MEET THE CREW
Who is Billy Taylor?
CREW ∙ JULY 14, 2019
Billy started ocean rowing challenges in 2014 after finding out his childhood friend had been diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. He has rowed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean and the English Channel, all of which have been to raise awareness of YOPD.
Why the challenge of rowing an Ocean?
It’s what I know!! I have been on and off the water since first joining the sea cadets when I was 11 and I feel at home at sea. A good friend of mine was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease when he was 34 and the more I learnt about the condition through him the more I wanted to do something to help. I needed a challenge that would receive media attention to help raise awareness of the fact PD affects people of all ages, and I also learnt exercise is a great way to help combat the symptoms that those with PD will encounter as the condition progresses. Ocean rowing seemed like the perfect fit.
Have you taken part in a big adventure before?
When I was 17 I was really lucky and got the opportunity to jump on a privately owned tall ship and sail from Australia to the UK. There was no hard and fast itinerary and I spent 18 months sailing to some really remote locations around the world. There was no health and safety on board, it was just a bunch of friends that owned the boat and wanted to get out there and see the world and it had a massive impact on how I have led the rest of my life. Because there was no itinerary we rarely used the engine (64 hours in 18 months) and if there was no wind we just drifted. We had no way to keep in contact with the outside world and I rarely got to hear about what was going on at home. It showed me that there was a big wide world out there!
After getting home I spent a few years sailing around the mediterranean and at one point had my own Gullette (a traditional wooden Turkish boat) and would take people around Turkey and Greece for their holidays. It was another great time in my life where we would be doing something different every single day. That area of the Med is stunningly beautiful and the people who came to holiday on the boat were always happy! Every day seemed like an adventure as we would discover new bays to anchor up in, meet some amazing people and take part in activities like scuba diving, windsurfing, water skiing, paragliding etc, and if we didn’t have any paying guests on our boat I would often deliver yachts for other charter companies.
In 2014 I rowed 2,800 miles across the Pacific between California and Hawaii. I only met the rest of the crew the night before we left for California so none of us knew how we would get on and it could have turned out to be an absolute disaster. The boat turned up late, we needed to do a lot of work to get it ready and we were still trying to pack everything we needed about 4 hours before the race started. I’m pretty sure that the organisers thought that we would never make it and that they would be calling upon the coast guard at some point to rescue us… luckily that never happened and we did much better than anybody, including us, ever expected. Nobody died and we took second place. Happy days.
In 2017 I met Scott Butler (who is part of the Atlantic crew) and we took an overland trip from the UK to Bulgaria. We dropped Scott off so that he could could take his boat and become the first person to ever row across the Black Sea and continued the journey all the way to Georgia. It was an amazing experience to see so many countries in a relatively short space of time and was like nothing that I had ever done before and made me realise that adventure does not only take place at sea…thanks Scott!
My last adventure was to row 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean as part as a crew of 4 in 2018. We were completely unsupported and it was a tough crossing due to some pretty nasty weather conditions. We had a chap called Robin Buttery on board and he had been diagnosed with YOPD a few years before. Having Robin as part of the crew didn’t really change the challenge itself but it did make it a lot more meaningful. It took us 70 days to make it from western Australia to Mauritius but in that time we collected a lot of research data into Parkinson’s that has the potential to improve the life of those living with the condition.
What are you most looking forward to about rowing?
Without doubt getting away from the rat race! Life on the water is very simple and focused. I won’t have to hear about all the terrible things that are going on in the world or think about work, bills etc. We have to do a lot of social media stuff to help promote the row prior to leaving but, like most of the crew, I see it as a necessary evil. As soon as we push off from land, no more facebook!!
What do you think the biggest challenges will be?
100% getting to the start line! All the crew will be so busy between now and when we leave just to make sure that we will actually be able to leave. We need to raise tens of thousands of pounds, train, make use of the dreaded social media, do interviews and other PR stuff, work on the boat etc – it’s a really stressful time for everybody and something that not a lot of people realise – however, it is all part of it and you also get a huge sense of achievement when it all comes together. If all you had to do was turn up on the day and get in the boat it would never be as satisfying!
What 3 strengths do you think you will bring to the crew?
Experience. I have been really lucky to have already spent a lot of time at sea and that definitely helps.
Having a best friend who not only runs a boat yard and helps out with a lot of the technical stuff but also has a garden big enough to store the boat in. Thanks And and Sally!
Not being seasick! I have never been seasick before (famous last words…). This means that not only will I not redecorate the boat but I can look after people who are. Sea sickness can be really debilitating and I am full of admiration for people who just push through it even though they know that as soon as they leave shore they are going to feel absolutely terrible (I’m talking about you here Alex).
Who is your biggest inspiration?
There are quite a few but most are for the same reason, that they have had to deal with something life changing but have met whatever life throws at them head on. Robin Buttery is one. He and his family have had much more than their fair share of heartache to deal with in the past 15 years or so but Robin remains upbeat and positive and determined to help other people.
Before coming on the row last year it’s fair to say that Robin had led a pretty risk averse life, had never spent more than a few days away from his family and by his own admission never really done much to take him out of his comfort zone. When he was diagnosed with YOPD he could have easily just taken his meds and used having PD as a reason to sit back and not push himself. instead he agreed to be part of a challenge that less than 60 people in the world have ever managed to accomplish, spent months away from his family and really put himself as far out of his comfort zone as possible. He did all of that because he feels that he has a moral duty to take part in research to further understanding of PD and help inspire others in the same position as him. You have to admire that…
What advice would you give to your 10 year old self?
All that you really need in life is a roof over your head, food in your belly and friends who will be by your side to share the good times and support you through the bad. Life is too short to be chasing things that really don’t matter.
Aside from friends and family, what do you think you will miss most while you’re at sea?
Colour. Sounds daft but although you see some amazing sunsets and sunrises, there is surprisingly little colour at sea, especially green. That and walking. Because the boat is so small and the cabin is absolutely tiny you never actually walk. It may not sound like much but try to imagine what it is like to not walk AT ALL for 100 days.
If you could only listen to one album for the whole crossing, what would it be?
Ohhhh, that’s a tough one. Probably the “best of” Album by the Foo Fighters. It’s amazing how music enhances your mood when you are on the boat. I definitely have different albums for when I am in different moods and also for different conditions too. Sunrise, sunset, rough weather, flat calm, sunny, raining, getting close to home, thinking about people that you miss etc. All of those have different tunes to help cope/enjoy!
What would you sing at a karaoke night?
Probably “Everybody needs somebody” from the blues brothers sound track. Whatever it was, it would be out of tune!
What will you bring as your luxury item?
A fan for the cabin. It gets stupidly hot in there!
What is the most annoying habit other people have?
Not listening or butting into a conversation and talking over people. I know that we all do it to some extent but there are those who take it to another level…
Papillion by Henri Charriere. If only half of what is in that back is true it is still an incredible story about not giving up, no matter how bad it gets.
Tell us an interesting thing about you people should know…
My real name is Darren.