A team of four young men, including the skipper from Alnwick, have set off from London’s Tower Bridge on an epic 2,000 mile, non-stop rowing race around Britain.
Wim Stevenson, 28, a design and sales manager, and his three mates in The Rough Ready Row crew, left at 11am on Friday (June 3) on the demanding challenge. They will be tackling the most dangerous and fast-turning tides on the planet, totally unaided.
Their race is against the clock - they need to complete the journey in less than 26 days, 9 hours, 9 minutes and four seconds to set a new a new Guinness World Record.
They will cross the globe’s busiest sea lanes and have to avoid heavy shipping, including car ferries and industrial fishing trawlers.
The route is known as the World’s Toughest Rowing Challenge and more people have landed on the moon than completed it. But the lads are absolutely focused on conquering this brutal and mind-numbing, two-on-two-off, non-stop rowing routine.
Wim's team-mates are Andrew Mason, 27, a property developer from Barnard Castle; Fred Moore, 25, a recruitment consultant from Richmond, North Yorkshire; and Kyle Booysens, 25, from York, who is studying an MBA at Manchester Business School.
They left Tower Bridge, rowed out of the Thames estuary, turned right and planned to go clockwise around the country, returning to Tower Bridge.
To be on target to break the record, they need to be past Skye in Scotland by June 17 and past Newcastle by June 22. They must maintain an average rowing speed of 2.5 knots, not easy when some of the rip tides they will encounter can run at 9 knots and more.
The four have trained for two years in all weathers all around Britain from Boulmer off the Northumberland coast to Ullswater in the Lake District, including hours of rigorous rowing, strength building work and tireless fundraising.
They have also spent many hours renovating the boat – nicknamed The Pig – and obtained the specialist kit and supplies to see them through a month at sea, entirely unsupported. In their own time, early in the morning, at night after work and at the weekends they have had to complete a rigorous training routine, often by themselves, in order to prepare physically for the demands of the challenge.
“Our training has certainly been varied and we’ve tried to replicate some of the toughest conditions possible to prepare ourselves for the challenge,” said Kyle. “We have had to push ourselves to the absolute limit – even beyond the limit on one occasion which ended with up with the RNLI coming to our rescue.”
Back on dry land, the boys have also undertaken a number of rowing machine challenges in city centres to draw attention to their cause. Inviting members of the public to have a go at rowing has been a quick way to make them appreciate how demanding this sport is after even a short time without any sea state or adverse weather to contend with.
The four friends have also set out to raise awareness and vital funds for the Natalie Kate Moss Trust, a charity set up in 2012 in honour of their close friend who died suddenly, aged just 27, of a brain haemorrhage.
The Trust works in partnership with Manchester University and has two objectives. Firstly, it supports students who have suffered a brain injury to complete a degree course at the university. Secondly, it contributes to funds for ground-breaking research into new treatments for Stroke and, significantly, its prevention.
“Natalie was simply an epic human being and a dear friend to us,” said Andrew. “She was really well known in our wider community and many of our support team have stepped forward to help us out of respect for Natalie to help boost our mission to raise awareness and funds for other people affected by brain injury. Her charity is doing amazing work but needs a lot of money to continue its support and research programmes.
"We really hope our completion of this challenge will catapult the charity to a level where other people are inspired to take on a challenge, raise money and support all its fantastic work in the future.”
So far, the Rough Ready Row crew has raised £80,000 – but they are still a long way off their £150,000 target. They hope that now their challenge is under way, people will appreciate the effort they are making and the risks they are taking and donate what they can to the NKM Trust at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RoughReadyRow.
The Rough Ready Row challenge will be exactly that, a challenge. They will row round-the-clock in pairs, with the resting two sleeping as best they can on board the boat. In every 24-hour block, they will each average around 12 hours of rowing and burn an estimated 6,000 calories.
In each two hour period they are not rowing, they need to navigate, fix the boat, eat and keep themselves as clean as possible – any sores or scrapes won’t heal, they’ll just get worse. The sheer monotony of what they will have to face, together with sleep deprivation, the effects of cold, sea water and the elements will certainly take its toll on them both individually and as a team.
While they have strategies to deal with the worst of these effects – rowing naked to avoid pressure sores being one of them – there will be times when each one of them will be driven beyond their personal endurance. At that point, it will only be the cohesion of the team and ‘the top two inches’ that will keep them going.
Despite the physical and mental challenge and inevitable hardship ahead, the boys were absolutely ready to row.
“We have been preparing for two years now and we’re as ready as we’ll ever be to undertake the challenge,” said skipper Wim before they set off. “Our three-day delay waiting for the weather to calm down enough to get started has meant we have been on tenterhooks for too long. We are raring to go now. We’re nervous of course – who wouldn’t be? But we’re ready to give this our best shot for Natalie and know our families, friends and supporters have got our back as we head out to sea.”
To find out more about the Rough Ready Row, visit roughreadyrow.co.uk.