The Toby Wallace Atlantic Row – January/February 2016
The Harrowing Realities of Ocean Rowing
It was approaching midnight on the 28th Jan 2016 – I was sitting in my rowing position on the “Toby Wallace”, a light-weight ocean rowing boat; ‘primed and ready for an attempt’ on a world record.
Our challenge was to Row across the North Atlantic, setting off from Marina Puerto De Mogan Gran Canaria, 4815Km. / 2992 miles to Port St Charles Barbados faster than anyone before.
I was musing !!!! Rowing the Atlantic seemed a good idea at the time.
On reflection !!!! However the reality, as with much of life, it’s not all it seems.
Ocean Rowers will row for 12 hour in every 24 hours; 2 hours on and off for two hour. However, Simon had worked a new system, every day for the next 34+ days on the Atlantic; each 24 hours we rowed 12 hours in 1 x 4hr : 1 x 3hr : 2 x 2hr : 1 x 1hr sessions / or in nautical terms ‘watches’.
However on the upside is we did each have a 3 minute break every hour to take a drink, eat sweets, pooing and peeing all done where we sat.
Tragedy struck in the night of February 14th. Location close to 18 29′ N 039 06′ W. over a thousand miles from land.
Simon gave a loud warning shout, “big wave”. I looked up to see a monster swell coming at us fast out of the dark; it was the size of a two storey building. This rogue wave was arriving from unexpected direction intent on broadsiding our row boat. Not to break over but pummelled through us like a water tornado.
The immense power of unstoppable maelstrom of angry sea water lifted me and ripped my rowing seat from its fixings, luckily dumping me in a tangle, hard into the small corner of the low 300 mm gunnel and cabin bulkhead; luckily not over the side.
Moments later I heard Simon shout those most dreaded words.
“Man Over Board”.
My hardwired primal instinct for survival kicked in. I fought to get up to see the ‘Strokes’ seat was empty.
Mike was gone.
After 12 hr search by air and sea the rescue operation was called off. Location close to: 18 29’ N 039 06’ W.
The sea had taken my friend and colleague Mike Johnson.
At 68 years old, reflecting on my checkered past, I couldn’t help but remember Mike—a remarkable and gifted young man with a boundless future ahead of him. The question lingers: Why him?
12th September 2023 **UK Ocean Rower Sentenced After Crew Member Lost At Sea…
Simon Chalk appeared in court in Bristol, western England, on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to failing to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safe operation of his vessel, the Toby Wallace.
The charge, under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, was brought after 21-year-old Michael Johnson was swept from the craft on February 15, 2016. Chalk, who skippered and owned the vessel, was sentenced to 12 months in jail, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.
As I have grown older, well-travelled and somewhat more informed I truly appreciate ‘Time’ is my most precious resource. ‘A day at a time’, I accept I am passing through Life just this once! I choose not to waste the Adventure!