Former rugby league player Craig Forsyth continues ‘testing’ row across Atlantic

PA

After being held “prisoner” on sea anchor in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for six days, former rugby league player Craig Forsyth has finally hit the homeward stretch in his solo row from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.

While the UK continues to grapple with confinement caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the 50-year-old has spent the last six weeks, including Christmas, in splendid isolation as he undertakes the gruelling Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

With the nearest crew 129 miles away and only dolphins and an albatross he has called Uncle Albert for company, Forsyth is gradually chalking off the 3,000 miles in the premier event in ocean rowing in his boat, Spoarting Chance.

A Dutch two-man crew, Row4Cancer, were the first to cross the finishing line last Friday in a record time of 32 days, 22 hours and 13 minutes, and, although Forsyth still has around 1,500 nautical miles to go, he is determined to get there.

His race came to a halt when, buffeted by strong south-westerly winds that started to blow him off course, he was forced to drop anchor for almost a week but he is now expected to reach his destination by the third or fourth week of February.

“I am actually making headway towards Antigua,” he wrote in his blog. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

“The six days on sea anchor prison were very testing on the mind and spirit…however that is in the past now, though ingrained in my memory that’s for sure.”

The waves of up to 20 feet high were only the latest in a series of difficulties facing the former prop forward, who set himself a whole host of testing challenges after bringing his 17-year playing career to a close in 2006.

He ran the London Marathon, completed two crossings of the North Pacific Ocean on a sailing boat and undertook a solo cycle ride from Lands End to John O’Groats in a little over five days, all in aid of charity.

According to his partner Emma, his next assignment could be a mountain bike race across Iceland but for now he is fully focused on overcoming the obstacles in his latest challenge, the main ones being the blisters and sores caused by up to 16 hours a day spent on the oars.

It is estimated that rowers burn in excess of 5,000 calories a day and will lose an average of 12kg during the crossing.

Forsyth, who spent two years planning the Atlantic crossing, needs to aim to drink 10 litres of water a day, which he has to collect and purify himself from the sea, consumes a mountain of rehydrated food and uses a bucket on deck for a toilet.

Eighteen entrants failed to make the start line on December 12 due to Covid-19, which also disrupted Forsyth’s preparations and adversely affected his sponsorship, but was never likely to stop him.

Forsyth’s driving forces are Sporting Chance, the mental health charity which helped him to come to terms with the death of his father Colin, also a former rugby league player, in 2018, and ex-Leeds and England scrum-half Rob Burrow, who is battling motor neurone disease.

“He has a photo of his dad and also one of Rob Burrow in his cabin, both reminding him of his motivation,” said Emma, who is in constant touch with Craig via email and satellite phone.

“I am sure there have been times that Craig has felt this is a massive challenge but he also knows he wouldn’t have signed up for it if it wasn’t going to be tough which sort of spurs him on further.

“I have never know Craig to quit anything, he’ll be out there until he rows into Antigua.”

Forsyth, who runs his own construction company in York, initially hoped to raise £1,500 for the MND Association but is now close to reaching a revised target of £7,000.

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