14 March 2016: Record-making Atlantic rowers Team Essence have passed the midway point in their 3,308 nautical mile challenge.
Their achievement in the face of potential disasters including capsizing three times was celebrated in a tweet from British astronaut Tim Peake as the International Space Station passed over their position on 12 March – making him closer to the five-strong team than anyone on land.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) March 12, 2016
The men’s 8.5 metre (27.8 ft) x 1.2 metre (3.9 ft) Ellida is the most connected rowing boat ever to attempt the crossing. With safety and the need to attract and update sponsors for their chosen charity, the NSPCC, at the forefront of their minds, Team Essence turned to Inmarsat to provide them with the communications they need.
Two IsatPhone 2 satellite phones allow them to keep in touch with loved ones and supporters from the middle of the ocean, and also offer emergency assistance and tracking functions for peace of mind.
The team has managed to find time during their two hour on, two hour off rowing schedule to transmit blogs, photos and video to update Facebook and Twitter using their compact BGAN Explorer 510 terminal. They even remembered to message their mums on Mother’s Day!
Former Royal Marine Commando Aldo Kane said: “The connectivity we have had on board really is second to none. Without Inmarsat this would be a very different expedition.”
The first half of the crossing from Portugal to Venezuela – recognised as the toughest Atlantic route – has pitted the team, four of whom are ex-military, against 30ft (10m) swells and 30 knot winds which have damaged equipment including the water maker and para anchor and knocked out the auto helm.
But by far the most dangerous episodes have been the capsizings. In his blog for Inmarsat, Aldo writes: “We certainly didn’t anticipate the bad weather and huge seas we encountered in the first two weeks. Rowing boat capsizes are relatively unheard of. We capsized and rolled three times with men overboard in one week.”
Team mate Oliver Bailey described one of the incidents, when Ellida was struck by a gigantic wave and turned over 180 degrees.
“I found myself under water unable to breath but remarkably still holding onto a fabric line I caught as I flew over board. Mustering all my strength I wasn’t prepared to let go of the one connection to the boat. If I had I could have been swept away in moments into the darkness.”
Three of the others were also flung into the churning ocean but also remained harnessed and helped each other back on board.
“Foxy [Jason Fox] was in the comms cabin the entire episode busy saving the satcom systems in case we needed to alert the coastguard.
“It was a great advertisement for our special forces. All of the team were calm and lucid in this moment of potential horror. Remarkably we had bilged out the waterlogged areas of Ellida and were back on a heading of 240° toward the Verde Islands like nothing had happened ten minutes later.”
The men are already assured a place in the record books as the first ever team to row from mainland Europe to mainland South America. They also aim to make the fastest crossing and are set to be in the top three longest distance Atlantic crossings.