Time flies when you're ... 'rowing through treacle'

Torbay Weekly

The first week has flown by for the 36 ocean rowing boats, including two crews from South Devon, in the 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the World’s Toughest Row organised by Atlantic Campaigns.

Mixed fortunes have greeted the 107 ocean rowers representing 13 nations since they 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 & Barbuda (170N 610W).

The competing crews, four solos, 10 pairs, six trios, 15 fours and one five, have had the fortune of calm weather unlike the storms during the first week of recent races.

This year has seen the fleet have one of the quietest starts in race history. This has meant that seasickness has been less and the early adaptation has been easier without the usual day three low ebb of sickness, soreness and fatigue that is common.

The flip side of this is that without big conditions crews are having to row hard to make progress and this makes a huge demand physically and mentally as the fleet is having to really dig in to get any speed.

It already looks hard to challenge many of the speed records. Crews have described it as like rowing through treacle.

The winds have been quite light and the sea flat. To the far north a low pressure is causing some beam on seas which, though annoying as a rower, has helped crews make south.

Looking ahead the weather system to the north will drop slightly and those crews further to the north May experience light headwinds whilst those to the south should escape them. All crews have spoken about how hot it is.

At this stage the fleet has grouped itself into three broad areas. Northern route crews are going for a shorter line but risk headwinds in a few days. On the mid route crews are aiming to go a few miles more but avoid the worst of any potential headwinds. Crews on the southern route are aiming to ensure they miss all headwinds even though they row a greater distance.

Every year crews take a calculated risk to get the optimum conditions and get the best compromise between weather and distance. The race provided weather advice for all crews and some also employ routers to give detailed direction.

There are aches and pains and some minor seasickness but the fleet health is good. Technically there have been a few instances of oar and gate damage and some steering issues but all are resolved at this stage.

There have been reports of whales, dolphin, turtle, octopus and bioluminescence. Not all crews have seen so much but at such an early stage the calm weather has meant greater sightings.

The night sky has been spectacular including a meteor shower and many crews have already commented on how beautiful it is.

It was unfortunate that Simon Howes, Atlantic Rower, has had to end his row. After slipping and damaging his elbow, Simon contacted the Duty Officer. Advice was given and Simon rested before trying to continue. Once it became apparent that the injury would not let him continue a recovery was organised which saw Simon being towed back to La Gomera. Simon was seen by the fleet doctor on arrival and is now safely back in the UK and his boat is awaiting shipping back to the UK.

Looking forward it is expected that crews will turn more westerly and the impact of the weather system to the north will become apparent but conditions will remain light.

Leading crews have progressed 500 nautical miles and the two South Devon crews have put in an incredible performance to date. 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), have rowed over 400 nautical miles and are 20th. The Salcombe Estuary pair of Guy Rigby (68) and David Murray (56), aboard ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’ have rowed over 350 nautical miles and are 30th. Crews can be tracked at https://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/