10 learnings from rowing an ocean in a team that can be applied to everyday life

Updated: Apr 17

Written by: Isaac Kenyon




This incredible photo was taken by Penny Bird of my team Atlantic Discovery holding flares signalling the completion of a 3000 nautical mile row across the Atlantic ocean.


My name is Isaac Kenyon and I want to share the many things that you learn when rowing an ocean, more things than I can count. I rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 40 days with team Atlantic Discovery a four-man ocean rowing team I co-founded. We rowed in the Atlantic Campaigns Talisker Atlantic Challenge using a Rannoch R45 ocean rowing boat. We started the row in December 2018 from San Sebastion harbour on the small island of La Gomera situated on the Canary Islands. We rowed using the Atlantic trade winds E-W and finished the row in the English Harbour of Antigua of the Caribean (see a cool video here). What a lovely place to celebrate! Here is the official short film of our journey :)

Atlantic Row 2018-2019







 



Throughout the journey from the idea, inception to row an ocean to after the row finished there were 10 really important life lessons that can help anyone to improve their life to meet their goals whether that is happiness, building relationships, improving mental/physical health, whatever it is I’m sure some of these learnings will help you in some way.


Know what your reasons why are and stick to them


There were tough times during the Atlantic row, huge storms that knock your progress to a halt and even push you back, sometimes injuries would come and go, mentally it was monotomous looking at the colour blue for days on end. Being in such discomfort and the world feeling like it is against you can knock you down and you may not want to get up. This sometimes happens in life too, everyone gets those days where they feel the world is against them. I found that being able to talk oneself out of a bad situation was a valuable skill I learnt from rowing the ocean.


I thought back to the reasons WHY i wanted to do this row and that gave me all the confidence and energy I need to turn my mood around and get that boat moving in the right direction.




This shot was taken just after swimming with whales for the first time, sometimes it was experiences like this that would help remind you WHY i was doing this to experience and learn about wildlife for instance.



Thinking back to the inception of the idea was key for me. I wanted to learn new skills, push my boundaries mentally and physically and help others less privileged than I. This challenge ticked all those boxes as I was able to help raise money for MS Society and I learnt how to row, how to sail, how to navigate at sea and on an ocean, I learnt about different wildlife, swam with whales and pushed myself mentally and physically from the physicality of the challenge and the discomfort and environment that is the Atlantic Ocean.


Think Three Steps Ahead


Preparing for something as audacious as an Atlantic Row crossing has a lot of MOVING PARTS that all inter-link and need careful management, time for tasks and along the way there will be a lot of setbacks and difficulties so being able to be ready for those setbacks and having a plan in place was vital for the success of the mission. We learnt to take three steps ahead approach.




Here is an example of this approach. We needed to raise £120,000 to do this crossing, to be prepared for this crossing we needed adequate training time on a boat, to get a boat we needed money, to get the money we needed a story. So the immediate first step was to get the capital before the training on a boat in order to get the boat in the first place. However, getting capital is not that easy, what obvious ways are there to do this: sponsorship, personal finance or bank loans.



The least personal risk is sponsorship out of that choice, this is what we chose. In order to get sponsorship, you need a good story something compelling that brands will want to partner with you for to spread their own message with. So you start reaching out to brands and asking what they are looking for and in some cases may be asked to change your story more times than once which leads to danger in transforming your critical WHY message, unless you are able to convince brands in your personal WHY message over theirs or they already align with yours which is most optimal. Anyway, you get the finance to do the challenge, so there can be a trade-off here which is why thinking three steps ahead on this decision allows you to play with the risk. Once one or two brands back you, the others see there is less risk and then you will find it easier to convince and get more to support you until you have enough capital to buy a boat.




So although the end goal is the Atlantic Row crossing because of your personal WHY message there is a number of challenges and steps to be taken before you get there, which may disrupt you. There are also consequences for each step along the way, for instance, choosing the sponsorship route means your story has more risk of being transformed and your WHY message being disrupted than the personal finance route (which costs more but less disruption) which may impact your crossing in a negative way, so be prepared for this can help and strategise how you go about this can keep it positive.


Three steps ahead thought processes like this can really help one to think about how a decision plays out when making decisions in everyday life, what are the steps thereafter once you have taken a particular first step i.e. sponsorship over personal finance? I use scenario planning like this in all aspects of my life now and it has been incredibly useful in mapping where I want to go.




Problem-solving at speed also comes into this, by using the three steps ahead approach you also are able to predict a problem early on and prepare ways of dealing with this issue so that it doesn’t grow or fester. This was vital on an Atlantic row crossing as there is no time to waste in survival mode. For example, being the saltwater spray will inevitably start to evaporate on your clothes whilst you rowing and this if not dealt with early on can lead to abrasions on the skin and infections which may make you incapable of rowing properly and then unable to finish the crossing. So immediately you put a procedure in place to deal with this, washing the clothes regularly and switching between different sets of clothes as well as wiping the salt off your skin after every rowing shift on the boat. The consequences of not doing problem-solving can lead to bigger problems down the line.






Outside the box thinking/different angle


There is a quote from Albert Einstein which really resonated during this project, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. What i took from this is there is always a new way a different approach that one can do to get to the end goal. I learnt during the lead up to getting the sponsorship to the Atlantic row that fresh thinking and swallowing your pride as a know-it-all by not keeping your problems to yourself and discussing what your challenges are with as many people as possible allows new ways of thinking and perspectives to a project that you may never have even considered and can take what you are doing to the next level. That outside the box thinking can come from doing uncomfortable things, new processes you have not tried before and experimenting with being open to new suggestions. Otherwise, you will get the same results and usually, that isn’t always a good thing.



Mentally the ocean row can be incredibly difficult, the ocean can play mean tricks on you, especially when you lack sleep. I took on a world record before the Atlantic row as an experiment to prepare for the mental toughness of the ocean row and a way of improving our team PR to get sponsorship. This was single-handily one of the best decisions, it improved my confidence that i can deal with this Atlantic row and improved supporter and sponsorship investor confidence in our team that we are competent and capable of the row, which lead to more sponsorship. I had never rowed longer than 2 hours before this challenge, what was the challenge you may wonder?


The longest continual row on an indoor rowing machine.


I rowed for 83 hours and became the male LWT world record holder for this challenge on a concept2. See my record here.


Connect with your support network they are there for you


During the tough moments out on the ocean, it was really encouraging to keep going when your support network was behind you as it felt like you were also doing the challenge not just for yourself but also for them too! Supporters were really good for mental health as they can light your fire when you feeling down and give you some energy. The more I connected with the support of what we did, it was amazing to see how willing people were to help and from that, we were able to get to the finish line of the Atlantic row. We would show are our appreciation to every person that made a contribution and this resulted in a giving back ripple effect which can create a bigger impact in sharing a message.



Instead of being a team of four rowing, we felt like a team of 100s. We wanted to be unique and give back even when on the oars so we hosted the worlds-first Reddit Q&A from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean so that anyone could ask us questions and we would answer them even during the tough times at sea. This resulted in even more support and more money raised for our MS charity cause. This can be translated into anything you do, telling people what you are doing and why may spark an interest in people to support you in your objective and it is very important to give back to show appreciation and respect to who supports you. Nobody likes a ‘taker’.



Be effective


Knowing our priorities made the goal of rowing an ocean achievable. Along the way, some things need to be sacrificed or de-prioritised whichever way you would like to look at it to achieve goals like this. By hitting the pause button on life and sitting down writing down all the things you are currently doing and all the things you want to do and then calculating how much time and effort each requires of you really helps to prioritise what you do from a day to day basis. I do this every single month, on the first day of the month and it helps me to focus and prioritise tasks. Sometimes we feel we want to do EVERYTHING and commit and say YES all the time but every YES has a time and effort attached to it and with only 12 hours in the day for most people it can be quite exhausting doing too much and can result in being ineffective in everything you do as you are stretched too thin. I found using a project management tool really helpful for both projects like the Atlantic Row and in life in general. Fewer tasks done well was more rewarding and useful to the team than many tasks done poorly.




On a micro level I applied this on the Atlantic rowboat in my time on the oars I would think about how to be effective off from the oars, how much time i would spend, eating, sleeping, cleaning, self-care, navigating, communicating back home, boat maintenance and then prioritise what was important at that very moment in time. Was i very hungry and tired so did i need to give more time for eating and sleeping on that break than boat maintenance? Or did I have lots of energy and not so tired or hungry and could contribute to navigation, more self-care etc. Constant check-ins like this are very good for being effective and helping the team and yourself reach your goals.



Common Goal


When in a team your usually together for some kind of eventuality whether that is more money in a company, winning a race, or getting some learnings. Alignment of interest is vital to achieving these goals. The challenge is that everyone has their own vision of what they expect, their own compromises that need to be made and agreed upon so expectations are met and the harmony is conclusively positive. We are four completely different individuals from different backgrounds who spent the most time learning about each other as part of our rowing preparations, with plenty of team weekends away to work on team dynamics.




We would each describe with honesty and integrity what we explicitly want out of the row our “best possible Atlantic row” we called it. For some, it was to see wildlife like whales and spend time with them. For others, it was developing oneself as a personal goal to build better relationships with people. Others were to be competitive as the Atlantic Row was part of a race and finally to raise money for the cause.





All these are great goals, however, we needed to strike a balance with each of them, make compromises and draw lines in the sand so it was fair on the team, too much focus on one goal may neglect the other which may annoy a team member which is not great for team dynamics. In doing this process we were also able to understand our inner meanings and drives, our ticks and how to conflict manage, we learnt an incredible amount from each other in this process. In addition, we needed to consistently check in every month with each other on the lead up to row to stay on focus even during changing circumstances to keep the “boat” moving forward in the right direction.


In life, it isn’t always easy working in teams and sometimes a lot of work towards a common goal is required, I have been lucky enough to ask these questions from teams I have worked on in the past and constantly check in with them to see how we are all getting on towards the same common goal. Much better than not doing this at all, which quite frankly happens too much in the working world.



Appreciate the moment and the little things in life


Taking time out to “live in the moment” before the Atlantic row was very much a mystery to me, I would not engage well with “living in the moment” as I was so driven with what I was doing that I wouldn’t stop to take a breath until I got to my destination. When my head was down working hard I wasn’t appreciating what I already had achieved, or what was around me and was missing some major details in life that make memories. When you were out on the Atlantic Ocean there was so few distractions and life was incredibly simple you would just row/eat/sleep/repeat, this meant there was sometimes a lot of time to twiddle thumbs to take in what was around you and live the experience by SLOWING DOWN.


In those moments when you are greeted with the moon rising or a sunrise or a sunset, it can be so beautiful and motivating. In those moments when a whale and a dolphin come to say hello and you jump in the water to see the whales eye greet you on your journey it can be so inspiring and being thankful for nature and how the world works helps you to get through the difficult challenges.



Every day was tough you are rowing 12 hours a day (2 hours every 2 hours in a 24 hour day) all through the day and all through the nights. It is tough when all your comfort is stripped from you, no nice beds to sleep in, no nice food to eat, a mission to just make fresh drinking water, extreme heat in the day and cold in the night, storms you can’t run away from. On top of this, we missed Christmas which can be very debilitating for some and make them homesick. We of course celebrated on the boat, with some singing, very small presents and a few satellite calls to the family that lasted 10mins each.





Now when life gets tough, my immediate thought process goes back to when I was on the Atlantic Ocean to think about what I should be thankful for, I have family, friends, relationships, a roof over my head, food in my mouth, I get to see sunsets and sunrises and hear birds in my garden. The little things can actually be really big things with a perspective change and can flip a bad day into a good day. Appreciation for the moment and the little things will get you far.




Taking the personal risk to commit to something and being courageous to stick with it


A half-committed Yes will always be a flop and a waste of time. A fully committed YES will be an incredibly rewarding effort that can lead to more opportunities and most importantly not wastes your own time.


Saying YES is not a habit, it is a way of life… it is a lifestyle… I learnt that during this Atlantic row buildup I needed to prioritise what i did day-to-day and what I committed to in order to achieve truly life-changing and rewarding experiences like rowing across an ocean.




If you were told that you have 5 years left on this planet… what would you fill your life up with? what would your goals be? Those Yes’s will start to be very important when you have a finite time on this planet. So why not start being strategic and doing what is best for you?


But here's the thing: Yes is hard. It requires action, commitment and engagement. And, like it or not, yes will lead to failure much of the time. On the other hand, no is easy. You don't have to change your life, much less get up off the couch, with no. There's zero risk of failure with no.


Of course, there's also zero chance of success.


Managing Expectations


Don’t force your expectations on others unless the consent is there and a goal has been established. We made a mistake in the team goals section of how competitive we wanted to be. Example being - can not control the weather and that dictates the speed of the boat, found being a pessimist about the factors you cannot control like weather and expecting the worst was a far greater approach mentally than working against it and working with what you have and not what you don’t have provided better foundations for moving forward.





There is no such thing as a perfect time to start



After rowing an ocean you dive into this world full of can-do people with incredible inspirational stories and diverse backgrounds. I learnt from all of these stories is that a lot of these people who decided to row an ocean all had different things going on in their personal lives, in the workplace, they were different ages some aged 70+ some 18yrs, some from privileged financial backgrounds and others from poor communities, some decided to do this row after a divorce, others after being made redundant. Personally, I had just finished university with £40,000 of student financial loans to pay back, but i thought the skills I can learn from doing the Atlantic row at this age will be with me for life and I can then use those skills to help pay for my student finance loans back in the future. I see life experiences like this as an investment in my time to get better.


It just meant that with all these situations no matter the adversity making a START can happen anytime, anywhere at any given situation and with the right mindset no matter your background you can make these dreams become reality whenever you want. Almost a like a limitless mindset to an extent.


 

Adventurer | Motivational Speaker | Filmmaker


Co-Founder of Climate Explorers


Mobile: +44 (0) 7833 473157LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook


Websites: Personal: www.isaackenyon.comDocumentary: 14 Days South: Over Sea and LandPodcast: Mind the Green Space






 

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