Two men. One boat. The Atlantic Ocean.
"The first thing people said when they heard about the challenge usually involved storms, capsizing or being eaten alive. But for us, the main concern at that point was that we had never actually rowed a boat"
The Toughest Race On Earth
Earlier this month, James Whittle & Tom Caulfield (a.k.a. The Tempest Two) completed their 3,000 mile, unaided row from Puerto Mogan in the Canary Islands, to the Caribbean island of Barbados. Having never, ever sat in a rowing boat before, not only was the challenge one of the toughest on Earth - the pair were starting from the very bottom.
The pair are now part of an elite group of 500 who have completed the crossing, a far smaller number than Everest Summiteers and North Pole Explorers.
The Tempest Two talk us through the preparation for the row, the physical training & the adventure they had together - completely alone at sea.
So how did you both train for the adventure?
The training kicked off really as soon as we agreed to take on the challenge. We knew that physically, it was going to be the hardest thing we could ever do. Having said that, you could be the fittest person in the world but if you don’t maintain a positive frame of mind, you will go crazy. The challenge is more 80% mental and 20% physical.
To get in shape physically, we went through a few cycles. We worked with a trainer, the owner of Caveman Conditioning who put together some bespoke training plans. Although rowing was the motion, we found out early on that all supporting muscles need to be in good enough shape to be able to support the loaded muscles and remain injury free. A lot of emphasis was on the core strength. This partnered with lots of time spent on the rowing machine in our living rooms, meant that we were building up good strength partnered with a good engine.
I have certainly never been through anything so physically demanding in my life, and the training plan lasted over a year. I think I would have struggled to keep focussed, but as the challenge ahead was so huge, I had no issues remaining focussed and driven the whole time.
Besides the essentials like food & water, what did you take with you for the voyage?
We decided from the go that we would take items with us that we felt would give a positive boost, regardless of weight (to an extent). This meant extra chocolate bars, iPads, headphones, cameras, sweets etc. All of which was combined to make our trip thoroughly more enjoyable. We had heard from previous ocean rowers that a chocolate bar could make your day, but they would only take ~3 per week. We thought sod that, lets take 2 a day each and really enjoy them. So we did! These positive boosts in mentality were so worth the extra weight!
I loved the headphones, being connected to music along the row means that I can tie music, and particular songs to certain memorable sections of the row. Forever linking random songs to special moments I will never forget (example is Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik to the sunrise row on Christmas day - EPIC).
What was the best bit?
James: Seeing the pilot boat after 54 days at sea. Only at this point did I allow myself to think we had made it after all the complications along the way. To come through it all together and reach Barbados was incredible. There were times I thought it may not happen, which only made it sweeter when the moment arrived.
Tom: Hard to pin-point a ‘best bit’, but for me there were certain nights where the moon was full, the stars were thick and bright and the rowing was fast. There were times where I would stop rowing and simply look around, and would find myself smiling to the thought of ‘what are we doing here?’ - a moment of pure clarity, and a feeling of content.
Which shift did you look forward to the most?
This is funny as the favourite shifts definitely changed. For the first 2 weeks, we both completely dreaded the night shift and would do everything we could to keep the other one awake as long as possible.
I think over the course of the entire row, I always looked forward to the sunrise shift. The temperature would be great, the sunrise was always incredible and for some reason, it seemed to be a quick shift. Being able to see the ocean more and more over the course of the shift was a huge boost and topping it off with the amazing sunrise always put a smile on my face.
What was the toughest challenge?
James: The first capsize was a tough moment for me, and the negative frame of mind that followed. Letting go of the ‘why always us?’ mentality and switching to living for the now was a turning point, and once I got over that thought and embraced the obstacles rather than fearing them, the whole journey became more enjoyable and we learnt from every challenge we faced.
Tom: The weather was without doubt the toughest part. We were not the luckiest with the elements, and spent a fair bit of time in the cabin on the para-anchor as we were thrown around like a twig. When your goal is to gain miles and make progress, the thought of going backwards, and having no control whatsoever over your progress is hard to deal with. The final week where we got stuck in a pressure system, was the worst moment of the trip for me, it fully broke me and made me question why the hell we were doing this. Luckily we pulled together and smashed the final 6 days, averaging over 60 miles p/day and arriving 2 days quicker than we should have done.
We had suprises every day on our adventure, and no two days were ever the same. I think that was the biggest surprise of all to me, my naivety lead me to believe that we deserved a few days plain sailing or with great weather, experiencing nothing but good times. How wrong I was! We learn over time that the ocean owes you nothing and we really were at the mercy of it the entire time. Certain points stand out as surprising such as the capsize and the narrow miss with the cargo ship, but in hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising at all. We put ourselves in harms way and should have expected such events to unfold.
What’s the most important thing you’ve taken from the adventure?
I took a real belief in our own ability to dig deep and get through. We were physically more isolated than anyone had ever been, and managed to overcome obstacles that would certainly stump us previously in everyday life. I learned a lot about how to react to negative situations, and really embrace obstacles to grow as a person, rather than react negatively. I have no examples of a negative reaction towards a challenge ever benefitting a situation, but hundreds of examples of the alternate.
If you were to give advice to somebody planning a huge challenge like this - what would it be?
James: Decide on one purpose and stick with it. Whether it is speed and records or fun and experience, pick one and stay on that path. It’s also so important to simply back yourself beyond the opinions of others. Embrace the doubters and use it to push yourself to places you didn’t know existed.
Tom: Go into the challenge with nothing but positivity. The night before we left, I had no nerves, just pure excitement. I was fully aware of how hard the task ahead was going to be, and had no illusions of the pain we would go through, but was so excited to experience things that a handful of people have experienced. Also embrace your naivety, and never stop asking questions.
What’s next for the Tempest Two?
We will 100% be undertaking more adventures and will continue to write the story of The Tempest Two. sharing our story through our own blog, as well as working with top brands around the world to share theirs.
Read more on The Tempest Two’s journey over on their website, and check out their Instagram & Twitter feeds for updates!