Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Facing the Atlantic with Bertie Portal

As featured on The Vault - TrueBlood-Online.com and AllStephenMoyer.com

Recently, Stephen Moyer told us about his friend and actor, Bertie Portal and his effort to row across the Atlantic Ocean, “Facing the Atlantic” in support of the charity “Facing The World”. When we discovered more about what a wonderful charity that “Facing the World” is, The Vault and AllStephenMoyer.com immediately adopted Facing the Atlantic as a charity to support in our 2011 Fundraiser.

A little over a week ago, I had an opportunity to speak to Bertie, to ask him about the challenge and learn more about his reasons for the row.

In December 2011, he and his team mate, James Cash will leave La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 4th 2011 to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Port St Charles in Barbados to raise awareness and money for the charity Facing The World.

At the time we spoke, Bert had just returned from completing an exam in Southampton where he and James had attended a course to learn what was needed to get through the journey and reach their goal safely. The course they attended included ocean navigation and sea survival exams and Bertie admitted to me that he found it extremely difficult. He said, “I’m an actor, not a mathematician and this was essentially Trigonometry. James is much better at that than I and he got me through it.

Bertie Portal and James Cash in front of their boat

When I spoke to Bertie via Video Skype, I found him extremely humble, and genuinely grateful for the support that all the Stephen Moyer/True Blood fans have already shown to the team for Facing the Atlantic and to Facing the World.

We talked about how the whole adventure started and here’s some information provided to us by him about its beginnings:

Facing the World is the charity that was started by Martin Kelly. Bert chose this particular challenge since Martin was a close friend and he had promised him he would do something extraordinary to raise a lot of money for Facing The World.

Bert had initially planned to run the Marathon des Sables but upon Martin’s untimely death in 2008 leaving behind a pregnant wife (actress Natascha McElhone) with two small boys, he decided that not only had the time come for him to fulfill his promise but he wanted to do something even more challenging, something that would really push him to the very limits of his physical and mental abilities and so the Woodvale Atlantic Challenge seemed the only thing to do.

Facing stormy seas, rogue waves and tankers, Bert and James will survive on a diet of 7,000 calories each a day of re-hydrated army rations. Lack of sleep, basic creature comforts and damp conditions will not make for a comfortable ride. However they will take comfort in the knowledge that in doing this they will be helping change the lives of severely disfigured children, allowing them to lead normal lives.

The preparation for the race is more than training in the gym and being out in the boat on the open water. In order to qualify Bert and James must pass ocean navigation and sea survival exams as well as prove their commitment to the race by doing a 24 hour row rowing 2 hours on and 2 hours off, exactly as they will be when out on the ocean. Blisters and sore backs are part of everyday life but it’s essential to be at the peak of their fitness.

Mid way through the 24 hour row - James Cash

The end of the 24 hour row - Bertie Portal


Stephen had told us that he and Bertie are “best mates”, so I started off our interview asking Bertie about his relationship with Stephen Moyer. I asked him how they met and if he would talk a bit about their friendship.

BERTIE: Steve and I met at LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). Groups are always changed around at drama school to change the dynamic, but whichever way they did it Stevie and I were always in the same group right the way through our three years. So we became friends by necessity! But, even on our first day we seemed to share the same sense of humor and made each other laugh.”

“We went skiing together in Switzerland once and just roared with laughter at each other to the exclusion of everyone else which looking back must have been extremely irritating!. He was busy at LAMDA as he was directing plays back home which I used to come and see and enjoy although we still laughed afterwards. But the other side of Stevie is his loyalty which I touched on in a short speech I made before his wedding in August last year. He tells his mates what they should hear, rather than what they might want to hear. Not easy to do that, especially when you run the risk of getting a thick ear or losing the friendship altogether. But he has always been bold like that; it’s one of his many endearing qualities.

I then asked Bertie what it means to him that Stephen is supportive of his efforts and the charity:
BERTIE:It means the world to me that he is involved as he knew Martin Kelly the co-founder of FTW, but also as we are in touch more frequently which is a huge bonus for me personally. I don’t see him as much obviously now so it feels good that we are linked by this. Be under no illusion however. Stevie is English and he is on loan to you! One of these days we are going to ask for him back and if you don’t give him back I’m going to have to come out there and you won’t want that!

How about your family?
BERTIE:My mother is being brilliant with her contacts and motherly support as is my partner Sam and her children. We have been heading down the corporate route for funding and friends are now just hearing about us. “

“But some friends are working on our behalf organizing events etc... of which I know nothing which is fantastic. It means that we can get on with the training and all that side of things.”

Bertie Portal in his role as the
King's Equery in "The King's Speech"

What made you decide to be an actor?

BERTIE: “I acted at school and enjoyed it very much. Then I discovered that you could actually do this for a living! It beats working for a living.

Were you surprised by the popularity of The King’s Speech?
BERTIE:The Kings Speech’ I knew was a wonderful script. The kind of thing I love. If I wasn’t an actor I am sure I would be an historical biographer. I love history, particularly that period. Then with Mr. Firth on board and Mr. Hooper the director together with the knights and everyone else I thought wow, this will be a good British film. If I’m honest I thought it would have limited interest. Maybe more if Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush had fangs. But I was completely surprised by the reaction, everyone was and it’s wonderful to see that the world has gone Kings Speech mad. I’m a monarchist myself and it’s restored my faith in the Englishman's view of the crown.

You’ve worked with many famous actors; can you name someone you worked with that you particularly enjoyed working with?
BERTIE: Michelle Williams. I just finished a film with her called 'My Week with Marilyn' and she was terrific. She even had an acting coach with her, like Marilyn did throughout the making of the original film. It was great fun also watching Kenneth Branaugh as Laurence Olivier.


Tell us about Facing the World and how Facing the Atlantic came to be.
BERTIE: FTW was started by a truly great man named Martin Kelly. I knew him through his wife Natascha McElhone (Californication) and I was an usher at their wedding. He and I became friends and I knew I wanted to help this exceptional man and his exceptional charity. I was going to run the marathons des Sables a run across the Sahara desert, but to my shame a job came up that I didn’t turn down. It took Martin's death to make me see that one has to take action NOW. Not later. There is always a good reason not to do anything. So I thought lets raise an extreme amount of money in Martin's great memory. How to do that? What to do? I know, row the Atlantic. That’s pretty extreme. And that in a nutshell was how it came about. I asked James Cash to join me and after a bit of thought he said yes. We shook hands. Facing the Atlantic was up and running!

How dangerous is this race?
BERTIE: It’s dangerous.”

You and James won’t be rowing across the ocean alone will you? How many other rowers are involved?
BERTIE: While the Atlantic is a very high traffic area, we will essentially be alone together with no other boats near us. We will each row for two hours, taking turns. It is important that we know how to take care of ourselves and function as a team.”

How will you get help if needed?
BERTIE:We have a radio phone and can call for help if need be.

When you think about the row… what is your biggest fear?
BERTIE:Sea sickness.”

Do you expect to win the race?
BERTIE: Winning is not as important as getting across safely. “


I can only imagine how much training is involved in getting ready for this incredible journey.
How often do you go to the gym, if that is where you train?
BERTIE:I row for 2.5 hours per day and running.”

Are you sore at night?
BERTIE: I can tell you that for a long time my “bum” was very sore.”

Fitting up the boat: We’ve seen photos of you working on your boat, can you talk about that? How big is it?
BERTIE:7.5 meters

What’s it made of?

Why not a bigger boat or a different design, or is this what you have to make? It is one that is used by all who do this journey.
BERTIE: It’s the best one and until they make something better, it’s what we will use. We purchased it used and we’ve been cleaning it up by removing advertisements on it and installing ballasts on the sides to make it sturdier.

Bertie scraping the boat


How did you and James Cash meet?
BERTIE: "I was in a play of 'The Thirty Nine Steps' and James was my trainer. He trained me very well and I didn’t miss a performance.

I am guessing that you have to trust in the other person a lot to work well together, is this true?
BERTIE: "Yes, James and I weren’t really close friends before we started training. I tend to think its better not to be close friends.

The experience: Can you tell us more about what you expect the experience to be like?"

How will you sleep on the boat?
BERTIE: "There is a hold on the bow of the boat and we will each take turns sleeping in it. I’ve heard it described as a “wet coffin”. It’s OK for one person to sleep in, but when the weather gets bad we will both have to be in there and it is very cramped for two to inhabit."

Get fresh water to drink?
BERTIE: “Desalination” the method that remove the salt from water to make it drinkable."

How will you wash?
BERTIE: "We will bring some shampoo and soap. We will be rowing nude, so there won’t be too much need to wash things other than ourselves. However, it is very important to keep clean in order to prevent sores, etc. from forming."

Is there a toilet on board?
BERTIE: "No, we will bucket and chuck it!"

How do you generate the necessary energy and what kind of equipment do you have on board?
BERTIE: "All our energy is solar generated. We don’t anticipate that we will have too many grey days, but after about four days of no sunlight, and things really start to wind down. However, we are crossing when it’s not hurricane season, and where we are crossing should give us sufficient sun."

Any modern conveniences?
BERTIE: "Not many. We will have our modern equipment like our GPS, radio phone, desalination machine, etc. but not much more. Since the row will take approximately 60 to 90 days, one luxury I do want to take is a bottle of champagne to have on Christmas."


Bertie and James meeting one of
the children helped by FTW

One of the best things about working on our web sites, for me has been the opportunity of meeting incredibly interesting people and learning about their adventures.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be experiencing all I am today and yet, those experiences can’t begin to compare to what Bertie and James will encounter in December when they begin the row.

When speaking to people like Bertie (which has been a rarity in my life), I truly can believe that nothing is impossible. While I personally would never challenge myself like he is and attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean, he and James have nonetheless, become an inspiration to me and to others. I know that this won’t be an easy effort for them, but it’s certainly something well worth doing. The goodness that will come from their adventure will not only satisfy Bertie’s own personal goals, but the way in which it will help the children is beyond words.

Shad and I feel truly privileged to be able to help all we can to see that Bertie and James reach their goal and raise lots of financial support for Facing the World.

GIVE: www.facingtheatlantic.com or donate at www.justgiving.com/facingtheatlantic
Please note: add the code TB4FTA (True Blood for Facing The Atlantic) to the note of your donation so we can keep track of how much was donated by True Blood / Stephen Moyer fans.

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