29th Jan 2020

FLiP Sponsored Atlantic Ambition Completes The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Following on from our previous post which can be found here, we are delighted to announce that FLiP sponsored Atlantic Ambition has now completed The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Below is a guest blog from a supporter of the crew:

Atlantic Ambition arrived in English Harbour, Antigua after 39 days 7 hours and 41 minutes at sea, rowing night and day, two hours on, two hours off – and, unsurprisingly, it was an overwhelmingly emotional roller-coaster.

Their ETA had moved constantly by days, and then hours; at one moment they would be due to arrive in the very early hours, then the next day. In the event, they arrived at the perfect time for great photos and a busy welcome: lots of people around and all the mega yachts able to let rip with their horns!

The team at Talisker gave the family and friends another very helpful briefing before their arrival.  This time it was about what to expect: that the crew would be more interested in time spent debriefing with other rowers and that making decisions over trivial matters (like when would you like your adoring public to book your flight home?  And did you remember that you don’t have anywhere to live in London on your return?) would be well beyond their capabilities. We had already seen other boats arrive with crews’ reactions varying from pretty manic to stunned and disorientated, so we were a little anxious, particularly over whether the slender Jon would now be on the skeletal side.  The rowers will not have stood up for 40 days and although parts of their bodies will have been in an extreme workout, their spines will be compromised as well as used to being crouched over the oars.  They will therefore be incredibly wobbly on dry land.  It is also quite stressful coming into English Harbour as they have been in open water (admittedly with some huge challenges) but once you near land, the whole adventure can come to a dreadful end if you misjudge the last few miles.  In a previous year one solo rower missed the harbour entrance and was not able to row back against the prevailing wind and tide and so did not officially finish the race!

At the moment, the general consensus is that it has been a horrible year to row the Atlantic.  The reason the race is held at this time of year is that the Trade Winds become steady and dependable, with an average speed of 15 knots and 2m seas.  This year the winners were hit by a 12m wave (higher than a three storey house) which pitch-poled the boat end over end.  The fleet has/is experiencing 30+ knots and often waves of 5m or more.  Worse than this, you would expect the weather to come from the east behind the boat and pushing it forwards, but they have constantly contended with seas on the beam, which are waves approaching the boat sideways and as you can imagine, very difficult to row in resulting in many broken oars.  Also, on occasions, winds have even been from in front of the boat forcing them away from Antigua.  The locals in Antigua point to unusually high tides and rain in January which does not usually happen.

The first sight you can get of the boat’s arrival is from an ancient fort that juts into the harbour, so some of the families decamped up there with flags and whistles.  Finally you see a tiny, low down boat approach around the headland accompanied by the coastguard.  It was the best sight in the world.  They row towards you with one of the crew hand steering the boat and cross the finishing line just in front of the fort, and then the Safety Officer lets off a flare to acknowledge their time of arrival, the two accompanying ribs let off flares and zoom around and around the row boat taking photos as the boys then let rip with their own flares.  Suddenly everything becomes a roaring, fast moving, flashing finale.

We then ran back to Nelson’s Dockyard to welcome the boys ashore.  Again, lots of hype from the Talisker CEO, more incredibly loud blasts from the expensive yachts, everyone stops to come to the waterside (the Antiguans are wonderfully supportive and interested in the race), more flares and the boys carefully manoeuvre alongside.  They are helped ashore, all of them being taken by surprise by the physical reaction to stepping on to dry land.  Talisker make a great event of each boat finishing the race.  The boys were interviewed and asked about the highlights and whether they would do it again.  This year a Dane, Lasse Hansen, rowed for the second year running; and Max Thorpe came back to complete the challenge having suffered a catastrophic capsize in 2017 resulting in an electrical fire onboard and split batteries, requiring rescue by a tanker in dramatic circumstances – and did it in style by breaking the record for a pair’s crossing!

Atlantic Ambition were generally of the opinion that although they wouldn’t row the Atlantic again, they would wholeheartedly endorse others’ desire to attempt it.  They had been warned by the sports psychologist they had consulted that they should plan for something to challenge themselves in the future, to prevent post race despondency.  Ewan is contemplating a cycle from London to Rome to support his godmother who was recently paralysed in a surfing accident or pretty much anything that does not take over his life in training, find-raising and masses of admin for three years, while trying to hold down a busy job!

What was most interesting from the family and friends perspective was just how normal and so themselves the boys were when they stepped ashore.  It was quickly apparent that they had performed this heroic undertaking as the close knit friends they are and it had only strengthened their relationships.  One of the fairly bizarre arrangements is that all crews are immediately sat down, after greeting their supporters, for a meal at an isolated table in the middle of the dockyard.  We had already watched certain crews wolf their meals down with some of the social niceties definitely missing!  Ewan, James, Jon and Ed politely waited until all were settled and clinked glasses before eating their meal, although Ewan did later admit he was gagging for the food.  They even sat and chatted away – one would have thought they had exhausted all conversational gambits at sea!

The following days were spent by the boys welcoming in other crews in, regaling us with incredible stories of the row, a lot of eating and quite some drinking especially following one or two years of teetotal life prior to the race!  They are still experiencing bad backs, inability to walk far comfortably due to calf wastage and very painful hands that Ewan in particular is unable to close as they are seized in an oar clasp, along with the recovery from sore bottoms, blistered hands and feet and various fungal infections.  But on the up side they have stories to beat all comers!  They at present hold the speed record for this year of 17.1 knots, they swam with dolphins, a large shark followed them for several days, experienced incredible unpolluted night skies, and survived ridiculous hallucinations including mistaking the moon for an oncoming ship!

Their next challenge is to re-enter everyday life but bear in mind that there are still rowers out there competing in the Talisker Challenge, some of the solo rowers are barely over halfway and not due in until the beginning of March!

Congratulations to Atlantic Ambition from everyone at FLiP!!