Exhausted, elated and relieved. An extraordinary life experience with many highs and lows.
That’s how Team Gallagher rower Nigel Cherrie sums up how he and his three fellow rowers feel today as they see the end in sight to their historic trans-tasman sea journey.
A sign of the toil of the 50-plus day row from Sydney to New Zealand is in Nigel’s physical appearance. He has lost between 10 and 15 kgs- much more than he expected.
The team members are so tired after battling rough weather conditions with little sleep each night but there’s more than just the the toll on the body.
“It’s not just the physical challenge that gets you, it’s mental as well," says Nigel as he and his rowers start the last stage of their journey from Northland to Auckland's Wynyard Quarter area where they hope to arrive sometime on Saturday.
“I cannot describe how hard it becomes. It’s mentally hammering and we didn’t prepare enough for that level. While the team had prepared for the journey both mentally and physically, they never realised just how much of a mental challenge the ride would be.”
Rowing along Northland’s east coast has been a welcome change of scenery for the team with the biggest highlight so far being able to touch land.
The first thing Nigel will be doing back in Auckland is giving his wife and son a big hug. He had promised he would be back by Christmas Day as they were aiming to beat a 31-day trans-tasman record set by four Australians in 2007. Those rowers had rowed in the other direction doing from New Zealand to Australia.
The New Zealanders had set off on November 27 in their boat Moana for the 2500km voyage and have now past 50 days.
One team member, Martin Berka left the crew after reaching Northland as he wants to spend time with his fiancée.
Nigel, asked if he would’ve done anything differently, says the list would be endless. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But everything happened the way it did and I’m focused on completing the journey.”
“The journey has been everything and more than we expected. The only thing it hasn’t been is quick,” he chuckles.
Nigel believes he’ll never be able to top what he calls “the ultimate adventure.”
Besides the saga of broken equipment, injuries and at one stage drifting back towards Australia, the biggest challenge for the team members has been being away from friends and family.
They say the highlights have been many including “rowing around Cape Reinga to North Cape, touching land, magnificent albatross flying past, whales diving under the boat, beautiful sunsets words can’t describe - the list goes on!” Whilst at sea, the team have spotted dolphins, Minke whales and seabirds along the way.
The biggest low and scariest moment of the journey so far was when the water maker failed. “Luckily, we managed to repair it but if that had broken, there could’ve been a whole lot of problems - not a good thing.”
Fears and doubts were overcome by the support of friends and family.
“It’s amazing what 140 characters in a text message can do. Each day we’d rate each other out of ten on a scale of where we were at mentally. Some of us got as low as a three but we couldn’t believe all the messages of support we received. It definitely made a difference.”
The support from fans has been overwhelming for the team. “It really hits home when you’re rowing down the coast and boaties are coming up to you cheering and clapping. There’s been an incredible amount of support which we didn’t expect and it means a lot.”
Living together in such cramped conditions for an extended period of time has brought the team closer together and they’ve grown pretty well.
“Occasionally there is the odd harsh word said but we’re all so tired that we know when people are not being themselves. Overall, they’re a fantastic bunch of guys to row with.”
The team has been dreaming about food. “After running out of gas to cook and heating up freeze-dried food under your armpits each night is not very appealing. We’ve talked about what foods we’ll eat and which restaurants we’ll go to when we get back home.”
Although their food supply was enough to last up to 40 days, there were days spent not rowing so they didn’t require as much food during those days.
With so many days at sea anchor, Nigel’s had time to write a children’s book about their journey and has dedicated it to his son for him to understand. The New Year will mean spending quality time with his family after more than a year’s preparation for the row and the row itself taking him away from them.
Apart from blisters, cuts and a head check, the team members will also need to put on weight, having lost a lot throughout the journey.
His advice to anyone else wanting to try something outside of their comfort zone is to “just do it. Once you get started and under way, you’ll learn you can tackle all the good and bad things that happen. You’ve just got to get on with it and not procrastinate.
“I had no idea how important it would be to have a support network around us. So many people have done so much for us and we’re very grateful for all the support.”
The team are aiming to arrive in Auckland by Saturday and you can show your support by welcoming them home at Auckland's Waterfront. We’ll have more details when we have a better idea of timings.