Out of the four Team Gallagher crew members taking on the Trans Tasman Challenge, Andrew McCowan boasts the most extensive rowing experience.
The 26-year-old began rowing at age 17 whilst at school. He went on to row for Waikato, beginning as a novice and working his way up to elite level where he finished his career eight years later.
During that time he notched up many championship medals and represented New Zealand at the Junior World Championships and Youth Olympic event, something he is extremely proud of.
“Representing my country and also captaining the Waikato crew for the Great Race Rowing Festival - and staying unbeaten - are stand out moments in my career,” says McCowan.
In 2008, soon after calling time on his competitive career, he approached former Atlantic rower Rob Hamill in search of a new challenge. Hamill himself had just got involved in what was to become Team Gallagher and knew McCowan would be a perfect fit.
“Rob got back to me and said there was a pair in Auckland considering a trans-Atlantic row,” says McCowan. “So I met up with Rob and team leader Nigel Cherrie. In that first meeting it was decided to change the goal to crossing the Tasman.”
The appeal of the project was clear to McCowan.
“I had just finished up my rowing career and wanted to do something that was different for myself. The challenge wasn't just the physical side but also the mental side which is something I wanted to push myself at.
“Also the sense of adventure, being where I thought that I would never be, and to see things that I would never get to see otherwise.”
Nicknamed ‘The Axe’, his experience and knowledge gained has directly benefited his crew members. Although his job title is ‘rower’, he has advised the others on preparation and what to eat throughout the build-up to launch day.
“My main role in the team is rower but when I say that I also mean not just in the fact that I am pulling the oars but also to pass on some of my knowledge of rowing and nutrition and I also set up their initial training schedules.
“Additionally I assist in all the day to day tasks that the project requires, helping here and there whenever I can.”
Based in Hamilton, McCowan has fitted a time-intensive training programme around his job as an Instrument Technician in the organics section, testing for certain petrols and other contaminants in soil and water.
His training regime, like his crew members, consists of countless hours sitting on an ergometer rowing machine, “with a couple of weight sessions in there as well.”
“The training has to be different from flat water rowing,” McCowan explains. “We don’t want to lose too much weight or be too lean. There has to be enough to lose on the actual trans-Tasman row as we will be out there possibly for a long time.”
During the past month leading up to launch, McCowan has travelled every weekend up to Auckland to take part in tests and training rows on the open water.
The team are well prepared for any scenario, having practised capsize recovery, communication breakdown procedures and preparing for other emergencies, but like the other team members, McCowan believes the practicalities of living on a small boat with three other blokes provide their greatest challenges.
“The confined space and making sure we can get some movement around the boat safely and I guess the team dynamic out there is going to be essential.” he says. “There will be many times where the strain of the row will cause conflict between us and there will be times where we can all have a good laugh at something or see things in the nature of the sea that we would never have experienced.”
However, McCowan is not under any illusions about the dangers either, and even says that one of his fears in life are “vast stretches of ocean.”
“The water we are rowing on isn't the most forgiving and can treat you very mean. So being well prepared for this, whether it be by making sure the boat is up to scratch or that we are physically and mentally ready.”
The Trans Tasman Challenge is all about being prepared, and in Andrew McCowan, the crew have someone with a head full of experience and knowledge, ready for anything.
- Feature by Nick Warren