By Gillian Furmage
After four years of planning, Niall Macdonald is preparing to row 3400 miles from New York to Stornoway, a trip expected to take around 3 months, or 100 days, to raise money for the Scottish Association for Mental Health.
In his bespoke rowing boat, Macdonald faces a gruelling summer travelling across the Atlantic Ocean.
Expected to leave on the 14th of May (subject to weather conditions), Macdonald hopes to have arrived at the shores of his native Stornoway by the start of September.
Macdonald will have to row 12 hours a day- 2hours on, 2 hours off- to keep the boat moving and ensure he does not fall behind schedule.
Only 10 people in history have rowed solo from West to East across the North Atlantic and no one has before undertaken Macdonald’s specific route.
Aside from relishing a challenge, Macdonald’s main motivation for attempting this feat is to raise the profile of charity SAMH, an organisation that is close to his heart.
Macdonald said: “I’ve had my own troubles in the past, with my own mental health over the years.”
“I didn’t do anything about it, I wasn’t sure what was happening to me and I didn’t really want to tell people that there was something wrong. I kind of hid it away from everyone and tried to get on with my life. Outwardly I think I appeared normal but inwardly I was just a complete mess. Things came to a head in 2007, I was working for the BBC, I used to present a music show, and one night I went home, packed a bag and I left. I never told anyone, I just disappeared. I’d had enough. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I didn’t want to wake up the next day and go through the same thing.”
A fundraising target of £100 000 has been set and will go directly to The Scottish Association for Mental Health
The charity holds special importance for Macdonald, who has benefited in the past from their support: “I had to do it for something I really cared about and I really do care about this.”
“There are people who ultimately don’t make it through and that shouldn’t happen.”
“It’s a terribly lonely place to be and it’s very powerful when you can speak to someone and see that there’s a way through.”
Speaking about the isolation, Macdonald commented: ‘I’m well aware that the white elephant in the room is my mind. I know my weaknesses and I’m quite realistic about it all.’
Macdonald appeared relaxed about the prospect of 3 months alone at sea and said he expected there to be “extreme high and lows” and would involve “not loneliness but solitude.”
“I would rather be in the boat and wish I was with someone than be in the boat with someone and wish I was on my own.”
Long distance yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur heard about the NY2SY project and made contact with Macdonald. They found that they had gone through similar things in preparation for their journeys and Macdonald said he found that fact that they had shared experiences was “heartening.”
Macdonald’s journey and the social media campaign NY2SY is endeavouring not just to raise funds but to increase awareness of mental health issues and create a constructive dialogue about these health concerns. He is keen to emphasise how important it is for people to feel they can open up about their stresses and difficulties and to listen to others if they try to reach out.
“You don’t have to have an answer; don’t have to do something drastic. Just sending a text saying hi is a starting point.”
The campaigner also added that although it will take time for the media’s general portrayal of mental illness to improve, simply being frank, open and honest about the the daily struggles of those affected will help to shift attitudes.
MacDonald said: “If people can see it’s not a weakness, that you’re not broken. It’ll happen to most people and people will have it in your family.”
MacDonald seemed calm and unintimidated with less than a week till his departure
“There will be times when I question why I did it, but I’ve had four years of preparation and am ready to get going. I’m very conscious that this is just the beginning.”
For More Information-
Follow NY2SY on Twitter: @NY2SYsolo
Follow Gillian Furmage: @gillyfurmaage