Crisis? What crisis?

Competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, mid-ocean Rowing 3,000 miles late last year across an ocean is the toughest thing I have done so far. With just over four months left to the start of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, I know how fortunate we were not to have had our training disrupted by a global pandemic. Yet the crews I know taking part this time have adapted well to cope, spending more time on their ergometers, pumping iron in their home-made gyms and honing the navigation, nutrition, and boat maintenance skills that will keep them alive when circumstances change. 

The nineteenth century military strategist Helmuth von Moltke maintained that no plan survives wholly intact after contact with the enemy. It’s a lesson we kept in mind during our row as key pieces of equipment broke, our power failed, and promised breaks in the weather failed to materialise.

It’s also a lesson I’ve applied in my day job as a communications director. Crisis communications strategies have to be flexible enough to cope with the unexpected, adaptable even in the heat of an apparent disaster, and honed through rehearsal. Persuading senior executives to take time out to prepare, to role play, stress test, and to learn with you, is vital.

Company directors and ocean rowers alike will do well to consider that crisis management isn’t just a manual to pick up and dust off when things go awry, it’s an approach and a mindset that will determine whether you succeed or fail. 

Atlantic rowing: what it’s like

A short film detailing our participation in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is now out! It’s an amateur effort, but gives an idea of the scale of the task we faced.

Rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean as Team Margot Atlantic Rowers was an epic experience. It’s hard to begin to describe it without lapsing into an adjectival soup.

We took 39 days to get from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua. And there were many highs and lows.

Our crossing was marked by astonishingly bad weather in the first 48 hours, huge waves that tested our surfing skills, strong winds, several days of flat calm and painfully slow progress, plus numerous remarkable encounters with wildlife. We never tired of the view – we saw the Atlantic in all its majesty, and it was always a sight to behold. So too was the night sky which, free of any light pollution, allowed our minds to absorb the miracle of life itself.

On a more mundane level, we suffered along with the rest of the fleet: various injuries, foot infections, bruising, chafing, extreme fatigue, hallucinations, seasickness, mood swings, equipment failure, electrical problems and occasional despair when we doubted our navigation advice and managed to row further than anyone else in this year’s race. But all this paled into insignificance when set against the magnificence of crossing the Atlantic to reach Antigua.

So were we changed by the experience? For Martin, Hamish and me, rowing the Atlantic was the culmination of a 20 year ambition. Sadly, with the Covid-19 crisis now enveloping the world, it has been hard from our respective lockdowns to gain the perspective from which to judge how we feel about it.

It has, however, confirmed the maxim of my other half which is that if you really want to do something, you need to work out how to go and do it. And don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t!

We took part in the row to raise awareness of the global Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Register. You can find out more at www.werowyouregister.org – please, please sign up…you could save a life!