I thought at first it was sea sickness, then just the feeling of missing my wife who I wouldn’t see for 6 weeks. But as the days carried on and we were further and further away from Australia I knew what it was. I had the feeling of doom, accompanied by a gut wrenching thought that I wouldn’t see my wife again. This was not my first rodeo, I have had a career full of dangerous expeditions; I’ve spent 55 days rowing the Atlantic and I take part regularly in Base Jumping, a sport that will bring you closer to death like no other. Yet throughout all of it, I had never had a feeling like what I was feeling now.
I marinated with the strengthening feeling until Day 4 when I knew I had to say something to Grant. I told him I had a bad feeling about the expedition, a feeling new to me, and even though I didn’t want to alter his mindset, we needed to chat about it. Grant is an emotionally intelligent guy, has a long history of expeditions under his belt and treated gut feelings seriously. We discussed it for over an hour and by the end we had run through everything that was going well on the expedition and decided to push on.
Two hours later we were battling through gale force winds on the eastern edge of the Bass Strait, a notorious stretch of water between mainland Australia and Tasmania. I was on deck for my rowing shift and the sea conditions were big but not extreme, so I jumped on the oars and hooked in. Half way through my shift a rogue wave rose up on our left and I turned the boat to line up with it. It was huge and doubled its size before we had made its crest.
I remember seeing its lip start to break above me and I muttered the word “fuck” as the boat stern was lifted, and we were being carried skyward. We were going to be pitch poled, meaning flipping the boat end over end, but at the last second the bow dug in and with violent speed we were capsized down the face of the monster. I was upside down with the roar of the ocean all around me. I was underwater, and my foot was caught in the foot plate. Dangling there I felt ropes around me and my first panicked thought was “I’m going to be tangled up”. I yanked my leg hard, and felt the plate give way. I spun around, desperate for air and burst to the surface underneath our upside-down row boat.
I was connected to the boat by a safety line which was the only thing that stopped me being pulled away by the current. Grant was in the cabin with the door tightly sealed, he went from dozing to being thrown around and upside down. Not the nicest way to be woken up. Just as I was assessing the chaos around me my lifejacket self-inflated and almost tore my head off. I had forgotten to tie the crotch straps so now it was riding high and choking me. I yelled to Grant “you ok bro?” and he replied “yeah bro.” We were in a bad situation and had to get the boat upright before the next big set of waves came down on us. The boat is supposed to self-right, but it was struggling to do so.
I made the call to unclip my safety line, slide down along the boat and re-clip at the back. I thought I could use my strength on the rudder to turn the boat. It was a risky move; if I was separated it was a death sentence. I undid the screw gate on the carabiner, then paused. Was I making the biggest mistake of my life in the middle of the Tasman sea? Without a second thought I unclipped and started swimming.