‘I was convinced Will Greenwood was on the boat’

The Four Oarsmen. Picture by Ben Duffy
The Four Oarsmen. Picture by Ben Duffy

Hallucinations, 40ft waves, severe blisters and extreme exhaustion – a Northumberland farmer who helped smash the world record for rowing across the Atlantic Ocean has given his fascinating account of the gruelling journey.

Peter Robinson, from West Ditchburn Farm, near Eglingham, was part of The Four Oarsmen crew to complete the 3,000-nautical mile crossing in 29 days, 14 hours, 34 minutes.

The team, including George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts, finished the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge mid-January, smashing the race record by five days.

Peter has only been back in the county for about a week and last Thursday he spoke about his experiences at the Alnwick and District Sports Awards, during an interview with the event’s guest of honour, Craig Heap.

He said: “I am still a bit sore and my fingers keep swelling up like sausages. But physically I am feeling good and after a few more weeks of rest, I will be fine.”

The team adopted an unrelenting pattern of two hours’ rowing, followed by two hours’ rest for the duration of the journey and Peter admits that sleep deprivation and exhaustion were major battles.

It even led to him believing that former England rugby player Will Greenwood was on board their 25-foot boat. He said: “I woke up after two hours’ break for the graveyard shift – rowing from 4am to 6am. Stu opened the cabin door and I thought Will Greenwood was standing there. I was 100 per cent convinced it was him and he was making me wear rugby shorts, which annoyed me because rowing in rugby shorts isn’t easy.

“I was rowing with George and he asked if I was okay because I was quiet. And I replied: ‘I can’t believe Will is making me wear these shorts.’

“Eventually I snapped out of it and I realised that I had been hallucinating, but for a time I was convinced Will was on the boat. Since then we have actually been in touch with Will and he has followed our journey.”

Explaining how the team got through the tough times, Peter said: “The key was that we knew each other well and laughed at bad situations. There was a point mid-Atlantic where we’d gone too far north and we had to go south across the swells – there were some hairy moments.”

The team lived on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet with no sugar, and filtered sea water. They lost a stone in weight between them.

Despite the tough times, there were some really memorable moments. Peter added: “We had some great encounters with wildlife, including coming across five minke whales, which was a really great experience.”

Now back on dry land, he believes the team might plan another epic adventure. He said: “We are adjusting to normal life and taking on board what we have achieved. We haven’t planned anything yet, but we might in the future.”

○ Sports awards round-up, Pages 34, 35 and 72.