Crossing the Atlantic to prevent suicide

If Santa’s a thoughtful chap, he will deliver Isaac Giesen a fish for Christmas. However, the sleigh might need a GPS system to find him.

The Christchurch-born 25-year-old will be manning the oars of his rowing dinghy somewhere between the Canary Islands and Antigua on a 4700km journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Giesen leaves on December 12 and hopes to complete the crossing in 60 days. He expects to drop 20-30kg from a 110kg race weight, but a mop of hair and free-range beard that has seen him called “Jesus” will stay.

On December 25, Giesen will sling his rod overboard, hoping to reel in a catch he can fillet on a chopping board built into the port side gunwale of his vessel, Bonnie Lass.

The plan is to enjoy sashimi, even if he’s stuck in one of the trade winds route’s infamous hurricanes.

Lemon could be added as a marinade or, depending on how cavalier he feels, he might knock up a soup with tom yum paste, coconut powder and desalinated water.

Whatever ends up on Giesen’s menu, it is for a cause close to his heart. He lost an aunt and two mates to suicide in recent years. The objective is to complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge to raise $1 million in the name of mental health for the Bravehearts, Black Dog Institute and Victim Support charities. A sum of $13,862 has been secured so far under a campaign branded The Blue Rower.

Giesen knows eating on the voyage is less about Michelin-star meals and more about chowing down enough energy for his stints on the oars.

He cites the case of veteran long-distance rower Leven Brown – who’s working as his mentor – being forced to open a bag of potato chips by sitting on them after battling to the point of exhaustion through a hurricane.

“Because I’m going solo, I can row or sleep as much as I want,” Giesen says. “But I might break the day into six four-hour slots of three hours on, one hour off. So I’ll need to eat so much food for fuel, then work out a sleep and rowing pattern around it.”

Why go to such extremes?

“The answer is ‘why not’? I don’t have an answer to why my aunty and two mates did that. In fact, it’ll always be a demon question in the back of my mind, so while I’m still living and breathing, why not live life to the full.”

Giesen says he has never officially suffered depression, but that should not stop Kiwis talking about it.

“If I ever did have depression, the best way for me to deal with it would be through exercise, to control those inner thoughts.

“I needed to break the silence. I don’t want to be that New Zealand man who won’t talk about his feelings.”

Giesen believes the next generation can change the way New Zealanders think about mental health.

“Some New Zealanders are still stuck in backward ways. Hopefully younger people can be open and talk about it like John Kirwan as an All Black. But who among the new generation will know him if they don’t follow rugby?”

Giesen was once a surf lifesaver at Taylors Mistake, but never rowed competitively. He has been subjecting himself to three-hour rows on the ergometer to build his base fitness.

Brown told him his erg scores, with an average 2m 19s split for each 500m, mean his fitness is “as good as it can get” for the task at hand.

“I know I can do more, but I still expect to get broken out there. I’m hoping it helps that I can read surf to know when to stroke and maximise the power of the waves. I also completed my yacht masters course last year in the Canary Islands [including more than 5000 sailing hours] which helped me understand swells.”

–NZ Herald