This year’s Dineen lecture was given by Pedal the Pond, a group of friends who crossed the Atlantic in a custom-built pedalo to raise money for, and awareness of, mental health issues.
Max, Hector and Henry amazed and amused students and staff with tales of their 40-day crossing. They set off in January from Gran Canaria and, as they described it, ‘meandered across the Atlantic to Antigua’. Their many highs of the trip included sunsets, time to think (‘away from technology’) and being at one with nature. They found wildlife encounters particularly morale boosting and saw dolphins, whales, flying fish and Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, as well as being followed by a storm petrel for 35 of the 40 days. Understandable lows were bad weather, monotonous food, technical problems and lack of sleep (no wonder, given that they had a 24/7 two hours on and two hours off pedalling shift). Everyone had their own personal lows as well, but they helped each other out and got through them as a team.
Stressing the importance of planning and preparation, the team described getting the necessary sponsorship as the toughest thing they did. This alone took about a year and 80% of their efforts fell on deaf ears. But they stuck at it, learned from their mistakes and were successful in getting the funding they needed.
Huge amounts of preparation were also required for the weather, which could (and did) vary from calm to 40ft waves and 10 degrees to 30 degrees; the right nutrition and level of fitness to enable them to undertake 12 hours of strenuous exercise every day; being able to fix the boat should anything go wrong with it (they had to change a propeller mid voyage). They also organised team bonding projects, as it was crucial to understand how everyone would react under pressure, and went on a large number of courses: first aid; VHF radio; sea survival; navigation and seamanship.
To date Pedal the Pond have raised £190,000 for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. Impressive as this is, they said that almost more important is the raising of awareness and the breaking down of barriers to talking about mental health. They impressed upon us the importance of voicing your feelings if you feel down – it makes a huge difference – and being ready to listen to others who need to talk.
What they learnt from this challenge is relevant for all of us in everyday life: believe in yourself; anything is possible; don’t be afraid to fail; learn to network – and have fun!
The Dineen Lecture is financed by a gift from parents following Dr Dineen’s retirement as Headmistress of Woldingham in 1997. It was her wish that an annual lecture be delivered by a notable person, or persons, whose personality and achievements can provide inspiration to the girls. Many thanks to the Pedal the Pond team for doing just that – and thanks to WPSA for arranging this.
To find out more about Pedal the Pond and their record-breaking voyage, visit http://www.pedalthepond.com/