Earlier this year, Johnnie Ball, Dirk Von Delft and Stefan Vine completed a mammoth 4,000 mile rowing expedition from Portugal to South America in aid of Dementia UK. The challenge, which took 65 days to complete, raised £50,000 for charity has also won the trio a place in the Guinness book of world-records. The expedition was in memory of Johnnie’s late father who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia when Johnnie was 15 which inspired him to take on a challenege to raise awareness of the challenges families face when taking on full-time carer responsibilities.
Vango were proud sponsors of the Forget-Me-Knot Row expedition, and provided the team with meal rations and sleeping equipment to help the team get the best nights sleep in between rowing shifts.
How did you prepare for such a huge undertaking?
“The first thing that springs to people’s minds when they think about a challenge like this is the physical preparation, but in a way, that was one of the easier parts of our prep,” Johnnie explains. “I used a rowing machine and started weight and mobility training to reduce the chance of injury, and we had plenty of rowing practice before the expedition itself.”
The team soon realise that mental preparation was just as important as the physical training.
“Spending several months in cramped conditions with two other people was going to be tough. We needed to prepare ourselves for the mental toll this could take. Each of us underwent detailed psychological profiling,” Johnnie says. “We needed to be able to have truly open conversations about who we were.
How did you split the rowing on the boat?
“We rowed for 12 hours a day, in shifts of two hours on and two hours off, seven days a week. Although when our steering broke we had to add in an additional two hours steering before we had our two hours of sleep. We rowed seven days a week for 65 days, with minimum breaks in between. It was tough but the team morale kept me going!"
What were the high points of the expedition?
The best one was when a pod of dolphins gave us a show. We saw a lot of pods, but these dolphins didn’t just swim alongside us. They surfed the waves, did backflips, spins and somersaults while swimming around the boat, doing it again and again for about 20 minutes. It was just brilliant
And what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Because of time pressures we set off in bad weather but soon stopped because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. We couldn’t row, so we had to ride out the weather while anchored on the high seas. We were essentially trapped in our tiny cabins unable to eat because of seasickness and unable to sleep because it felt like we were in a washing machine. I think we’d all agree that those first 10 days were the lowest point.
How did it feel when you reached dry land after 65 days at sea?
That was an adventure in itself. We saw land for the first time at night and thought ‘great, we can cruise in’. But suddenly the current turned crazy and pulled the boat all over the place. Then the power went, so we had no steering. For the next few hours, we were in emergency mode, battling the current to reach the coast. When we did get there, we had to row another three miles upriver to a pontoon where we were due to stop. Stef was the first out of the boat and immediately fell over because he had no land legs. It was the middle of the night so we arrived to an empty dock, we all just lay down on the pontoon and laughed!