‘We will be battling a lack of sleep, blisters, 40-foot waves and sharks’

The Four Oarsman. From left: George Biggar, Dicky Taylor, Peter Robinson and Stuart Watts.
The Four Oarsman. From left: George Biggar, Dicky Taylor, Peter Robinson and Stuart Watts.

More people have been into space or climbed Everest than have rowed the Atlantic.

But that daunting fact is not stopping a hardy group of fund-raisers from tackling a gruelling charity challenge across the world’s second-largest ocean.

Two of the team on the rowing machine at Real Fitness gym, in Alnwick.

Two of the team on the rowing machine at Real Fitness gym, in Alnwick.

Peter Robinson, from West Ditchburn Farm, near Eglingham, will be joined by George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts, 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.

During that time, they 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.

Tackling the feat in a 25-foot boat, the ambitious quartet have their eyes fixed on winning the race and even breaking the record for the crossing, which was set in 2015 and stands at 37 days.

But whatever the final result, simply completing the journey is an achievement in itself.

And they hope that the real winners are the two charities that they are rowing in aid of: Mind, the mental health charity; and Spinal Research.

It’s these two good causes which are really inspiring the team, 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.

Wanting to call on her own experiences and struggles to help others fighting the same battles she had, she’d re-trained as a mental health and addiction counsellor, joined the Samaritans and became a trustee of Mind.

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 life-changing injury left Ben as a tetraplegic, with limited use of his arms and no use of his legs.

The team is determined to raise £100,000 for the charities. But The Four Oarsmen also need to muster £100,000 just to get to the start line, and they are appealing for financial support to help them do this.

Peter, a 31-year-old farmer, said: “The boat, on-board equipment, on-shore support, insurance (life and boat) and all the other things all cost money and, without these, our mission just isn’t possible. Put simply, coupled with our collective life savings, we are relying on donated funds to help foot the bill.

“Anne Fisher and Ben Kende have inspired us to take on this monumental challenge and we are proud to be rowing for Mind and Spinal Research.”

And what a monumental challenge it will be. Starting the race on December 12 this year, 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 from the ocean 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.

Peter said: “The crossing will be unbelievably gruelling, with sleep deprivation, hallucinations, salt sores, blisters-on-blisters and heat exhaustion all highly likely to play a part in proceedings, not to mention the 40-foot waves, sharks and cramped living quarters.”

The team is putting in a lot of hard work to prepare for the challenge. Over the Christmas period, they completed a 24-hour continuous indoor row at Alnwick’s Real Fitness gym, taking it in turns to row for two hours and then rest for two hours, covering 610,000 metres in the process. This was followed by a two-day hike of the Cheviots, clocking a total distance of 80 miles.

In July, they will do a 250-mile, four-day practice row from Scotland to Norway.

Peter said: “We have all rowed a little bit, but we are relative novices at the moment.

“The team has been putting in a lot of hard work in preparing for the challenge and we aim to be in peak condition on the start line, with the aim of winning the race.

“As well as the physical training, we will be doing various courses such as sea survival and navigation, and we have been seeking expert psychological advice and strategy training, as well as raising our team profile to raise funds and awareness for our charities.

“We are dedicating every spare minute of every day to preparation.”

Dicky, 31, used to live in Northumberland, but is now based in Houston, Texas, while George, 31, and Stuart, 33, live in the London area. Stuart works for Deltek, George works for Taylor Wessing and Dicky works for Accenture.

To make a donation or for more details about the team, visit thefouroarsmen.com