What started as an email from one friend to another in January of last year: “Would you be up for rowing across the Atlantic with me?” very quickly turned into a campaign to take on the “Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – The World’s Toughest Row” in December 2020.
An ocean rowing race, #TWAC2020 (for those on social media) will set out in December from La Gomera in the Canaries, to the finish line 3,000 nautical miles west in Antigua. It will pit around 35 crews (from soloists to five member teams) against one another, but more importantly against the Atlantic and their own limits of endurance.
Founded in 1997 by Sir Chay Blyth, the race is organised nowadays by Atlantic Campaigns with Talisker Whisky being the primary sponsor, and this year sees its 15th edition.
Yacht Captain Dan Wise and Web Designer Ian Yates, two Mallorca-based British friends, aim to finish the race in under 50 days and win the pairs category.
They’ll both be in their forties by the time they reach the starting line, hence the team name “Roaring 40s” (though if they ever actually cross 40 degrees south they’ll need to check their route).
Their ocean rowing boat, built by Rannoch Adventure in Essex, is a self-righting fibreglass R25, and is currently located in STP Palma. At 7.3m in length and 1.7m across the beam, it will be their home for almost two months. Cabins fore and aft house supplies, batteries, monitors, and equipment, and will give shelter in extreme conditions and during those rare opportunities for catching a nap.
The boat has two rowing positions which makes a team effort possible when conditions (and energy levels) allow for it, but most of the time will be spent rowing alone. On the whole they’ll work two-hour shifts (two hours on the oars, then two hours for sleeping, eating, boat maintenance, comms, and anything else). This system is the tried and tested approach for maximum ocean rowing efficiency; anything more than two hours rowing and the pace will drop, whilst catching the perfect 90 minute sleep cycle is actually an effective way to replenish energy. That’s the theory anyway.
The reality is that exhaustion is never far away during the Talisker Race. Anyone who’s read Ben Fogle’s “The Crossing” will recall the mental and physical strain both he and partner James Cracknell suffered in 2005. Salt water abrasion of the hands, bum sores, mental fatigue, motion sickness, dehydration. All that on top of the indignity of defecating in a bucket (everyone asks about toilet habits if you mention ocean rowing).
“A sore bum didn’t only reduce the quality of my rowing; it also had an effect on the set-up of the rowing position itself. It was impossible to be comfortable for much more than a few minutes.” — Ben Fogle, The Crossing
To prepare themselves physically, team Roaring40s can regularly be found at Crossfit Mallorca in Son Bugadelles under the watchful eye of their trainer Cathy Clarke. Building stamina and core strength are the two areas of focus, neither of which come without dedication and a fair amount of pain.
Rowers lose a lot of body mass during the Talisker Atlantic Challenge; stepping ashore at English Harbour as sun-baked, tousled, lighter versions of their former selves. Depleted fat reserves (unsurprisingly) account for much of the weight loss, but participants lose plenty of muscle too. Legs do most of the work when rowing in perfect conditions but big seas reduce their effectiveness in ocean rowing. As such, the upper body will gain muscle, but legs (especially calf muscles) waste away after 50 days at sea. Past participants all talk of the aching as they build their legs up and learn to walk again after the race!
At around 100kg, Dan and Ian can expect to lose more than 12kg each, burning thousands of calories around the clock. Race requirements state that they carry 60kcal per kilo of bodyweight each day; so that’s 12,000kcal of food between them, well over half a million calories for the duration. Most of that nutrition comes in the form of freeze-dried meals; packs of dehydrated, energy-rich adventure food which nowadays sound like they’ve been plucked straight from Michelin star restaurants: “Porcini Mushroom Risotto”, “Posh Pork and Beans”, “Squash and Sweet Corn Casserole”, and “Sweet Potato and Peanut Biryani” should provide a varied diet at least.
“Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink” as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner tells, and with each meal needing around half a litre of fresh water to hydrate it, those words will be ringing in the team’s ears should the water maker break. Dan and Ian will be completely dependent on being able to process salt water, and many teams in the past have fallen foul of water maker problems, leading to withdrawal from the race. There will be sealed supplies of fresh water onboard, but using them will incur a time penalty.
When asked what they most feared about the event itself, you’d be forgiven for expecting “capsizing”, or “heavy storms” to factor into their answer. In fact, “failure to reach the end through something like sea sickness, or faulty electrics” is their biggest worry. They don’t seem too bothered about what Mother nature throws at them.
Team Roaring40s are working closely with Plastic Oceans UK, a charity which, through education and positive action, aims to prevent plastics reaching the oceans within a generation. Turning back the tide on what Sir David Attenborough describes as the “appalling damage we have made to the ocean” has never been more important. The team intend to use their efforts to bring even more exposure to one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
With Mallorca being such an important part of the team’s lives, they’re also looking for a charity from the Balearics to work with.
Team Roaring40s began their campaign almost a year ago and have so far raised more than half their target. The funds raised will provide all the equipment and supplies needed, requisite training, travel, logistics, and will ultimately allow them to donate what they hope will be £50,000 to their chosen charities.
It goes without saying that none of this would be possible without the support of their sponsors. Astin’s Construction, M&H, and Mt. Beautiful Winery from overseas, Master Yachts, Mar Engineering, Miller Marine, BM Composites, Sea Systems from here in the Balearics, plus countless individuals, have all given the campaign the sprint start it needed. The search for more sponsors continues.
The remaining eleven months will see the campaign move up a gear; with the boat here in Mallorca genuine ocean rowing training can begin, and the team will be using those training sessions for promotional purposes to give their sponsors as much exposure as possible.
How Can You Help?
Dan and Ian are grateful for any support they receive. Follow them on social media (@teamroaring40s on Instagram and Facebook) and share as much of their antics over the next year as possible!
See where the boat is at any given time and check out what the team is doing. They’ll be taking the boat out for training rows from various marinas in Mallorca throughout the year, so feel free to catch up with them and say hello. If you’re interested in sponsorship or would like to talk to them about having the boat on display at your own event you can reach them via firstname.lastname@example.org