‘Great’ weather as 28 teams set out on transatlantic rowing challenge

Rowers lining up for an annual endurance challenge have finally begun their long-awaited departure from Europe, with a combination of excitement and trepidation about the uncertain journey ahead.

The 28 teams, comprising 88 athletes from a dozen countries, left the Canary Islands on Wednesday morning bound for Antigua in the Caribbean.

It is a journey fraught with peril – from exhaustion, sores and sleepless nights, to the physical challenges of securing a safe passage across the ocean.

The teams left the harbour in La Gomera to cheers and fanfare from supporters, as the annual Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – dubbed the world’s toughest row – got under way.

George Spencer-Churchill
George Spencer-Churchill

Among the competitors is aristocrat George Spencer-Churchill, whose great-great-uncle was Sir Winston Churchill, and who is due to inherit the Blenheim Palace 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 team-mates 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.

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.”

Lukas Haitzmann
Lukas Haitzmann

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.”

We’re currently rowing the Atlantic to show that small actions add up. Please help us support the amazing @mcsuk who are working to protect our seas for us and future generations https://t.co/UMS2u4wR4Opic.twitter.com/Pg2NQqBCjE

— Status Row (@StatusRow) December 12, 2018

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 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.

– To follow the race, visit TaliskerWhiskyAtlanticChallenge.com