MATT PRITCHARD | INTERVIEW
The latest episode in this boisterous Welshman’s developmental arc from stunt-performing health hazard skater to TV vegan finds him rowing across the Atlantic Ocean for good causes – and, once back on dry land in a comfy chair, recalling it to Carl Marsh.
What’s it feel like now, being back at home after roughly two months sailing across the Atlantic in a boat?
It’s pretty shit! I mean, it’s great to see your loved ones and your dog. Being at sea is so peaceful. You don’t have to worry about fuck all apart from just rowing and waking up, and eating, and sleeping, and pissing and shitting, and that’s the only worry you have. And then you get on land, and all sorts of stuff comes into your head, and you go “argh! argh!” Then I had to come home and quarantine for 10 days. I just can’t wait to get out and go running and cycling and do other stuff.
How did it work on the boat then? Was it rowing in shifts in the daytime and during the night, and what about when not rowing?
It was 24/7. It was two hours on, two hours off. If you were rowing for two hours, 10 minutes before your time was up you’d shout “10 minutes!” to the other boys in the cabin so they’d get enough time to wake up and put on their clothes, and then you’d swap over. There’s no standing up as the boat is constantly rocking, and it’s a pretty small boat, so you’d crawl into the cabin.
I’d then take it in turns with my rowing partner Billy, who’s the skipper; I’d do the cooking one shift, then he’d do it the next. The cooker consisted of a jet boiler. We had a desalinator, which made our water from seawater into drinking water, and we’d pour that into the jet boiler, then tip that hot water into dehydrated or freeze-dried fruit and put it to the side for 10 minutes. Eat it, go to sleep, repeat.
It must have been extremely hard at night getting to sleep in those two-hour blocks, even if you would get used to it.
I don’t know what it was – it might have been the rocking of the boat or something – but if I wanted to sleep, I could just go to sleep straight away. I was really lucky because all the other boys were finding it hard to sleep. So from rowing pretty hard to get the rest to relax your body and be ready to go again, I was getting about an hour and 45 minutes sleep each break.
It reminds me of my army days on guard duty – two hours on, two hours off. I don’t miss those occasions! What would you say was your biggest fear of going on this adventure?
For me, it was being so close to three other people. Luckily we’d all got on, which is brilliant, but not having your own space or privacy set me off. I had four really bad days out of 50, so yeah, I was pretty much happy for the whole thing, apart from the privacy and when my back went.
You did the row on behalf of two charities that you represent: Dean Farm Trust, from Mathern near Chepstow, and mental health charity HUMEN. What’s your connection to them both?
Dean Farm Trust asked me to pop over and look at what they were doing quite a few years ago now. I spent a few hours down there spending time with the animals, who are all ‘guests’ – looked after once they have stopped their working lives, rather than being slaughtered. I was asked to become a patron, so that’s why we chose them.
With HUMEN, they have places in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester where you can go and have a chit-chat with somebody in private about your problems. And considering the mental health – at the moment – of the country due to COVID and lockdowns, it’s not getting talked about that much, and it’s really high. So that’s why we chose HUMEN.
Doing this row and being on that open water must have been so good for your mental health.
It was. My head was in a really bad place before I went, and I got on that boat. And honestly, my mind has never been that at peace as much as it was on that boat for many, many years. Everything was switched off, and I only used my phone to send stuff to people who were doing our social media. I couldn’t see any news links, couldn’t see anything about COVID. I was just on that boat rowing, surrounded by Mother Nature and seeing things like dolphins.
The only bad thing was my arse! My fucking arse! My arse was like… Honestly, all the other boys were starting to complain about their arse, and I didn’t say anything as I thought, “touch wood, I’m doing alright here”. And then slowly but surely I went, “hello, that hurts a little bit,” and before you knew it, I was in fucking arse agony! Billy and I were naked when we were rowing, it was just so you could get as much fresh air to your wounds – but literally, every time you came off the row, you were rubbing nappy rash cream on your arse.
words CARL MARSH