2020 Ocean Crossing Attempt - 37 days - reflection. English version.
Updated: Nov 2, 2020
October 8th, 2020
A lot has happened these past few months. I have been asked many questions since my return onto the land and I feel that it is important for me to share my thoughts and clarify some of my activities.
So first and foremost, I have completed 37 days out on the open water – on the second try.
The first attempt ended earlier than I thought just after 4 days of rowing from Manhattan along the south shore of Long Island as I was hoping to clear the island within a week or so. On the 4th “long” day of fighting huge swells, I called the coast guard only to be told that the seas were too high and no boat could come to help me, only their helicopter was available. I was prompted to leave my boat so that they could rescue me – like that was ever an option for me. I reached the south shore of Long Island, namely Long
Beach, early Saturday morning at 1:00am on May 30th after capsizing – while trying to control the “crash landing” from the deck, the sudden surge overturned my lovely boat above my head. I was underwater in complete darkness within a matter of seconds, experiences like this do not exactly happen while watching Netflix from your sofa, but at that moment I perhaps would’ve traded. Now looking back, I’m laughing now and thinking how super cool of an experience that was and once again, I surprised myself with how quickly I reacted as I was climbing back onto my boat and being able to mitigate damages as much as possible in order to prevent my boat crashing onto the jetty a few feet away, formed by large boulders along the Long Beach shore, which at night, I only noticed at the very last minute when the concern and risks presented were immediately very real to me.
What really happened? Well, A) the weather forecast was accurate in its prediction of the severe conditions but that was assuming I would be able to row through them. Lesson being the weather forecast didn’t exactly understand the capability of my vessel nor the physicality of rowing in adverse weather which is fine, but I quickly realized that in the end I can’t rely on the forecast alone and that just because I am told something it doesn’t exactly mean it is going to work.+
B) My anchor was too small and inefficient to say the least and perhaps, the main cause of my early retirement. If I had a larger anchor I would not have been pushed towards the beach and perhaps I would’ve been able to sustain the harsh weather that day, but lesson learned the hard way.
It cost me exactly $3,106.10 dollars to repair my boat and to be able to row again 8 days later. I cannot express my thanks enough to Rannoch Adventures who expedited the shipping of my rudder from the U.K. and to my friend John who did all the hull repair on my boat in great time and with excellent craftmanship.
I did learn a bit even after 4 days on the water – I was throwing up food multiple times each day as the motion in the ocean didn’t agree with my stomach all too well. I also learned how important it is to navigate around the tide and coast near New York harbor and Brooklyn. I realized quickly that it will not be an easy task, but that I already knew. I learned that some of the freeze-dried meals I had are awful and that the beach is not always a place of relaxation and fun but can actually be quite the opposite given the “right” circumstances.
8 days later, on Sunday June 7th, I embarked on a 37-day long journey where I got a pretty good feel for the ocean environment, the time alone, the daily routine of rowing 12-13 hours day after day in all types of weather and much more. I can certainly talk about all the practical aspects that I was experiencing and am happy to respond to any questions related to my life out there. What I was always, and still am, personally more interested in is focusing on my mental state and psychical experience, because I always knew this adventure/journey would be a physical challenge but in actuality, it is much more mental as what makes or breaks the crossing is my will power and state of mind. What I am referring to is the determination and perseverance needed to row across the North Atlantic Ocean, to always push forward and keep in mind what my goal is. I ventured into the “unknown”, which is something I couldn’t have even remotely imagined and as much as I read books and talked to some people who had crossed the ocean, nothing can really prepare you for the real experience.
I think it is important to understand that I am born a romantic, I always was. I do not think that I could have ever decided to do something like this if I had a strictly calculated mind, if I had no love for adventure and if there was no thrill that comes from doing something extraordinary for the very first time. I think you have to close your mind a bit to the naysayers, to the people who do not research anything or know very little about the ocean and my task, but the only thing they see is danger, madness, the impossible, foolishness or death wish. I learned a lot of patience in dealing with those reactions because truth is, you will never be able to explain to someone who is meant to misunderstand you from the start, what it is that you are really doing and what it means to you. I am not too different from others, in fact I think there are a few of us out there who have similar desires to challenge themselves to find who they really are, what they are made of and if they are who they always thought they were. I think that the best way to get to know yourself is through extreme “out-of-your-comfort-zone” experience.
When I first heard about ocean rowing as a sport and as soon as I realized that it actually existed and that people do cross oceans on a rowboat, I knew immediately that this challenge was custom made for me. Few reasons being:
Firstly, I can do this alone. I do not need a partner or anyone really to help me or work with me on this. I will do this alone from start to finish and of course, the start meaning the initial commitment to taking on this endeavor and reaching the finish line in England. I do ask for advice from friends and some more than others have helped me tremendously whether that means being able to keep my boat at their property safely, hauling my empty trailer, helping me take some photos or just giving me moral support. There are people who care about me very much and they understand what I am doing and why. Support from my Local#3 Union here in NYC and IBEW brotherhood are truly great and now more than ever, I feel that I am a part of something great and I am happy to relate and share my experiences and ventures with everyone.
Secondly, it was extreme enough and I felt like this is, as I like to call it, “The Ultimate Adventure”. I always wanted to climb mountains in Himalayas, perhaps do some paragliding or even base jumping, but in my mind nothing really compares to the difficulty and character of this task. I know this will be a complete life changer for me. Something that I have been waiting for a long time.
A little detour from what I wanted to talk about regarding the actual experience.
I journaled every day because I think it is important to record my thoughts as well as the conditions I was facing on a daily basis.
I must say that it took me nearly 20 days to fully disconnect from “civilization”, even though I was alone, my thoughts and my soul were still full of experiences from the land so to speak. During my rows, especially the first few days, I still saw very vividly all the people that came to say goodbye and who waved me out. The departure day and last minutes on land left a strong imprint as I knew I was leaving for a while.
It became quickly obvious to me that my mind was the biggest entertainment I was going to have for a while, and it worked quite interestingly. One thing I noticed early on was the fact that I would often go back in time almost literally (in my mind of course, *laugh*). Music had a lot to do with it as well – I had playlists of more than 1,000 songs. Many of them are in my native language, Czech, and listening to these songs reminded me of situations and memories from my past. Things I have forgotten about, things I have not thought of for decades, moments I did not even think I had stored up there. I noted in my journal several times the vividness of these memories. It is hard to describe, but to try I must say I could almost smell the air, feel the presence of the people I was with and when I focused, I could’ve quite literally travel to any moment I remember and almost live it once again. I am sure some folks may find this weird or untruthful, well I do not really care about what they think. I have no reason to lie or create stories, I think my story is already interesting as is. This was really something I have never experienced before in such intensity, and it really made me wonder, what triggered this kind of state of mind and how is this even possible. The human brain and mind are truly extraordinary things and I was just discovering something new and bizarre for myself. It did not end there, I also learned that by changing music to techno, which is pretty much instrumental only, I kind of stopped thinking of the past and was more connected to the present surroundings and water. That was great on calm days when I was just strolling through nice still water, it was almost a meditative state, I felt effortless in my rowing and fully connected to the nature surrounding me. With the sun on the horizon and peaceful ocean, it felt almost surreal with some of the images I saw and felt were close to dreamlike. I did try to record some of it, but the camera did not do it justice. Of course, when the weather worsened, I had to focus more on my strokes so that the waves would not break my oars or hurt me, so the music would become more of a distraction at that point.
I listened to music probably for the first 7 to 10 days until it started to bother me to the point where I wanted silence, which was another new feeling. Before my trip, I thought the music would be a key source of entertainment for me and I would never turn it off, but the opposite was true – I didn’t enjoy it after a while and without nearly realizing it, I rowed a day without music and discovered this was it. Towards the end of my row around 7pm on the first day without music, I saw something weird on the horizon, it looked like a hat or some kind of bucket upside down, but the longer I looked at it while still rowing, I knew it was organic and very much alive. Then it eventually moved, and I started to wonder what it was. Then it started to make sounds almost like a crying baby, and soon I knew it was a sea lion – it was amazing. It appeared to me that because I was somewhat quiet and my boat did not make excessive noise with only my oars touching the water, it was curious and felt comfortable about me. I took the camera and was able to record it near the boat, but as soon as its head appeared above the water and saw me move, it dove right back into the dark blue waters and only reappeared far on the horizon. It was “talking” to me probably for another 5 to 10 minutes before it disappeared and I felt like there were more of them, but this one was like me – the explorer, the curious one – something we had in common. A single event like this made my day and all of a sudden, I wasn’t so much alone and I slowly felt more and more connected to the ocean and did not turn the music back on for a long time. I realized that with the music off, I was able to listen to the wind, to the water, to the waves and was able to pay much better attention to the fauna that was in the water around me. Since then, I started to see more animals, such as dolphins and once in a while, fishing boats in some areas more than others. Other times, I would not see a boat for a week but then I would see five in a single day. One day on my way to the end of the continental shelf passed the Georges Bank, I must have crossed a migration path of whales because I saw 25 to 30 whales in one day. One of them came right next to my boat, swam around me and dove underneath my boat – it was as large as my whole vessel. I was nothing but happy, felt like I was dreaming. I really felt connected with nature. Since then, I slowly but surely started to disconnect from the “old” world and started to embrace the “new” world. What I mean by that is, that my thoughts related to my days on land were leaving me and I was looking more towards the horizon and was thinking of the future. I started to realize where I was and what I was doing and that, as funny as it sounds, it took me nearly 20 days in order to silence the “loud” me, the constantly racing mind of a New Yorker.
To experience what I came here to experience – the balance and harmony mostly with my own self and the appreciation for what I was doing, and how lucky was I that I was able to pursue my dream, to really do this after a whole year of preparations and one unsuccessful attempt. I was out there pushing for my dream. This feeling is one of a kind – I found myself in peace, fulfilled and truly happy, that kind of happiness stays with you forever. At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The above line would be a good ending to my blog entry, but I still have something important to tell and that is, while being out there seeing the fauna – the dolphins, the whales and sharks – I naturally shifted my perspective from an outsider to a close observer. By being there and seeing how curious the animals were about me as much as I was about them, I felt an enormous respect for the environment as well as love for the animals since I felt zero danger coming from them, no signs of threat or aggression what so ever, only curiosity – I felt love and gratitude. Despite being a fish eater, it made me a little sad to see these fishing boats fishing for the fish. I would not fish myself out there, it just would not feel right. I knew I made the right choice to not bring any fishing gear with me, it would be useless.
One last thing that I felt very strongly about was the insignificance of my existence. First of all, I was a guest and the only thing that separated me from being on the bottom of the ocean was my boat. It is their world as they are made to be there; the waters are their home and I have nothing but respect. To throw piece of trash into the water would just feel very wrong when you see them living around you, as an analogy, it would be like going to someone’s home and dumping trash on their living room floor. The ocean is the only home they have – they can’t move out of there nor can they choose a different ocean or planet – it is theirs and so let’s respect it. They are limited in reach, body and perhaps, intelligence. We have all of it, let us be respectful and responsible. We only have one planet. Let’s just understand that we are not finding planet B any time soon, so it would be very foolish to destroy what we have here. This is not only the humans’ planet, but it is also theirs and we share this place with them.
Being out there, seeing the size and power of the ocean, the different scenes, type of waves and weather, I could not help but feel insignificant. I think I lost my ego; if I had any to begin with, it was gone. I knew that my life and my existence in the bigger scheme of things mean absolutely nothing – I’ll have maybe 80 years of life if I am lucky and then I’ll be gone, who will remember me? Our world has been around for 4.5 billion years so some 80 years mean less than nothing. The only thing that can somewhat give a deeper meaning to one’s life is the number of people who will remember me for the good things I have done, what we have done. That, I feel, is the value of one’s life – the ability to positively influence others whether it be our close friends and family or someone we don’t even know. As insignificant as we may be, we have the power to change our world for better, I very much believe this.
I learned tons this year about me and nature and that was only 37 days, I cannot wait to see what happens next year with 4 months.