Father's death helped to push Reinhardt on
THE 14 muscular oarsmen battled dehydration, exhaustion, hunger, sea-sickness, cramps, boils, blisters and sweat rashes to complete the fastest row across the Atlantic in history. Rowing two hours on, two hours off, round the clock for 33 days, the crew of La Mondiale were forced to rely on almost superhuman reserves of strength and motivation to keep them going to the finish line in Barbados.
But for one rower, New Town property developer Reinhardt Von Hof, it was an even greater impetus that kept him focused on beating the record of 35 days set by a French team in 1992. Only two days into the gruelling trip Reinhardt, 30, received the devastating news that his father Norbert, 69, had died of liver cancer.
He recalls: "My father died eight hours after we left and my wife finally managed to get hold of me two days later. It was a shock - he had been ill but he hadn't let me know just how ill."
But despite his grief the determined rower never considered giving up. "My father was a very physical man and was very proud that I was representing Britain and Ireland. He said to me: 'Whatever happens don't give up the opportunity of the row'. I just decided that I would try not to think about it, that I would grieve when I got home. It gave me extra motivation."
A weather-beaten Reinhardt, who's married to Hazel, 32, and has a daughter, Octavia, 14 months, arrived home last week.
As he tries to come to terms with the death of his father, Reinhardt also continues to feel the ill effects of his mammoth feat. The huge calorie burn involved in rowing across the Atlantic meant he lost more than a stone-and-a-half and he still sports the straggly beard he grew on his gruelling journey.
"By the end of 33 days there was nothing left in the tank. Now I'm as weak as a kitten," he says, "I just want to eat and sleep all the time."
The crossing was the idea of 35-year-old skipper Leven Brown, a stockbroker from Abbeyhill, who rowed the Atlantic single-handedly two years ago and claims to be a descendant of Christopher Columbus. He hand-picked a team, from the UK and Ireland, including Edinburgh men Reinhardt and management consultant Rob Loder-Symonds.
After renovating the same boat the French record-holders used, team Mondiale set off from Gran Canaria on December 15. It was a voyage fraught with upsets, from crew members' early sea sickness as they got used to the motion of the boat, to a storm which raged for three days and threatened to end their record attempt.
"We were about 200 miles south of the Canaries when the storm came," recalls Reinhardt, "We tried to row but weren't getting anywhere. It got so bad we had to put out the sea anchor. We were just bobbing about. It was a low pressure system which meant the wind was against us. It wasn't scary, just extremely inconvenient. There was a lot of rain and we had to sit in it because there wasn't space for everyone in the cabin. It was nice to huddle together and have a chat, but only for so long."
Each team member had his own way of counting down the time till arrival in Barbados and most listened to iPods to help time pass as they rowed.
"Some people counted down in days, I started off doing it in percentages," says Reinhardt, who coped with uncomfortable sweat rashes by rowing naked for three days.
"I worked out that 100 miles was three per cent of the journey. Then I did it in shifts. There were six shifts each day for seven days – about 180 shifts in total. When there were only six left it was brilliant."
The men lived off rations of dehydrated food, such as porridge and stews. Between meals they ate nuts and chocolate, but it was a losing battle trying to consume as many calories as they burned. The men's tiredness also inevitably led to occasional bickering.
"People would be watching to see how much weight we were losing and if we hadn't they would think we weren't rowing hard enough but I was just losing it slowly. It made me angry because I was feeling sea sick and trying to get over the death of my father and then there were people niggling."
Rob Loder-Symonds, from Hillside, was Reinhardt's rowing partner for much of the way. He says he spent a lot of the journey in a trance-like state. "The combination of the lack of sleep and the relentless rowing routine was the hardest," he says. "We had to keep the boat moving at all times. We had two birthdays, Christmas and New Year on board, yet we never stopped.
"It speaks volumes about Reinhardt that he carried on after the tragedy of his father. He just gave it his best shot."
The 36-year-old, a long distance runner who, like Reinhardt, rows at Edinburgh's St Andrew Boat Club, gives a vivid description of the ailments the oarsmen suffered – mostly on their backsides. With so many people in a confined space, there was little room for embarrassment. "At the beginning we were very prudish but at the end it was a case of 'who's got the best pepperoni cheeks?'"
Toilet breaks were a case of leaning over the side and making sure the wind was with you. For anything more the men got up and went to the stern of the boat – a task fraught with hazards.
"You'd hold a rope and lean out the back, loo paper in your mouth and holding on with one hand. One dark night a guy accidentally scooped up a Portuguese Man O' War and wiped his backside with it. He was lucky he wasn't knocked out."
For the first three days the rowers suffered excruciating muscle cramps in their bottoms, which Rob compares to being electrocuted. "That goes and then is replaced by saltwater sores which start on your backside and go everywhere."
Their Irish rowing coach Ray Carroll, a European rowing gold medallist, got bad sunstroke, while others got badly dehydrated and several got minor injuries when they were knocked off their seats by a huge wave towards the end of the trip.
For Reinhardt, the greatest part of the epic journey came at the very end. "The best moment was seeing land after 33 days in the middle of the ocean and we knew we were going to set the record. We went mad cheering and standing up in the boat. Ray was the man who got us the record. He screamed at us and motivated us."
What does Reinhardt think his father would have made of him completing the massive challenge? "He would have been very pleased that we beat the world record," he says with a sad smile, "I didn't want to miss my father's funeral just for a gentle paddle."
THE crew of La Mondiale won the Blue Riband trophy for ocean rowing after completing the fastest row across the Atlantic, in 33 days, seven hours and 30 minutes.
The 14 British and Irish oarsmen smashed a French record of 35 days, eight hours and 30 minutes, set 16 years ago in the same boat, reaching Barbados on January 17. In the process they set another world record, by rowing 117 miles in one 24-hour period.
La Mondiale also beat American boat Orca in a transatlantic rowing race of an east to west crossing of the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Barbados.