The 3000 mile Atlantic Row- The Ocean5

It started with a call from one of my good friends will who I had previously worked on a super yacht with! Will is known for his entrepreneurial skills and great ideas so I thought I’d hear him out on this one!

At the time of the call July 2017 I was walking up a mountain with my mum in Switzerland 2 days after just competing in my first ever Ironman event! My body was aching but I was already searching for that next challenge!
Will told me he had recently listened to Kevin Gaskell present a inspired leadership talk in Monaco. After being asked ‘what would you like to do next’ Kev had mentioned he’d love to row across the Atlantic Ocean but hadn’t found anybody else mad enough to do it with … ‘YET’
After putting the idea to my mum who said no pretty much instantly I decided it sounded like an amazing adventure that I just couldn’t turn down! The ball was rolling!
We got together as a team and discussed the idea, way it would work and set out our GOALS and OBJECTIVES! It was clear we wanted to be competitive as a team of 5, we wanted to set the world record for the fastest 5 man row, we wanted to raise £250,000 for the Plastic Soup Foundation and we wanted to remain friends throughout the journey! Now we had the goals set, the 1000 day plan and the team we were ready to start putting things together like sponsorship pack, team kit, banners, business cards, fundraising campaigns, booking onto mandatory courses, building social media platforms, buying our boat etc
We were fully aware there was a mountain of things to do and 2 years would fly by if we didn’t get started straight away.
1 year down the line things are going well, we’d received some large sponsors, training was going well and courses were being ticked off.
We launched our boat on a cold January morning in Cirencester and… it floated but was very tippy as it was just a bare shell! There was a lot to learn and still lots of kit to buy and fit into the boat to ensure we were ready for our 3000 mile row from La Gomera to Antigua in less than 1 years time!
Skipping out a big part of the journey we arrived at the start line fresh, charged up and ready to rock! Everything was ‘DONE’ no stone was yet to be unturned during the training and prep phase! Our minds were fully focused to take on the might of the Atlantic Ocean!
The build up to the race was amazing out in La Gomera! Atlantic campaigns were very thorough from a organisation perspective. The crews boats had to be fully scrutinised and checked over before they could be launched a few days before the race start to ensure all the safety equipment was there and working! We were told our crew and boat was the best prepared in the fleet as we stood around polishing our hull for the 5th time! We were fortunate in the fact we had our boat for the previous 12 months and had the time to prep whereas other crews were spread all over the world and were slightly less prepared!
BANG… the guns goes off! We’re off! Myself, Kev and Will at the oars, Hodgy the skipper helming and Matt in the cabin with nothing between us and Antigua other than 3000 miles of ocean!
Things got off to a great start and we were making some great progress within the fleet increasing our position to 2nd over night! Then the weather turned for the worse! Once we got out of the lee of the islands the strong south easterly wind and waves hit us throwing us all over the place like a bottle in a washing machine! We were aiming to go south of a waypoint off the coast of El Hierro (the most westerly of the Canary Islands) but the wind and waves didn’t want us to go that way! Subsequent to the violent conditions we snapped 2 of our carbon fibre oars as the boat lurched to starboard! We were shocked, it was 4am, it was cold and we were shitting it!
After 5 seconds or so we regained our nerves, got the boat back on track and replaced our written off oars with our only 2 spares. We now knew what we’d let our selfs in for!
The wind stayed with us for 12 hours or so before easing off in the morning to make more pleasant rowing conditions. This is where we could assess the damage and make contact with shore based parties to inform them of the damage. We also heard that other crews had had a hard time that night with sea sickness, broken oars and even going on the wrong direction! Atlantic campaigns were brilliant at getting us all back on track via satellite phone. We were not allowed any outside assistance during the row otherwise it would count as a assisted crossing!
Great start!!
We took a more northerly route in comparison to the other boats as we were informed by our weather router there was wind filling in from the north which would benefit us as we could bear down with the wind and carry more speed!
Living onboard was tough! 5 big blokes, a 28 foot boat and only a bucket to use as a toilet!
We opted for a 2 hour on, 2 hour off shift pattern with a team of 2 and a team of 3 rowing. Kevin and Chris were sharing the aft cabin and myself Matt and will shared the bow cabin which meant that 50% of mine and mats 2 hours off was shared! That made sleeping and space very limited as you can imagine fitting 2 x 6ft 3 + blokes in a cabin the same size as a medium hatch back car boot!
Coming off the oars we would eat, clean our bits with wet wipes and try to dry off as much as possible before settling down for 60-80 minutes! When the hatch opened i would often get a light spray of salt water over my forehead which brought me back down to earth as to the challenge i was undertaking whilst dreaming about being in bed at home!
The team worked extremely well together and not a cross word was said throughout the trip although we were mentally and physically exhausted 100% of the time. Everybody knew their role and just cracked on! The only time we stopped rowing was briefly on change overs, New Year’s Eve for 20 minutes to open letters from family members/ eat Terry’s chocolate orange and 3 times to wash the bottom of the boat! Bearing our goals in mind we wanted to cross that ocean in the quickest time possible!
The sunrises and sunsets were simply amazing, the wildlife, the flying fish, the banter, the stars and the moonlit skies were something I’ll remember for the rest of my life! Only in the middle of the ocean 1500 miles from any land will you find your true self and what you really stand for! It was here I knew this is what I was meant to do! I’d found my assignment and I was in my element!!
We had good days where we covered 90-100 miles + with a strong tail wind and we had bad days where we covered less than 40 miles! Rowing as hard as we could and only covering 2 miles in a hour was soul destroying but the tunes stayed on, the spirits stayed high and we knew that every mile closer to Antigua meant that we were closer to getting off the boat, seeing our families and having a Pina colada!
We managed to find our groove and with the help of family at home keeping a very close eye on the yellow brick tracker we were able to have feedback on position in the fleet, distance to next boat and other interesting points! This kept us very motivated knowing we were in 4th position overall and doing a great job!
The days ticked by, the squalls came through as did some big waves (one of which knocked us down onto our side) subsequently loosing some seats pads, water bladder, bottles etc! We rowed through Christmas, new year and into 2020 overcame pain, fear, and everything else and were edging closer to our destination!
Our family were in close contact with Atlantic campaigns who were organising our families flights out to Antigua! Our boat speed during the last 2 weeks was crazy! We were flying!! Which meant that the family’s flights were moved from the 20th of January to the 16th of January to ensure they didn’t miss us! By this point we were loving it, surfing down waves, tunes blaring, loving life and within a week of the finish! Everybody was hurting but we were all doing our bit to get to that finish line!
LIGHTS OF ANTIGUA!
The island was in sight! We haven’t seen land for 35 days!!! So this was unreal! I couldn’t even sleep on my last 2 hours off because I was so excited so I just got on the oars and gave a little extra push! We’d cleaned the boat down, got our nice clean T-shirt’s on which we then decided to take off for the finishing photo and came round the corner of the headland where the safety boat met us with all of the film crew on and instructed us to put our oars down and told us we had just crossed the line!
I don’t think any of could quite believe we’d broke the record by 23 hours! We gathered our flares together and set them off for our classic Atlantic row finish photo 🙂
We had beaten the previous world record by 23 hours and finished 4th overall in the 2019-2020 race! We were over the moon! The Ocean5 had done it!
The dock where we met our families, press, Atlantic campaigns and our first cooked meal was 1/2 a mile away into the bay so we slowly rowed our way in to the dock where we were greeted by a huge group of people
With banners, signs, drums, flares, you name it. It was such an amazing experience as we pulled along side and held up our flags itching to get off the boat to give our loved ones a hug!
I had prepared to propose to my girlfriend Tash when we arrived on land which was one of the things that kept me going for the duration of the trip! Everything went smoothly with my mum passing the box into my hand as I hugged her wobbling around all over the place! I dropped down to one knee and… SHE SAID YES! There couldn’t of been a better way to finish an amazing adventure!
I would like to say a massive thank you to all of our sponsors, donations and to all of those that helped us along our journey! It couldn’t of been completed without you and we are truly grateful!
We raised over £150,000 for charity and remained friends to this day!
The next 2 weeks was spent sunning it up and driving round in a 4×4 jeep exploring the island 🙂 what a way to finish!
Thank you for taking the time to read it and I hope you enjoyed my Atlantic Row Blog 🙂