Q&A with The Seablings from the World's Toughest Row

Firstly congratulations Anna & Cam aka. The Seablings for achieving two world records and being the first brother & sister duo to row across the Atlantic - what an amazing achievement!! 

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a premier event in ocean rowing, that starts annually in the Canary Islands and ends in Antigua with over 3000 miles of gruelling rowing in between. 

Tell us a bit about why you both decided to row across the Atlantic together.

Anna: The idea was mine. Cameron was a rower at school and our parents used to take me along to support. Instead of just watching and eating the bacon sandwiches on the river bank I was once invited to go in a boat and give it a try. I loved being on the water so much that I joined the team at school and ended up rowing competitively as a Division 1 athlete whilst studying in America at Clemson University.

The idea to row an ocean though was planted around 2012 when I read a book by Roz Savage, the first female to row across the Atlantic Solo. I was immediately inspired by the adventure and its combination of; physical, mental and technical challenges.

When my brother Cameron had just completed his solo swim across the English Channel I thought, “well, he must love the water” so I asked him if he wanted to be my crew mate, and in 2017 official planning for our world-first ocean crossing began.

Cameron

Cam Before & After the challenge. Photo credit: [Ben Duffy, TWAC]

Cam: As a complete lover of adventure when Anna invited me to be part of the crew it was a 100% yes. I wanted to support my only sibling in achieving her goals but also, it sounded like an experience I just couldn’t refuse. It’s not every day someone asks you if you fancy rowing across an ocean.

We then researched to see if a brother and sister had ever successfully rowed an ocean together before. They hadn’t, so the idea of a world-first just added to our determination.

Food is obviously very important for energy and survival, how did you plan your meals for the trip?

Cam: Initially we asked, how many calories are we going to burn a day? Rowing in two-hour shifts 24 hours a day burns a lot!! We then had to factor the additional calories needed to compensate for repair to any sunburn, sleep deprivation and possible dehydration. We ended up using an estimation of 60 calories per kilo of body weight per day. I was 95kg so that meant consuming a minimum of 5,600 calories per day.

Anna: It’s common for your senses to change at sea, so we were advised to take a variety of different flavour foods. We took a range of cuisine and joked about having themed dinners on board.

Ann

Anna Before & After the challenge. Photo credit: [Ben Duffy, TWAC]

How many meals did you have to take with you? 

Anna: Though we hoped the ocean crossing wouldn’t take any more than 60 days at sea, we took 70 days worth of meals as a precaution. We ended up taking 490 individual dehydrated meals in total. These were then all bundled into four packs for Cameron and three packs for me which ended up being our daily allowance. 

Were they all freeze dried/ dehydrated expedition food bags, or did you take any fresh food too?

Cam: The majority of the food was dehydrated (to save in weight) but the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge required us to take several wet rations or meal ready to eat as they are sometimes referred to. 

Anna: These were only to be consumed if we were in desperate need and the race officer had approved us to do so. Perhaps in the event of a water maker failure where we couldn't rehydrate food anymore. There was a time penalty for doing so, and fortunately, we never had to tuck into those. 

Which was your favourite brand of expedition food?

Anna: We seemed to both prefer the Real Turmat. They rehydrated well and always had lots of flavours.  

Which was your favourite meal? 

Cam: I absolutely loved the cheesy pasta, Spaghetti Carbonara or Mac N' Cheese. Not every day as it wasn’t often we were able to boil water. But on the few occasions we could, it melted the cheese in the most amazing way and really boosted morale.

Anna: Hands down the Vegan Pasta Bolognese. I am not even vegan, but it was delicious and importantly still tasty when eaten cold. It was so good that I ended up rummaging through the lockers amongst the rough waves just to find the vegan pasta bolognese every time I wanted a meal. 

Which camping stove did you use?

Anna: We used a Jet Boil, although boiling and cooking anything in the big seas was always risky in case you were burnt or the boat caught fire. We also didn’t want anything to get lost over the side of the boat in the event of a capsize so we hand-made a platform (from a chopping board and drain pipe) that could be mounted on the deck. It was great for stability. 

Cam: The Jet Boil was very effective, boiled water in minutes but due to choppy conditions and the sun during the day being scorching hot we ended up most days just adding freshly desalinated water and leaving the packet on deck in the sun to ‘slow cook’. In about 25 min it was done. 

The gas bottles seemed to last for ages (or we just didn’t boil water that often) as when we arrived in Antigua we still had the can of gas we had used throughout all of our training.

Rowing

Photo credit: [Ben Duffy, TWAC]

What was your first meal when you got onto land? 

Anna: So often we would dream about what we wished to be waiting for us in Antigua. Initially, we weren’t very creative with our ideas, pizza, burgers, a Sunday roast but by the end of the trip Cameron and I had planned every detail of every course for our meals, down to describing every single flavour inside. Mine was a Caprese salad with fresh basil, mozzarella di bufala and bright red hand-picked tomatoes fizzled in extra virgin olive oil. 

Cam: Mine was sticky BBQ Korean style lollipop chicken wings. 

Anna: We eventually did get the meal of our dreams at a restaurant in Antigua called the Cloggy's near the Antigua Yacht Club, Falmouth Harbour. 

Cam: Our official first meal though was a hamburger and chips (lots of them) and of course a very traditional Antiguan rum punch which was to become the first of many more. 

What was the hardest part of the trip?

Cam: Mentally the isolation can be quite tough but once you change your mindset and disconnect from life as you used to know it, the middle of the Atlantic ocean can be a really beautiful place. There were times it could be utopia but other times equally terrifying. Being confined to the cabin for days especially when I had a knee infection which became incapacitating were some of my hardest days.

Anna: For the first few weeks the nights were absolutely terrifying. You couldn’t see where the waves were coming from, it was like being on a rollercoaster blindfolded. But as the waves grew bigger so did our confidence to overcome them, and by the end, I would look up during my 2-hour shift and find comfort from the starlit sky.  

Would you have changed anything? 

Cam:  A very small and silly technical thing but we had stainless steel bearings in the wheels of our seats. As the waves crashed over the boat saltwater caused them to rust and bleed oil everywhere. We had to change the number of wheel bearings at sea. We later found out ceramic bearings exist and these never rusted! I would definitely upgrade on the next voyage. 

What's the next adventure?

Cam: I’m focused now on taking to the skies hoping to complete my commercial pilots licence in the next year.

Anna: I would love to row another ocean and dare say the Pacific is calling my name. Still trying to convince my brother to do it with me as I honestly couldn’t imagine rowing with anyone else. He was the best pairs partner ever. The Seablings round 2! 

Congratulations again and thank you again for answering our questions!

Good luck with your next adventures from all of us at Base Camp Food.

 

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