I don't mind saying that Saturday night's overnight row was about as hard as it gets, but a great learning exercise for the team and proof our boat is capable of getting us from A (Australia) to NZ.
The plan was to row from Auckland to Great Barrier Island, some 50 nautical miles north-east of the city, but the weather didn't quite play along and by Saturday a solid 30-knot (force 7) had set in.
Its not realistic to row straight into the eye of a breeze that strong - in the Tasman we would ride out those conditions under our sea anchor - but with a special guest onboard (I'll come back to that later) and a superb support boat, the 60ft catamaran Te Okupu (thanks so much to Christine and John Erkkila for their support), we pushed off from Westhaven a little after 3pm with a revised plan of a tow up to Great Barrier and a row back.
The team rowed the first stint up the Waitemata Harbour and then took up the tow line from Te Okupu, with our campaign director Rob Hamill onboard. Te Okupu Skipper Andy Weatherspoon did an expert job of steering his yacht into the best position to make the tricky task of getting a tow line onboard under demanding conditions as easy as possible.
The journey up was nothing short of brutal. We made a steady five knots under tow, ploughing into a steep swell on the Hauraki Gulf, whipped up by the strong north easterly breeze.
Powering into the waves made life onboard quite unpleasant and probably harder than anything we will experience on the Tasman when we'll ride out storms under 100-meters of Nylon sea anchor rode. Nylon rope has a lot of stretch, up to 40%, and is very strong so will make the days under sea anchor a bearable experience.
Every few minutes Moana launched off a steep crest. This was accentuated in the bow cabin, where I had taken some shelter and every few minutes would find myself about a foot higher than the cabin bunk I was resting on a few seconds ago.
As the boat came back down in the trough of the wave, I would crash back down onto the wooden bunk boards with a thud that felt like Sonny Bill Williams had just tackled me. I'm glad there wasn't a swear box in the bow cabin - I would now be broke.
I discovered later on that James and Andrew, steering and keeping an eye out on deck, were having a good chuckle at my misfortune. "Oooh, that one would have hurt," they laughed to each other. It did. I have bruises.
And for the first time in 20 years of going to sea, I chundered. Not once, but three times. I don't recall eating that much fish pie for lunch, but I remember examining it in the cockpit well, post hurl, making a mental note to strike that from the menu for the Tasman.
About that time I also remembered a tip from Pete Staples, a member of the Row for Prostate Indian Ocean crew to eat sweet food in bad times as it tastes sweet on the second time it passes your lips.
They say that there are two stages to sea sickness. In the beginning you worry you're going to die. Then you worry you won't. I'm glad I never made it near that level but I will never mock anyone suffering from that again. The last time I was that sick was after Nick Warren's stag do.
The second hurl an hour later was a real gut clearer and made me feel a lot better.
I later apologised to James for scoring a direct hit on his rowing seat which was taking shelter in the cockpit well. What's a little bit of second-hand fish pie (with cheese topping) between friends?
Around 1am, as we were 10 nautical miles short of Great Barrier Island, we set free from our tow line and started the long row back towards the city.
And as soon as we started rowing, life became a lot more pleasant. Working in shifts, we rowed as far as we could until making our deadline to return to Westhaven (so team members could catch evening flights home) was unachievable and we accepted a second tow to the Rangitoto channel and a final row to the dock.
Despite the challenging conditions, the team spirit on board remained superb throughout. There's a general rule in ocean rowing that you should avoid ironic humour, but the banter between us has really helped make the hardships a lot more manageable.
I'm particularly impressed with the way that James and Martin have formed quite a tight unit - rowing, working and living together in the tight confines of the stern cabin. I hope that Andrew and I can replicate that.
Once my head is out of campaign management and more into rowing the Tasman, I have no doubt that there will be some friendly rivalry over which duo can row more miles. I back us.
From a team leader perspective, it was also great to see three guys from different parts of New Zealand really form into a team that looks out for each other.
To quote Martin's words, James was walking around the boat "like it was just a day at the office". That calming influence has a massive impact on morale.
Martin was suffering and although he didn't take it to my level and dispense with his lunch, he did get a few colours of the rainbow but never once complained and always did his shifts.
Andrew, as always, never whispered a word of angst, rowed his heart and lungs out and actually (I think) enjoyed the suffer-fest!
There were some other learnings from the team. We did some minor cosmetic damage to the boat - nothing that a few hours of expert help at Salthouse Boat Builders can't fix but generally Moana stood up to the challenge incredibly well.
That's not only a testament to the original design and build but the hundreds of hours of thought and labour that has gone into customising her for the Tasman row.
Over the last two days, I have been cleaning the boat and equipment. The smell onboard when I opened the bow cabin hatch on Tuesday morning almost knocked me sideways. And that was just one night at sea. I apologise in advance for the smell that four guys will develop after 30-days at sea.
Finally, back to our special guest. I won't say too much as it will spoil the surprise but make sure you tune in to TVNZ's Close Up for the rest of this week to see their version of the story.
Standby for more news on the adventures of Team Gallagher as we plan our final steps to the Sydney Harbour start line.
- Nigel Cherrie