Interview with Claire Allinson: One of the Oarsome Foursome

Claire has been working for Crown Records Management for almost 2 years, working on a national basis. 

Since January, she’s been training hard for one of the rowing world’s most challenging undertakings: https://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/. On December 12 her team, the Oarsome Foursome, will leave San Sebastian Marina in La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, along with 40 other boats, with a targeted destination of Antigua (3000 miles away) approximately 50 days later.

In August of this year, Crown Records Management decided to sponsor Oarsome Foursome. It’s certainly one of the most impressive charitable attempts we’ve seen here. By any standard, it’s a Herculean undertaking. Claire, and her teammates, Bird and Mo, are all experienced rowers with decade’s worth of experience between them. However, the Atlantic Challenge is their toughest challenge yet.

We sat down with Claire to discuss her motivations, hopes and fears for the long journey ahead.

What made you want to undertake the Atlantic Challenge?

It’s something of a personal story for me. In a nutshell, my father’s life was saved by a Blood Bike organization. These bikes managed to get him nine pints of blood while he was in theatre. When Bird told me we’d be rowing for these charities it was a no-brainer. Knowing that I could give even one parent a couple more years with their children is my main driver – the two years the bikes gave Dad afforded me the privilege of him walking me down the aisle.

How did you first react upon reading about the scale of the row ahead of you?

I think my first reaction was excitement, as well as a good dose of naivety. As I said, none of us has ever undertaken a row of this magnitude before. At first, I was genuinely excited. I don’t think the full scale of what I’d signed up to became apparent until I started reading about it. Not just the challenge itself, but the amount of work involved leading up to it. 

How have you been preparing for the row?        

Lots and lots of training. Primarily cardio and weights. I wasn’t much of a dead-lifter before we took up the Atlantic Challenge, but now I’m comfortable with form and weights. This is important because the water-resistance as you pull your oars is the equivalent of a 35kg deadlift. It means you need lots and lots of core strength. So, we’ve been focusing a lot on that in addition to standard cardio. It’s especially daunting when you consider collectively we will complete 1,500,000 on our entire journey.

There’s also a lot of balance exercises involved. Remember the ocean can get choppy, to say the least, so you need to be able to balance effectively in stormier weather when the boat is rocking heavily and you are needing to move around to complete maintenance of both yourself and the boat.

Finally, there’s a lot of mental preparation. Of course, a lot of that mental preparation involves positivity. The row is 80% mental and 20% physical ability.

What kind of food will you be eating?

Our standard nutrition comes from the four hydrated meal packs we’ll be eating every day. These aren’t particularly pleasant! Think of them as military rations. We’ll also be having nuts, sultanas, protein shakes, banana crisps (they’re very calorie-dense) and a packet of mini-cheddars.

Interestingly, we’ve also got a fishing line on board, so in calmer weather, we may be able to catch something. It will make a nice change from the meal packs at least! On Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, we will each have a tipple of our favorite, dark rum, pink gin & champers!

What’s your daily routine going to look like on the boat, given that you’re on there for nearly two months?

Well, right off the bat we’ll be getting around eight hours of sleep a day. This will probably come as a surprise to most people, but we’ve trained with this sort of routine in mind and the human body simply gets used to it after a while.

More specifically though, we’ll be rowing on four-hour shifts. The first two hours will be intensive rowing – so maximum output at 22 strokes per minute, the next two hours we’ll be rowing at around 50% effort – still at 22 strokes per minute and changing positions and the two hours after that will give us a little time to shower, eat and do any admin (yes, even on a challenge like this admin is necessary!)

This probably sounds insane to the uninformed, but the mental and physical exhaustion is something we’re all prepared for.

What scares you the most?

Perhaps unsurprisingly: sharks. So, one aspect of our weekly routine involves regularly cleaning the hull (underside) of the boat. Remember parts of the Atlantic are particularly nutrient-rich. What this means is that the hull starts to accumulate algae and barnacles. This necessitates us getting into the water and scraping the hull by hand. As I’m sure you can understand, shark attacks are something that we’ve been conditioned to fear owing to movies and TV.

Realistically speaking though, the chances of a shark attack are incredibly rare. Even still, that lingering fear does remain. Preparing for this was a part of our training, and I can now recognize 11 species of shark.  Asides from the Bull Shark, most are either timid or curious. We will always have someone on the boat stood on shark watch whenever we need a dip to stretch ourselves or scrape the hull.

What excites you the most?

Seeing Turtles and Dolphins. When you’re out in the open ocean, it’s not altogether uncommon to see entire pods (groups) of Dolphins. These can range up to several thousand in number, and cover half a square mile. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight, and just the sort of thing you need to help keep you going!

Keep your eyes peeled for more information on Claire and Oarsome Foursome in the coming weeks. If you’d like to donate to the team, please follow this JustGiving link.