Friday, 18 May 2012

How to be a good ocean rowing supporter

Rule 1: It's not about you.
Your support and encouragement are incredibly valuable to your rower. However, as life at sea is incredibly tough, and sending messages 10 times more onerous, and 50 times less immediate than it is on land, craft your messages (content and frequency) based on what THEY would enjoy receiving not what YOU want to send.

Everything else derives from this rule!

Here are some detailed Dos and Donts for how and what to communicate whilst your rower is at sea. Be careful, though, because you may find that you develop OARS (Obsessive Atlantic Rowing Supporting) or the related condition SPOT (Serious Pacific Ocean Tracking) Syndrome!

Please note that the advice below is my personal view, based on my experience. It may not be appropriate for ocean rowers in different situations and with different objectives! Apart from Rule 1, which always applies.

DO remember that the crew are NOT on the internet. 
Although they're writing blogs that APPEAR on the internet, they email those blogs in to the host site/social media page. 

Why aren't they on the internet? OK, do you remember before there was broadband we had 56k modems? Slow, weren't they, compared with broadband?  Well, the speed for a satellite phone modem connection is 7k. And that's why they're not logging in to Facebook or Twitter... Oh, and there are no mobile phone signals off shore either. (NB their land team may well be texting on good messages on Facebook etc to them, and they'll love having a permanent record of your messages once they finish – all the ones in the phone will have got deleted.)

DON'T state the obvious.
For example, "You're nearly at half way". They KNOW. They have a GPS on board. and being 50 miles from half way may seem like "nearly" to you on the map, but it's a lot of strokes they've got to take.

The cabin is cramped.
DO identify yourself clearly. 
This doesn't have to take up lots of letters but over-abbreviation can have its hazards "Love, E" may be obvious to you, but particularly when there are multiple crew members on board, the nearest and dearest of all using the phone may include little sister Elizabeth, drinking mate Eric, Auntie Erin and colleague Elizabeth. 

A friend on our row provided an excellent example of good ocean rowing supporting in this area. Early on, he sent a text saying "Dave Heffernan here, I'll be signing all my messages to you DH". This used up half a text, but it was a great thing to do: he established the code, and then used it consistently.

DON'T ask them questions that you could find the answer to a) by speaking to the crew's land team or b) on Google. 
Replying to messages from an ocean rowing boat is DIFFICULT (see * below) and it takes up time that the rower may well prefer to spend sleeping, eating or wiping their back side with surgical spirit. As YOU want to support THEM, you can help by not adding to their "to do" list.

DO use spaces.
Being "clever" by leaving all the spaces out between words and using capitals at the start of each one, so you can squeeze more in means that the start of the message doesn't come up on the tiny phone screen  so the rowers have to scroll down and try to find it again later and, more importantly, it's hard work deciphering the message in a sweltering cabin on a rocking boat. 

DON'T ask for updates if they have indicated they have a problem.
They will update you when they are ready to. All sorts of things may be going on that they don't want to share with you. See Rule 1.

DO include mundane things from your everyday life on land.
We were at sea over Christmas, and enjoyed hearing about Mel's roast duck and Lisa's presents (including a Kindle). We also liked getting news of the effect of cold weather that we struggled to imagine, including one text from a teacher who admitted she was currently "doing a cover lesson for 2nd year Latin and looking out the window at the snow-covered playing fields". 

DON'T ask if they got your message, unless it's REALLY important. 
Some crews (mostly smaller solos or pairs) respond in their blogs to text messages they've received: "Loved that joke Baz", "Congrats on the new job Geraint". These personalised messages from the sea are lovely to receive, but if they DON'T happen to mention your message in the blog, don't then text them again saying "Did you get our last text?" especially if your last message was of the "You're doing really well, we're so proud of you" type. They will get lots of messages during the day, and mostly only blog once a day. It is tough to remember who messaged. Be confident that they enjoyed getting it. But remember Rule 1. 

DO make a collection to "debrief" them on what's been happening in the World whilst they were away.
A great way to do this is to keep the front page of the paper (or even the whole paper) once a week, and present this to them when they get back (or send it out to the finish with someone who is going, if you're not).

Those with a written learning style will find it hard
to solve anagrams in this situation.
DON'T send anagrams.
(Unless the crew are known crossword geniuses). Most people can only solve these by writing them down, and you just can't do that on a boat when you're either rowing or lying on your back in a cramped cabin.

I apologise profusely to ocean rowers to whom I have sent anagrams in the past. I won't do it again.

DO send riddles/puzzles that can easily be remembered and mused over whilst rowing. 
The very best ones we had were from a vicar friend (his profession is actually irrelevant to the point I'm making, but I feel it adds colour to the story) who, a couple of weeks in, sent us five "Tube Station" riddles such as "Monarch not happy", "Posh Spice" and "Entertainment in a seat of learning"**. He offered that there were more where these came from and we replied that we loved them, but could he just send a few and only once a week?

A good ocean rowing supporter, wearing
a "I didn't row the Atlantic but I know
someone who did" t-shirt.
This he duly did, and it actually gave structure to our otherwise unstructured weeks. "Hey, Jim's latest tube station riddles have come in!" A nice example of the application of Rule 1 (poor bloke must have had to diary doing this, and remember to fit it in "faithfully" of course, in between writing sermons).

DON'T send many messages in the first 5 days.
It takes time to establish the routines of ocean rowing, most people feel seasick for the first week, and the conditions are generally choppier nearer land. 

DO remember that consecutively-sent messages will not necessarily arrive consecutively.
If you have to send several consecutive messages because you want to deliver an essay, put "Part 1/3" or "2/3" at the beginning so that they can figure out what's going on more easily.

DON'T suggest to the crew that they row slower/faster towards the end so that they arrive in daylight/you have time to get there. 
They MIGHT be happy to accommodate this, but probably not. Best not risk it.

Children who had contracted OARS Syndrome.
DO take a picture of yourself supporting your rower.
We loved getting pictures later of supporters in our team t-shirts in various places, and also snaps of them raising a glass when we safely arrived.

DON'T duplicate what the Land Team is doing.
Your rower will almost certainly have arranged for their Land Team to send them information on where they are relative to the rest of the fleet, weather forecasts and possibly other things, to a particular schedule. Check with them what this is before taking it upon yourself to send this kind of material.

* And finally, if you want to get a feeling of what writing an email is like in an ocean rowing boat:
  • Remove everything from the cupboard under your stairs (if you don't have one, go to a friend's house which does, though because of the next but one point, it will have to be a very good friend's house).
  • Turn a fan heater on in the cupboard for at least 5 minutes. It needs to be hot enough that sweat runs down your face.
  • Take your clothes off.
  • Put sun cream on so you're sticky.
  • Put some woolly gloves on to make your fingers as hot and clumsy as they would be if they were stiff from rowing all day for weeks.
  • Get a large hardback book and a tin of beans. Lay the bean tin on one side, put the book on top of it, and sit on the book (in the cupboard) so that you can rock from side to side. If you can't sit in the cupboard because it's too low, lie down in it, leaning on one elbow.
  • I used to sit up, wedging myself against the
    foam-padded arch on the left, with my feet braced against
     the other wall of the cabin on the right (out of shot)
    to type blogs. But I'm quite small.
  • Set up an lamp to shine into your face - if your rower is crossing the Atlantic from E to W, as most do, and are writing their blog in the eve ing, as most do, in the stern cabin, as most do, the sun will be shining straight in through the door, making the screen impossible to read.
  • Fire up your laptop. Yes, it is hot and sticky having it on your hot, sticky lap. 
  • Whilst lurching unpredictably from side to side, write an email. It needs to be factual, funny, mention at least 5 people by name, include data, be different from the ones you've written on the previous 32 days despite the fact that you've done virtually the same thing for the past, said 32 days (hopefully – dramas are generally the last thing you want on an ocean rowing boat unless they involve the sighting of dolphins). 
  • To send it, connect a phone to the external aerial, and also to the computer, wait for the satellites to come over so that you've got 5 bars of signal, and then press Go.
** King's Cross, Victoria, Oxford Circus. It took us ages to get Oxford Circus.

The final task for ocean rowing supporters!

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