TV presenter Ben Fogle and two-time Olympic rowing gold medalist James Cracknell set off from the Canary Islands in 2005 to take part in the near-3000 mile Atlantic Rowing Race – 49 days later, they made it to Antigua.
I’m not going to be all coy about whether they made it or not because a) it was nine years ago and b) look at the strapline. The book is written in the first person, with Ben and James each taking it in turns to write about the journey.
Hi, I’m Ben…
The duo barely knew each other before they set off, were supremely unprepared for the challenge and barely made it to the start line – doing night-time safety checks the day before they set off proper.
The competitive nature of the Olympian, which surely must surpass any elite athlete in intensity, battled with leaving his wife and young child at home just at the point when he was supposed to be taking time out from his relentless training regime to spend more time with them before deciding if he wanted to commit to the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Winner takes all
For James, the race is about winning, almost at any cost to both parties’ physical and mental wellbeing. It’s fascinating to see inside the mind of a most driven man whose as brutal with himself as he is with others. Acutely aware of his impact on others, mostly learned, to Ben’s cost, during the Atlantic row!
Both men reveal their emotions throughout the journey becoming teary-eyed reading letters brought with them from home or making phone calls to loved ones, particularly acute after surviving numerous situations including a life-threatening capsize.
I huddled in the front of the boat, clutching my knees and shaking with fright. I was hyperventilating quivering like a jelly. I couldn’t talk and tears streamed down my cheeks, unchecked.
‘Call Marina,’ [James] demanded. ‘You’ve got to call her, man, what will she think if she finds out you didn’t call her when you needed her most?’
The worst part is, there’s no place to escape unless you count the tiny cabin that acts as a rest area in their two-hours-on two-hours-off schedule. The cabin, which both men have to practically fold themselves into, also acts as a cocoon when the weather becomes too bad to row.
Once again, as the sun dipped into the ocean, James and I jammed ourselves into the stifling cabin. I’m not usually preoccupied by personal space but now, confined to this tiny wooden box, felt inhibited and claustrophobic.
Ben has the same ambition as James, to reach Antigua as quickly as possible, but his reason is to be reunited with his relatively new girlfriend, Marina, and his family.
The friction caused by James’ relentless pursuit of glory and Ben’s concern of just surviving the crossing plays out in some brutal exchanges.
The friction created as a result of the differing reasons for ultimately the same aim, played out in a combustible atmosphere throughout the challenge. James’ brutal honesty towards friends and family, and his new rowing partner, is unflinching in this book.
Bev Turner, James’ wife and TV and radio presenter, agreed to revealing details of their personal relationship playing out in the book as James knows nothing other than searing honesty.
The days went by pretty fast but the nights dragged on and even though Ben was just a few feet away and I saw him every two hours when we changed shift I felt incredibly lonely.
And the toilet humour? If you must know, the boys do their business in a bucket before slinging it over the side, but during the first few petrifying days, the tension was palpable. James broke the ice by revealing a colossal turd.
We broke into uncontrollable, eye-wateringly unstoppable laughter. It was like a pressure valve being released. The poo had precipitated a truce to our glumness and, more to the point, to our self-imposed silence.
Ben never did beat it…
They appear to have jazzed up the cover with the boys looking menacingly off into the distance now since I got it (see below) but ’tis same book.
Read the book? Got a comment? Got a recommendation? Head over to our Sports Liberated Hub on Facebook to get involved with our Sport Book Group.