During December 2018, adventurers will set off on a world record breaking challenge to row 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
I said, “I have never heard of it.” “It’s a big sport with races all over the world,” I was told after a chance meeting with an ocean rower, I set out to do a bit of research into the subject. To my surprise I found that there are races all over the world, that, yes, lots of people are doing it and that the sport is growing. So, what comes next?
After a bit of research, I thought I might like to have a bash at that, but which race shall I do? And that’s when I did it, I googled the world’s toughest rowing race: the Talisker Whisky Atlantic challenge. Should I check it out or do the sensible thing and close it down? I could not help myself; I had to check it out and there they were, the highlights of previous races.
There are solo-crewed boats with the most amazing people rowing a small boat and dealing with everything on their own; pairs, who at least have someone on board to help them in their darkest moments; and teams of four in slightly larger boats (although still tiny on the open ocean) with a better chance of winning the race.
So, the idea was born and all I needed now was a boat, a team and enough money to fund the project. Which would be more difficult? At this point I thought it would be the money as surely I could find three other firefighters who would like to put themselves to the test. Well, to my surprise, it’s more difficult than I thought to find three other team members, or idiots as my wife likes to call them. I always say play the percentage game. If you ask enough people then someone will say yes, and after asking the whole brigade and half the retired staff I managed to get my team of four.
Sadly, four became three as I lost my first team member to injury, but if you can’t get through the training, you will never get through the race, which I have to say is fair enough. The loss of a second team member is a little more unusual, but if you have a budding film and TV career then who am I to stand in the way of stardom. So, then there were two. The boat was purchased: a beautiful marine plywood boat called Dream It Do It, built in 2009. She had three successful crossings under her belt and we hoped to make the fourth.
And then there was one, just me. An injury to the last team member saw me looking at a single-handed crossing, but that did not seem to go down well at home and so again the search was on for a new team member. It seems that rowing 3,000 miles across open ocean in a tiny boat is not as appealing to others as it is to be me, but my wife tells me often enough that I am not like other people.
Whist talking to a friend about the difficulties of recruiting another firefighter, I mentioned I might need to look outside the fire service for the second person in the team. Well if that’s the case, she said, I have the perfect man for the job, as she pinged off a text which read: “My friend is looking for a partner to row the Atlantic. Are you in?” Within seconds the reply was in and to my amazement it was yes, no questions asked, just yes. So, there were two of us again. Welcome on board Phil Pugh, a north-east businessman who thrives on a challenge. Phil has already swum the English Channel (all of it, not as part of a relay team), cycled Route 66 and kayaked the Strait of Gibraltar. We hit it off the moment we met, and we started to gel as what we are attempting will push the pair of us to our limits.
The race starts in La Gomera, one of the smaller Canary Islands, and heads across the Atlantic Ocean to finish at English Harbour, Antigua. All boats have to be self-sufficient, carrying all their supplies for the crossing. The food is mainly dehydrated and needs about half a litre of hot water and 20 minutes to become eatable. I am very lucky on this score as I can eat almost anything, but Phil is having fun with some of the spicier meals, which leads onto to one of the most frequently asked questions: what do you do about the loo? There are two buckets: one is to wash in and the other is for the other, and the most important thing is not to get them mixed up. Personal hygiene is mainly wet wipes with the occasional trip over the side for a proper wash, and while you are there you may as well clean the bottom of the boat as she starts to get her own microhabitat going on below as barnacles and other sea creatures set up home, slowing down our progress.
We have taken the boat to lots of shows and business expos in an attempt to get sponsorship for the challenge as we are raising money for The Firefighters Charity and Tiny Lives, who specialise in helping premature babies.
It was at one of these events at Kingston Park, the home of the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club, that Phil had arranged for two classes of local school children to come along to see the boat and ask questions. Well, young children can ask questions that set you thinking. “Why go in December?” I was asked. The answer I gave was that after the hurricane season is finished, the worst we will encounter will be a tropical storm with 40-foot waves, and I looked round for something to help the children visualise this. I saw the main stand and pointed to it: “It’s about the height of that building there.” Until then, I had told lots of people about the size of the waves, but when I actually saw something 40 feet high and imagined a wall of water that size approaching our tiny boat, it made me think just what a mammoth task we were taking on.
“What will you miss the most?” was another question the children asked. I had never even thought of anything like that as even the journey to the start line is proving to be more difficult that I had imagined. We are looking for people who would be interested in helping us with this as we have some great sponsorship options available, from ‘feed the crew for a day’ to naming the boat and painting her in your colours.
We are two adventurers and we’ll be world record breakers as the oldest team of men to row the Atlantic if we are successful. If you would like to be part of our challenge in this global event, please contact Paul Hopkins or Phil Pugh via e-mail at [email protected].
For more information, go to www.atlanticdream17.com