Team gears up for Atlantic row

The Four Oarsmen. Picture by Kevin Temple
The Four Oarsmen. Picture by Kevin Temple

‘We are starting to realise just how big a challenge this will be’. That is the frank admission by one member of a hardy rowing crew which is preparing to tackle a daunting fund-raising challenge.

Peter Robinson, from West Ditchburn Farm, near Eglingham, as well as George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts, are gearing up to row 3,000 nautical miles in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

The arduous journey, described as The World’s Toughest Row, will take the team, aka The Four Oarsmen, from the shores of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, to English Harbour, in Antigua.

The quartet has been training hard to prepare for the challenge, starting in December and which could take the best part of 40 days.

And as the start date ticks ever closer, the realisation of what it will take to row across the Atlantic – the world’s second-largest ocean – is beginning to hit home.

Peter, 32, said: “We have been training really hard for this. We did a two-and-a-half day row up to Dunbar, which was tough – especially with the strong offshore wind – but it was good practice. Six weeks ago I joined another crew to row from Suffolk to the Netherlands, which took 45 hours.

“So physically, we are really fit, and it is becoming more and more clear that it will be a mental battle. After three days of rowing, we were pretty knackered, so doing it for 40 days will all be about the mindset. We have come to realise that it is a difficult thing that we have set ourselves.”

It most certainly is. Tackling the feat in a 25-foot boat, the team will have to rely solely on their own manpower, routing and interpretation of the weather conditions, battling against ungodly sleep patterns, physical exhaustion, subzero temperatures and stormy seas.

Starting the race on December 12, the team will adopt a pattern of rowing for two hours and sleeping for two hours for the duration of the challenge.

Sub-zero temperatures at night will be followed by 40-degree heat during the day, coupled with large waves and cramped sleeping quarters.

The team will process sea water through a solar-powered unit, producing around six gallons of water per day for cooking and hydration. Dried ration packs and food plucked from the ocean will also be on the menu.

But when the going gets tough, the gang will focus their attention on just why they are doing the challenge – to raise money for two charities: Mind, the mental health charity; and Spinal Research.

It’s these two good causes which are really inspiring the Oarsmen, because the reason for choosing them is personal.

George’s mother Anne Fisher spent her entire adult life battling with mental illness before her untimely death in 2011. Meanwhile, Peter’s friend, Ben Kende, suffered a spinal-cord injury at the age of 18 while he was playing rugby in Hong Kong, where Peter lived and worked for a few years. The injury left Ben as a tetraplegic, with limited use of his arms and no use of his legs.

The team is determined to raise a six-figure sum for the charities and their money-making efforts are going well.

But they are not resting on their laurels and, in the quest to collect as much money as possible for the two charities, they are holding numerous fund-raising events before they take on the Atlantic.

On Saturday, September 30, at Alnwick Rugby Club, Peter will be competing in a two-hour rowing challenge, going up against a team from George F White, starting at 4.30pm.

The Four Oarsmen are also staging fund-raisers in London this month.

Dicky, 32, used to live in Northumberland, but is now based in Houston, Texas, while George, 32, and Stuart, 34, live in the London area. To donate, visit thefouroarsmen.com