On 31st July 2009 Mr. Guy Watts and lifelong friend Mr. Andrew Delaney managed the near impossible. At the mere age of 25 these two school friends traveled 3,160 nautical miles from Australia to Mauritius and into the history books, breaking two world records – becoming the first and fastest paired team to row unassisted from land to land across the Indian ocean in 102 days, 13 hours and 40 minutes. They raised £15,000 for the male cancer charity, Orchid.
Meeting at the Victorian pubic house, The Duke’s Head – a stone’s throw from the rowing clubs of Putney Embankment, Mr. Guy Watts sat down with A Gentleman’s Jotter to reminisce on his record-breaking Indian ocean rowing with Mr. Andrew Delaney, his charitable work and what it was like to carry the Olympic torch for the London 2012 summer games.
Tell us what inspired you to join the inaugural Woodvale Indian Ocean Rowing Race back in 2009?
Having left university in 2005 (I studied accountancy), I found that I was bored in an office role. One evening, after a few too many drinks with Andrew, the idea of doing something crazy together was born. At that time, I was into ultra running, triathlons and indoor rowing, and had watched people crossing the Atlantic with great interest. As soon as we heard about the inaugural race across the Indian ocean we couldn’t help ourselves, and all for a great cause, Orchid (the male cancer charity) – we visited the hospital to see the great work they were doing and met the founder (Colin Osborne) to discuss the project.
“Saying goodbye to my niece who was 2 at the time was heart-wrenching.”
How did your family react to your decision to take on such a herculean venture?
Terrified. My Mum and Dad didn’t really believe it would happen until I left the coast of Australia. They were there to see us off and 24 hours later flew over us on a light aircraft. Saying goodbye to my niece who was 2 at the time was heart-wrenching.
How important was it to take on this challenge with someone (Andrew Delaney) you had known for such a long time?
Very important – you need to trust this person with your life for 3 months. He was the ideal rowing partner and complemented my strengths and weaknesses perfectly.
Can you tells us what went into choosing the name of your boat – the Flying Ferkins?
Andrew’s father had owned a boat that had been named this. He died when Andrew was a teenager and so it was in memory of him. We wanted to take him on one last trip!
“You cope because you have to, you learn a lot about yourself and each other.”
What was your daily routine like whilst at sea?
We rowed 3 hours on and 3 hours off to a rota. In-between you clean your wounds and body, sleep and eat. You use a water desalination unit to make the water drinkable and you eat dehydrated food. Its a bleak existence.
Despite the obvious physical challenges – how did you manage psychologically?
You cope because you have to, you learn a lot about yourself and each other. You’re like a married couple, you survive and support each other.
Did you have any home comforts? What did you rely on to keep your drive and determination going?
We took iPods with us so that we could listen to music and watch the odd film we had stored on them – power came from our solar panels and so we had to use these sparingly. Food and drink were the most comforting things we had.
Was there a point when you both questioned whether you should have done this?
Within the first 24 hours we were stuck in a huge storm off the coast and I called my brother with our coordinates, we were pretty scared that we were going to hit a reef system called the Abrolhos. Every day at sea you question what you are doing but somehow you fight that and keep on rowing.
What would you say was the greatest challenge you faced whilst at sea?
A 5 day storm with 8-10 meter swells – it felt overpoweringly dangerous, especially when you’re terrifyingly alone in your little boat.
What did this experience teach you about life?
Enjoy every minute and do what you love. It will make you stronger and feel as though you could achieve anything.
Did you keep any mementos from your trip?
I have a blade (oar) sitting in my office and a map of our route with comments from our ground crew -they helped with tactics, weather mapping etc.
Some might have rested on their laurels after such a record-breaking feat – what made you setup the award-wining registered charity Streetscape with Mr. James Gubb which provides apprenticeships in landscape gardening to unemployed 18-25 year olds?
Quite the opposite, it made me want to achieve more. The charity is very close to mine and James’ heart – it has business principles but an overriding goal to help young people into employment. What could be more fun and rewarding!
Given both personal feats – would you say you’ve always had clear objectives in life?
No, not really. I found I was never satisfied with learning in a classroom. It took me until I left university and an office role to realize what I wanted to do and even then I felt lost along the way, especially during the period I was setting up Streetscape and I was living in London with very little money.
Due to your services to the community with Streetscape, you were given the honour of being selected as one of the countries’ official torchbearers at the London 2012 Summer Olympics – what was this experience like?
Amazing – a very proud moment for me. It was a surreal experience but one I will cherish for ever – I still have the torch in my office.
To many, you’d be considered the perfect example of someone who has made their dreams a reality – what advice can you offer to people who are finding it hard achieving their goals in life?
Oddly I never feel satisfied and so I am always striving for the next thing and constantly feeling as though I could do more. I think this inner drive is hard to develop if it’s not naturally present. I do however believe that you should take calculated risks in life, love what you do and passionately fight for it.
You’re currently Managing Director at Architectural Plants (founded by Mr. Angus White) can you tells us what your role entails?
I run a specialist plant nursery in Sussex. We set exceptionally high standards and so most of my time is spent ensuring that our services and plants are of the best quality – we also provide landscaping and garden design and as a result I spend time visiting gardens across the South of England. My biggest challenge is making sure everyone in the team works to the best of their abilities – playing to their strengths.
“take calculated risks in life, love what you do and passionately fight for it.”
Here at a Gentleman’s Jotter we love mens style, whether it be a good suit or casual/informal lounge wear – what do you feel most comfortable in dress-wise and why?
Shorts, t-shirt, flip flops and a hoodie if it’s cold. I love water sports – I’m into kite-surfing at the moment, and so this relaxed way of living and working really suits me.
Can you share with us one life goal you’d still love to achieve?
I would love to be a parent and show my kids the amazing things you can do in life.
We look forward to seeing what Mr. Guy Watts does next. You can follow him on Twitter