Island adventurer Niall Iain Macdonald is more than a quarter of the way home in his epic NY2SY challenge, where he is attempting to row the North Atlantic solo, from the east coast of America to Stornoway.
Niall Iain’s weather router and main shore support, Leven Brown, confirmed last night (Tuesday) that the 44-year-old had passed 871 miles or more than 1,400 kilometres and was averaging about 40 miles a day.
As the crow flies, the total distance will be about 3,350 miles and Leven said Niall Iain could make landfall by the end of August – although he stressed that was extremely weather dependant.
Niall Iain’s real mileage is slightly different to what shows on the ‘Follow My Challenge’ GPS tracking page on his website, at www.ny2sy.co.uk/track-my-progress.
At the same time as Leven was reporting 871 miles, the tracker was displaying 781 miles.
The tracker also showed a sudden jump in miles on Monday, from around 300 to 700, and the Netherlands-based company confirmed this was because they had changed the values in his tracker to allow increased distances to be logged.
Tedde de Boer of Follow My Challenge said: “We received a message that his distance was too low. You could easily know by looking at the map scale compared to the track line.
He explained: “We log each waypoint in our database on a row, like excel. We then calculate the distance between the new point and previous point with the Haversine formula.
“On the map, we take the SUM of all distances between waypoints but only when they are below a ‘distance threshold’ value, something like 20 km.
“Most of the trackers are pinging at a one-hour interval but Niall’s tracker is set to four-hour intervals. In this rather large timeframe, his elapsed distance exceeds the set threshold at certain points.
“These values were ignored before in the SUM. We have upped the threshold to include more and now the distance seems to be more accurate.”
It is also possible to follow Niall Iain’s odyssey closely on Google Earth Pro, a free download.
Leven advised followers to take his co-ordinates from the tracking page (in the menu bar on the left) and input them in Google Earth Pro (using the yellow pin icon) to get an accurate fix.
However, since Monday’s update, the Follow My Challenge tracker is more accurate and depicts a bit of a zig-zag course, which is natural for a row across the North Atlantic, due to the changeable and challenging conditions.
This wiggling about – or ‘Cross Track Error’ – adds about 10 per cent to the distance.
Leven said: “He’s going to zig zag his way across. He’s over a quarter of the way – so he’s at the end of the beginning, officially.”
Gaelic broadcaster Niall Iain has now been at sea for 21 days, having left Norfolk, Virginia on May 23, and had planned for being at sea for 120 days, although he could finish earlier.
“He’s averaging about 40 miles a day on the last little while, which would pin him on about 100 days, if he keeps that up,” said Leven. “So far so good. Progress has been steady.
“He’s on schedule. In fact, he’s a bit ahead of the schedule I put for him. He’s doing an amazing job under the circumstances. The weather is all over the shop. He’s done bloody well to be where he is and making good time.”
However, Leven also said: “I can’t emphasise enough to people how imprecise the science of ocean rowing is. Even when you set off on the trade winds route, if you can nail down the month you’re going to land in, you’re doing pretty well. It’s also important to mention that even when you are 100 miles out, there’s still no guaranteed ETA.
“The forecasts are changing radically every day – but that’s the nature of the North Atlantic. My memory of the North Atlantic is that you could be in a storm in the morning at sea anchor and in the evening you could be doing five knots towards home.
“It’s such an emotional journey for those in it and for those watching it, particularly connected parties. The highs and the lows of it – you just wouldn’t believe them.”
Niall Iain took to social media on Tuesday night, saying: “Been stuck on sea anchor for 48hrs but hope to get rowing soon.” On Monday, he had said: “Stuck on sea anchor again = bad. Rice pudding for breakfast = good.”
In an email, he said: “Stuck on the sea anchor but the current is pulling me slowly NE so not as bad as it could be. Just frustrating being in the cabin and trying to fill the time. I slipped out of the Gulf Stream so am trying to find my way back to it asap.
“Starting to settle into things a bit more now. It will be good to get to the first month, I think that’s what I’m focusing on now. I’m over 1200kms from the start, about 800 miles… something like that, so I’m getting there!”
A sea anchor (sometimes referred to as a para-anchor) works in a similar way to a parachute and is used to stabilise a boat in bad weather. It is attached to the bow of the boat on a line, under the surface of the water, and increases the boat’s drag.
It helps to minimise loss of position during bad weather, when the rower is inside the cabin, and also points the nose of the boat into the wind, helping to reduce the risk of capsizing.
“It’s a very old school bit of kit but it’s so effective,” said Leven.
“You go backwards slower but crucially what the sea anchor does is it stabilises the violent yaw of a boat that can capsize it because you’re pointing the bow of the boat into the wind, to the waves most of the time. If you’re sideways onto the waves, you’re in a more vulnerable position.”
Niall Iain will be “seeing big waves out there” and will probably soon be skirting the south of the Grand Banks, the part of the Continental Shelf made famous in the film The Perfect Storm. These underwater areas are relatively shallow and in certain winds the sea can become very high.
Leven, who was previously part of Mark Beaumont’s support team for his round the world cycle challenge, admitted being “totally and utterly” emotionally invested in NY2SY.
“I love ocean rowing and I’m excited for him. When I’m doing the weather I’m sitting in a little box in the Scottish Borders, looking out at green trees. But when I close my eyes I’m beside Niall Iain on that boat, looking at the weather. You feel the highs and the lows and when you see bad weather coming to hit your man, you think, ‘Noooo!’
“He’s doing well and let’s just pray to the weather gods that these nice breezes coming from the west, going to the east, keep him going in the right direction home.”
Niall Iain is rowing solo across the North Atlantic to raise at least £100,000 for Scottish Mental Health charity SAMH – and to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Donations can be made via www.justgiving.com/NY2SY. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/NY2SYsolo and on Twitter as @NY2SYsolo.