Ocean rower Niall Iain is a quarter of the way home

Left to right, ocean rowers Niall Iain MacDonald and Leven Brown

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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 on the Isle of Lewis.

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.

So far he has reached more than £20,000 on his Just Giving NY2SY page.

Niall Iain’s weather router and main shore support, Leven Brown, confirmed the 44-year-old passed 871 miles, or more than 1,400 kilometres on Tuesday last week, and was averaging about 40 miles a day.

As the crow flies, the total distance will be about 3,350 miles and Niall Iain could make landfall by the end of August – although Leven stressed that was extremely weather dependent.

It is possible to follow Niall Iain’s odyssey closely on www.ny2sy.co.uk/track-my-progress and Google Earth Pro, a free download.

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 left Norfolk, Virginia, on May 23, and had planned for being at sea for 120 days, although he could finish sooner.

Niall Iain leaving Norfolk, Virginia, to begin his solitary 3,300 mile row across the Atlantic to Stornoway.
Niall Iain leaving Norfolk, Virginia, to begin his solitary 3,300 mile row across the Atlantic to Stornoway.

‘He’s averaging about 40 miles a day for the last little while, which would pin him on about 100 days, if he keeps that up,’ said Leven. ‘He’s on schedule. 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 last week, saying: ‘Stuck on sea anchor again = bad. Rice pudding for breakfast = good.’ In an email, he added: ‘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.’

A sea 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.

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 said: ‘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.’