Cameron Bellamy and his magnificent Indian Ocean crossing
Cameron Bellamy – part of a team that set the Guinness World Record for the fastest crossing of the Indian Ocean in a rowboat
In a nutshell
A 6720km unassisted row across the Indian Ocean from Geraldton, Australia to Mahé, Seychelles. The seven-person crew rowed in shifts of two hours on/two hours off, day and night, for the entire duration of the two-month expedition, completing the crossing in a Guinness World Record-breaking time of 57 days. It was also longest distance rowed in the Indian Ocean by any team.
They experienced mountainous ocean swells, reaching up to 60 feet during the tail end of a hurricane. They collided with a blue whale, made a daring escape from pirates off the coast of east Africa and were involved in a heart stopping mid-ocean rescue of an injured crewmate. Cameron raised R800,000 for two charities – assisting them in installing 5 mobile classrooms in rural Eastern Cape and constructing 2 classroom blocks in an overpopulated school in Northern Zimbabwe.
Category: Team, unsupported and unassisted.
Adventurer: Cameron Bellamy, 32.
Residence: London and Cape Town.
Birthplace: Cape Town.
Profession: Analyst at Standard and Poors.
Previous big adventures
Cycled solo and unassisted from Beijing, China to Kanyakumari, India, a 7000km journey through China, along the Silk Road, into Central Asia and then down to the southern India which took 4 month.
Cycled from Lands End to John 'o Groats (a 1500km ride from the southern-most tip of the UK to its northern-most tip) in 7 days.
Swam the English Channel solo - a distance of 35km in 16 hours 29 minutes
Cycled unassisted across Colombia, a 1000km ride over the Andes mountain range from Cartagena to Manizales
Length of expedition: 6720km
Duration: 57 days
Completion date: 11 August 2014
Continuous or a series of adventures: Continuous
57 days at sea rowing in shifts of two hours on/two hours off.
Rowing through a hurricane with waves 60 feet in height.
Amazing wildlife, including numerous pods of dolphins and whales. Sharks often came in and would follow the boat for extended periods of time.
Around the mid way point of the row, the boat collided with a blue whale which, we think, may have been trying to scratch the barnacles off its back.
One of the crewmates suffered first-degree burn wounds and was in dire need of evacuation. When a 250m-long tanker attempted to make the rescue it almost collided with the minuscule rowboat, forcing the crew to fend the gigantic tanker away with their oars. It was the closest near death experience any of the crew had experienced.
Close to the east coast of Africa, pirates curious about the boat’s activities and purpose intercepted it. It took some quick thinking by skipper Leven Brown. He told them over the radio that the rowing boat was actually a navy 'Q-boat' awaiting refuelling by the Royal Navy in 20 minutes. Fortunately, on hearing this, the pirates scooted off in a hurry.
In 2012 a few friends and I started the Ubunye Challenge, a charity platform whereby we look to complete extreme endurance events and expeditions in order to raise funds for educational projects in southern Africa. Our goal was to complete a Lands End to John o' Groats cycle, a solo English Channel swim and an ocean row. The ocean row was to be the pinnacle and the toughest of the three events (although the previous two were by no means easy). I chose that event as I was a passionate flat-water rower at high school and university and represented South Africa at the World U23 Rowing Championships and World Student Games (in 2003 and 2004 respectively). My father was a successful ocean yachtsman and a huge inspiration to me. The Indian Ocean row was a chance for me to marry my rowing past with my father's passion for the ocean. My father passed away, after a two-year battle with cancer, a short time after I completed the ocean row.
To date the Ubunye Challenge has raised R800,000 and assisted in installing five mobile classrooms in the Eastern Cape, and two classroom blocks in an overpopulated school in northern Zimbabwe.
Goals of Expedition/Adventure
Our initial goal was to be the first crew to row across the Indian Ocean from mainland Australia to the African mainland, which had never been done. Our secondary goal was to break the speed record for the fastest crossing.
We were well on track to reach the African coast, but two vicious storms and a hurricane forced us further north than we intended. We were headed straight for the northern Kenyan/Somalian coast, and after a terrifying encounter with pirates we decided to not risk the threat of piracy (and terrorism) any longer. We changed course and headed for the Seychelles, just off the coast of Africa.
We made the crossing in 57 days and 10 hours, breaking the Guinness World Record for the fastest Indian Ocean rowing crossing by over 10 days.
There had been two previous attempts to cross the Indian Ocean from mainland to mainland. Both failed to reach the African coast. There have been 16 successful Indian Ocean rows to date, the most common end point being Mauritius.
I started planning this trip in late 2011. It took a very long time to come to fruition, mainly due to financial reasons. We were extremely lucky to have Leven Brown on board. He is an experienced skipper who has rowed numerous oceans before and provided most of the logistical support.
There are myriad risks involved in ocean rowing including:
Capsizing, and potential drowning in big seas. The highest swells we experienced were 60 foot in height.
Being washed overboard while not harnessed into the boat, especially during the night. It is extremely hard to stop a fast moving rowing boat and turn it around.
Burn injuries during cooking. This happened to one of the crew, Shane Usher, who needed an emergency evacuation in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Encounters with ocean dwelling predators and poisonous jelly fish while off the boat.
There are very few options available should an emergency occur in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Small islands are at least three weeks row away and air support can only occur within 200km of the mainland. Rescue by ship is the only feasible option available. When Shane Usher sustained first-degree burn injuries, a huge tanker, which happened to be in the near vicinity, was alerted to the situation. They diverted their course to intersect with us and take Shane on board. The evacuation nearly ended the expedition as our boat was almost destroyed when it collided with the tanker!
Self-funded. The crew paid their own way after a major sponsor pulled out only weeks before the expedition was set to leave. It demonstrated their tenacity and determination to keep going and successfully complete the expedition despite the severe and unexpected financial burden.
There were numerous. We experienced huge storms and waves, a collision with a blue whale, and interaction with pirates. However my scariest moment was having to scrape the barnacles off the underside of the boat, knowing full well that there were sharks in the immediate vicinity. It was a Friday, about 35 days into the row and the hull was 90% covered in barnacles. Leven, the skipper, advised that I would be cleaning the boat the following Monday. We had had numerous visits by sharks leading up to this, but on the Saturday and early Sunday morning a lone tiger shark followed us. From then until Monday morning it disappeared from sight. I had been secretly praying that Leven had forgotten about the hull-cleaning job, but just after lunch he instructed us to stop rowing and told me to get ready to start cleaning.
I’ll always remember that dreadful feeling of standing on the edge of the boat, barnacle scraper in hand, fearfully searching for any sign of the shark, while trying not to let my crew mates see my unease! I eventually decided to take the plunge. On entering the water I quickly skirted around looking for my hungry tormentor. Luckily there was no sign of him and I timidly started my cleaning duties, keeping a careful eye over my shoulder for the shark. Forty minutes later the hull was clean of barnacles and I was extremely happy to be back on deck!
Most unexpected experience
On one of the two-hour breaks I slipped into my bunk and fell soundly asleep. Suddenly, the boat came to jolting halt and I was flung forward and off the bunk. I immediately thought we'd hit a reef and started to worry about damage to the boat. But we’d hit a huge blue whale, bigger, by far, than our 15m rowing boat. It moved a distance away and then came back straight towards us. We thought it was going to hit us again, but it managed to divert at the last moment. It did this a few more times before disappearing into the depths.
Just seeing a blue whale was an amazing experience; it trying to use our boat as a back scratcher was truly unique.
Best piece of gear
We had to row for 12 hours a day in all types of conditions on pretty uncomfortable seats. So my favourite gear was my merino wool Icebreaker underwear. All 15 pairs of them!
What did you eat on the trip
Freeze-dried meals (a variety of different types from bobotie to ice cream), two-minute noodles, protein shakes, energy bars and various snacks.
On various occasions we landed a fish or squid. I caught two dorados, a barracuda and two large Humboldt squid. We ate the fish raw or boiled, but the tastiest treat was the calamari, which we fried, with some chicken stock, in the Jetboil.
I am currently training for 3 solo swims this year:
- Spain to Morocco in mid April.
- 3 Anchor Bay to Robben Island and back in mid May.
- The Irish Channel (Ireland to Scotland) to late August. This is a very tough swim of 35km in extremely cold water and tough weather/water conditions. The area is also known for its large swarms of the poisonous lion's mane jellyfish.