Rowers prepare for marathon quest in Atlantic Challenge

A pair of grandfathers, a teenage solo adventurer and the heir to the Blenheim Palace estate are among the competitors lining up for a Transatlantic endurance race dubbed the world’s toughest row.

The 28-teams comprising 88 athletes from a dozen countries competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge are looking to raise millions of pounds for their designated charities during the 3,000-mile slog, which begins on Wednesday.

The journey from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to English Harbour in Antigua can take up to three months, meaning competitors will be forced to swap their Christmas dinners for a military-style ration pack or boil-in-the-bag meal.

George Spencer-Churchill
George Spencer-Churchill

Crews will battle sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue and the perils of living in confined spaces, as well as whatever Mother Nature can throw at them, as they bid to cross safely from Europe to the Americas with little other than the sea and sky as far as the eye can see.

Among the competitors will be aristocrat George Spencer-Churchill, whose great-great-uncle was former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, and who is due to inherit the Oxfordshire estate.

The 26-year-old, known as the Marquis of Blandford, said the row would represent a departure from daily life for him and his three teammates raising money for children’s charity Starlight.

He told the Press Association: “Sporting-wise, I’ve not done a lot like this.

“I’m a helicopter pilot which was a long-drawn process (to qualify), that was tough but nothing compared to this.

“We are very much an amateur team of rowers, hopefully that won’t matter.”

Sandhurst Military College graduates Peter Ketley and Neil Young, aged 62 and 61 from Hampshire and Berkshire respectively, said being the oldest competitors in the fleet would not hold them back.

Neil Young and Peter Ketley
Neil Young and Peter Ketley

Mr Ketley said: “We are probably twice the age of most the teams here, but I don’t think that’s a problem.

“We have got the mental capacity to do this.”

At the other end of the scale, Lukas Haitzmann will be looking to become the youngest solo adventurer to row the Atlantic, even though his parents have reservations about his participation.

The 18-year-old from Windsor said: “My dad was understandably not very happy when I told him what I was doing.

“He’s going to be proud in the end but he’s worried.

“But as long as I’m sensible on the ocean and do things properly, I’ll be all right.”

Rowers Jess Rego, Caroline Wilson and Susan Ronaldson
Rowers Jess Rego, Caroline Wilson and Susan Ronaldson

All-female British trio Status Row will be looking to raise awareness of sea pollution, with sponsorship money from their race being donated to the Marine Conservation Society.

Team member Jess Rego, 29, who is originally from Bermuda but lives in east London, said: “Plastic has become such a big problem in such a short space of time that we thought if we don’t do something about it now we are going to struggle to come back from here.

“There are small steps everyone can take, much like rowing an ocean: it’s a big problem but you can make progress every day.”

Other teams include former solo Paralympic athlete Kelda Wood, who set up an organisation supporting traumatised children including victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.

Yorkshire male foursome Row for Victory said they are aiming to land in Antigua ahead of the pack on their way to raising thousands of pounds for their designated military charities.

The current race record of 29 days and 15 hours was set by London quartet the Four Oarsmen last year.

Carsten Heron Olsen, chief executive of Atlantic Campaigns which runs the race, said: “Every year we are blown away by the preparedness and the dedication of the teams, many of which have spent years organising their campaign and getting themselves in the best possible place to take on this extremely challenging row.

“The weather is looking great for the race start with good winds out of La Gomera so those who are going for a record-breaking crossing should be able to make excellent early progress.

“It’s going to be a fascinating race.”

Rowers are expected to burn around 750,000 calories over the course of the race, with the first ones arriving in Antigua around the third week in January.

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