The two Brits teamed up for the first time on a row boat across the mid Atlantic in 2007-08. Then they challenged themselves on skis on the frozen ice cap of Greenland. In between Ian rowed twice across the oceans.
Last year he was a last minute addition to the crew of the out of class boat that rowed with the Woodvale Indian Ocean Rowing Race. The 8 rowers set a speed record from Australia to Mauritius. On January 4 this year Ian skippered the 12-person crew in the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race from La Gorma to Barbados.
Two months later he and Ben crossed Greenland from the Nagtivit Glacier to Kangerlussuaq. ExWebs Correne Coetzer caught up with the guys in England and today Ian Couch talks more about his ocean rowing experiences.
ExplorersWeb: Eight/twelve people on a row boat, different ages, different nationalities, different genders... how do you organize/manage yourselves not to be on top of each other?
Ian: The crew issues are the hardest part of a large boat row. On Oyster Shack in 07/08 we were a crew of 5, Audeamus on the Indian was 8 and Britannia III was 12. The 8 and 12 were mixed gender and nationality but I do not believe these are factors; it is more about the personality of the individual regardless of gender or nationality.
The gender issue and nudity is not a factor in the same way a native tribe has no issue with nudity the reality of being on a boat is all about doing what is best and if at times that is naked rowing then so be it!
Key factors are determination, no ego, a realistic expectation of the levels of hardship (better a pleasantly surprised pessimist than a shocked optimist) mental and physical toughness, adaptability, respect for your fellow crew members and above all a sense of humor and an appreciation of the adventure and exposure of being at sea in a small boat.
ExplorersWeb: How does a typical day on a boat looks like?
Ian: Routine and self discipline is key to making the crossing as discomfort free as possible.
The core routine is a 2 hour on 2 hour off watch system. 10 minutes before the change the ongoing watch is up and ready and the idea is to keep as many rowing as possible during the change to maintain momentum of the boat.
At first light we clean the solar panels and do routine boat maintenance and the off watch prepares food for the crew. By 10:00 the sun is up and we start making water and this 2 on/off then continues to dark when we do a check of the boat before its dark and then carry on.
Body care is vital and I ensure my crews all clean themselves after every watch to prevent the onset of sores. As soon as we stop rowing it's wipe clean, apply powder/cream/surgical spirit then eat and sleep if there are no jobs to do.
ExplorersWeb: How were the crews chosen?
Ian: We are still refining the selection process as we have not had total success with the selection of crews.
We are now using a 2 day selection procedure combining physical and mental challenges to see how people react when tired, how they interact and hopefully allow us to weed out the lazy, the egos, the ill prepared.
ExplorersWeb: What are the psychological/mental similarities and differences between polar travel and ocean rowing?
Ian: The isolation in both is wonderful! If anything the isolation is greater in the polar environment - when we were skiing we worked a 2 hours on, 10 minutes off and for those 2 hours we could not talk.
I find that when I am rowing/skiing my mind becomes free to plan the next expedition! Both require the mind to push the body when the body wants to stop but I think that is part of the attraction, overcoming your own weaknesses and analyzing what you are doing to plan how to improve next time.
ExplorersWeb: And now you want to add extreme climbing as well...
Ian: I used to rock climb a great deal but now look to add some mountains. I am not after ticking a list but for me it is a chance to push my personal limits, see some of the worlds most beautiful places and experience what the world has to offer.
Neil Ward who summited Shisha Pangma last year was one of the crew I selected for the Atlantic Row this year and our conversations at sea have really inspired me and I will be going out to see him in France to get my skills back up to scratch.
Perhaps the biggest factor for me is my family - I have a very supportive wife and 2 young sons who I hope that as they get older they will share my love of the outdoors but if not at least I can show them that you can follow you dreams however outlandish they may be.
ExplorersWeb: How do you keep fit between these activities?
Ian: The fitter you are the easier it is to cope with the stresses of the expedition.
I am lucky enough to be able to train as I need. It depends on what the expedition is but basically I maintain a base level of fitness based on weights (heavy compound lifts), running (some long - 30 mile plus) and lots of core work.
Before Greenland I used a ski trainer for long sessions and did lots of tire pulling as my specific training, for the rows I rowed 2 hours plus a day as well as cross training. Currently I am adding some climbing specific exercises. It is working out at about 2 hours a day Mon-Fri plus a long session at the weekend of up to 8 hours (running, climbing or walking with a heavy rucksack).
Ian and Ben Just a big thanks to everyone who supports us.
The two Brits, Ian Couch and Ben Thackwray, are all-rounders. They run ultra marathons, row across oceans, exchanged their oars for ski poles and plan to climb the worlds highest mountain.
During December 2007 to January 2008 the two men were rowing together in a crew of 5 on Oyster Shack across the mid-Atlantic from the Canaries to Antigua in 37 days, 5 hours and 50 minutes.
In April 2009 they attempted a speed crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap but were evacuated because Ben got 3rd degree frostbite. A week later Ian was in Australia, joining the crew of eight on a row boat to Mauritius. Again on the sea, January-February 2010 Ian was the skipper on a 12-man row boat across the Atlantic from La Gorma to Barbados.
In the 2010 Greenland season Ben and Ian again attempted a horizontal speed crossing. They started on the east coast at the Nagtivit Glacier and headed towards Point 660 via DYE II. They reported on their website that they made the crossing in 15 days and 9 hours. Though not the record they are pleased with their time.
When Ben and Ian got off the Ice Cap, they continued walking and stopped in Kangerlussuaq to complete a full coast to coast crossing.
To read more about the two guys click here.
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