In a couple of weeks I shall be pushing off from the US coast in my small rowing boat, Happy Socks, heading for the UK. The south west coast of the UK lies nearly 3000 miles to the east, meaning a journey of 100 days or so for me. There is no motor or sail on board - I am the engine.
The goal of the journey is to be self-sufficient, so the boat is packed with everything I might need for that time of sea, plus a bit of contingency. That means safety equipment, clothes, medical kit, birthday presents, spares, repairs and tools, and of course, lots of fuel to keep me rowing strong.
I have rowed across the Indian and North Pacific Oceans before, clocking 10 months at sea on small rowing boats, so I have a good handle on what I might need and enjoy on the food front. However, after my last North Pacific row in 2013 I got quite sick and my immune system was all but useless. Since then I have teamed up with dietician Rin Cobb of PND Consulting to take a more scientific approach to my nutrition. Through Rin I came to Healthspan Elite and I am now as bomb-proof as I possibly can be for the row ahead.
The biggest function of my diet is to support my calorific needs for the long days of rowing and relentless energy demands of life on board a boat 24/7 for months at a time, as well as containing sufficient protein to promote repair and keep my muscles happy. Besides that, I need enough micronutrients to keep everything working happily and keep my immune system as strong as possible.
The practical considerations of packing 4+ months of food into my 21ft boat in a harsh environment means that Rin and I considered weight, ease of preparation and longevity when building the ocean rowing plan. From my own experience of taste buds going awry at sea and life on board, I could help mould things based on variety, flavours and textures that do or don't work at sea. We also needed to consider that some days I will be cabin-bound and strapped to my bunk in rough weather, unable to prepare food, use the loo and without such high calorie demands as a rowing day.
So Rin developed a 7 day plan for rowing days and a 5 day plan for cabin days, roughly hitting 4000 calories a day and the right balance of everything else. A typical day might contain porridge, protein shake, dried fruit, oat cakes, beef jerky, a chocolate bar, rice and meat sauce, custard and hot chocolate. Alongside this I have a treat bag which I can dip into from time to time, and I am also going to be sprouting seeds and making yogurt on board for variety. Food is a big psychological thing for me, and I find that I really enjoy the creation of things, rather than just eating of out packets when the weather is good enough to allow it.
Healthspan Elite comes into the artillery with Multivitamins, Omega 3 and high-strength probiotic, all taken in the form of daily tablets and capsules. I already take multiple daily tablets for my medication so it is easy enough to add in some extra pills to the mix. It is great that they are very palatable - some products I have used in the past are hard to swallow and not very tasty.
The multivitamin is especially important as my intake of fresh foods will be limited and, being in such an intense environment with high workloads, my body will get run down. Hopefully this will help prevent infection and illness.
I cannot guarantee getting enough Omega 3 through my diet - (I am not a fan of catching the fish who live beneath my boat as I make friends with them and I don't like to eat commercially caught fish) and so the daily supplement is important.
The probiotic is something that I was always sceptical about until I started using it... and then hey presto, I was getting sick less often than before! My immune system is prone to funny turns and allergies, and so the more robust I can make it with a daily probiotic supplement, the better.
Overall, I am looking forward to getting back out on the oars and excited for the improved nutrition plan I am going out with. Here's to smooth seas and a healthy rower.