importance of communication - a critical success factor for their mission. 

"I hate boats!"

Sunday was spent with ocean-rowing legend and multiple world record holder Angus Collins in his capacity as project manager at Rannoch Adventure.  Between me and you, this guy has a cuteness factor (oops sorry, coolness factor) of 10.

 Angus Collins, Rannoch Adventure

Angus Collins, Rannoch Adventure

He gave Ellida a thorough going over - checking her equipment, giving advice on how to maximise efficiency, and he spent quite a long time upside down with his head in one or other of her hatches.  Hilariously, I heard him mumble on at least two occasions: "I hate boats!".  Considering he has racked up 10,000 miles of rowing - in boats - this greatly appealed to my sense of humour.  It's clear Angus LOVES boats and knows every inch of them!

Observing Angus sharing his passion for adventure and endurance, and hard earned learnings with the team, and seeing their absolute absorption in his every word, it was clear his coaching and advice more than hit the spot.  The training session left the team inspired and motivated - a real high point in the early stages of their adventure.

 Launching with the rudder fitted

Launching with the rudder fitted

At one point Angus asked the team what their objective for the race.  There answer was a surprise to me:  it appears Atlantic Discovery has a competitive streak.  Oh my.  This journey just gets more and more interesting.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Starting out


"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."  Nelson Mandela

Have you ever done anything right out there?  On the borderline of crazy and inspirational?  Space travel?  Extreme endurance sports or a super-tough mental challenge? 

A team of four, Atlantic Discovery, are launching themselves into the unknown, risking all, leaping out of their comfort zones... and, there's no going back.  They are going to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.  Their boat needs to be fully equipped for 60 days at sea on departure - as they aren't able to accept any help of rescue, repair, food or water during the race...

My name is Penny aka @virtualstowaway.  I'm Cameron's sister (he's the gorgeous guy on the left) - and I've volunteered to write the blogs for the team.  Which means I get to eavesdrop on the team's planning meetings and, I'm even going on a row with them soon.  I can't wait to board the lovely Ellida!

Being privy to the project plan and the all consuming activity has made me realise the enormity of this crossing; I'm feeling excited, and a little nervous.  This journey is going to grow and stretch each of these guys to their outermost physical and mental limits.  But, wow, what a life-changing opportunity.

They got together for the first time about six weeks ago, and already the learnings from each other and about each other are exponential.

Different, but determined

Yes, very different people.  Ben is a genuine standup guy (he's in the pink shirt).  Crossing the Atlantic was his idea and he is inspired by his mum Rose (#row4rose).  She has MS and sets the bar very high with her grit and determination to overcome the hidden symptoms of this disease.  So, Ben is going to put his grit and determination to work and raise £60K for the MS Society and Berkshire MS Therapy Centre.  Both charities have made a substantial difference to the quality of his mum's life.  Go Ben!

Isaac is the social guy (in the tie).  A big smile, trendy, and up for most things.  An opportunist who loves adventure and travel and I'm sure he is going to be the morale booster on the boat.  What I particularly love about Isaac is that he has a dream: to be a geological explorer working on pioneering projects in places like Antartica.  I know you'll get there Isaac - I have every faith in you!

Then there's Jack (the one who's talking!).  He's an all-or-nothing kind of guy (but delete the nothing bit - I doubt that comes about very often).  Charming and articulate, Jack is a cyber security researcher (secretly a bot) who loves a challenge.  He is so keen to cross the Atlantic, I feel sure he would walk across if he had to!

The fourth member of Atlantic Discovery is my bro, Cam.  He's my hero: an intuitive, wise and extremely generous person with a seriously fun side.  Cam has worked for SwissRe for 20 years and is taking a sabbatical for the crossing.  He is incredibly resourceful and a great problem-solver.

This group of people have three things in common:  they're genuine, determined, adventure-seekers.  Together they have a great set of complementary skills and experience. And, they're gonna rock the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge 2018/19.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.