How to row an ocean - Geoff Allum

Geoff Allum is technical advisor to the Row4Charity team currently battling against the elements in the middle of the Indian Ocean as they race towards Mauritius.

If anyone knows what the four man crew is going through it must be Geoff - with his cousin Don he rowed the Atlantic from East to West in 1971, a massive effort taking 73 days to cross more than 3,150 miles.

He writes: "Although consigned to history, my experience gives me some insight into what my four friends in the Bexhill Trust Challenger might be going through, physically and, more importantly, mentally because above all theirs is a mental challenge.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

"By now, three weeks into the task, Ian, Nick, Phil and Matt will have settled into their soggy routine.

"They will know how important the moon is to night-time rowing, being able to see the big ones coming, very different to the pitch-black nights where you just hear a wall of water as it rushes towards you like an express train. They will know that rowing for two hours feels like two days. They will also now know each others' strengths and weaknesses and, more importantly, their own.

"It's one thing to plan to row across the Indian Ocean sitting at home in Bexhill, your courage boosted by backslapping, but it's quite another to step down into the boat, your stomach knotted with fear, and actually do it.

"I always thought the Bexhill four were impressive. Unlike so many dreamers who have knocked on my door they had a real respect for the task. They asked the right questions, but above all they listened.

"For many years Don and I were part of a very small band of people who had rowed an ocean. In recent years it has almost become an international sport, with so many people making successful crossings, often in times that make our 73 days look positively snail-like.

Although modern equipment may make the task easier, it hasn't shortened the distance. Our boys are still rowing the same distance Columbus sailed with three of the best ships the Queen of Spain could buy and a hundred of her finest sailors. And the trouble with maps, being book-sized, is that they shrink the Indian Ocean, all 3,500 miles of it, down to a few inches and make rowing seem do-able.

"You hear people say 'Oh dear, it's easier these days with water-makers, sat nav, telephones etc, but I don't know...Certainly I would have given ten years of my life for a water-maker, but a telephone?

Having no contact whatsover with the outside world somehow made our voyage easier, more of a whole, just us. We were burdened by our own anxiety, but not by that of our family or a lovely girlfriend. I hope the boys keep that satellite phone switched off.

"In many ways, this is the worst part of their voyage. They've been out long enough for the initial excitement to have worn off. They're knackered and bored and probably a bit fed up with each other, but still only a third of the way there. Right now Mauritius looks a very long way away indeed and what looked so "do-able" in the cosy clubhouse in Bexhill now looks like an almost impossible hill to climb. But, unlike almost anything else in life, there is no way out. The wind and currents are carrying them away from Australia, it's literally easier to row on than to row back. So there it is - you feel you can't row another stroke, you just can't go on. But you have to - but I can't - but you have to...and so it goes on. Somehow another day passes, and another, and slowly you inch your way across the big blue bit on the map. You lower your sights; the hero's welcome you envisaged now looks a lot less enticing than the soft, unmoving bed you now focus on more and more. And so you row on until you begin to allow the thought to creep into the corners of your mind that the do-able thing that seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago just might be do-able after all."