TALISKER WHISKY ATLANTIC CHALLENGE 2013/2014
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2013/14 proved to be one of the toughest years yet with the Atlantic Ocean throwing everything it had at these intrepid rowers. There were a wide range of teams from diverse backgrounds such as Atlantic Polo (a crew of England polo players), Row2Recovery (a team of ex-British military including two wounded soldiers) and Andrew Abrahams (a hardy solo rower from Australia). The teams set off in good spirits on the 4th December with calm seas and blue skies ahead of them and their families cheering them on. Unfortunately within two days Atlantic Trio encountered technical problems and had to return putting an end to their adventure.
The balmy weather did not stick around for long with dark, ominous clouds rapidly rolling in. The crews were beset with the one of the worst and most prolonged storms that we have seen during the challenge. Amidst huge waves and heavy downpours the teams were forced to put their anchors down and shelter in their cabins off the coast of La Gomera meaning little progress was made for many days. This came to a head on the 9th December when Team Atlantic Splash had to be rescued by helicopter when their aft compartments began to take on water.
By day 7 the weather thankfully took a turn for the better and the teams were able to make some rapid progress using the currents to speed on their way. However on December 14th in the early hours of the morning Team AstroSweden’s boat flipped twice leading to rower Christer Kjellner losing key equipment, meaning rescue by the Spanish coastguard and a sad end to his journey. On December 17th Team Neas Energy had a similar experience and were rescued by a passing container ship.
Christmas Day marked an important milestone for the rowers with carols sung, presents opened and Christmas hats worn! From this point on the teams made fantastic progress and “Locura Rows the Atlantic” took a clear lead with Row 2 Recovery and Atlantic Polo having an incredibly close tussle for second place and a win in the fours.
On the 14th January, after 41 days at sea, Tom Salt and Mike Burton pulled into Antigua. Rowing in shifts of two hours the team had battled 40 foot waves, tropical storms, seasickness, sleep deprivation, excruciating body sores, a capsize and even an encounter with a six metre marlin (which left them a significant hole in their boat!) Mike met Tom when they competed in the same crew of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race where they finished in fourth place.
On the 21st January Atlantic Polo rowed into the Antiguan port, coming second in the challenge. “The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is something we feel extremely privileged to have experienced, yet would not have wished upon our worst enemies – we have been through hell and back again out there. Most did not expect us to even get to the start line, we are delighted to have won the fours & be 2nd out of the entire fleet” commented Henry Brett from the team.
They, like the rest of the fleet, had faced severe conditions during the crossing and two men were thrown overboard whilst battling the waves. Racing neck and neck against friends and fellow fours, Row2Recovery, The Atlantic Polo Team nudged to the lead on New Year’s Day and stayed ahead for the duration of the nail-biting race.
Just a day later Row 2 Recovery arrived triumphant, although disappointed to have been pipped to the post by the Polo team. Trooper Cayle Royce and Corporal Scott Blaney, both of whom suffered life-altering injuries whilst on duty in Afghanistan, alongside Captain James Kayll and Captain Mark Jenkins, completed the gruelling 3000 mile row in 48 days, 9 hours and 13 minutes. The team raised money for Help for Heroes and was supported by The Endeavour Fund.
Trooper Cayle Royce was injured in May 2012 whilst serving with the Light Dragoons in Afghanistan after he stepped on an explosive device. This resulted in the amputation of both legs above the knee, facial scarring, multiple amputations to the fingers of his left hand and neck trauma. A keen outdoorsman and traveler before the injury, Royce rowed to prove what can be achieved despite sustaining life-changing injuries.
Scott Blaney, who suffered an above the knee amputation and soft tissue injuries from a bomb whilst conducting operations in Afghanistan in 2007 with the Grenadier Guards, commented: ”This row has been a huge challenge and a great personal achievement but for me the greatest achievement is doing something to help the wounded community”.
Will and Dan from Atlantic Row 2013 were the next to finish in the early hours of the 27th January followed by Two Boys in a Boat, Luke and Jamie, later that same day becoming the youngest pair to ever row the Atlantic.
Erik and Stefan, from team Nordic Endurance were the next to finish on the 30th January showing incredible willpower and mental strength against the technical challenges they encountered. Solo rower Andrew Abrahams from Adventure4aCure arrived the next day having spent 57 days at sea alone. “I’m ecstatic to have completed this epic journey. It was exceptionally difficult to be alone out there at times and to reach Antigua feels unreal – you gotta wanna!” he said at the finish. He battled against 40 foot waves, one of which capsized his boat; in the struggle to get back on board, he gashed his shin on the rudder, an injury he had to carefully nurse for the remainder of the journey to avoid infection. Andrew also suffered technical problems on board, including a broken autohelm, which meant he had to hand steer the boat.
The fours team Bolton Atlantic Challenge completed their race on the 2nd February coming 8th overall followed closely by Team Prosecta in 9th position and two days later Atlantic Inspiration arrived in 10th position. Atlantic Quad were the final team to come in on the 5th February in 11th place.
Sadly Team Inspirational Friends, the only all-female crew of Hannah Lawton and Lauren Morton, had to make the decision, after 96 days at sea, to end their race having encountered a broken rudder and being dragged too far away from Antigua by the current. They showed incredible mental fortitude to stay at sea and maintain their positivity and momentum for such a long period of time.
This meant that of the 16 teams that started out only 11 teams made it to the finish line truly making this the world’s toughest row.