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Date: 23 Mar 2010 17:01:03
Title: Yacht Pals Article

Hi All,
Double celebrations for those of you who don't know - I proposed to Laura and she said YES and we rowed the Atlantic! I'm on cloud nine at the moment and very happy.
Have a read of the fantastic article below by Rachel Smith. The weblink is below and you can then see the pictures or the plain text is copy and pasted below.  
Rich and I will write our last blogs soon.

Marriage Proposal and Pink Champagne on Ice – Atlantic Rowing Race

  After the emotion of last weekend, and time spent enjoying the sun in Antigua while sharing that awe inspiring moment of landfall with two rowing teams, it’s been a case of getting back to earth with a bump this week. Sadly, I had to fly home long before Rich and Tom, together with the beautiful Red Arrow, got close to the island, but that’s not to say I wasn’t willing them on every stroke of those last incredibly tough few hundred miles. To say I was gutted to miss them doesn’t even scratch the surface, but I know from bitter experience that the frustration felt by those waiting on land is only a fraction of that felt by the rowers when Neptune is up to his tricks.
After the last minute disappointment of having to sit it out on sea anchor yet again, Tom and Rich, together with many of the other teams, could only wait as the days ticked away. We know that they were trying to row the minute there was any small change to the conditions, but even then the tension was building on land, as families calculated and recalculated ETA’s while working out their own commitments back home, and deciding whether travel and accommodation arrangements could be changed.
HCL Workforce One were slightly ahead of Red Arrow, and made landfall in the darkness, completing their crossing in 70 days, 11 hours and 3 minutes.  But Tom and Rich weren’t far behind (in Atlantic crossing terms) and made the decision to row two up for the last couple of days – with overlapping and longer shifts to make the most of every moment they were able to use the oars. After nearly a week of being so close yet so far away, they buckled down to the job in hand, and despite a prolonged period of leapfrogging race position with Dream Maker, they stormed ahead, more determined than ever that nothing would stop them from achieving that goal of stepping onto dry land in Antigua.
Happily, those who are the most important to Rich and Tom were able to extend their stay and even managed to organise a helicopter trip out to see the team on the water on the morning of their last day at sea. How awesome that must have been for the boys, to see a helicopter full of loved ones, speeding through the sky to hover right above them. As they heard the rotors in the distance, Tom commented ‘That’s my Dad!’ and then the pair proceeded to show off their white untanned bits (best not to ask!) and dived in and out of the water, putting on a rare old performance for their supporters. I can’t imagine how exciting it must have been for everyone.
Laura, Tom’s girlfriend, found it really emotional to see the tiny boat on the vast ocean from her vantage point in the helicopter. Struggling to comprehend that they’d spent most of this year so far living in such a small space together, the magnitude of their achievement was overwhelming and a few tears followed.
Later on, the family went up to Shirley Heights and scanned the vast blueness below to see if they could spot Red Arrow, now just 3-4 miles away. Despite the 30-mile range of vision and a pair of strong binoculars, the boat was nowhere to be seen – just another example of how small these boats really are.
Tom and Rich have been one of the most prepared crews out there this year, and those final few hours and miles at sea, with land looming in the distance, are strange.  They give rowers the chance to reflect on what they’ve achieved in the tough months and years that have led up to this moment - bursting with excitement about seeing family and friends, but with a little sadness and apprehension mixed in. When you’ve had a dream to row an ocean for many years – the realisation of that dream coming true is hard to comprehend, even when you’re actually living it there and then.
As per the routine, the Antigua and Barbuda Search and Rescue (ABSAR) team went out to meet Red Arrow, with Tom and Rich’s girlfriends and Tom’s Dad Paul in another boat. But in an amazing twist to the story, the British TV presenter Ben Fogle – who rowed the Atlantic in 2005 with Olympian James Cracknell – happened to be on holiday in Antigua. Seizing the opportunity to enjoy his fellow ocean rowers' achievement, Ben jumped into the ABSAR boat and was out on the water to escort Rich and Tom across the line.
The Red Arrow team completed their challenge in a time of 72 days, 8 hours and 43 minutes before making it to land where a sizeable crowd waited, including supporters who had literally minutes to spare, with time for just a brief hug, before charging off to the airport to make their flight home.
Stepping onto land is a momentous event, and as Rich said:  ‘That thing with your legs is a bit funny!’. Their list of treats included strawberry milkshakes, breakfast cereal, burgers and chips (fries) and fresh fruit. Of course, they were able to manage a sip of the Caribbean’s finest rum punch (which nearly knocked them out), and I know there was some pink champagne waiting in the refrigerator back at the villa… because I left it there for them to enjoy!
I asked Paul (Tom’s father) how it felt to see the team arrive, as it must rank as one of the most amazing moments for any parent. His overwhelming feeling is that of pride – he’s incredibly proud that both Tom and Rich had the vision and dream to take on a challenge like this – but that they also had the courage to take it by the scruff of the neck and actually make it happen.
But the story doesn’t end there:  A little bird had told me that Tom is, in fact, a true romantic, and had stashed an engagement ring onboard the trusty Red Arrow. During a celebratory meal with his girlfriend Laura at Johnnie Coconut’s across the harbour, sitting right on the waterside, he did the deed, and got down on one knee to propose. Happily, Laura has accepted! What a wonderful way to round up such an amazing experience, and congratulations to them both.
Tom thoroughly enjoyed his short time spent at the villa in Antigua, with the joy of showers, crisp, dry sheets, real food, flushing toilets and family all around. After clearing immigration the next morning, and going through scrutineering, there wasn’t time for much other than a quick drive round the island and some serious lazing by the pool!
Now safely back home and spending most of his time eating and sleeping, he’s letting it all sink in slowly. The extent of the support that the team has experienced has surprised him, as people he lost contact with years ago have stepped up to show their appreciation and amazement at the team’s achievement. Overwhelming is yet again the best way to describe it!
By the time you read this, there’s likely to have been a plethora of rowing boats arrive in Antigua, as the chasing pack have been pretty tightly bunched up. Mick and Lia rowed Dream Maker into English Harbour the day after Red Arrow – bizarrely, in the same finish order and roughly the same time apart as the two boats were in the last race!
Mick’s wife Vicky and three wonderful, funny and articulate children (Charlotte, James and Lucy) have been waiting for his arrival with great anticipation, and I’m sure that seeing their dad for the first time will be a moment they’ll never forget. Despite their differences on the way across, Mick and Lia have undoubtedly both learnt a lot from the experience, which they completed in 72 days 23 hours and 29 minutes – not bad for ‘an old bloke and a girl!’.
Lia of course had the usual girly dilemma of ‘what to wear’ for her arrival, but settled for a bikini. Even with all of her vast sailing experience, stepping onto land from a rowing boat proved to be a wobbly time and she found herself staring around as there was so much to look at while she grinned from ear to ear. I really hope that they can be friends following such a unique time spent together, as your rowing partner really is the only person who truly understands what you’ve been through – both the highs and the lows.
Over the weekend, we’ve also seen the arrival of the lovely Neil and Dean in Spirit of MA, followed by the four ‘Jersey Girls’ onboard Mission Atlantic, Limited Intelligence (now a 3 man boat) and Pendovey Swift. Neil and Dean, the two fire fighters from Manchester Airport on Spirit of MA will be more than happy to lead home Pendovey Swift, crewed by Mike and Simon, two fire fighters from Cardiff, with whom there was a little friendly ‘fire fighter’ rivalry going on!
Next in is the incredible Pete van Kets onboard Nyamezela, followed by Vision of Cornwall, No Fear, Explore, Spirit of Montanaro and The Reason Why. It’s amazing to see the boats making landfall so close together and with so many arriving in such a short time scale, we can be sure that the welcome committee for each one will be growing and there’ll be a party going on in English Harbour!
Congratulations to all those who have arrived this week and are tentatively testing out their land legs, and we’ll look forward to more successful landings, and an update on those out on the water next week.
Ocean Rowing News by Rachel Smith for YachtPals.com  

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