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SURI x Vibe the Wave

3 women. 48 days. 1.5 million oar strokes. 30ft waves. 1 marlin attack. 

Last summer we sponsored the inspirational Vibe the Wave team as they prepared for their epic Atlantic crossing to raise awareness around ocean plastic pollution.

They completed the row in February, so we caught up with Grace from the team to talk routines in the middle of the ocean, overcoming adversity, and being skewered by a hungry marlin.

Where are you now, and how do you feel after the challenge?

We have returned to the UK and are trying to adjust back to normality and our “pre-row lives''. It’s taken some work to come back to the reality of “normal” life again, going to work and getting back into the routine of normal sleep patterns.

After such a big undertaking, normal life seems somewhat chilled and slow comparatively. We have come home with a new perspective on things, and having had the luxury of time to think during the crossing, we have definitely come back with a new sense of “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

How are the blisters looking?

Hands have healed… although they definitely look a bit more battered than they did before. One might even claim they’ve done a hard day's work! Our bottoms on the other hand… they are taking a while longer. Let’s just say we aren’t quite bikini ready yet!

Before you rowed across the Atlantic, none of you knew each other, some of you had never rowed before, how did this all come about?

Well, when Maddie first thought about doing the row she signed up to her local rowing club, Minerva, in Bath and learnt how to row, quite successfully. The same for G in Cardiff. Whereas my first time rowing a real boat, was on our first training camp out on the North Sea!

We came together in the name of adventure and pushing boundaries. Maddie and G were already in a team who were looking for a 4th person, when they recruited me. Maddie and G first contacted me at the end of November 2022, we met in December (less than a year before race start) and bonded over cheese and wine (naturally). However, in March 2023, a member of the team dropped out and we decided at that point to stay as a three and become what is now Vibe the Wave.

The three of us are driven by adventure and getting the most out of life. We are three very outgoing and enthusiastic individuals. Together we created our ethos for Vibe the Wave which was to “Live the adventure”. We took this attitude with both hands and it drove our whole approach to the row, which ultimately led to our success, especially in the face of adversity.

What was the routine like on the boat? Talk us through a typical morning and how you'd end each day.

I’m not sure there is a “typical” day on the ocean given you are at the mercy of the elements.

But the idea was that between 7am and 11.30pm we were rowing 2 hours on and 1 hour off, with two people rowing at any one time. Then between 11.30pm and 7am we swapped to 2 hours on and 3 hours off to get a little more rest.
We took it in turns to cook each meal (boiling water and adding it to our dried food pouches) and often took our day time “off shifts” on deck to keep each other company and because the cabins got too hot.

Obviously our morning and evening routines were bookended by using our SURI toothbrushes.

Go on...

We each had a SURI brush which we LOVE and still use. Mine lasted 39 days but Maddie and G’s lasted the entire trip without charging which was 48 days!

They are so lightweight and streamline to use and the case for charging and cleaning is awesome. We are true SURI converts. We also made a video each time we did our teeth to help document our trip, and it became a bit of a highlight of our day to do our “SURI video”.

I can honestly say, with the amount of treats I had in my snack packs (containing sweets, chocolate, sugar snacks) it’s a wonder my teeth haven’t suffered. But thankfully, brushing twice a day has kept them in top condition. I saw the dentist on my return who was really impressed with them, and even delayed my hygienist appointment as it wasn’t needed yet.

How did you keep yourselves sane and combat stress on board?

The structure of our shift pattern helped us gain routine amongst the madness… but you really are living hour to hour, shift to shift. We have never felt more “present” than when we were on the boat. It was such a pleasure to have the ability to do that, when life in general is so hectic.

Thankfully we had a speaker on board for music, and Stephen Fry reading us the Harry Potter audio books was a god send! We also created our own version of scattergories (the board game) and played endless amounts of “shag, marry, avoid”…. If you know, you know!

What was the highlight of the whole experience?

It is almost impossible to choose just one. The marlin strike wasn’t a highlight per se, but it's definitely something we'll never forget.

We had some beautiful sunsets, and even more incredible sunrises. The nights where there was no moon, and the sky was bright with stars, so many of them you felt like you could almost reach out and grab them.

The big weather and insane waves that crash over you and the boat in all directions. The belly laughs and incredible sunshine.

The five days in the doldrums where there was no weather and the sea was mill pond flat with an eerie stillness and quiet.

Seeing cargo ships in the night, so close you can hear the engine.

Sighting land for the first time in 48 days. And eventually seeing the colours of Antigua (seeing green for the first time after weeks of blue!)
But of course, the finish line; seeing the media boat, setting off the flares, team hugs, stepping on land, embracing our families.

Worst moment?

Being constantly damp. Having wet clothes (often with mould on them) and the inability to get properly dry.

What are the biggest lessons you've learned?

The power of kindness and compassion.

How one small act of kindness – as simple as making someone a cup of coffee – has the power to turn their day around and change morale on the boat.

Working together as a team. Each of our strengths was what gave us such a happy and successful crossing. Team work really is the key to a challenge like this.

You made front-page news (and us very nervous) as your boat was skewered by a marlin. What was that like?

It really was quite something.

It was new years eve, the weather was incredible. So hot. Maddie and I were rowing, and G was sunbathing on deck. Out of nowhere Maddie suddenly says “I think my oar hit something” to which I obviously replied “it was just a wave”. Meanwhile G is still fast asleep, soaking up the sun.

Maddie insists “no, seriously there is something big under us!” so when I stand up and spot something big and dark I shout “Oh my god, I think it’s a shark!” (My worst nightmare, but in reality a shark would have been preferable to a marlin, as it happens).

Maddie yells “no, it’s a marlin! Oh my god, it's massive!" At which point I decide it’s totally sensible to grab my GoPro and my phone and stick my arms in to get some underwater footage.

Now we've seen the footage back, it's amazing I still have both arms attached.

We found out there was a shoal of tuna under the boat, using the rudder to hide from the marlin. While the marlin was in a mad feeding frenzy it ended up hitting the boat really hard (the speed those fish can move, at their size, is just crazy).

The marlin crashed into the port side of the boat (narrowly missing the stern cabin and our water tank for the water maker), and it hit the boat at such speed, it went “gills deep” and pierced the boat through three compartments leaving three holes. The largest of which was bigger than a dinner plate, meaning in an instant we were taking on a LOT of water.

Thankfully Rannoch boats are made incredibly well, from multiple compartments, and the idea is you can “afford” to flood up to six compartments without sinking, and we had flooded three.

We had to get really creative with how we fixed the holes. We ended up using a fender and a champagne bottle to plug the biggest hole (which didn’t make it water tight but it helped slow the water ingress). We used a cut piece of oar and food wrappers for the middle hole, and epoxy putty for the smallest.

Every 3 hours we had to pump the water out of the compartments otherwise we were rowing with over 150kg of water on the boat. This ultimately made us much slower than when we started and led to us falling further back in the fleet.  But we still finished in a respectable time, only 7 days after the winning trio, so I think we handled it pretty well.

What was the biggest surprise of the trip?

The marlin…

But ultimately for me, I was expecting to just “tolerate '' the entire thing and get through the crossing – eat, sleep, row repeat. But I ended up absolutely loving every second of it… being named ‘the salty sea dog’ and fully embracing pirate life. That was my biggest surprise… I was expecting “the other shoe to drop” at any stage but it never did. I was literally living my best life for 48 days!

If you hadn't spent the last 44 weeks training, and rowing across the Atlantic – what would you have been doing?

Maddie would have been rowing, or doing projects on her house… she loves learning new skills. She is building an outside office studio now we are back, and tiling her boot room. She is super creative and proactive, so she will have found one project or another to get her teeth into!

G would have moved to Australia straight away to be with her boyfriend and started her life out there.

And me… well 2023 already had plans locked in (which I somehow managed to carry out alongside the campaign) including Marathon des Sables and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

But had it not been for the row, I would have raced a triathlon for Team GB and raced a full distance Ironman. Both of which I am returning to this year, racing for Team GB in the European Championships in June in Portugal and Ironman in October with the objective to qualify for the World Championships in Kona in 2025. But in my “off time” I will pretty much always be found on the Chiltern Hills walking (or trail running) with my Sprocker spaniel 'Monkey', or in the kitchen whipping up baked goods.

Top tips for anyone else thinking of attempting a similar challenge?

Get strong in the gym – core strength and being physically robust will help delay the inevitable physical pain of rowing continuously for over 40 days.

Start early – not just in terms of the rowing and training, but the campaign; getting your mandatory hours done, finding sponsors etc.

But the real take home message is this; fully immerse yourself in the entire campaign.

Let it be everything you ever imagined and hoped it would be. Any fool can suffer and be miserable. But you have the choice to enjoy it, to embrace it, to make the most out of every situation, and smile at every opportunity.

It's the adventure of a lifetime, so don’t waste a single second of it.

If you could step back in time and tell yourself something just before you set off – what would it be?

This is really tricky.

But I think it would be a reminder that mother nature is a force that can't be tamed. No matter what the weather does, we can’t change it or fight it, we just have to work with what we have.

There were often times where we got frustrated with the weather; either being soaked from storms and waves, or being unbelievably hot in the unrelenting sunshine, or fighting cross winds working against the boat, or being stuck in the doldrums making hardly any progress. I think it would have been a reminder that you can only work with the cards you’ve been dealt with that day.

Overall though, as a team, we handled the entire thing incredibly well, and I am SO proud of how we did that and what we achieved.

What’s next for the Vibe the Wave team? Vibe the dunes? Vibe the mountain?

I’m not sure our parents' anxiety could cope with anything else!

The idea of another ocean isn’t unreasonable – especially for Maddie and myself (if anyone needs an infill for the pacific, you know where to find me!)

G wants to do either the south or north pole. Maddie wants to do more African adventures with animal tracking and over land driving. But deep down we will always be Vibe the Wave.

So much so, we want our legacy to live on (much like our live the adventure ethos) and we have come up with the idea of “Vibe Tribe Certified”

We are willing to sponsor a team (a nominal amount circa £250) each year and offer advice, time, share stories and experience, hints and tips, to any future team rowing an ocean… and they get to carry the Vibe the Wave banner with them.

Hopefully this will help the right team have a successful crossing and assist with some financial aid too.

Learn more about the Vibe the Wave team and follow their next adventure over on their Instagram. 

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