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Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2015

Atlantic Campaigns.

Atlantic Buoys – Neil Blackeby & Hamish Stewart

Deja Blue

My personal story of how I came to be preparing to row a small boat across the Atlantic Ocean began 45 years ago in January 1970 when, as a boy of 10, I visited the Earls Court boat show with my parents. This was an annual event as we had always been a boating family.

On a small stand between all the shiny new boats and yachts was a tiny, scruffy double ended rowing boat called “Super Silver”, with battered wooden oars, ropes and other equipment piled up around it. The man next to it was Tom McClean and he had just rowed singlehanded across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland….. I was so fascinated that I spent most of the day with him and still have the black and white, signed photo of him and the boat that he gave me on that day. The spark was lit, and I began to dream about rowing the Atlantic myself one day.

Tom McClean in “Super Silver”

My enthusiasm was kept alive when, much later, I met Peter Bird at a social event in London. In 1974, Peter Bird, Derek King and Carol Maystone had set off from Gibraltor in “Britannia ll” on what was initially planned as a trans-world rowing attempt. After Carol left the expedition in Casablanca, Peter and Derek completed an Atlantic crossing but decided not to continue. Peter, however, caught the ocean rowing bug and went on to row the Pacific from east to west and then, tragically, was lost at sea attempting to row from Vladivostok to San Francisco. His boat, “Sector ll” was recovered and as far as I am aware, its remains are in the yard at Rossiter’s boatyard, Christchurch, where many of the present ocean rowing boats are built and fitted out.

Britannia ll

Sector ll

The first recorded crossing of the Atlantic in a rowing boat was in 1896 by George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, in an open , clinker built boat named “Fox” after the Editor and Publisher Richard Fox, who offered a prize of $10,000 to anyone who successfully rowed the Atlantic. Their crossing took 55 days and this time record was not broken for 114 years.

There were no more ocean rows until two crews set off in 1966 within a short time of one another, each aware of the others attempt. John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth made a successful crossing on their boat, “English Rose lll”, whilst David Johnstone and John Hoare met with disaster and were lost in mid Atlantic when their boat, “Puffin” capsized in rough weather. The boat was later recovered.

English Rose lll

The voyages of Ridgeway and Blyth, Johnstone and Hoare, McClean and John Fairfax, (Britannia and Britannia ll) are now referred to as historic ocean rows, but at the time, opened the floodgates for many others to attempt long distance ocean rows.

Years later, Chay Blyth and his Challenge business tasked two boat builders to design a self- righting, self-draining rowing boat, capable of carrying the necessary crew and equipment to cross an ocean and the first Atlantic Ocean Rowing race was born.

As a keen sailor, I was aware of Chay’s activities and immediately applied for details and sent a £150 cheque off as a deposit to secure my place in the first race back in 1997. I was a full time firefighter in Windsor, Berkshire at the time and unfortunately my senior officers felt unable to give me time off. The race was a success and a second event was organised for 2001. It was at this time that I met Hamish, my rowing partner, who introduced me to sea rowing. We have now rowed and raced Cornish Pilot gigs in North Cornwall for the last 15 years, attending many County championships in Newquay and World championships in the Isles of Scilly. It was in the bar at one of the county championships that I broached the subject of an ocean row to Hamish and being certifiable, he immediately agreed.

By now, the race organisers had changed, and the ocean rows were taking place every two years. I was constantly looking at the race website and other related pages for a suitable boat to purchase. I had very little money or time and it seemed a virtually impossible task. I had it in my mind that I would be much more likely to secure support and sponsorship if I already had a boat to show people, rather than merely an idea. Some years later and after viewing many boats around the country, I eventually saw a local boat for sale in Penzance. “Vision of Cornwall” had successfully been rowed across in the 2009 race by fellow gig rower Phil Pring and Ben Cummings. The boat had been damaged on a reef in Antigua and I was able to purchase her at an affordable price with a loan from a friend.

There was a lot of superficial damage, some more serious damage to the stern cabin and hatches and virtually no equipment other than the trailer. She was cleaned up and put under cover while I continued to save my money. I paid off the loan and my ever helpful neighbour, Graham, towed her down to Bodinnick, near Fowey, where Peter Williams, a local boat builder repaired the damage and replaced the main hatch. She returned home and I continued to work on her, removing stickers, filling, sanding, priming and undercoating until she began to look quite smart.

The year was 2012. Atlantic Campaigns were now the race organisers. After some long discussions, Hamish and I decided that instead of entering the official race, we would attempt an independent row at the end of 2014 and began working towards this goal.

At the time, there was a “Round Britain” rowing race taking place and out of the blue, I received a text saying that a crew member was leaving the race in Penzance and could I replace them to enable them to complete the circumnavigation, although they would not receive a position in the race. I agreed to join the boat the day after but in the end, the whole crew retired. The person who sent the text then got in touch again and said she was involved in entering a crew of six into the 2013 Atlantic Rowing Race and would we be interested in joining them. Again, we agreed and waited to hear more details. We waited … and waited … Nothing happened and eventually Nikki Holter of Atlantic Campaigns arranged a meeting at the Gordano services at Bristol. Only five crew turned up and it rapidly became clear that the venture was barely off the ground and the boat and sponsorship that had been mentioned were not yet acquired.

We were both disappointed, but knew we had my boat and plan A to fall back on. One of the other guys there, a young lad, looked devastated. We hung around and chatted to him. It turned out that he was desperate to compete in the 2013 race in order to become the youngest person to row the Atlantic. We discussed the possibility of converting my boat to accommodate three people, but it seemed impractical. We set off for home and agreed to keep in touch. Over the following months it transpired that his grandparents were willing to financially back a race entry and after discussions, Hamish generously put £15,000 into the pot. This enabled us to purchase the only suitable boat for sale at that time. “Spirit of Corinth” was a four man boat with, unusually, three rowing positions which had successfully completed the 2011 race with a crew from Lyme Regis gig club. Interestingly, one of the crew, Tony Short, at 67 had become the oldest man to row the Atlantic and at 16, our third crew member would be the youngest.

It was July 2013 and we were up against it with only just over 4 months before we had to leave for La Gomera. I stopped work and began sourcing and ordering the mandatory equipment. Hamish began fundraising. The boat was renamed “Trilogy” and was moved to Rossiter’s yard for fitting out, where it remained until our departure. At the time, it seemed the ideal opportunity to cross the ocean and, for me, without a huge financial outlay and time commitment. It turned out not to be the case. When we arrived in La Gomera with 14 days to go before the start, we had problems with the boat, particularly the seats and runners, we still had items to obtain from very limited sources in San Sebastien, we had not had any opportunity to row together and test our equipment and most importantly, had spent almost no time together as a crew. This showed during the days leading up to the start and although we were able to row and use all the equipment, cracks were forming in our relationship. Despite these problems, we made it to the start line and set off with the other 15 crews. Without going into details, as skipper, after much discussion between the three of us on the second day out, I made the decision to turn the boat around and return to La Gomera. With several days of bad weather imminent, it was my last chance to make such a decision without the risk of losing the boat and equipment if we subsequently had to be picked up.

Hamish and I had no money to secure sole ownership of the boat, so over the next few days, it was agreed that the boy’s uncle would join the crew, buy out Hamish and with two new members, carry on with the crossing. This they did and had a fast and uneventful trip.

Hamish and I returned home to lick our wounds and, once again, revert to plan A. We tried to take the positives from this demoralising experience and realised that in a few months we had equipped an ocean rowing boat, passed the scrutineering and made the start line. We knew exactly what to expect now, what was expected of us, how to fit out the boat, how the whole set up worked in La Gomera, even down to the emotions involved in setting off into the Atlantic Ocean on our tiny boat.

We agreed to continue with my boat but were so impressed with the whole race organisation by Atlantic Campaigns and had got on so well with the staff and enjoyed the whole pre-race experience in La Gomera that we decided that instead of attempting an independent row, we would enter the 2015 race. We informed Nikki at Atlantic Campaigns and set about trying to obtain a sponsor prepared to put up the entry fee which we were able to do at the last minute.

They agreed to take us on, paying the whole entry fee, with the final £3,500 released upon successful completion of the crossing. I phoned Hamish with the good news and rushed off to the bank to secure our entry before the list closed. We were in the 2015 Atlantic Rowing Race.

Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2015

Atlantic Campaigns.

Atlantic Buoys – Neil Blackeby & Hamish Stewart

Deja Blue

My personal story of how I came to be preparing to row a small boat across the Atlantic Ocean began 45 years ago in January 1970 when, as a boy of 10, I visited the Earls Court boat show with my parents. This was an annual event as we had always been a boating family.

On a small stand between all the shiny new boats and yachts was a tiny, scruffy double ended rowing boat called “Super Silver”, with battered wooden oars, ropes and other equipment piled up around it. The man next to it was Tom McClean and he had just rowed singlehanded across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland….. I was so fascinated that I spent most of the day with him and still have the black and white, signed photo of him and the boat that he gave me on that day. The spark was lit, and I began to dream about rowing the Atlantic myself one day.

Tom McClean in “Super Silver”

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My enthusiasm was kept alive when, much later, I met Peter Bird at a social event in London. In 1974, Peter Bird, Derek King and Carol Maystone had set off from Gibraltor in “Britannia ll” on what was initially planned as a trans-world rowing attempt. After Carol left the expedition in Casablanca, Peter and Derek completed an Atlantic crossing but decided not to continue. Peter, however, caught the ocean rowing bug and went on to row the Pacific from east to west and then, tragically, was lost at sea attempting to row from Vladivostok to San Francisco. His boat, “Sector ll” was recovered and as far as I am aware, its remains are in the yard at Rossiter’s boatyard, Christchurch, where many of the present ocean rowing boats are built and fitted out.

Britannia ll

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Sector ll

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The first recorded crossing of the Atlantic in a rowing boat was in 1896 by George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, in an open , clinker built boat named “Fox” after the Editor and Publisher Richard Fox, who offered a prize of $10,000 to anyone who successfully rowed the Atlantic. Their crossing took 55 days and this time record was not broken for 114 years.

201511164

There were no more ocean rows until two crews set off in 1966 within a short time of one another, each aware of the others attempt. John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth made a successful crossing on their boat, “English Rose lll”, whilst David Johnstone and John Hoare met with disaster and were lost in mid Atlantic when their boat, “Puffin” capsized in rough weather. The boat was later recovered.

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English Rose lll

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The voyages of Ridgeway and Blyth, Johnstone and Hoare, McClean and John Fairfax, (Britannia and Britannia ll) are now referred to as historic ocean rows, but at the time, opened the floodgates for many others to attempt long distance ocean rows.

Years later, Chay Blyth and his Challenge business tasked two boat builders to design a self- righting, self-draining rowing boat, capable of carrying the necessary crew and equipment to cross an ocean and the first Atlantic Ocean Rowing race was born.

As a keen sailor, I was aware of Chay’s activities and immediately applied for details and sent a £150 cheque off as a deposit to secure my place in the first race back in 1997. I was a full time firefighter in Windsor, Berkshire at the time and unfortunately my senior officers felt unable to give me time off. The race was a success and a second event was organised for 2001. It was at this time that I met Hamish, my rowing partner, who introduced me to sea rowing. We have now rowed and raced Cornish Pilot gigs in North Cornwall for the last 15 years, attending many County championships in Newquay and World championships in the Isles of Scilly. It was in the bar at one of the county championships that I broached the subject of an ocean row to Hamish and being certifiable, he immediately agreed.

By now, the race organisers had changed, and the ocean rows were taking place every two years. I was constantly looking at the race website and other related pages for a suitable boat to purchase. I had very little money or time and it seemed a virtually impossible task. I had it in my mind that I would be much more likely to secure support and sponsorship if I already had a boat to show people, rather than merely an idea. Some years later and after viewing many boats around the country, I eventually saw a local boat for sale in Penzance. “Vision of Cornwall” had successfully been rowed across in the 2009 race by fellow gig rower Phil Pring and Ben Cummings. The boat had been damaged on a reef in Antigua and I was able to purchase her at an affordable price with a loan from a friend.

There was a lot of superficial damage, some more serious damage to the stern cabin and hatches and virtually no equipment other than the trailer. She was cleaned up and put under cover while I continued to save my money. I paid off the loan and my ever helpful neighbour, Graham, towed her down to Bodinnick, near Fowey, where Peter Williams, a local boat builder repaired the damage and replaced the main hatch. She returned home and I continued to work on her, removing stickers, filling, sanding, priming and undercoating until she began to look quite smart.

The year was 2012. Atlantic Campaigns were now the race organisers. After some long discussions, Hamish and I decided that instead of entering the official race, we would attempt an independent row at the end of 2014 and began working towards this goal.

At the time, there was a “Round Britain” rowing race taking place and out of the blue, I received a text saying that a crew member was leaving the race in Penzance and could I replace them to enable them to complete the circumnavigation, although they would not receive a position in the race. I agreed to join the boat the day after but in the end, the whole crew retired. The person who sent the text then got in touch again and said she was involved in entering a crew of six into the 2013 Atlantic Rowing Race and would we be interested in joining them. Again, we agreed and waited to hear more details. We waited … and waited … Nothing happened and eventually Nikki Holter of Atlantic Campaigns arranged a meeting at the Gordano services at Bristol. Only five crew turned up and it rapidly became clear that the venture was barely off the ground and the boat and sponsorship that had been mentioned were not yet acquired.

We were both disappointed, but knew we had my boat and plan A to fall back on. One of the other guys there, a young lad, looked devastated. We hung around and chatted to him. It turned out that he was desperate to compete in the 2013 race in order to become the youngest person to row the Atlantic. We discussed the possibility of converting my boat to accommodate three people, but it seemed impractical. We set off for home and agreed to keep in touch. Over the following months it transpired that his grandparents were willing to financially back a race entry and after discussions, Hamish generously put £15,000 into the pot. This enabled us to purchase the only suitable boat for sale at that time. “Spirit of Corinth” was a four man boat with, unusually, three rowing positions which had successfully completed the 2011 race with a crew from Lyme Regis gig club. Interestingly, one of the crew, Tony Short, at 67 had become the oldest man to row the Atlantic and at 16, our third crew member would be the youngest.

It was July 2013 and we were up against it with only just over 4 months before we had to leave for La Gomera. I stopped work and began sourcing and ordering the mandatory equipment. Hamish began fundraising. The boat was renamed “Trilogy” and was moved to Rossiter’s yard for fitting out, where it remained until our departure. At the time, it seemed the ideal opportunity to cross the ocean and, for me, without a huge financial outlay and time commitment. It turned out not to be the case. When we arrived in La Gomera with 14 days to go before the start, we had problems with the boat, particularly the seats and runners, we still had items to obtain from very limited sources in San Sebastien, we had not had any opportunity to row together and test our equipment and most importantly, had spent almost no time together as a crew. This showed during the days leading up to the start and although we were able to row and use all the equipment, cracks were forming in our relationship. Despite these problems, we made it to the start line and set off with the other 15 crews. Without going into details, as skipper, after much discussion between the three of us on the second day out, I made the decision to turn the boat around and return to La Gomera. With several days of bad weather imminent, it was my last chance to make such a decision without the risk of losing the boat and equipment if we subsequently had to be picked up.

Hamish and I had no money to secure sole ownership of the boat, so over the next few days, it was agreed that the boy’s uncle would join the crew, buy out Hamish and with two new members, carry on with the crossing. This they did and had a fast and uneventful trip.

Hamish and I returned home to lick our wounds and, once again, revert to plan A. We tried to take the positives from this demoralising experience and realised that in a few months we had equipped an ocean rowing boat, passed the scrutineering and made the start line. We knew exactly what to expect now, what was expected of us, how to fit out the boat, how the whole set up worked in La Gomera, even down to the emotions involved in setting off into the Atlantic Ocean on our tiny boat.

We agreed to continue with my boat but were so impressed with the whole race organisation by Atlantic Campaigns and had got on so well with the staff and enjoyed the whole pre-race experience in La Gomera that we decided that instead of attempting an independent row, we would enter the 2015 race. We informed Nikki at Atlantic Campaigns and set about trying to obtain a sponsor prepared to put up the entry fee which we were able to do at the last minute.

They agreed to take us on, paying the whole entry fee, with the final £3,500 released upon successful completion of the crossing. I phoned Hamish with the good news and rushed off to the bank to secure our entry before the list closed. We were in the 2015 Atlantic Rowing Race.