Mental and Physical Training

Capsize drills, team psych session and deploying the para anchor

This weekend was a busy one for the team.  It really all started on Friday when we had a super exciting meeting with a super exciting new supporter of the Coxless Crew.  Stay posted to find out what that was all about!

Early doors on Saturday morning we arrived at Rossiters in Christchurch to face one of our fears for the row – the capsize!  We got into the cabins, Nats and myself in the stern cabin and Laura in the bow cabin and strapped ourselves in.  The Rossiters team used the crane to tip us over manually.  Inside the cabin it felt like a slow tipping sideways and she sat for quite a while at 90 degrees before needing an extra tip to get her to go over.  This was actually quite comforting as we now know that she can be thrown around in the waves a lot before capsizing.  The roll from 90 degrees back up to upright was surprisingly quick and smooth and before we even had time to think about it we were back the right way up.  The exercise was really useful as we can now have total faith that Doris definitely does self-right and we can also reflect on the experience to help us imagine how it will feel when it happens for real in the middle of the Pacific.

Aft Cabin Capsize

Fore Cabin Capsize

The rest of Saturday was spent in a team session with our performance psychologist Keith.  We thought about how to recognise our warning signs that stress is getting to us before, during and after an event and shared this around the table to help us to recognise the signs in others in order to be able to support the other members of the team as much as possible.  We also completed a separate questionnaire which highlighted to us the importance of keeping social and task related activities separate when we are on the boat as well as making sure that we make time to socialise with each other in a non-row related way before we leave (easier said than done).

Our day ended in what is now becoming a bit of a habit – food and wine in front of The Voice which has replaced the X Factor as the Coxless Crew Saturday night entertainment of choice.

Sunday started windy and cold and after a good breakfast we headed off to visit Doris again.  Top of the list for the day was practising deployment of the para anchor.  After carefully reviewing the instructions (men take note this actually works) and our notes and photos from a previous session with Tony we had a go ourselves.  As it was so windy we just deployed it where we were moored up.  Seemed easy enough but our opinions might change in 40ft waves and high winds!

Para Anchor

The afternoon we spent running through our ‘what if’ scenarios.  This is a really important part of preparation ensuring that we have thought through all the possible problems and situations and know what to do.  As well as the obvious safety requirements of knowing what to do if one of us falls overboard or our water maker stops working it also brought home to us all how real this all is and got us thinking about what life will be like for us aboard the boat.  A useful exercise and the start of some interesting psych homework!

Next weekend we start packing Doris ready for shipping!  So exciting!  Stay posted to see how you fit 6 months of kit into a 29ft boat!


Training with Cambridge University Women’s Team

On Sunday 23rd November the Coxless Crew spent the day with Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC). Rob Baker, CUWBC’s head coach, had kindly invited us up to meet the girls and watch them training and to get some expert advice on rowing technique and boat set up.

We arrived in at 7.15am in a very miserable and wet Ely to see the girls getting the boats out onto the water just after first light. The squad were rowing in 2 eights, 5 pairs and a single for the first outing of the day, which was a 24km row. The Coxless Crew team jumped onto the coaching launches with Rob and the other coaches Paddy and Nick and accompanied the girls down the river, observing them in action and getting tips on technique from the coaches. After the outing we had the chance to chat to the girls and gave them a short talk to introduce them to our row. We then left them heading back out onto the water for a second outing.

For Cambridge row blog

Emma and Izzy both rowed with CUWBC during their time in Cambridge and Emma rowed in the Cambridge v Oxford boat race in 2005, so it was great fun for them to reminisce and be back with CUWBC for the day. Watching the squad train and listening to the coaching team in action was a great opportunity for the whole crew to improve our understanding of how best to move a rowing boat. We were also truly inspired by the squad’s commitment and enthusiasm for their training and focus on the task in hand. We wish them enormous luck for the rest of the season and for their boat race against Oxford in April, which will be the first time that the women’s boat race takes place in London over the same course as the men’s race. We’ll be following their progress and supporting them from Doris out on the Pacific on boat race day!

After leaving Ely we headed to Goldie gym in central Cambridge where the girls do their strength and conditioning work and train on the rowing machines or ‘ergs’. We were joined by Dean from Time Code Pro who had kindly given up his Sunday to come along to film us. We did some training and then were joined by Rob, who gave us each some one on one coaching on the ergs. We will be doing a lot of our training in the run up to the row on the ergs so it is important that our technique is rock solid.


The Team Erging


At the end of the afternoon we had a really helpful brainstorming session with Rob about boat set up. It is absolutely critical that we make sure that our rowing positions on Doris are set up correctly. Rigger position, blade length, seat heat, position of the foot stretchers etc. all have to be finely tuned to ensure that we are moving the boat as efficiently as we can and that we are in strong rowing positions to help us stay comfortable and avoid injury.

Big thanks to Rob, Paddy, Nick, the CUWBC squad and Dean Alexander (photo credit above) for another great training day.



Psych Blog 1

When people find out about the row, the common response is ‘are you crazy?!’. Now ask a crazy person if they think they’re crazy and I’m sure they’ll say no. So naturally of course, we would give it that same response, however, it was pretty apparent from the start, that this row was 90% about controlling the level of ‘crazy’ you become next to the 10% that’s physical strength.


The second question is usually then, ‘how’s the training?’ and the expected response is how much volume we’re doing on the ergo (rowing machine), what’s our weights programme, what cross training do we do etc.’
It is definitely more commonly accepted for someone to go to the gym and physically train for an hour a day & that to be part of a healthy well being lifestyle, no injury or illness necessary and it’s socially accepted. However, if you were to say you were heading off to see your psychologist for an hour a day – there is an immediate sense that it’s a taboo subject, people find it difficult to talk about and there is a preconceived idea, that you have an extreme mental health issue that needs attention.


What is interesting, is that generally people don’t tend to accept, that WE ALL experience mental health problems throughout our lives, but it doesn’t have to be extreme depression or Schizophrenia for it to be labelled as that, or highlighted that it’s not a ‘normal’ part of life.



Think of it as a sliding scale, for instance, for physical illness, it’s like having a common cold at one end to terminal cancer the other. We wouldn’t wish that extreme illness on anyone, but we know it unfortunately exists and there is medical support out there to help, compared to the cold which we all now know how to minimise the risk with preventative measures such as vitamin C/ echinacea/ first defense/ adequate rest etc. & the effects (depending on if your male or female ;)!), you can cope with as you know it’ll be over with within a couple of days or a week.



Mental health is no different, the one end of the scale that everyone associates with mental health or psychology, is being sectioned and whisked off to the Priory, however the common cold end is a day or two or week, of low mood, feeling stressed, being emotionally delicate etc. Now everyone experiences it, but there are very few that actively go out to seek how to cope with those situations/ understand them/ prevent them in a better way & this is where a psychologist can come in.

Keith Goddard is our team psychologist. He works with us on a 1:1 as well as helping us to optimise our team dynamic & understanding of each other as a team. Keith to us, is our rock! He is fundamental to the success of this row (no pressure Keith ;)!). Keith helps us to challenge our thoughts, to recognise that the inner script/ chitter chatter you have with yourself, is exactly that – just a thought. He has taught us how to differentiate between what’s rational or irrational thoughts, to tap into our feelings and emotional responses & recognise how they influence our thought process. He’s shown us how to recognise an emotional response will present itself in each of us; for example, if I’m upset about something, I used to keep it to myself and not want to share it because I wouldn’t want to be an emotional burden, but that emotion has to go somewhere – it’s like energy needing to expand and get out. So in me, I would feel it in my chest becoming tight, my shoulders elevating and feeling stiff & generally my posture would just become more tense. Naturally, you would possibly then go for a massage or see a Physio for acupuncture or ‘posture’ correction – but fundamentally, all that money is wasted unless you address the thought that’s driving that emotional response. The saying and feeling of ‘a weight being lifted off your shoulders’, is exactly that & a heck of a lot cheaper than seeing one of us Physio’s/Osteo’s/ chiropracters for regular treatment and the issue still coming back.

If you take anything away from reading this blog, the main thing is to tap into your mental health and awareness of your thoughts and feelings. There are times when you get an overwhelming feeling that day to day life becomes too much but you continue to try and be a superwoman (or man) and take it all on yourself, well there’s no stronger way than to seek a bit of advice which can be the nugget of information you needed to make life that little bit easier.


48 hour row out of Falmouth

Last Thursday we headed off for our first 48 hour stint aboard Doris. The original plan had been to row out across the channel but the weather was against us and with 50mph winds predicted we took the advice of Tony who will be our land support when we are out on the Pacific, and changed the plan to stay in more sheltered waters. Although we will deal with tougher conditions out in the Pacific we wouldn’t be able to get far enough away from the coast to be safe out there this week.

Doris meets the BBC cameras

We were up early and headed down to Falmouth Haven to pack up Doris with our supplies for the two days. After a final interview with BBC Spotlight we rowed away from the marina with the legendary Guy in a RIB acting as our support boat. We had decided to head out to Pendennis Point to get a taste of some rough water and it was my first experience of rowing Doris in some proper waves. It was great fun battling the elements although very tough to keep her facing into the waves. It was slightly less fun once we swapped over on the oars and Izzy and I ended up in the cabin experiencing some seasickness symptoms. Stay posted for the BBC footage of us out on the water. After a few hours we headed back to the shelter of Falmouth and bid goodbye to Guy ready to spend the following 42 hours bouncing up and down (and up and down) the River Fal. We now know every twist, turn, mudbank and boat on that stretch of water!

Laura and Nat happy on the oars

Laura and Nat happy on the oars

We rowed 2 hours on, 2 hours off for the full 48 hours meaning that each of us was on the oars for 24 hours, never getting more than about an hour’s sleep at a time. However, we all seemed to manage it pretty well and in the most part it was really enjoyable. A noticeable exception to this was the 3.30am to 5.30am shift which was definitely the toughest. Especially on the first night where Izzy and I ended up battling against the tide for 2 hours, managing to move nowhere and sitting next to a green buoy for the entire shift. Being the intelligent individuals that we are we decided to keep ourselves awake by playing ‘I spy’. In the dark. Whilst not moving!

Izzy enjoying some sunshine

During the 48 hours we experienced, rain, wind, sunshine, lightning and fog, all of which we dealt with in good spirits, staying dry and warm in our Crewsaver outerwear. We also experienced the challenges of changing in and out of many layers of clothes in a very small cabin, cooking in the footwell, sleep deprivation and use of the bucket! Insight was gained into how careful we are going to have to be when trying to fit all of our kit onto our small boat and how important it is for everything to have a place. However the most important thing that we learnt was how well we have bonded as a team. We looked after each other, entertained each other, sang to each other and laughed a lot. So excited for our next adventure!

Nats getting a bit wet on the oars

Huge thanks need to go to Shaun Pascoe, Falmouth Haven, Guy and all of the other supporters who joined us in Falmouth or came over to say hello on the water.  The Cornish welcome was a huge morale booster and I’m sure we’ll be back!

Some well earned pasties from Laura's Aunt Marie to celebrate a successful 48hrs training

Some well earned pasties from Laura’s Aunt Marie to celebrate a successful 48hrs training


Sea Survival Skills – with Survival Wisdom

On Monday and Tuesday of last week the team and Doris were down in Plymouth with the amazing Survival Wisdom ( for 2 days of sea survival training.
We arrived at the Survival Wisdom centre at the beautiful Mount Edgecumbe country park, accompanied by the brilliant Dean from Timecode Pro (, who generously came with us to film our training.
The day began with a welcome cup of tea and introductions to our instructors: Richard, Jase and Alf. The team at Survival Wisdom specialise in “giving you the resilience to deal with challenging environments across the globe and enduring, crucial skills for any situation”. They have a scarily impressive portfolio of military experience gained working and training in some of the most challenging environments in the world, including sea, jungle, desert and extreme cold environments, so we were in very safe hands!
Monday was a day in the classroom broken down into 4 main sessions:
(1) Overview of sea survival and a discussion of hazard awareness and risk reduction specifically in the context of our Pacific Ocean row
(2) The psychology of survival
(3) A discussion of the safety equipment that we will have with us for our row
(4) A ‘dry’ run through of life raft drills, man (or lady!) overboard drills and use of flares
photo 1
The sessions were incredibly valuable. The Survival Wisdom team had done their homework and had a close look at our planned route and equipment list, so all of their advice was tailored toour challenge.
It is crucial to our team that we approach our row as safely as possible and reduce all potential risks as much as we can. As part of this, we will be making sure that we have all of the best safety equipment and know how to use it. Before we go, we will also identify all potential hazards and prepare detailed ‘what ifs’, setting out the actions that we will take if particular sets of circumstances arise. It was reassuring to run through some of these scenarios with Survival Wisdom and to hear their positive thoughts on our approach and to get some brilliant additional suggestions from the team.
The ‘dry’ run through was a good learning experience, as well as great fun. We started with a quick session outside where Jase went over how to activate white collision flares. We then headed back to the classroom to practice the actions required for getting ourselves into a liferaft. Doris is a completely self-righting boat, so we should never need to get into our Crewsaver Life raft, however we need to be well prepared for the worse case scenario.
On Tuesday, we had a chance to put the previous day’s learning into practice. We headed out on Doris early in the morning from the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth, who generously hosted us for the day (, and rowed out into Cawsand Bay. Conditions were windy and bumpy enough that 3 of us were a little sea sick. That didn’t hold us back though, and we met Richard and Jase from Survival Wisdom out in the bay with Alastair and one of his colleagues from All Marine Engineering Services ( with their boat.
photo 3
We started off by practising our liferaft drill. We were wearing our amazing Crewsaver ErgoFit smocks, salopettes and 190N life
jackets and we jumped off Doris into the water with our grab bag of crucial safety equipment. We grouped together into a ‘crocodile’ and swam together to the liferaft.
Screen shot 2014-10-08 at 00.35.59
Once inside, we ran through the list of immediate actions to be taken on entering the liferaft (bailing excess water, inflating the final bits of the raft, closing the doors, deploying the para anchor etc). The conditions were choppy, which made the drill more realistic. We even spotted a twister on the horizon(!) and Emma and Laura were battling with sea sickness throughout, but they didn’t let that distract them from the task in hand.
Screen shot 2014-10-08 at 00.29.11
After the liferaft drill, we practiced our man over board drill from Doris. Getting back into Doris from the water was more challenging than getting into the liferaft, but we all managed it unassisted. We also practised lifting an “unconscious” Laura into the boat. After the successful drills, we headed back into the Mayflower Marina and to Jolly Jacks Bar Bistro for a well earned fish and chip lunch and a debrief. There we met Sally Baum, Heather and the team at Jolly Jacks who came on board as sponsors of our row after just a quick meeting and we were completely blown away by their kindness, enthusiasm and generosity.
There isn’t room in this blog to set out all of the numerous learning outcomes of our sea survival training, but if there are 3 things that we will all take away from our time with Survival Wisdom, they are probably these:
(1) Everything we take on Doris must have a purpose (and, if it can, more than one purpose, as there isn’t much room on
(2) Be aware of possible risks, or ‘lemons’. Identify them and don’t let them accumulate – we don’t want too many lemons on the boat!
(3) When faced with a challenging situation, there is no substitute for having a cup of tea and taking the time to make a good team decision about how to deal with it.
A huge thanks again to Dean from Timecode Pro, the teams at Survival Wisdom and All Marine Engineering Services, the Mayflower Marina and Jolly Jacks for all of your support and for making it a great couple of days in Plymouth.



Training and brainstorming

Emma, Laura and I met up for a training and brainstorming session this weekend.
We headed down to The Train Station gym in Wandsworth, which is an amazing place!
Our ‘Train Wreck’ class was was run by the wonderful Jim Stubbs and boy did he work us. To give you a little insight into how we felt at the end of the 45 minute session, this is how the class is described on their website: Train Wreck

“We said all our classes were suitable for everyone. This one isn’t… This is our homage to the hardcore exerciser. You will need to be comfortable using all the different kit and happy to leave dignity at the door. This is a session that will push you to your limits in all aspects of the fitness spectrum. No fixed agenda – the structure will change all the time so be prepared for anything.”

I can safely say that I was struggling to breathe at the end of this!! To get a snapshot of what was involved, here is a quick ‘lighthearted’ video from the session. As you can see we were looking super sexy at the end of it!! Training Session…

We stayed in the gym after the session to go through our personal strength and conditioning programs and refine form and technique. The main areas that that we need to strengthen to start is our core/trunk area. Repetitions of static positions is necessary initially to begin building this strength.

Emma core

After a quick lunch, we began our brainstorming session.
Obviously there is a huge amount to coordinate for an expedition of this magnitude.
Main areas discussed included Media/PR, Sponsorship, our Schools Project (soon to be launched) and values.

Physically and mentally it was a really productive day…but still a long way to go.
Keep following to become part of our journey as we’d love you all to travel with us…
Natalia x

For those intrigued to check out The Train Station gym, have a look at what they offer here: TTS