News Now Network Exclusive:  Ted Amsden Interview with Colin Sanders

Previously NNN announced that Colin would start his voyage Dec 3 but the wind is blowing the wrong way. He speculates it will be Wednesday (Dec 6) or Thursday (Dec 7) when he leaves.

        You can follow Colin’s amazing adventure:

Website: www.soloatlanticrow2017.com

Instagram: atlantic_ocean_rower

“To us, it is not the final result that matters but how we measure up to our self-imposed task to confront and do battle with Nature at its rawest.”  John Fairfax — First Solo Rower of the Atlantic

The only activity in Colin Sanders’ early history that suggests any connection to his present obsession is that he was once a teenage lifeguard in the Beaches in Toronto. It is not much to go on for those of us who wonder if there was some seed in his psyche from the beginning that would explain his present behaviour. He does not remember much about the experience other than sitting in the lifeguard tower a lot.

That is about it. He does not mention anything about waves. Studying them. Contemplating them. Worrying about them.

One hopes he is comfortable with waves. He is going to have his fill of them during the next three months. Millions and millions of them as he rows across the Atlantic.

Yep. Seventy-five days of waves. Solo. Not a beach bum in sight. Just him and the briny deep. Row, row, rowing his little 21 foot high-tech watercraft over waves that are themselves rolling over water that is five miles deep. Waves the accumulation of which mid-Atlantic when in a mood, can rise up to the height of a three-story apartment building.

Yep, the man is taking on Big (insert your own expletive) Water. And I don’t mean in a corporate sense.

Is he nuts? Can’t this 63-year-old, successful businessman, loving father of 3 wonderful children, a valued member of the community just have a normal mid-life crisis like the rest of us?

Apparently, not.

Put his goal in perspective with these fun facts.

                                  The number of solo crossings of the Atlantic is only 72.

There have been fifty-one hundred ascents of Mount Everest. Four hundred and forty-eight humans have flown in space. The number of successful ocean rowing crossings of the Atlantic is a 472. That total includes more than one person in the boat or groups of rowers crossing together.

The number of solo crossings of the Atlantic is only 72. Over 7 billion people on the planet and less than a hundred have made the attempt. Truly, Colin is going where few have gone before.

This is major. If Colin pulls this off he deserves a parade along King Street in Cobourg. Chip wagons in Port Hope should have his likeness painted on their walls.

I had to pester Colin to talk to me because he is a very reticent guy. He only did the interview because he is using the event to raise money for Community Living Ontario. He would prefer few knew about his adventure.

I sat down to discuss Colin’s upcoming adventure at the Buttermilk Cafe in Cobourg. Full disclosure, he paid for breakfast. Since birth, I have relied on the kindness of other people to feed me. Mom was one of the best. Free food is the reason I became a journalist. But I have to admit, I would have willingly paid that morning because I was that eager to hear about his plans.

The Official Name of the Event

Colin is the main man in an event called A Million Possibilities: Solo Ocean Row 2017. It is a personal challenge moment in his life obviously but it is also a fundraising event for Community Living Ontario (CLO). He has a son with physical and intellectual disabilities and he has long been an activist on issues concerning the disabled. CLO is running the website www.soloatlanticrow2017.com. where all the info, pics, video feed, Colin’s present position and more along with options to support the event.

                                   He wants to complete the trip in 75 days.

It is Happening Right Now

If you are reading this article, Colin is already on his way. Scheduled to start December 1, the actual departure date is today, December 3. He wants to complete the trip in 75 days. He is prepared mentally for it to stretch out to 90 if the going gets complicated. He has food for a longer period than that.

Colin’s Backstory

After a single year at Waterloo University Colin spent three years working with the support team travelling with the Canadian World Cup Ski Team. Following that he was Sporting Life’s number one employee. Literally, the first one. He stayed the company for 11 years leaving as the general manager.

It was during this time that a son was born that was severely challenged mentally and physically.  Jeffery needs 24/7 care. He is the middle child at age 32. The other two are Leah, 34, and Mark, 29.

The family moved from their Beaches home to Port Hope to be near Anne’s supportive family when he left Sporting Life. Colin took several years off work to look after Jeffery. In the late 1990’s he jumped back into sales and since then has built up businesses then sold them and now works with Outdoor And Sports Corporation which has allowed him the time to pursue his dream.

Financing His Dream

Family members connected with the company Colin works for have made a generous financial contribution to this project. He does have a few sponsors but, he says, there is a “lot of self-financing.” The total cost he estimates will be over $100,000. 

                                     “I wanted to do something that truly challenged me in every way shape and form.”

The Motivation

Several years ago, Colin was road biking with a man his junior by ten years when the discussion came up between them to the effect that, “we need to do something epic in our lives before we are too old or are on the wrong side of the grass.” The younger of the two demurred claiming he could not take the time off work. The exchange got Colin to thinking.

“It is not like I had a Eureka moment. When one gets older you start to think … the end is a lot closer than the beginning. I wanted to do something that truly challenged me in every way shape and form. Mentally, intellectually and emotionally. You know I ride so much I could jump on my bike and ride to the tip of South America without thinking about it.”

“I knew I could never climb Everest. I spent a lot of time in the mountains in my ski days. I am useless at altitude and my knees just couldn’t tolerate it. I have arthritis in both. Ocean rowing is the thing I thought I could do”

The Challenge That Taught Him

When I asked Colin about the challenges in his life that he considers have helped prepare him for crossing the Atlantic. He cites the challenge of getting a group home built and funded where his son can live when he and his wife are no longer able to look after him. As many in the community know, Colin was instrumental in getting Keystone House built and funded. He says the effort was “a monumental challenge” from the beginning for him and his wife because of the “management by crisis” attitude of the government. He said it was a ten-year project. “I went to hundred and hundreds of meetings.”

                                  The trip is advertised on the website as 4,000 kilometres.

The Challenge He Now Faces

Colin will set out from the town of Arinaga situated on the western side of the island of Gran Canaria which is part of the Canary Islands located offshore of Western Sahara in Africa. He will row south to the Cape Verde Islands which is off the coast of Mauritania, again in Africa. From there, he will then “turn right” and row across to the Caribbean. The trip according to quick calculations on Google is approximately 5,400 kilometres. The trip as advertised on the website is 4,000 kilometres. Probably somewhere between lies the actual distance he will cover.

According to Colin, his route is, “Well established, an ancient trade route of the Spaniards when they went to the New World at that time of year. The way that the weather system works is that the winds come down the coast of Africa out of the northeast slightly and help. Ocean row boats need the wind. They help push.”

Once he gets to the Cape Verde Islands, the winds come directly off the coast of Africa. He says, ‘If you look on Google Earth you can actually see the plumes of dust being blown out from the Sahara desert onto the ocean.”

“Those winds basically push you across the ocean. Rowing an ocean rowboat in dead calm is like rowing in molasses,” he claims. “What you need is nice 20-knot wind and a little swell pushing you along. The difference is unbelievable.”

Googling Serendipity

Colin has been working on this idea for a couple of years. It was a simple Google search that hooked him up with the right person at the right time when he needed to find his ride.

“I found that John Beeden living in Burlington Ontario was actually rowing across the Pacific. He rode from San Francisco to Cairns Australia. It took him 209 days. So I started communicating with him once he completed his row. Learned that the boat was being shipped back to his place in Burlington.”

“We talked about the notion of me buying the boat from him. He didn’t think that he was going to do another row. I went to look at the boat. We made a deal.”

It appears to be a bit of I-Think-The-Universe-Is-Pulling-Some-Strings-Here serendipity that the name of the boat is Socks II. Amongst the outdoor gear, Colin sells socks rate at the top. Socks have been his preoccupation for years.

“When I saw the name I thought, ‘This can’t be true! I said where did that name come from?’ He said there is a saying in the UK, ‘Pull up your socks and get on with it’ … I told him what I did for a living he was quite flabbergasted as well.”

                                   “I felt like I was rowing in peanut butter.”

Training

Colin has practised rowing in an ocean rowboat with Leven Brown off the Firth of Forth near the north sea off of Scotland.

“When I rode with my coach, the difference between having a wind and swell behind you was… huge.  We rode one day when it was pretty calm. Honestly, I felt like I was rowing in peanut butter. The boat weighs over a ton and is shaped like a guppy.”

Historically,  he has pleasure-boat sailed on Lake Ontario but has yet to experience big waves. He claims he does not get seasick. Because of the changeable winds on Lake Ontario, he has not trained on the lake. He arrived two weeks before his departure date to get out on the boat and practise.

Other preparations he has made include taking a marine radio course, an electronic navigation course, first aid certification, courses in navigation and a yacht master theory course.

The Boat

Colin’s boat is a strange creation. It is guaranteed to float. Purpose-built and expensive, it cost well over $100,000 when new. Its former owner says even if its red hull gets sliced in half, “you have two slow rowboats.”

The hull is only about an inch thick according to Colin. It is a sandwich of fibreglass, foam core and Kevlar skin. It is twenty-one feet long, five feet at its widest. There are two cabins with one in the front, the other in the rear. They are cabins because they have doors and space but they are not what you would find on a sailboat. He is not retiring to the aft cabin to leisurely enjoy a favourite movie drink in hand. No, if he does watch one of the recorded movies he is taking with him he will be sea squirrel in his hole.

He will sleep in the aft cabin along with the electronics and navigation equipment. The forward cabin is only for storage. Outside, along each side, there are six dry wells where he will store 78 days of food. 

It is a self-righting vessel. Weighs over a ton. There will be a life raft in a bag strapped to the deck at the front to weigh the lead end down so the aft end of the boat lifts higher in order to catch the wind.

                                         “If you see sharks, don’t go over and scrap the sides”

Boat Tech and Maintenance

Regards correct boat maintenance, Colin says, ”Once a week you are supposed to jump overboard with mask and fins and a plastic scraper and take marine life off the hull.” He was advised, “If you see sharks, don’t go over and scrap the sides. Of if you do, go in if you see dolphins because sharks are afraid of dolphins.”

The water is expected to be fairly warm due to the latitude he is sailing in. It will be lower than his core temperature so there will be an immersion suit readily available on deck should he need to go for a long unscheduled swim.

To the question of what happens when lightning threatens, he replied calmly that if he is inside the aft cabin with the door shut he will likely be fine.

“You are not going to get fried. The navigation and communication systems probably would be. So on deck you have a grab bag. It’s in a waterproof sack. With backup radio, backup GPS, backup satellite phone, back iPad for navigation, flares, some other things … you pack your spare electronic equipment in a metal cookie tin. If lightning ever struck the boat, the electricity passes around it. “

To accommodate three months of taking selfies, he is travelling with two Go Pro video cameras and a waterproof Olympus camera.  

     “As one rower put it to me, ‘It’s the world’s most expensive diet’.”

Food

In the dry wells, there will be 78 days of food. Most of it will be freeze-dried, the kind that climbers and backcountry use that need to be re-hydrated. He expects to eat 3 to 4 freeze-dried food packs a day amounting to 3,200 calories. Making up the allotted 6,500 daily calorie expenditure, he will rely on various nutrition, carbohydrate and protein bars as well as dried fruit.

An additional 12 days will be stored in the aft cabin. Most of it will be fresh, eggs, bread, vegetables, etc. He has consulted with a nutritionist. He will carry two desalinators. The electric one will be powered by solar power and the other will be manually operated. He will need to drink lots of water and bathe in fresh water.

Medical Supplies

His wife has amped up a prepackaged expedition medical kit he says. He has talked to various doctors and will pack antibiotics and painkillers for various possible ills including toothaches. There is no insurance packages that he can purchase so, his ocean drift will be without the umbrella of coverage. It will be to his continued benefit to keep his hatches secured at all times and so protect his assets.

Sleeping and Stormy Weather

He will be inside the aft cabin when sleeping and during stormy weather. He has already slept onboard when the boat was sitting in his Port Hope driveway. There are two anchor options he has to deploy singly or in tandem. One to keep his boat headed into the wind and another to stop him from drifting backwards at too great a speed. Should he find the ocean calm one night and the temperature balmy he has a hammock that he can string on deck to the oar apparatus.

Physical Conditioning and Staying Limber

He says he has been working with a trainer and alternated weight training with practising for upwards of three hours a day on Concept Two rower.

While on board, “I have a set of exercises for dynamic stretching and strengthening in the morning to keep my limberness.”

                                    “It takes about ten days to get your rowing body together.”

The Rowing

He expects to row for 12 to 14 hours a day.  The schedule will be 3 hours at a time with half-hour breaks. Often one oar can be out of the water or the wind might be up and he has to pull on just one oar for the day to keep the boat pointed the right way.

“What you have to do is pace yourself….In early going I will probably row for two hours and take some time off. And I will row at a pace that I can sustain for 12 hours throughout the day. I am not going to set any records until I start to feel like my rowing form is coming on.

He will sit on a carbon fibre rowing seat that moves on roller blade wheels.

“The rowing is an action of— coming forward with your arms then push with your legs and back. The final action is pulling with your arms.”

“Sometimes you are sitting quite upright and pulling. Other times you are bent over .. not stuck in one position.

At night, he will let the boat float. A decent swell with a breeze pushing him sideways could carry him a good distance while he regenerates. He will be carrying three sets of oars.

Because of constantly being wet and the long hours spent sitting he will alternate swim and athletic shorts with rowing naked to vary the pressure on his skin. 

“Yeah, I know seems kind of scary for an old guy….” 

The Number One Question

How he is going to do number two is the number one question he says. His answer is that he will use a bucket. Freshwater, antibacterial gel and baby wipes will be his assistants.

                                  “Everything about this adventure is mitigating risk.”

Support Team

“I will talk to Stokey Woodall every day. He is the Leonardo of ocean navigation (legendary presence in the big yacht ocean racing scene.) He has enormous navigation and weather experience. He will be my weather router and navigator. Every day at 9:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time we will discuss the weather. He buys raw weather data and he knows weather 3, 4 and 5 days out. The courses I should take given the weather.”

Of course, he will be in contact with his family. He cellsat communication device will insure he stays in contact. 

Roadside service

If he needs emergency assistance it is likely there will be some ship within a couple of days sailing. The ocean is a crowded venue for shipping and other ocean-going vessels if you look at MarineTraffic: Global Ship Tracking Intelligence | AIS Marine Traffic 

“I learned a bit about dead reckoning. What is really important for me is being able to plot my way on a hard map, a chart, so that every few hours on my break I can go into the cabin to the GPS and mark on the ship’s log and the chart. So if all my GPS mechanisms go down at least I  have a record of where I was a short time ago. Then I can talk to Stokey and watch the water-filled compass I have on the bulkhead of the cabin. And follow a course that way. Even though there is no wifi at sea you can still know where you are with an iPhone or iPad because of the chip in these things.”

Emotional Coach

“That’s me!”

Mental preparation

“Not a day goes by where I don’t sit for a second and close my eyes and say, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’’

“People have asked me if I am scared. I think I have a healthy respect for what I am doing. If anything is totally freaking me out it’s the thought of jumping overboard to clean off the hull. It’s not the marine life. It’s the thought that there is five miles between me and the bottom. I am a really good swimmer. But somehow the thought of that really pushes me over the edge. It’s not the storms. It’s the five miles down that gets me.”

He has had a lot of dreams, some have been challenging, some supportive for the most part they have been okay, he says.

“I think I am a can-do kind of guy. I am a glass-half-full kind. I am good at figuring things out. If I don’t have the immediate answer I can usually figure it out. I am a doer. I think of something and I think I can do it.”

Interestingly, he never points to his business accomplishments as proof of his ability but rather to his volunteer projects such as his successful revival of Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing in Durham, the french fry business he and the family started for Jeffery, the sunflower seed project that involved convincing farmer Paul Burnham to plant sunflower seeds so he could make oil to sell to restaurants and his lengthy involvement in the Keystone Initiative.”

                                   “ I get stuff done.”

To the questions of his weaknesses, he answers that it is his age. “It is hard to know what will transpire. Even though David Clarke (an ocean rower) said this was a mental game there is a lot of physicality to this. And I am realistic about what I can and cannot do versus thirty years ago.”

Entertainment

Three months at sea alone is a long time. Granted he will be in contact with his family and support crew on a regular basis but it’s not like there is convenience ship around the next wave were he can row up for a friendly chat. I asked him about loneliness, he said, “I think I am good at being in my own company. “

He is taking an eclectic mix of music from Vivaldi to Led Zeppelin. Some movies that he will listen to just for the dialogue while rowing. A bit of news junkie, he won’t be able to indulge that habit. Although not a big book reader he suggested laughingly that he might take Ernest Hemingway’s, Old Man And The Sea.

                                      “I am doing this to accomplish something.”

Fear

“I am not doing this to die. I am doing this to accomplish something. I am very aware of the inherent risks involved. It is about mitigating that risk through my knowledge base.”

If does find himself in distress all he has to do is push an on-deck button that will send a signal to an overhead satellite. Because the boat is registered in the U.K., the signal will go to the British Coast Guard who “know exactly who I am, know exactly where I am they will look for boats” beyond the 200-mile limit land-based coast guards patrol.

If he is in trouble in the water, his lifejacket has a button to push to set out an alert.

Colin’s coach Leven Brown

“It’s a scary thought being in a stormy situation and being tossed into the ocean. It is part of the risk. “

What is He Looking Forward to?

I think he is looking forward to the routine.

“I will have lots to keep me busy. When I have been rowing three and four hours (on a training machine) I get into a zone where the brain just starts to think about stuff. I don’t look at the clock. I just do what I have to do. Often I listen to music. It is amazing how Time passes. I will listen to movies I have on my phone…. there is lots to do on any boat.”

As much as he is not looking forward to jumping overboard, he is also anticipating seeing the night sky. “I think having no light pollution and having it all out in front of me, it is going to be amazing!”

“I am looking for detachment from this (He points to his cellphone.) I am looking for the solace that comes with something like this.”

When I asked about what I thought was the unusual use of the word, he looked it up on Google. He says it means, “comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness.”

We didn’t talk about why he might need consolation for distress or sadness. I suggested that he is giving himself this trip to comfort himself. His response was to become quieter. He claims that he is an extraordinarily busy guy.

“I am looking forward to distancing myself from my usual toil.”

Goodness, what some people will do to get away from it all.

Follow Colin day-to-day during his amazing adventure over the next three months and while you do consider donating to Community Living Ontario. Colin is attempting to raise a million dollars. At present, he is well over $100,000.00.

This is not a bike ride across the continent. This is insane! He deserves an equally insane response, Northumberland. Show him you are out there rowing with him! Send him your support! Send Community Living some bucks!

Follow Colin’s amazing adventure:

    Website: www.soloatlanticrow2017.com

Instagram: atlantic_ocean_rower