Dear loyal RFP friends, supporters and sponsors,
Apologies it has taken me so long to put finger to keyboard and update you on the goings on within the RFP team but since arriving on the cherished lands of Mauritius i have had to undergo various physical and mentral repairs which have sadly meant it has been a tad difficult to get to a computer, let alone to type anything even slightly legible. Thankfully the local hopsitality, coupled with the repair work from the local medics has coinfirmed my ailments are not terminal and both body and mind are now well on the way to full recovery so i thought it high time i gave you an insight in to our final few hours at sea, and the highly anticipated arrival on the fair shores of Mauritius.
Before i crack on with this i also want to apologise for the silence over the final 2 weeks of our journey when G'Pa and the FRP crew went 'missing'. I am not going to go in to details as to what happened during this time right now but assure you this will be published over the coming weeks - suffice to say this was without a doubt the most eventful passage of the jorney which included a capsize and more emotional and physical turmoil than i think any of us ever thought we could deal with, right up to and including the final traumatic night at sea before our entry in to Mauritius. Anyway this is all to come but for now i will focus on the magic moments that signalled an end to one dream and the start of many others...
Having made an express final approach down to within touching distance of Mauritius, covering some 70+ miles in our penultimate day we decided to delay our final entry in to the port of Grand Baie until the morning of day 82 - predominantly because of the dangers posed by the reef system surrounding the island, the potency of the currents which we knew fluctuated between 2 knots to 5 against and of course our desire to have all our families at the finish.
Once again we had the moon to keep us company and to help guide us to a place of refuge some 10-15 miles out from the finish line and it was here that we 'camped' the night - frustratingly close to the end where the lights shone so brightly in the distance and the lure of 'the end' proved such an irresistable temptation to all of us. Despite our desperation to finish however sense prevailed and for one final time we battled the waves and the currents to set up an eventful final approach on the Thursday, thankfully aided by the services of the support yacht, Desiderata 11 - so eventful infact that it could (and probably/possibly would have) so easily have ended in the cruellest of fashions had they not appeared when they did...but that's another story for another blog...and not one i fancy recounting without a stiff drink in hand.
When we set out from Gerladton on 19th April everything seemed so simple. According to most other ocean rowers the tough part had been completed and the rowing was to be the straight forward bit - mmm how wrong they had been. So much for the 60-70 day crossing that we had planned and so much for the simple, uncomplicated crossing that we had all dreamed. This had been an absolute mine field of emotions, and a catalogue full of experiences beyond our wildest dreams...and nightmares...including a physical and emotional test way beyond anything we could have ever prepared ourselves for - but as i've said so many times before, i wouldn't have changed any of it for the world. We set out some 81 days ago safe in the knowledge that we were entering a world we knew very little about and what bit we did know would be of little assistance in a world where mother nature could and would be so unpredictable - so beautifl on the one hand,yet so desperately angry on tyhe other...but at all times so very very powerful. That said, here we were staring down the neck of completing our mission and on the brink of becoming the first southern hempisphere team to ever cross this stretch of water...now that's what dreams are made of and for us this dream was very much still alive.
It was about 4am by the time Vince, Mark and Brendan appeared like a mirage across the water. We had struggled in vain to make contact with the coastguard all night and quite rightly there weren't any other vessels out there to pick up our cries of help which meant we spent a very lonely, and i might add slightly concerning last night out at sea - suffice to say the gremlins of self doubt were out in force once AGAIN! When the support crew eventually managed to track us down the relief within the camp was extraordinary - suddenly the dream really did seem alive. Given they had no idea if we had actually made it down to the vicinity of the Mauritius it was a minor miracle they found us and once again i want to express my sincere gratitude to them for getting out of bed at this ungodly hour to scour the angry seas around Mauritius for us. We had encountered so many knocks during the crossing and there had been so many twists of fate that optimism was a word we could ill afford to talk of let alone believe in by now, so to see the yacht turn up was just incredible, and to see otyher human beiungs for the first time quite amazing - only thing missing was a beautiful blond, or brunette (or any other form of female for that matter).
Not surprisingly Vince and the crew were as they had always been, all very encouraging but also desperately relaxed and calm about the situation which provided us with a huge boost as any concerns re our position and the proximity to the reef and finishing line were removed and replaced with a refreshing optimism (yes the b'o' word was back and here to stay!) that we were actually in pretty good shape...although the looks on their faces suggested our facial hair was worse than we had all come to imagine (don't forget we didn't have a miirror on board so this was all to be a nice surprise not just for families but also for us!).
Anyway Vince and co then ably escorted G'Pa on our final journey to the finish line, a passage we had been so paranoid about missing for every second of every day over the past 2 weeks. Pete and I took to the oars to set up the final assault and then handed over to Tom and Matt to row the final 2 miles. We had no idea what to expect in terms of finish but one thing was for sure, it would only happen the once and we wanted to look our best. With that in mind we all donned our number ones, the Canterbury kit including the Ionx tops and bottoms, quick dry shirts and shorts with Maui Jim sunnies topped off with the accessory all ocean rowers should have, aFujifilm camera around the neck! We may not have been first across the line but we were going to make damn sure we were the smartest. While Tom and Matt rowed the final few metres Pete and I held aloft the NZ and Mauritius flag...all in anticipation of the crowds and hordes of media that would be there on the finish line to greet us in. Mmmm isn't it funny how different reality can be...
So it was at 11.02am (07.02 GMT) team RFP crosed the finish line, the dream complete the challenge finished and the 20 month journey over. The irony to the finish was that where the journey had been so full of drama yet the finish was a complete anti climax. The only people there to witness the crossing were our new found heroes on the support yacht and but for a shriek from the fog horn we would never have known the 3,166 nautical mile journey had finished. There we were all dressed to the nines and no-one to witness it, not even the race organisers...where i had to ask was the finishing line tape, where was the champagne and most importantly where was the chocolate? In many ways, on reflection this was the perfect ending to what had been anything but the perfect crossing - it was just us and us alone, and this is just how it should have been. For so long we had been on our own, especially the last 2 weeks and so to cross the line with no one but ourselves to focus oin was probably quite apt and if anything all the more powerful. Like so much of the crossing there was no fuss, no frills just the four of us getting on with the job in hand and our celebrations were no different - yes there was heart felt relief and yes there were hugs and high fives but we didn't need the theatrics to understand what we had just achieved, we had 82 days of hard hitting memories to remind us of that, for now it was just 4 normal blokes giving each other that mutual nod of respect...and that's all that was needed. We knew the scenes awaiting around the corner would be so so different but for now the smiles and hand shakes were perfect...
So having crossed the line the suppot crew gave us the option of rowing to the Marina where the families were awaiting or we could be towed. Mmm what to do? Well there was only one option really and that was to row it, we had afterall rowed all the way from Oz so what was another 2 or 3 miles....well actually the remaining 2 or 3 miles would have taken us about 2 days thanks to a more than lively head wind so after 2 hours of toil where we gained about 400 metres we succumbed to their kind invitation and agreed to be towed to a marker point where Tony from Woodvale would be waiting to guide us in! As a team we desperately wanted to row in to the Marina but given we had put our families through living hell over the past 82 days (and especially the past 2 weeks) we all agreed the right thing to do was to get it over with, eat humble pie and take the easy route in...and I for one knew the choclate muffins would be melting if we hung around any longer.
So our entry in the Grand Baie Yacht Club Mrina wasn't quite how we had imagined it but then no part of the crossing had gone according to plan so what did it matter. Over the past 82 days i think all the boys had long made pictures in their minds about what the welcome would be like and I for on had a very definite image of every last detail, even though i had no idea what the venue looked like. Incredibly every last detail of my ideal finish was realised, from the idylic setting to the hordes of family and friends who were lining the shore to welcome us in, all cheering, crying, leaping up and down - in so many ways it was like a scene from a crazed zoo, so many noises and so many entangled cries of joy. As we approached the dots we could see on the shore became bigger and gradually the faces clearer and the cries of support less muffled. This was what the past 20 months had been all about - forget the journey we had been on and forget the dramas and emotions we as a team had experienced, this was what the entire experience had been about for me, sharing the moment with my family and those of my 3 amazing crew mates. For 81/82 long hard days these faces adorning the shore had been all but a dream for us and for the past 2 weeks a dream that at times we thought we may never realise. None of us knew exactly who would be here so the pressure valve was at bursting point...
Many ex ocean rowers say the finish is all a bit of a blur, well it wasn't for me and the sights and sounds of that arrival will live with me forever. Seeing my nephew and niece with their FRP shirts on and hearing their unmistakable shrieks from the shore line, first setting eyes on my mum and dad standing their so proud with hands aloft and smiles beaming from ear to ear, seeing Nick and Fi doing what Nick nd Fi do best jumping up and down like crazed kids...oh it was all just so amazing, so liberating, so desperately satisfying but also so unbelievably emotional. The waiting was finally over, not for me but for them and now the heartache, all the sleepless nights and the agonising phone calls from worried friends who had seen us disappear off to the South Pole and then 'disappear' altogether would be no more. The waiting was over, the journey for us and for them had finally come to an end and now it was time for that communla hug and that long awaited drink.
Then there was Bex, the rock of our campaign and the fifth rower who had the far more difficult job of staying at home to witness the drama unfold via the pc and the sat phone - and on top of this had the task of managaing the families, managing the media and managing us as we went through our roller coaster ride. There she was just as she had been all along, beaming with pride and bustling with joy...my it was good to see her. And finally just the sights and sounds of all the the other familes and supporters who had made the trip - the Hampels, the Wigrams the Herrons, the Angels and so many others...it was just insane.
As we docked it was then this fairy tale all became so real - this really was happening and we really had finished this epic journey and now it was time to enjoy the moment with thiose people closest to us. What I hadn't realiised at this stage was that there was another little surprise awaiting...in the form of my two best mates Fred and Bluey (and Mrs Bluey, the lovely Ems) who had flown all the way out to see us come in, something i was not prepared for but which meanty the world and for which i will be eternally grateful for as it topped off a truly incredible journey.
Not surprisingly we got off the boat and everything was just perfect - from the banners that adorned the Yacht Club, to the endless messages of suppoort and congratulations from around the world that plastererd the walls it was like your dream venue for your dream party. Then there was the food, sometrhing that had occupied all of our thoughts for the past month and as per everything nelse al our hopes and dreams were fulfilled as we were greeted by a table fit for a king's banquet with every single last favourite food of each crew member there laid out on a table waiting to be devoured. Put simply the arrival that awaited us in the Yacht Club was like nothing we could have ever imagined and i for one was completely blown away with the effort that had gone in to making this so special. On that note a very special and MASSIVE thanks to all our families and friends who got up so early to deck out our new home and make this moment such a special one for Tom, Matt, Pete and myself (especially the leader of the orchestra, the one and only Bex who mi'm sure had a real tusslte trying to stop Wilfy and Polly eating all the goodies!).
So the champagne flowed, the tears rolled down the cheeks (contrary to what you may think real men can and do cry - even my dad let a couple of drops go) and the celebrations started. The sight of all the families and friends was something i find hard to explain, or at least the feelings i and i'm sure the rest of the boys felt, are hard to put in to words. We know we have put so many people through so much over the past 20 months and that they have all stuck with us through thick and thin and then given up so much to come and witness our arrival would break even the hardest, coldest of individuals and given i'm a bit of a wet blanket at heart the emotions went in to over drive...and if i'm honest one week on i'm still getting to grips with them.
So once the hysteria had settled and we had all steadied the legs it was then off to the yacht Club to do what we had so craved for so long...that reunion with chocolate which i had spoken about and dreamed of for so long. Three muffins, eight choclate bars and a cold pint of lager later and i was ready for the media interviews and to answer those 'interesting' questions about how we were 'dead' but were now alive! Clearly the boys and I had a lot of catching up to do on what had happened over the past 2 weeks and i look forward to filling you all in with all the goss around this difficult period of the campaign.
For now my friends i must love you and leave you as the sun is out, the lounger all made up and it's off to never never land to try and make sense of what has been a journey like none other i've experienced before. The crew have lost a total in excess of 90kgs between us so those toned pumped up bods that we were hoping to display on the fine sands of Mauritius need a little inflating, and I for one look more like a punch drunk deflated chicken that you wouldn't look twice at if trying to feed your family. Bodytech Viaduct (and our culinary supporters at HQ) sure have their work cut out when we get back to put these 4 bodies back to normal working order but if their efforts in the lead up are anything to go by then we should be back to normal sometime soon - and i for one have got off to a flyer out here devouring more than my fair share of the buffets.
I will be back in due course but for now it's goodbye from team RFP and thank you once again for all your ubelievable support over the past 82 days, we could not have done it without you...something i know i have siad many times before but something i will keep saying as long as i keep talking about this journey. I will miss the blogs and I will miss the friendships that have developed over the course of the crossing but hope and pray to meet up with as many of you as possible over the coming months to share the memories that you have all played such a big part in creating, and celebrating the huge strides made in improving awareness of what we must not forget was at the centre of this challenge...prostate cancer.
We love you all.
p.s any one up for the Pacific...i'm told that can be quite a lively crossing as well (that's a joke mum)?