South Devon crews prepare for world's toughest rowing challenge

Ocean Rowing Boats lined up ready for launching

Ocean Rowing Boats lined up ready for launching - Credit: Hilary Bastone

Two South Devon crews are taking part in the world's toughest rowing challenge.

Dean Frost (52) who lives on the river Dart at Stoke Gabriel has encouraged three friends from his school days, Phil Bigland (53), Jason Kerr (50) and Lee McCarthy (51), to join him on the experience of a lifetime. 

The quartet have signed up for the 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the World’s Toughest Row organised by Atlantic Campaigns, which is due to start on December 12.  

The race is a 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 & Barbuda (170N 610W). The 36 competing crews, 4 solos, 10 pairs, 6 trios, 15 fours and 1 five consisting of 107 rowers include two crews from South Devon. 

Team Elijah’s Star, will depart La Gomera with their sights firmly set on completing this epic journey in 37 days. The target they have set represents the brief life of baby Elijah, a premature but much-loved son and brother, who sadly lived for just 37 days. 

The four-man crew will battle sleep deprivation, salt sores, and the physical extremes inflicted by the race. Exhaustion will test the mental strength of the rowers, in the middle of an Ocean where the nearest land is 2.5 miles below the sea. 

Dean, originally from Lancashire, spent four years in the Navy before launching a career in engineering and is currently Managing Director of Clade Engineering in Leeds. Phil, originally from Chester, spent 12 years in the Army and is currently a Director at Dyson; Jason is also ex-Army and is currently in Market Development at KPMG; and Lee is currently serving in the Army stationed at Lyneham with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. 

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When questioned about their targets they all to a man said, “To get across safely in 37 days and to raise £200,000 for Action Medical Research which sum they have already achieved. 

Their boat, ‘Elijah’s Star’,  is named after Elijah who was born prematurely at 25 weeks weighing just 1lb 13oz. He sadly developed necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a devastating bowel disorder that mainly strikes premature babies. Elijah tragically died at just 37 days old.  

Before he died Elijah was part of a study funded by Action Medical Research trying to find a way to identify NEC in premature babies, so that it may be detected before it becomes life threatening. 

Jenny, Elijah’s mum explained why they took part in the research: “Elijah led a very traumatic little life. He died sleeping on my chest in the small hours – that’s when I joined the fight to stop premature birth.” 

Dean added, “For us this is not just a test of physicality and seamanship but an opportunity to raise as much as we possibly can for our chosen charity; Action Medical Research, the charity fighting to help sick babies and children.  

Also competing are a pair from the Salcombe Estuary, Guy Rigby (68) and David Murray (56) aboard ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’, a Rannoch R25 ocean rowing boat, and rowing in aid of the charity, The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs T/A UNLTD, for which they already raised £500,000. 

Guy was a great friend of David’s father, Richard. They raced their Salcombe Yawl together for many years and enjoyed numerous other adventures. In 2018, Richard succumbed to cancer after a long and challenging fight.  

Guy and David stayed in touch and, following a chance telephone call, Guy shared his idea to row across the Atlantic. David jumped at the opportunity and a plan was quickly hatched.  

This included a trip to La Gomera to see the preparations and start of TWAC 2019. Meetings with organisers, safety officers and participating crews quickly led to a decision to proceed and The Entrepreneur Ship was duly registered for the 2021 challenge. If a successful crossing is achieved, Guy and David believe they will be the oldest pair (based on combined age) to row any ocean.  

The Entrepreneurship from left - Guy Rigby, David Murray

The Entrepreneurship from left - Guy Rigby, David Murray - Credit: Hilary Bastone

 Elijah's Star crew from left - Phil Bigland, Dean Frost, Lee McCarthy, Jason Kerr

Elijah's Star crew from left - Phil Bigland, Dean Frost, Lee McCarthy, Jason Kerr - Credit: Hilary Bastone