I am incredibly fortunate to be in Antigua this year for the culmination of The World’s Toughest Row, or the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge: where men and women embark on a rowing race 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, leaving from the Canary Islands on the 20th December 2015 and arriving into Antigua whenever they can make it.
2015/6’s race appears to be breaking all the boundaries too – we’ve greeted the fastest ever Men’s Fours ‘Ocean Reunion’, the fastest ever Women’s Fours ‘Row Like A Girl’ (one of the girls is the sister to one of the boys!), the oldest men to cross ‘Team Wadadli’ – age 74, 67, 50 and 29), the first all amputee team ‘Row to Recovery’ from the British armed forces, and the youngest ever team ‘Atlantic Castaways’, both aged 20.
I look at these men and women in wondrous awe at their phenomenal achievement. It is said that more people have been into space than have rowed across the Atlantic.
I am also blessed that where I live, I overlook the finish line of the race, so with very few exceptions, I have seen each team arrive – from the middle of the night to the dawn arrivals and many in between…
Even as I write this. there are still many teams out there, fighting personal battles, battles with the wind and the sea and physical battles to make it 3000 miles in a tiny boat powered only by their own physical strength to make it here to Antigua.
When they round the corner to the harbour and we get the first glimpse of them, the boat looks like a mere speck in the colossal ocean. As they near the buoys, through binoculars I can see the sunburnt men and women, lean and muscular, tired yet at peace with themselves.
Then comes the elation as friends and family on the ramparts spot them and cries of “They’re here! They’re here! C’mon you can do it!” ring out across the stillness of the bay.
With shaking hands, overwhelmed at the magnitue of their achievement, they stand in their wobbly craft in between the Talisker Atlantic Challenge buoys and light their flares.
Family on the ramparts stand, arms above their heads, with a flare of response:
“You have done it, truly you have. No-one can ever take this moment from you. This moment, this greatness, this glory, is all yours”.
The big boats in the marina start to sound their horns in a salute of honour, the respect that one mariner gives to another.
A tear rolls down my cheek for each and every team. It is uncontrollable. I feel their pride and I honour them, their battles and their overwhelming achievement: for the fears they have fought, the loneliness, the frustrations and the teamwork. When they leave the confines of their boats they will always be united by their efforts.
I cannot say in any way that I am like them, but my years on the ocean in all kinds of boats has shaped my life and my path. My short time in the Royal Navy gave me the kinship of the armed forces and friendships in the form of unbreakable lifetime bonds.
I am linking here to the final blogpost of Row Like A Girl as Lauren Morton puts into words their feelings as the finish line comes into view. I started reading this aloud to my son but I couldn’t finish as I was sobbing so much I thought I would grow my own ocean.
“Eat, sleep, row, repeat”.
Bye for now, I’ve got some more rowers to track! (Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge Race Tracker).