Trio to row the Atlantic non-stop for two months to raise money for dementia
‘I get terrible seasickness – so I anticipate being very seasick,’ says 34-year-old Johnnie Ball, who is planning to row a staggering 3,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean for charity – with two of his friends.
The trio will be rowing non-stop for two months in a six-foot-long boat, starting in Portugal and ending in South America – all to raise money for Dementia UK.
Johnnie will be joined alongside his friend of more than 20 years, Stefan Vine, and their 48-year-old pal Dirk Von Delft.
To complete the epic journey, the team will row in shifts – only having three hours off at a time – and surviving solely on dehydrated food and a solar-powered water-maker.
Johnnie and Stefan are currently waiting in Portugal for the arrival of Dirk, who is due to fly over from South Africa (however, is caught up with Covid restrictions) – but their aim is to set off by mid-January.
The idea for the charity project first came to Johnnie 18 months ago – during the first lockdown.
Having never rowed before, he thought the route would be a challenge people would want to get behind – especially considering they would be the first team of three to do it.
‘There’s only about 10 boats to have ever done this, and the fastest was in 48 days,’ Johnnie tells Metro.co.uk. ‘So we’re aiming to be the fastest – to break that world record. We’ll aim to be the first boat of three people to do this, too.’
‘More people have been to the moon than done this crossing with three people,’ adds 35-year-old Stefan.
Breaking records is all well and good, but the main reason the group are doing the diagonal row across the Atlantic is to raise money for dementia carers – a topic very close to Johnnie’s heart.
He adds: ‘I came up with the idea really because my dad had dementia for 20 years and passed away about four years ago. It was my mum who spent the vast majority of her time looking after him. She basically had to put her whole life on hold for that entire period.
‘Dementia carers don’t get any training and no one’s there to help you – there’s very little support from the NHS.
‘For someone with dementia, it’s goes on for such a long time and it’s such a horrible disease.
‘I decided I wanted to do big challenge to firstly raise awareness of the situation that dementia carers find themselves in – and the family of dementia sufferers find themselves in – but to also to raise funds for Dementia UK, a charity that really focuses on dementia care.
‘So I was trying to think of a really big challenge that was potentially going to raise a lot of money and I came up with the idea of rowing continent to continent, across the Atlantic.’
After Johnnie recruited friends to help him with the challenge, the trio got to work with training and sourcing a boat for their adventure.
The vessel accompanying them on their trip is just six metres long, with a main deck for rowing and cabins for sleeping and navigation.
Johnnie continues: ‘It has a big open top and, at either end, there is a small cabin. One of those cabins has all the communication and navigation in it – and you can sleep in either of them.
‘All our food will be dehydrated ration packs, which you just add water to – but there are no other cooking facilities on board and there is no toilet on board.’
‘Well, just two yellow buckets,’ adds Stefan.
The team will work in shifts – three hours on and three hours off – so the boat will be rowed 24 hours a day by at least one person.
‘So out of your three-hour shift, you’ll have two hours rowing with one other person, and then you will one hour on your own – and that will rotate,’ explains Stefan.
Johnnie, Stefan and Dirk admit they were not rowers before embarking on the Forget Me Knot project, but luckily they had lots of time to train at home during various lockdowns.
They’ve also taken the boat out for a few test runs.
Stefan continues: ‘We’ve had the boat for a while now, so we’ve been out on a lot of trips out to the Isle of Wight, and just getting used to how to row the boat and how to deal with the wind and what happens when it gets a bit choppy.
‘So we’ve spent a good amount of time with the boat itself. We know our way around it. We know how to manoeuvre it and we know what it likes and what it doesn’t like – as strange as that might sound, but all boats have their quirks.
‘We’ve also done our survival at sea training – so we’ve had quite a lot of weekends in classrooms, doing courses and that type of thing.’
But they haven’t just had to physically train for the challenge.
The trio have also received coaching from a sports performance psychologist, who has helped them mentally prepare.
Johnnie adds: ‘We’ve had group sports performance coaching, to help with communication, conflict resolution and just general skippering the boat and ensuring that if problems do arise – say the weather does turn really rough and there’s risk of capsize and danger – that we’re all in the right mindset: so we know what to do, and that we’re all sticking together and working together.’
Key facts about the Forget Me Knot campaign:
- Johnnie, Stefan and Kirk are the rowers taking part.
- They will be rowing 3,800 miles from Portugal to South American (diagonally across the Atlantic Ocean).
- They are raising money for Dementia UK – and will be helping to do marine research in the process.
- Their boat is six-foot long with two cabins on either end.
- They are surviving on water and dehydrated ration packets.
- They will row non-stop for two months – to complete the voyage.
While the majority of the campaign will be to raise money for dementia via their GoFundMe page, the friends will also be doing some marine research in the process.
Johnnie explains: ‘We asked around a few charities about what we could do to help, and one of the things that came up was collecting oceanographic data for large marine mammals.
‘So we’re going to drag a specialist hydrophone behind us and we’re going to record all of the songs and the communications of the marine mammals in the area. Then we’re going to hand that data over to some specialist researchers in South Africa, who work for a charity called Sea Search.
‘Then we’ll publish that data for other marine researchers to try and understand migration patterns and threats to other large marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean.’
After months of getting sponsors, raising funds, training, planning the nutrition and the logistics and getting the boat, the big day is almost here.
Johnnie and Stefan are now just waiting for Dirk to arrive in Portimão, Portugal, before they start their Atlantic row.
Aside from a few nerves, the three friends are eager to get started and hope to raise as much money as they can.
Johnnie adds ‘It’s been so long in the planning, we can’t wait to go.
‘Obviously it’s sad to leave family behind for this period, but we’re really just excited to get on the water and get out there.’
You can donate to the Forget Me Knot row here and updates can be found over on the team’s Instagram account @forgetmeknotrow.
Metro.co.uk will be following their journey – so stay tuned for further updates.
More information on the campaign can be found at forgetmeknotcampaign.com.
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