Dutch Duo Inspired To Row4Cancer In Atlantic Challenge

No land in sight, meagre food and water rations, and towering waves crashing around them. These are the prospects for the 21 crews in the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge rowing race. Mark Slats, along with Kai Weidmer are the Dutch crew of Row4Cancer. Mark, a carpenter from Scheveningen near Amsterdam, looked relaxed as he escorted their trailer loaded boat through Los Cristianos port in Tenerife for the short ferry crossing to neighbouring Canary Island La Gomera. Ahead of them was a 22nd December departure for a 3,000 nautical mile slog to the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Mark, a carpenter, is an accomplished adventurer, having set a solo record of just under 31 days for the crossing in 2017, That was inspired by his mothers fight against cancer, and also propelled him to compete in the 30,000 mile Golden Globe yacht race a year later. An Atlantic rowing competition was stablished in 1997 from Tenerife to Barbados based on the experience of Chay Blyth and  John Ridgway who pioneered ocen rowing in 1966. Talisker took over in 2011 and made it into an annual event, this is the eighth under their leadership.

Mark´s mother lost her fight against cancer in March 2020, he had already applied nearly a yesr before for the 2020 race and her loss made his resolve stronger. Covid intervened to disrupt the 2020 race planning. “After the Golden Globe race I was looking for another test. “Rowers have to raise 100,000 euros just to enter the Talisker Atlantic Challenge, to cover running costs, support services, equipment, and food before even starting on sponsorship for your chosen charity. Some companies backed off after Covid, especially those related to travel and hotels. We were lucky as we found many through building companies. There was another surprising help for us as less traffic on the roads reduced travel to our training sessions by about two hours each time. We had been putting in 25 hours a week on the water.”

The 21 crews for the 2020 race all use the same size boats, either new or second hand but the crews are always varied. For 2020 they are split into eight singles, two pairs, a female trio, and 10 fours, they come from several countries, 15 from the UK, with South Africa, Holland, and Spain also represented. Many crews are a mix of male and female, the one thing they all share is a burning ambition to finish the race and help their charities. Sleeping and shelter are catered for at each end of the boat, planning on and off splits for through the night watches is just another skill they have to master.

A logistics company shiops most of the boats to La Gomera, for instance the UK based craft are taken to the south of England, ferried over to France, down through Europe to Cadiz port at the tip of Spain, ferry to Santa Cruz in Tenerife, south to another ferry and out to La Gomera. Row4Cancer had an easier route. “We saved about 5,000 euros on shipping, I brought it through on the trailer to Cadiz and onward. There are always doubts as we approach the race but we look forward and keep focused on what we need to do. ”

There´s still time to sponsor Row4Cancer at their website and follow them at their website. To keep an eye on the race there´s the official Talisker Whisky website. Just think of them all ploughing through the ocean, experiencing christmas and new year in near isolation, and keeping bodies and minds ticking over. Fair winds to them all.