Redundancy cash funded near fatal rowing bid for Times man

We will survive: the four-man crew of the Pink Lady, above, and Gornall, left

Journalist Jonathan Gornall used a redundancy cheque from The Times to attempt the transatlantic rowing bid that nearly killed him.

Back in London late this week, Gornall, 48, said he plans write a book on long-distance rowing and continue his regular column for The Times. But he said he has no intention of picking up the oars of a boat again.

Gornall was part of a four-man team aiming to break the record for rowing from Canada to Britain. Their 33ft boat was crushed by a freak wave in near-hurricane conditions in the early hours of Sunday morning and was picked up by a passing Scandinavian freighter, which took them to Ireland.

Gornall said: “The first thing I saw when I got to the dock was David Lister, The Times Ireland correspondent.

He collared me there and then.

Then on the phone was Sandra Parsons, T2 features editor, who said, ‘How are you? We’ve been so worried and can you do us 2,000 words in the next hour?’ “There’s been quite a lot of media interest – it’s a journalist’s equivalent of counselling – you get to tell the story over and over again and it helps you deal with it.”

After more than 10 years with The Times, most recently as a features writer on T2, he decided to take redundancy in June.

He said: “They were asking for people and I bravely stepped forward knowing that I needed the time out.”

During the transatlantic rowing bid, Gornall filed weekly pieces that appeared in The Times on Thursdays.

He said: “Every Tuesday, I had a phone call from Sara Lawrence in the features department – it was great to hear the office in the background and it made me very wistful and wish that I was on the coffee run that she would no doubt be going after she put the phone down.

“It was strange to be interrogated by a colleague and I could tell they were always after the emotional angle – whereas all I wanted to talk about was the practical stuff.”

Explaining his decision not to go rowing again, he said: “There was a moment when I really thought I was going to die. That does throw things into sharp relief. Nothing seems that important or serious after that.

“Things you take for granted are the things that matter most – friends, family, small comforts.

“I hope I can keep that perspective on life – it’s a reminder that all I have to do is think back to the moment when a big wave crushed the boat, I was pushed underwater and trapped in debris and I had no idea which way was up and which was down. I really thought I was going to die.” Gornall has been commissioned to write a book based on his Times’ Microwave Man column, which he describes as a “an older and seedier Bridget Jones’s Diary” and he also plans to write a book about ocean rowing.

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