Justin Coleman, a 46 year old writer and local comedian, known to avid Custard Comedy fans as Rob Coleman, is taking a break from running comedy nights in villages around Cambridge to pedal across the Atlantic in a 26-foot long ocean going rowing boat. And there’s nothing comical about this 3,000 mile feat which he is undertaking with friend James Mouland, 29, to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.
If they succeed, they’ll become the oldest pair to pedal an ocean and only the fourth in total. Justin will be the oldest person ever to have achieved the feat. If things go wrong, they only have 90 days’ of food with them, (they’re planning to make their own water), and no back-up except an emergency beacon. They will, quite literally be cast out to sea without a paddle.
This is not the first time either of them has attempted to cross these intrepid waters. After a failed attempt to row across the Atlantic in 2005 when illness got the better of him, James vowed never to go near a boat again.
"Like all these things, time passes and you tend to look at things from a different angle," he says, referring to his change of heart. Admitting he felt cheated by his past failure, he explains: "I thought there’s unfinished business there that needs to be sorted out, in my own mind if nothing else."
This time, he’s playing to his strengths - lower-body rather than upper. "All my athleticism has been done from the waist down," explains Justin, a marathon runner who has also represented Great Britain in the World Duathlon Championships. "It makes much more sense for me to pedal across rather than row across…that’s how the whole mascapade was born!"
After testing out a few potential shipmates, he met James, an English Channel swimmer and ultra-marathon runner, through the Ocean Rowing Society. "It’s quite a lot to undertake being in a very small place with the same person for eight or nine weeks and we got on straight away," he explains. "I thought, I like this bloke, we get on really well, why worry about any great emotional testing with someone you like? I’ll just go on the boat with someone I get on with."
A wise move considering they’ll have only each other to keep them company throughout the gruelling journey which they hope to complete in eight weeks.
This time round Justin admits to being much more prepared to face the intense physical and emotional challenges which await them. Not least, a punishing schedule of 4 hour pedalling stints, 24 hours a day, interspersed with 90 minute sleep cycles. Then of course, there are the minor concerns of battling unpredictable winds and trying to stay upright, while watching out for boats and objects and not getting run over. Day and night.
Doesn’t sound like much fun to me, I interject. "I think the end of it will be much more fun than the doing of it!" he admits.
To prepare for their feat, the intrepid duo will undertake sea trials for 2-3 days over the next couple of months, "which will give us a better indication how it will work out and what we need to do to make it work out," and have also visited a friend who’s a psychoanalyst and has given them tips on how to cope with the mental pressure of such an undertaking which include being in a confined space with one person and the potential boredom that hours of monotonous pedalling might incur. "That’s the worst part of it. We’ll eventually end up somewhere in the West Indes, or South America … so in that sense the physicality of it is obviously an important part. But it’s the mental part that is the really tricky issue here."
Mental health is clearly a topic Justin feels passionately about and one which has driven him to pedal the Ocean. He freely admits that one of his relatives has the early signs of dementia, a disease he is committed to helping others tackle: ‘I think it is the most evil disease. You can see it happening. You’re a bright, witty, happy individual, mentally sharp and you can feel it diminishing around you. That must be a terrible sensation."
Clearly all in a worthy cause, but will we be seeing Justin (sorry, Rob) on the comedy scene any time again soon?
"I very much hope to get an Edinburgh show out of it!" laughs Justin, alluding to potential appearances at the 2014 Brighton Fringe and Edinburgh Festivals. Title still to be announced. "If we don’t make it, it’ll have a very different title than if we do!" Though it sounds as though their success will be determined more by the whims of the ocean and the winds than by any failing on their part.
"We’re only on the earth for a short space of time," he philosophises. "You’ve got to try and take these things and be the best person you can be and try things out."
May the winds be behind you boys.
James and Justin are hoping to raise £50,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society through donations and sponsorship. To find out more and follow their story visit www. Atlantic2012.co.uk