Ding Dong Merrily On High Seas For Atlantic Rowing Challenge

Bloated with food and drink, maybe snoring a little in front of HRH on the telly. Suddenly a jolt and a slap of salty water and they’re back in the real world, facing 40 foot waves, aching muscles, and curious creatures of the deep. That’s the festive scenario for the 28 crews in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the rowing race that set out from La Gomera on 12th December, bound for Antigua, 3,000 miles away. I had the pleasure of meeting the crews in the marina in San Sebastian, a few days before they got into their cramped 8 metre long, 2 metre wide boats. What an incredible collection of people, here’s a quick look at some of their Christmas plans and their reasons for being so far away from the rustle of brightly coloured wrapping paper.

The festive season will still be jolly for the four female crew members of Astro To Atlantic from Devon. Helen Symons has a Boxing Day birthday to look forward to, and Louise Read her 50th birthday on New Years Eve. Sharing a passion to play hockey for Kingsbridge & Salcombe, the ladies are reaching high for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust after seeing the good work they do. Two on, two off rowing shifts will allow some sleeping time in the cabins as they set a cracking pace with the four mens record of 37 days as a guideline. Their special treats will be revealed from a stash of Santa snack bags, two of the crew admit to problems with sea sickness but hopefully that will be conquered in the early days.

Kelda Wood (above) from Shropshire has more room as a solo rower in Row To Raise but will have to be strong to cope with isolation and sleep deprivation. Catching sleep as the boat drifts is not a recipe for sweet dreams, and the sudden siren warning of near obstacles will lurk in the back of her tired mind. Kelda is a survivor, a love of horse riding turned sour when a heavy bundle of hay fell on her and nearly robbed her of one leg. That was in 2002, since then Kelda has recovered well and despite having a fused ankle she has hit life full on, including climbing the 6,900 metre Aconcagua mountain in Africa. Helping others to overcome physical and mental setbacks through her charity Climbing Out is her driving force, and her “crew mates” will help to make Christmas Day special. M.P the penguin is a gift from her niece, and Hardy will remind her of her own full size dogs. An inflatable Santa, and a boisterous sing song will confuse the seagulls but keep her mind positive.

Tim Crockett (above) moved from his native Hereford to Atlanta to get married 13 years ago but was lured home to train in his UK built boat, Tame The Kraken. The former marine and SBS veteran admits to having that sinking feeling when on a boating trip with the Hereford Rugby Colts as a youngster. Chopping the days at sea into six blocks of four hours, Tim will judge his sleep breaks according to the call of his body, and trust in a para anchor, a device that operates 20 feet below the sea´s surface to stop drifting. Combat Stress and Support Our Marines will benefit from his fund raising drive. Tim has a Christmas cake stashed away, but he will have to ration himself so it can deliver another lift for his New Years day birthday.

Not a crumb will be wasted from the rowing crews morale boosting morsels, and that´s music to the ears of the two woman crew of Whale Of A Time. Jemma Rix from Colchester works in the food industry and is passionate about cutting down food waste. “Most of our 500 dehydrated meals on board have come from what is often discarded as surplus, with good management and care so much food can have a longer use.” That expertise has given the ladies a real taste of yuletide tradition, they have dehydrated turkey to brighten their big day.
Lauren Woodwiss from Birmingham met Jemma at Reading University an had some running experience before the friends decided to enter the Challenge. They are going to try to mix rowing shifts to break the monotony and keep as fresh as possible. Their inspirational quote on the top of one cabin hatch, comes from the film Bridesmaids, but their charities are their biggest driving force. “We have chosen Cancer UK, and The Mintridge Foundation – they help children with mental and physical problems.”

Team Tyne Innovation are a mixed foursome of three men and one woman, and were late in completing their line up after a series of setbacks. Tyneside locals Phil Kite and Kate Hughes were joined in April 2018 by Steve Sidaway, and Allan Huntly from Stirling. Phil is confident that they have the right pieces in their jigsaw. “Fate has dealt us a good hand, we are going to enjoy the challenge and trust and understand our instincts along the way.” They have had help from sports psychologists and will have a crack at the mixed four record of 56 days.
They are using the trip to showcase a range of north east talent, the boats paintwork is from Gateshead, and the design is from Newcastle, it certainly catches the eye. Their charity is Daft As A Brush, offering practical support for cancer patients. Light relief from relentless rowing will come in the form of Secret Santa surprises including hats, false beards, and even a cigar or two.

Although the record finish for the Atlantic route stands at 29 days and 14 hours for a solo rower, it´s more of an endurance test than a race for most crews. The last finishers after a few are inevitably forced to cut the journey short, will take up to three months and have a lot of sleep deprivation, extreme weather, mental anguish, and disorientation to deal with. Even the build up of raising funds for boats and equipment before chasing donations to their charities, and training, are punishing but the journey will dish out new emotional highs and lows on a daily basis. The drama started early for Yorkshire team Men Of Oar, they found a small split on the join of the hull and had to return to the marina after just a few minutes, thankfully they repaired and regrouped and went out a day later.

You can track the race here, and donate to the above mentioned causes at the links on their boat names. They are all heroes.