Here’s an exciting Exclusive for you today… island adventurer Niall Iain Macdonald has begun a new attempt to row solo across the North Atlantic Ocean, all the way from the East Coast of America to his home in the Hebrides.
Niall Iain, 44, left Norfolk, Virginia, at 6am this morning local time (10am GMT / 11am BST). He hopes to complete his 3,400 rowing challenge in three to four months and will be rowing for 12 hours a day, every day, on a two hour on/off rotation.
He is pictured above, just before setting off this morning.
Niall Iain signalled the start of his challenge with a simple post on Twitter and Facebook – “How long should you try? Until. 36°55′17″N 76°11′19″W”
This is a third attempt at the North Atlantic row – previously named NY2SY as he planned to go from New York to Stornoway – for freelance broadcaster Niall Iain. His first attempt at the challenge in 2014 ended when he suffered a bad accident on board just nine days into it.
He always knew he would make another attempt. “I remember when we went back out to get the boat in 2014, on that day we found her. When I saw the boat on its own in the ocean, I felt ‘I should be on it’ – and I knew that I was going to try again at some point.”
However, the time was not right for a second attempt until last year.
Then, he spent six weeks in New York on standby to start, waiting for a weather window that would allow him to clear land safely – but it never came, due to a series of low pressure systems.
He returned again to New York in late April this year and spent another two weeks on standby until making the decision with this weather router, at the end of last week, to move further down the US coast to take advantage of better weather conditions.
He moved his boat from Liberty Landing Marina in Manhattan and she went back in the water at Cobb’s Marina on Little Creek, Norfolk, on Tuesday.
Niall Iain, who lives in the Isle of Lewis and was born in Inverness, is undertaking NY2SY to raise at least £100,000 for the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and to raise awareness of mental health issues in general, having had his own struggles in the past.
Although he will be rowing solo, Niall Iain has a shore-based support team – led by Leven Brown, who is also acting as his weather router and was instrumental in the decision to move the start point because of the persistent unfavourable conditions in New York.
Leven was part of Mark Beaumont’s support team for his Around Britain cycle challenge last year and is a hugely-respected ocean rower in his own right.
Speaking just before he left Norfolk, Niall Iain said: “There has been a lot of interest in the boat and my challenge and lots of offers of help from other boat owners in the marina.
“I was a bit nervous about coming down to Norfolk as it was a bit of a gamble, but one that we – Leven and I – felt was worth taking.
“I had already spent two weeks sitting in New York on standby and there was no sign of a weather window appearing there anytime soon. By heading 300 miles further south I am giving myself a much better chance of getting the sustained conditions that I need to get started. I hope to catch the shoulder of the Azores High Pressure System and take advantage of the SW winds in this area to make good progress out into the ocean.
“NaturalIy it is disappointing that I will not be leaving New York as I have always intended to do but I know that this is the right move if I am going to get the chance to row across the North Atlantic Ocean at all. And when I think about it, I have already rowed out of New York, under the Verrazano Bridge and out into the ocean, back in 2014 when I first attempted NY2SY.
“This is just another unexpected chapter in the whole NY2SY story and I very much hope that it’s the start of a successful adventure.”
As a solo ocean rower, the right weather conditions are essential in order to safely clear the coastline, as a solo rower cannot keep a boat moving the whole time. “You need a period of five or six days of favourable weather so you can punch out into the ocean,” explained Niall Iain.
Although he never got that break last year, the temptation had been there to try anyway. “But I listened to the weather router and took advice of a couple of ocean rowers who were all saying, ‘don’t risk it, don’t go’. People were saying, ‘if you get washed up somewhere, that’s it, but if you don’t go you’ve got another chance’.
“So I just spent six weeks living on the boat, in the marina. By mid-June it was clear that I was not going to get away, so I just said, ‘right, postpone again.”
This time, Niall Iain and Leven made the decision to move before time ran out, as he has to be underway by mid-June to avoid being caught up in bad Autumnal weather.
Now, after many setbacks, he is finally on his way.
Niall Iain said: “I feel calm and I feel excited. I still have the same clammy hands and fear when I really think about it and I’m not getting ahead of myself. Each day as it comes. I’m as scared as I was the first time I attempted it, but I know it is possible. I know that I’ve trained hard and properly for what lies ahead and I’m really excited as well.”
He deliberately kept it low key this time, so he could make preparations away from the media glare. “I just wanted to focus on what was ahead of me, so very few people knew. It took a bit of pressure off me.
“In 2014 there was quite a lot of fuss made and I always felt uncomfortable with it as I hadn’t actually done anything yet. I understood the interest but it always bothered me.
“So when I decided to go again, I thought, ‘things have changed a bit’. Hopefully we can celebrate at the end of it all.”
Niall Iain’s boat – a 24ft ocean rower – has been renamed ALBA which is the Gaelic name for Scotland. She was kept in storage in New York since 2014 and is now packed with four months of rations and 140 litres of fresh water ballast, in case the desalination water-maker fails.
But how does one prepare mentally for this kind of undertaking?
“I heard someone say, ‘don’t think cumulatively’ – it just comes back to that moment and you’ll feel differently in a couple of hours.”
“Mark Beaumont said, ‘just keep moving – even if you’re just moving at 1mph’ and it’s taken me a while to realise that I’ll probably want to give up every day. A lot of people think you can’t give up at all, but you can give up – you’ve just got to pick yourself up again and keep going.
“It’s taken a lot of work, it hasn’t fallen in my lap, but I’m very lucky to get the chance to do such an adventure and I need to remember that and enjoy the experience.”
He stressed: “The main motivation for NY2SY Solo North Atlantic row is to raise at least £100,000 for SAMH and also hopefully this will encourage people to seek help or find out more about mental health issues. There may be people who are suffering themselves or people who want to have a better understanding of what their loved ones are going through.
“Any donations are very welcome. I’m going to be struggling out there at times. What will be driving me forward is knowing that there will be people back here who’ll be supporting me and also the wider issue of SAMH.”
He added: “It’s because of my own back story and where I’ve been before. Clinical depression does not discriminate. It affects people with great lives, too. Depression is still an elephant in the room. And it is something we should talk about. I still take dives but the difference is that, because of the help I got, I can manage them better.”
Another motivation was “just a plain desire to do it – sometimes it doesn’t have to be too deep and too difficult to explain”.
Niall Iain had undertaken a number of adventures in the past but it was his experience of rowing The Minch, between Stornoway and Ullapool, in 2008 that really sparked his imagination.
“I knew that I wanted to do something a little bit bigger. I found out about ocean rowing, I researched lots of different routes and for some reason NY2SY seemed to stick in my head.”
He admitted the end of his 2014 bid had been “hugely disappointing”, adding: “It took a long time to get over that, physically and also mentally, but I also knew I would go back out and try again, for all the reasons that I tried it the first time, which is as a personal challenge but also to raise funds for SAMH, and to raise awareness of mental health issues as well.
“Everyone has an ocean to cross. Everyone has a challenge put in front of them. They can tackle it — it takes time — but it’s really to show that there is a way over to the other side.”
The Scottish Association for Mental Health is a charity working across Scotland. Over the last year, in more than 60 communities, SAMH have supported almost 4,000 people through a wide range of person-centred and recovery-focused community services. Visit www.samh.org.uk or follow @SAMHtweets on Twitter for more information.
Julie Macdonald, SAMH Senior Fundraising Manager, said: “We want to say thank you to Niall Iain for choosing to support SAMH during this unique personal challenge. We wish him luck and every success in his venture.”
Donations can be made via Niall Iain’s JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/NY2SY. The main website address for the challenge is http://www.NY2SY.co.uk and there is a tracker there, at www.ny2sy.co.uk/track-my-progress.
Although he will not be able to see any comments made on social media while he is away, Niall Iain will be keeping people informed by blogging about his experiences at blog.mailasail.com/ny2sy and posting updates on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/NY2SYsolo and on Twitter as @NY2SYsolo. Useful hashtags are #NY2SY and #SAMH.
On a personal note, I am very pleased to be able to help Niall Iain with his challenge by providing shore-based press and PR support (and hugely relieved that we actually managed to keep it a secret until now). Because of the logistical difficulties, any requests for interviews with Niall Iain should come through me – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – and I will liaise with him about suitable times to take satellite phone calls.
Good luck, cove! We’ll see you on the other side.
Turas math dhut.