"Thank God for crazy people" - Jeff

What an amazing voyage and what an amazing experience, simply mind blowing. 

An immense amount of preparation was required to get the boat and our supplies ready prior to departure and so much consideration was given to weather conditions and route planning, it was an extremely complex operation just to depart. 

The crew - Fiann, Carlo,Tor, Roy and myself met in person for the first time in Tromso, about a week prior to our departure, and we all worked tirelessly getting the boat ready and loading it with all that would be needed for our rowing exploration, which worryingly included a rifle for unwanted visitors from both the land ( Polar Bears ) and sea ( anything big and black ).

Norway is a proud seafaring nation and as a result plenty of people came to see us during our time at our mooring in Tromso, and live TV broadcasts saw us off and were there when we arrived in Longyearbyen. They asked all the obvious questions, and once answered gave quite similar responses like “You’re rowing to Svalbard - you're mad ! " “Where do you sleep the boats too small", and one elderly gent gave the best response of all with “Thank God for crazy people "

We had a practice row prior to departure curtesy of Pukka Travels, who kindly towed us out into a Fjord where we were able to capture some amazing footage from their drone. Once underway on the first leg, the heart pumped, the body rowed, the head whirled around with crazy thoughts. Spirits were high as sight of land slowly disappeared beyond the grey horizon. We were finally headed north on the open seas, temperatures began to fall even though the sun refused to move out of view from the sky. It was daylight twenty-four hours of each day so three pm looked and felt exactly the same as three am, and I often confused the two. Just to make sure my manners were maintained I greeted my fellow teammates with "good morning” at the shift changes. We were rowing one and a half hours on and one and a half hours off all day every day so I emerged from the cabin eight times a day to row and only got the greeting correct at every eighth attempt.

Roy, Tor (stroke) and myself, shared the same shift. As the boat is configured in a linear format (three rowing stations one behind the other) Tor had the bow cabin and Roy and I shared the stern cabin during our time off. To say it was cosy and intimate for two men in one cabin would give the wrong impression, to refer to it as cramped, very cold and wet would be more accurate, spot on in fact. After a couple of days rowing under that routine your mind and body finally, and reluctantly, adjusts to the conditions. It was tough going, but the smiles on our faces, on most occasions, was all that was needed to forge ahead with our quest. 

I will be forever grateful to those who invented painkillers as I chewed on them constantly due to a back injury I picked up quite early in to the row. During our first couple of days at sea we saw just a few ships, one was close enough to take and post a photograph of us out there on the Norwegian sea on a rowing boat that measured just twenty-eight foot in length, but the other ships were mere distant silhouettes against the constant changing shades of grey of the sea, the sky, the clouds and even the sun. At around day three we lost contact with mankind and made new acquaintances with the residence of the cold seas we were rowing at quite an impressive pace. These creatures included hump back whales, dolphins, seals, walruses and a killer whale with her calf. Each encounter was breath taking. Some came a little too close for comfort, but each were magical to watch and observe. The killer whales unnerved me slightly, the dolphins entertained, the sheer size of the hump back whales made me gasp, and the look on the walruses face when he popped up to check us out made me laugh. 

Finally arriving on land again was both a joy and slightly confusing as we all suffered from land sickness when we stepped ashore at the Polish Polar Research centre. Land sickness was new to me and is basically seasickness in reverse. The ground seemed to move as you walked so we all had to hold onto whatever was available in order to stay upright. The few people who worked at the exploration centre could not have been more accommodating or friendly. They greeted us with cameras flashing and the promise of a hot shower and hot food both of which had evaded us for over a week. We were hungry and we all stank. Sudacrem smells endearing on a baby, but transmits a rather different bouquet from a grown man who's bottom has been soothed by its magical powers after days of rowing. I fear the smell will linger in my nostrils for some time to come.

Twenty-four hours later we departed the comforts that land offers and this time we were bound for Longyearbyen. Rowing away proved quite tricky as we had to negotiate large pieces of floating ice, but once out of the Fjord we rowed for a further two days along the southern coast of Svalbard and further north up the western front to the second Fjord on the right which housed our final destination. Having picked up several records from our endeavours achieved over our nine days at sea, which was both a unique pleasure and sheer pain, I will look back on this epic voyage in the future and be forever grateful to Fiann, Carlo, Tor and Roy and the all support teams, partners and family and friends for making this possible for me to experience. It was awesome.

The second leg is now underway with new crew members - Alex,Tyler,Sam and Danny joining Fiann and Carlo and great things are already happening. More records to break and set. The Polar Row is THE row. 

Jeff Willis