2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge rowers heading for finish line

Torbay Weekly

The fourth week has seen the remaining 35 ocean rowing boats, including two crews from South Devon, eye the finish in their task of completing the 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the world’s toughest row organised by Atlantic Campaigns.

Thirty-six crews left San Sebastian de La Gomera on December 12 in the 3,000-mile unsupported rowing race across the Atlantic Ocean west from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands (280N 180W) to Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua and Barbuda (170N 610W).

The 36 competing crews included four solos, 10 pairs, six trios, 15 fours and one five.

The leading crew, Swiss Raw, have less than 500 nautical miles to the finish and are predicted to arrive on Sunday, January 16, which would be a crossing time of less than 36 days.

The past week has produced a few incidents including a capsize and Wrekin Rowers crew reporting a Marlin strike.

In 2020/21, there were four marlin strikes. The message from the crew stated: “Fortunately, no one is injured but it has pierced through two sections of boat and up into the deck.

"We have done the best we can to repair it for now, but with the extra weight of water on board, it is likely to slow us down significantly.”

The two South Devon crews have remained competitive with solid performances to maintain their positions over the past week.

Team ‘Elijah’s Star’ made up of Dean Frost (52), who lives on the river Dart at Stoke Gabriel, and his three friends from school days, Phil Bigland (53), Jason Kerr (50) and Lee McCarthy (51), are now less than 1,000 nautical miles from the finish but have moved up from 19th to 18th rowing 70 nautical miles a day.

Their predicted arrival is January 25 in a time of 45 days.

The Salcombe Estuary pair of Guy Rigby (68) and David Murray (56), aboard ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’ still have 1,200 nautical miles to the finish and have slipped from 25th to 26th, averaging 50 nautical miles a day.

A message from the boat stated: “You may have noticed that we’re not going as fast as some of the other boats.

"This is partly because we are now on the same latitude as Antigua and are reticent to go any further south, lest it becomes too challenging to get back up north.

“Boats to our north have more leeway and some of the boats behind us are going further south.

“We have decided to battle our way west, with lower daily mileages as a result.”

The third Devon crew in the race, ‘Emergensea Duo’, married couple Adam Baker and Charlie Fleury, who both work at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital as A&E doctors, have over 1,200 miles to the finish and remain in 24th.

Atlantic Campaigns chief safety officer, Ian Couch, who also lives in Stoke Gabriel, in his recent update remarked: “The character of the row has changed considerably since the last update.

“The gruelling but benign conditions have been replaced by faster and bigger seas and stronger winds.

“These are not bad conditions at all, they are faster and scarier but are giving the crews a tremendous boost in speed and bringing down the ETAs considerably.

“At the time of writing, just over 1,000 calls and messages have been made and received.

“The main thing about the conditions and the impact on crews is often attitude.

“You can have two people in the same boat with exactly the same conditions who have a very different experience based on their view of events.

“One could say ‘this is a big sea, it is tough and scary, but we are out here doing this amazing thing, facing and overcoming challenges and having an incredible adventure’ while the other could say ‘this is a big sea, it is tough and scary and I wish it was flatter, this is an overwhelming situation, I wish it was different.’

“So much of the experience is attitude and accepting what is happening and making the most of it.

“I have had calls today from two crews, one agitated about speed and conditions and another asking how they can capitalise and go faster and surf more.

“Another crew facing near pitch-pole conditions said they were too busy to be scared.

“That is a huge part of being at sea in an ocean rowing boat – you just have to get on with things without fuss or drama and we have crews excelling in that this year.

“Conditions right now are seeing a rolling swell of up to 20ft and winds gusting up to 25 knots largely from a NE and NNE direction and as a result the average speeds are increasing.

“There have been a few localised headwinds hitting some crews and you will see sudden speed and course changes. This can be scary, but the crews are safe.

“The boats are strong and self-right, the rowers are always clipped on and there is always a voice to help at the end of the phone.

“The conditions do mean more wear and tear on boats and bodies, and we are starting to see a few more reports of auto tillers failing and more bruises and sores.

“The reported issues remain relatively few. We have had broken oars and broken gates which are not unusual and the crews have spares and the ability to make repairs.

“The rougher seas mean that sometimes water-makers suck in air which can cause pressure problems.

“One new problem this year was a water-maker not working and on investigation it turned out that there was a squid stuck in the intake.

“We have also had our first capsize of the race. The crew are absolutely fine and handled the situation extremely well.

“Prior to the incident they had again discussed and pictured a capsize. We instruct all crews to visualise and rehearse all scenarios as much as possible, so, when it happened, and the boat rolled 360 degrees the pair were back on the oars and rowing within minutes and were extremely happy with how they coped.

“On speaking with them their confidence and self-belief has grown enormously, which is one of the things we frequently see in this race.

“Some crews are still struggling to eat while others are eating everything and wanting more but more significantly, we are starting to see more bum sores, repetitive injuries, and skin complaints.

“The incidence of these things is far less than in the past but will never be eradicated.

“This is a hot, wet environment with constant friction and will always cause problems.

“The safety officers and race doctor advise the crews on prevention and treatment and though unpleasant now, recovery will be quick once they are safely in Antigua.

“Many crews have a device called a BGAN or Broadband Global Area Network which allows them to connect to the internet via satellite.

“With this they can send clear images to us to help diagnose problems and offer solutions. To date the fleet health is good and there are no great concerns and nothing out of the ordinary.

“At the time of writing, 19 crews have less than 1,000 miles to go. The closest has just over 500 miles to go and the furthest has just under 1,900 miles.

“The fastest boat did over 90 miles in the last 24 hours and the slowest just over 30. This is a very clear reminder of how, despite all being on the same ocean in the same race, the experiences will vary enormously.

“This is a critical time mentally for the rowers. Those about to finish must not relax and need to stay careful and vigilant.

“For those who have not performed as they hoped or who are still a long way from finishing to see other crews arrive can be demoralising.

“This is not about who does what in comparison with another crew. Each crew, each rower has their own adventure, their own challenge, and their own row.

“It is all about small manageable goals hour by hour, watch by watch, day by day.“

Crews can be tracked at www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/

Positions after four weeks at sea:

1 Swiss Raw (Race class) Switzerland Four crew 494 nautical miles to finish

2 Atlantic Flyers (R) GB Four 617

3 Five in a Row (R) GB Five 619

4 Shaw and Partners Atlantic (R) Australia Four 663

5 Anna Victorious (R) GB Four 701

6 The Bubbleheads (R) GB Four 705

7 East Rows West (R) Hong Kong Trio 727

8 Team Peninsula (R) GB Trio 748

9 The Salty Sappers (R) GB Four 814

10 Atlantic Nomads (R) GB Trio 830

11 Wrekin Rowers (R) GB Four 831

12 Pacific Boys (R) USA Trio 852

13 Helvetic Waves (Open class) Switzerland Four 854

14 The Mothership (R) GB Four 865

15 One Ocean Crew (R) GB Four 866

16 Force Atlantic (R) GB Four 875

17 Two Rowing Finns (R) Finland Pair 896

18 Elijah's Star (R) GB Four 917

19 Foar Tomorrow (R) Denmark Four 948

20 ExtraOARdinary (R) GB Trio 971

21 In Deep Ship (R) GB Four 990

22 Row for IMPACT (R) Netherlands Trio 1011

23 Wild Waves (R) GB Pair 1105

24 Emergensea Duo (R) GB Pair 1244

25 Row4Hope (R) USA Pair 1263

26 The Entrepreneur Ship (R) GB Pair 1284

27 Tropical Blue Wave (R) GB Pair 1288

28 Foar from Home (R) USA Four 1293

29 Team Migaloo (O) Netherlands Pair 1345

30 The MindCraft (R) GB Pair 1352

31 Ocean Warrior (R) Denmark Solo 1405

32 Tideway Odyssey (R) GB Pair 1490

33 Owens Rowing (R) USA Solo 1636

34 Prowject X (O) Switzerland Pair 1692

35 A Lung Journey (R) Switzerland Solo 1877

36 Atlantic Rower (R) GB Solo Retired