Somewhere far out on the Pacific Ocean, two sailors are rowing. Tim Welford and Dominic Mee came from England to Japan in April. When weather for their departure was auspicious, they set out from Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, in a rowboat named Crackers, their venture acclaimed as “the first unsupported double-handed row from West to East across the North Pacific.” They aimed to reach San Francisco in 120 days. “We are going for a record, to be the fastest ever,” they said. “We’re taking the northern route across the Pacific. That’s the tough one.”
These two rugged young seamen are corporals in the British Royal Marines, both of them experienced in theaters around the world. Tim’s arenas have been in Scandinavia, Europe and the Middle East. He has completed three tours of duty in Northern Ireland. Dom claims Iraq, and also a number of tours in Northern Ireland. Tim is a military ski instructor, parachutist and diver, and is trained in desert, arctic and jungle warfare. Dom is a yachtsman who has sailed in teams representing Great Britain and New Zealand. He has taken part in 10 world championship regattas.
As a Royal Marine, Tim was part of the first winter team to ski across Iceland in 47 days. He has mountaineered in the Alps, and in 1997 rowed the North Atlantic Ocean in 60 days. Dom has competed in the Sydney-to-Hobart race, and the Fastnet race. He secured third place this year in the Swan World championships. He is a parachutist and hang-gliding pilot. Both have shared in explorations of South America and Africa.
Tim and Dom by chance joined the Royal Marines on the same day 14 years ago. They were both still in their teens. “We got on well from the beginning, and that is useful when we are at sea,” they said. “We did our basic training for eight months together. Since then our paths often crossed.”
It was Tim’s dream to row across the Pacific Ocean. He brought in Dom. “It was not a light undertaking, but we do have experience. Rowing is low tech, just a matter of grabbing two oars and pulling,” Tim said.
For two years they worked at securing support for their venture. The sponsorship they raised covers their entire enterprise. “Nothing from the taxpayers,” they said. A member of their backup team remarked: “For two corporals in the British armed forces to achieve this amount of sponsorship is quite extraordinary. Theirs is an outstanding achievement.”
Crackers is the boat that completed the Atlantic Rowing Race of 1997, “an extremely strong and durable vessel, 7.1 meters long, with a small cabin,” they said. Packing it with supplies for the journey brought its weight up to more than a ton. As well as high-energy rations for 120 days for two muscular men, Crackers is carrying a life raft, a radio beacon, a radar enhancer, VHF radio, a satellite phone and an ocean flare pack. The young men had to think of every detail, and provide and pack their protective clothing, fishing gear, a stove with enough gas cylinders for four months, spare rowing blades and seats, solar panels, tools and a spares kit.
Tim and Dom row in turn, three hours on, three hours off, making for each of them normally a 12-hour rowing day. They don’t speak much to each other, beyond giving the changeover call, “Wake up, get on your oars.”
“We may argue, but we get over it,” they said. They share the chores, sending and receiving e-mail, keeping their log. They have books, 150 CDs and a player. Tim said: “You see the stars, dolphins and whales. You have your own thoughts. I cannot explain being at sea on your own. It is something you do, or don’t do.”
They are unafraid, undramatic and matter-of-fact. “At sea we are safe, except from other ships,” they said. “Being close to land is more dangerous. Injuries and illness are worries, but we have experience in trauma medicine. We have three doctors on call, telemedicine online, and we’ll do operations over the phone if we have to.”
Dom has been married 10 years. Tim married a month before coming to Japan to cross the Pacific Ocean. “We had a tearful goodbye, but she’ll be in San Francisco to meet me,” he said. “I’ll be having a strange honeymoon at sea with my best buddy, but my wife is supportive. She knows that this is what makes me me.”