At the start line!
After a week on the road and 2 years on the project, we are at the start line in sunny Gran Canaria. It was an exciting journey down, here's a little bit about what we got up to.
The build up
It's safe to say we both felt a bit under the cosh in the days leading up to departure. There was a lot to do and we were working from 8 AM to midnight most days. We had anticipated this because we'd been unable to get time away from work much before Christmas, and were both in agreement that with the help of family and friends, we would do the big hours now to save ourselves from having too much to do in the Canaries. We did have a lucky strike, when a local merchant (Rosalind's Dad) lent us an empty warehouse, upgrading us from our usual storage in an old barn (which we're very fond of, but lacks water, power, and doors) to an indoor space, complete with a kettle! This was really transformative in the weeks before we set off and made it possible to complete all those last minute jobs on the boat.
Day One - UK to France
The night before we were set to drive off, we were packing until 1AM, and so the 6AM alarm seemed to come round almost immediately - good training for our rowing shifts! We were both up straight away, knowing that there was a lot to get in to the day before the train to France at 4PM. We drove to the boat and chucked all of the boxes into the back of the pick up (also kindly lent to us by Ros' dad - thanks!). Ros' parents arrived to send us off with pastries and tea, and we left the warehouse at 830AM.
The first stop was to Andy's Dad's house to collect our passports and clothes. Luckily, we'd laid everything out a few days beforehand so it was simply a case of gathering, checking round for anything we'd forgotten, and having a moment to say goodbye to the dog (and Dad). By 1PM we were on the road bound for the Eurotunnel.
It was a weird feeling in the car. We were on schedule, so there was no stress there, just a steady rush out of the country, and for the first time in a long time, there were no immediate jobs to be done. There's always car correspondence, but nothing that couldn't wait. It was a little surreal!
We were waved through customs with barely a nod, and were soon following the row of vehicles to board the train. We thought it felt like getting into a space rocket, with thin metal walls and shutters separating the carriages. We both took a deep breath as we manoeuvred the boat into the single carriage.
In no time at all, we arrived in France and drove for a couple of hours before pulling into a truckers rest stop at a motorway services near Rouen.
Day Two - Through France
It was seriously cold in the boat and we woke up to frost on the inside and outside of the cabin. Rosalind also woke up with a sore throat and stinking headache, but was adamant that she was just run down from the madness of the last few weeks.
We enjoyed our first of many coffee and croissants in the services before clearing out the cabin and hitting the road. We defrosted in the car, and the sun was warm as we passed Le Mans and Tours. We couldn't believe how quiet the roads were and it made for a relaxed day of driving. We also became well versed in French tolls as we seemed to come across one every hour!
Andy practiced his "café au lait" at every stop and even managed a "tarte au citron" at lunchtime - caffeine and cake is essential for the driver! Traffic got a little more hectic as we passed Bordeaux at rush hour, but we pulled up for the night in a lay by knowing that we would be in Spain the following day!
Day Three - France to Spain
Our night time stop wasn't particularly nice, so we shot off promptly headed for San Sebastian. After the flatness of France, it was exciting to see the shadow of the Pyrenees on the horizon. It was remarkable how different things felt over the border, but Andy mustered up a "café con leche" and our tour of continental coffee and pastry continued!
Vegetarianism was a bit more difficult and Rosalind's "sandwich vegetal" arrived with tuna, and the "tortilla vegetal" was of course garnished with ham. Andy didn't complain though as this meant more for him!
We felt a little bit braver in Spain and we were getting sick of service station sandwiches, so we decided to venture into the outskirts of the nearest city, Salamanca. It took a couple of attempts to find a car park big enough for the 13 metre long wagon, but we managed it without turning too many heads.
We locked up the boat and stretched our legs as we walked into the centre of town. It was a funny feeling arriving in a town with no idea of where you're visiting. Normally, we'd have guide books, internet, and a plan, but this really was off the hoof.
Salamanca was beautiful, with ornate sandstone buildings and bustling restaurants. An archway invited us in and revealed an enormous Baroque plaza, enclosed by arcades and with hundreds of people milling around - we later found out that this was the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca, but it was a total surprise at the time!
We enjoyed some tapas which was a very welcome change, and returned to the boat counting our blessings and preparing for our coldest night yet.
Day Four - Salamanca to Seville
It reached -7 overnight and we both woke up shivering. Because we were further in town, we had set an early alarm which was a stroke of luck because as we woke up, the car park began to fill up with teachers from a nearby school. By the time we'd defrosted the truck, we were swamped with school buses and we hopped into the truck and drove off, escaping town and back into the main road.
Finding services with enough room was trickier in Spain than France, but after a few hours we pulled up with some lorries and ventured into the services. As we emerged, a neighbouring lorry driver was investigating the boat - we were a little apprehensive that maybe we'd parked in the wrong place, but approached with a cheery "hola".
He was really friendly and immensely curious about the row, and we had a 20 minute "spanglish" conversation about what we were up to. He thought it was very funny that Andy would choose to spend 2 months confined with his girlfriend, but declared that I must be a strong woman. He kept repeating a word that I couldn't remember, "suerte, suerte" and "it's not possible" and left us with a beaming smile and the promise to follow along. I googled the word as we drove off - it means "luck".
We'd made such good time that we had 24 hours before our ferry and only an hour more to drive to our destination. Our success in Salamanca encouraged us to try the same in our final mainland stop, Seville. Ros found a spot used by motorhomes online and we thought it was worth a shot. Pulling up, we both looked at each other - whatever we had expected, it wasn't this! There was a vast desert like piece of land bordering a main road and a park, absolutely rammed with motorhomes - there were at least 40 parked up from all countries you could think of, maintaining a respectful 2 metre distance.
We weren't completely convinced, but without many other options, we parked up. The spot was in an incredible location, just a 25 minute walk from Seville's cathedral and we happily explored on foot for hours. Both here and Salamanca had been a real treat that we didn't expect to experience on the drive down. Seville was much larger than Salamanca and had a very different feel, with the Moorish influence giving intricate blue and white tiling and huge domed buildings.
We were both blown away by the Plaza de España and again returned to the boat feeling very content (and significantly warmer!).
Day Five - Seville to Huelva (ferry)
After breakfast in Seville, it was a short drive to the ferry. Again, we were given an affirmatory nod from the guardia civil and their search dogs (apparently the smell of stale coffee and two people who haven't washed in a week isn't what they're looking for) and easily made our way to the queue.
Boarding the ferry was a little more challenging than the train, involving a 180 degree U turn inside the ferry itself, followed by a reverse manoeuvre the length of the ferry into a narrow spot between a lorry and a van, but Andy approached it with the confidence of a man who has no choice and got it in one!
The journey from Huelva to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, was 36 hours and our first real encounter with the Atlantic Ocean that awaits us. The food was better than expected and we cracked on with some of the jobs that we'd been avoiding so far, but as the sea built, the back of our minds was on how this might feel in a 7 metre long ocean rowing boat.
We also didn't get a lot of sleep (again good practice). In what felt like punishment for not booking a cabin, the seats were vertical, with bright lights, and we both managed about 3 hours sleep in the whole crossing.
We arrived in Las Palmas at 6AM, parked up for a couple of hours and a nap, before moving onto arrive at Pasito Blanco marina at 9AM.
The Start Line
And it was as simple as that! We are now at the start line of our Atlantic row. We have a week or two to do the final jobs, check nothing was damaged in transit, and pack ready for the crossing before we set off.
Originally, we had wanted to put the boat in a container to arrive at Pasito Blanco without us having to drive. However, time and money didn't allow this and so we decided to bring it ourselves. It's safe to say that we are both glad we did.
Somehow, during the course of the drive our headspace changed from campaign to row, and we are both feeling much more relaxed. It seems a strange and simple thing to say, but now all we have to do is row across the Atlantic!
Of course, there are still things to do before we leave, and it's not completely stress free, but we are feeling good and the excitement has arrived.
Thank you to everyone for your support and for following along.