Finding my limits
March 24, 2021
On the 25th of February Koen, Gijs and I departed from Portimao by rowboat to Miami. After a long wait, the weather predictions finally looked good with the first couple of days high waves and winds, but mainly in the right direction. I knew this crossing would be challenging, especially since I know how easily I get seasick. I know this from the previous expedition to Papua, where I spent 6 months in total to row there. This was mainly island hopping. On the longer crossings I got seasick.
The first wave
The first day was going pretty well. Ricardo and Fa are escorting us out of the marina by sailboat and we’re very excited to be crossing the ocean! The first night is hard. We need to cross the shipping lane fast so we continue to row 2 hrs on 1 hr off and of course I’m getting seasick like expected. I was prepared for that and vomited myself through the night. The next couple of days were extremely hard. I didn’t manage to eat or drink properly and as a result got dehydrated and didn’t have much energy to row. During the days I was able to row, but mostly the evening I got so sick that I couldn’t row anymore. Luckily Koen and Gus were there to continue rowing during those nights.
Usually sea sickness can take up to 10 days, with mostly the worst going away after 3 days. After the first 4 or 5 days of vomiting, the weather was good. Not too big of waves and not too much wind. It gave me hope, because it felt like an impossible thing to do for me in those first days. With not too much motion from the waves I was starting to feel better. I was able to eat a full meal from Trek n’ Eat and eat some 4gold energy bars.
I’m counting my calories and trying to get to 5000 kcal a day, which I never succeeded in. The rowing was going good and the energy came back to me. The second day of calmer weather I was even able to eat 2 full meals. I had hope, just to start vomiting again that same evening. My meals where not digesting properly.
For Koen there was some sea sickness in the first days but that gradually got better. Gus aka “iron stomach” never got sick, could still eat a lot and could even read on his e-reader with 5 m waves. Something that made me jealous of course.
The second wave
After this intermezzo where I felt a bit better I got sick again. Same kind of sickness where I’m barely able to keep anything inside. Including medication. It was hard, but despite that we were still enjoying. That’s what I loved about it. We were on our limits, but we never had tensions and still had a good time! Well most of it… The one thing I wasn’t looking forward to was going to the toilet. Luckily it didn’t happen that much since I didn’t get much food inside of me.
Taking a dump goes as follows (right in front of your friend who’s rowing):
- take wet wipes (bamboo ones) and alcohol gel
- fill the bucket with sea water
- try taking off your pants and sit on the bucket
- take a dump
- throw your poo and the water overboard
- take sea water and clean yourself
- wipe off with a wet wipe and disinfect your hands
If this seems okay, try to do it on a choppy sea…
The next days were up and down with the sea sickness. One time I can eat, I get my hopes up and think I’m getting better. A few hours later everything is going out again. It just doesn’t stop and I’m starting to realise that after 14 days it doesn’t get any better. I’m dehydrated and don’t get enough water and calories in me to row properly. We talk about it as a team and realise this is not safe anymore. From time to time I’m just shaking and my heart rate is not in control. So we decide to divert to Tenerife and go to land. I try to row as much as possible, which mostly works.
Learning to fail
From the moment I realise I have to stop I feel very bad. I feel disappointed and feel like I’m disappointing a lot of people. Koen and Gus, sponsors, friends and family… At the same time I knew that stopping was not a choice, it was a clear sign of my body to stop here. Koen and Gus are disappointed, because we will not reach Miami by rowboat. However, they know that seasickness is beyond my control. They were very supportive and realise well enough that I’m not to blame, which I’m very grateful for.
Overall I’m happy about this expedition, I didn’t reach my goals, but I learned a lot. It’s the first time in my life that my body sais: you can’t do this. So I’m grateful that it’s only now that it’s doing that. I’ve been going to amazing places and doing crazy stuff. That’s what adventure is about, there should be a great possibility to fail. I’m happy to find out what my limits are.
We stepped on the boat as 3 friends and because of the great teamwork and understanding we got off the boat as 3 better friends. As a team we managed to get to Tenerife without having to resort to a rescue operation. We did inform local authorities and rescue services, mainly to have them stand by in case my situation would deteriorate. Luckily it didn’t. We failed one out of 3 objectives and this was my main one: rowing to Miami. The other 2 objectives: the ocean rowboat Whaleboat 028’s performance and testing the custom engineered power systems and autopilot on board were great successes.
Arriving on land is a bit weird the first couple of days. Your head is still wobbly so walking is not that easy. On land, I’m still concerned about my failure, but when I call sponsors, friends and family they’re all very supportive. I’m very grateful for that, thank you all for the nice messages, it really means a lot to me!
Because of this expedition I realised that my body won’t allow me to row an ocean, ever. But the people who know me aren’t surprised that I’m not giving up on the Secutec Seven Summits. New ideas pop into my head, not giving up and being creative is another important part to succeed in this project. It is not sure yet, but I might be crossing the atlantic ocean by sailboat. Which is not completely human powered but the low carbon footprint (only using the wind) of it is still within the philosophy of this project.
Now we’re in Tenerife, preparing the boat to get it back to Belgium. Once it is going back I’ll be taking a 40 hr ferry to the Spanish mainland and cycle back and taking trains back to Belgium. All this to avoid flying. I could more easily fly out of here, my insurance (thank you very much for the help Lambrecht verzekeringen) would even cover all these expenses, but whenever possible I try not to.
A very big thank you to my sponsors who make the Secutec Seven Summits possible!