Students tackle tough waters

* Lee Gordon of Constantia.

A UCT student from Constantia is among four young men who are leaving Cape Town today to tackle an epic rowing adventure.

Lee Gordon from Constantia, Matthew Boynton from Clifton, Cole Barnard from Pinelands and Grant Soll from Llandudno will be competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge as the Mad4Waves team.

Known as the world’s toughest row challenge, the plan is to row unaided for about 5 000km across the Atlantic Ocean from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands, on Wednesday December 12 for up to 40 days to reach Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, in Antigua and Barbuda.

Coming to the end of their studies at UCT, Lee realised that he and his three friends would scatter around the world and that rowing across the Atlantic was the last cool thing they could do together.

Lee said they have known each other since Grade 8 at Bishops. “The others had been rowing for three years. Then in Grade 11 Cole convinced me to join them,” he said. And from rowing along rivers in pencil thin boats he went on to compete in rowing races.

Their boat, Jasmine 2, was delivered in May. They bought it from four young Chinese women who took part in the 2017 race. The team had planned to bring home a Guinness World Record of becoming the youngest team to participate in the race but the women squashed their plan because they were also 22 when they finished the race.

Now they plan to be the youngest team of four men to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat. Thirty crews have entered, 17 of them are teams of four, and they are the only South African team.

Lee said rowing on the ocean in Jasmine 2 is like trudging slowly on a brick pencil. In the mid-year holidays they rowed across False Bay from Simon’s Town harbour to Gansbaai. Another time they did an overnight row from Hout Bay to Llandudno or Clifton and bumped into five whales breaching at Seal Island.

They hit a storm and headwind at the well-known surf site at Dungeons and turned back to spend the night in Hout Bay harbour. “On the way we came across a great white shark under the boat,” laughed Lee.

He said a lot of preparation has gone into the challenge starting with their website, which he designed.

“I had no idea what I was doing and used a YouTube tutorial,” he said. They did a course in map work and navigation and got lots of advice from Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson who did the trip last year (“Epic journey at sea adventure to remember”, Bulletin May 25, 2017).

Apart from logistics, Lee said the team needed to prepare physically and mentally. And with all that testosterone and spending much time together in a tight space they have been seeing a sports psychologist.

“Imagine you need a shirt and it’s on the other side of the boat. You have to crawl over three fully grown men to get the shirt. They don’t like that. We discussed it and decided if someone is feeling moody we’d give them space and not push buttons. We love to do that but it’s not on,” laughed Lee.

Later he added that they would spend most of the trip rowing naked. This is because they are unable to wash and also to prevent chafing from clothing.

They have also seen a sports trainer and have rowed on Lion’s Head after carrying the machine to the top and done 24-hours rowing at the V&A Waterfront.

“Nutrition is also important and on advice from a nutritionist we have been on a high fat low carb diet for the past few months. We’re eating lots of cheese and cream shakes and have given up alcohol,” he smiled.

As for their parents – no gap year camping trip in Europe or visit to America for this team of four. They cooked a nice steak meal for them with all the trimmings and gave a presentation. Lee said their dads were fine with it but their mums took a few days to get used to the idea. “Cole’s parents said, ‘you get seasick when you go kayaking, what are you going to do’? He said he can train himself and he’ll push through it. We’ve heard you can get over seasickness in four days but they’re the worst days of your life. That not eating or drinking can end the trip,” said Lee.