Inspirational duo win Atlantic rowing race

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Atlantic Row 2013

Former Brookes students Dan Howie and Will North won their category in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, one of the toughest challenges known to man.

The two friends powered their tiny two-seater rowing boat across the empty tracts of the Atlantic Ocean in 53 days, 9 hours, 30 minutes and 4 seconds, covering 3,000 miles  from La Gomera to Antigua.

The pair’s challenge was the culmination of years of physical and psychological preparation.

Dan explains: “We were preparing for this for two-and-a-half years. We both had full time jobs so to go out and train was quite tricky.”

Every Friday he and Will would finish their busy jobs in London and head out of the city to the North Sea.

“We used to train at Burnham-on-Crouch. So we’d go down for 24 hours and then 48 hours. We’d eventually spend Friday and Saturday night on the water.”

On top of 48-hour weekend training sessions they were heading to the gym during the week, chasing the £80,000 sponsorship needed for all their equipment, giving talks about their impending adventure and preparing all the kit they needed to survive.

The nature of the challenge – two men in a boat against the full might of the Atlantic Ocean – resulted in a relentless two months.

You are alone out there. There’s a support yacht but that’s going to take a few days to get to you. You do feel pretty isolated, especially if you capsize.

Dan Howie, former Brookes student

One day, battered by huge waves that had seen them capsize two times and almost go under a third, they had to carry on ploughing into the storm.

“It was just getting dark, and we carried on rowing because it’s really important you’re lining the boat up and lining into the waves. Sometimes you just wanted a break but you are always on the go.” 

While being put under unimaginable physical and mental pressures could lead to tense moments, the pair had their friendship, iPods and emails from home every now and then to help.

But aside from the communications technology, they were completely dependent on their own strength and wits for survival. 

“You are alone out there. There’s a support yacht but that’s going to take a few days to get to you. You do feel pretty isolated, especially if you capsize.

“It was quite nice when we did see cargo ships in the distance – you can see things up to about ten miles away,” explains Dan.

After making landfall in Antigua and learning they had won their category, Dan topped off the trip by proposing to his girlfriend Jo Bailey.

Looking back, Dan said the trip was full of unforgettable moments, including the time they saw a huge pod of about 30 whales, or those moments they were utterly alone on the ocean in calm seas with nothing above but starry skies.

Having now settled once again into their lives in London (after trimming off the impressive beards they gained during the challenge), the enormity of their achievement is slowly sinking in.

The pair have so far raised £120,000 for Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and St Anna’s – a home and school for children in Ghana.

Their Virgin Giving page is still open as they aim to reach a target of £200,000.

You can get a glimpse of what they endured by reading their evocative blog full of snippets such as: “Sleep deprivation, severe weight loss, sharks, 50ft waves, physical pain and psychological exhaustion; what’s not to look forward to when out at sea for up to 90 days?!”