THE CHALLENGE

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Andre Gide

Talisker Whisky Challenge

 

More people have climbed Everest than have rowed across the Atlantic. The first solo voyage was only 46 years ago, only five years before I was born. On 15 December 2015, I set out in a rather small boat and headed off into the vast, restless sea trying very hard not to think of the song, “Row, row, row your boat”! Having that stuck in my head for the next 90 days or so would have been too much.

How it All Began

1966, Sir Charles Chay Blyth rowed across the Atlantic with a friend of his, John Ridgeway. He enjoyed it so much he thought he’d challenge others to do something similar. That competition is now known as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the toughest row on earth.

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The Angry Atlantic

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, The World’s Toughest Row

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The Far Distant Shore

3000 nautical miles across the world’s second largest ocean – alone

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The Empty Horizon

Thank goodness for GPS. It’s the easiest way of knowing if you’re actually moving forward

Following the Gentler Winds

Why does the race, which takes anywhere up to 90 days, start ten days before Christmas?
Simple. Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30 across the Atlantic Ocean, and it averages ten storms a year with as many as six developing into hurricanes. But that’s the average and as much as it would be immensely helpful if they did, hurricanes can’t be relied upon to stick to a time frame. When one is in a rowing boat, bad weather is unpleasant and hurricanes are about as bad as it gets.

It’s to avoid these blustery conditions that the race starts in mid December each year. Like the men in sailing ships who ploughed these waters before the advent of steam we want to follow the balmy Trade Winds. As it turned out, I met the edges of Hurricane Alex and that made for a rough few days!

The Atlantic

It’s the 2nd largest ocean and the saltiest. At nearly 41,105,000 square miles it covers 20% of the earth’s surface and its currents help regulate the Earth’s climate. It’s home to the Sargasso Sea and the singing Humpbacked Whales and for a brief moment in time was my home as well.

The Competition

There were 5 other solo rowers trying to get across the Atlantic faster than me.  After Day 3, we were so spread out, I didn’t know where they were. I had nothing against which to judge how I was doing, other than daily updates from my wife.

The Loneliness

I had to carry all the food, cooking gas, medical aid kit, safety equipment that I needed, plus some extra just in case. No outside support was allowed for the duration of the race. I was on my own the entire time, except for the odd pod of dolphins.

The Route

I kissed my wife and kids goodbye in South Africa after an early Christmas celebration and then flew to San Sebastian de La Gomera. That’s where the race began. From there, I headed west until I saw my family once more – waving hello in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua.

Staying in Touch

It was one of the hardest challenges I’ve attempted, and that includes climbing Everest, because this time, I was alone. But I stayed in touch thanks to the satellite phone I had – my only link to the world beyond that wet and very distant horizon.

The History

The first row across the Atlantic was done by Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, Norwegian-born Americans. They did it in an open, wooden rowing boat. Incomprehensible.

53
Days
12
Hours
21
Minutes
2800
Nautical Miles (5,200KM)

Beards Are ‘In’ at the Moment

Which is a really good thing as I didn’t plan on shaving again once I’d left San Sebastian de La Gomera. It was quite a healthy specimen by the time I reached Nelson’s Dockyard. Amazingly, the wife and kids still recognised me! The Talisker Atlantic Row attracts a select group of people; men and women who hanker after the impossible. In 2015, the teams were made up of a number of solo rowers like myself, some teams of two and teams of four. We had come from all over the globe; Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. My goal was getting across in one piece, preferably first. As it turned out I pulled in third. It was a great race between the me, Stuart Connacher and Matteo Perucchini. Well done guys! And as for the beard…I’ve become quite attached it, so to speak, so for now I’m bearing the mien of Victorian Explorer Deluxe!

 

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The Boat

It’s not an open wooden rowing boat that’s for sure. But it is based on the boat used by John Fairfax, the first man to row solo across the Atlantic and the Pacific. My boat, The Dog House, is made of fibre-glass and has all the electronic gadgets considered necessary, by the race organisers and especially by my wife!

The Supplies

I’ll be burning about 8000 calories a day. That’s a lot of dehydrated food, snack bars and trail mix. And chocolate. Please God, let there be chocolate! According to others who’ve done the trip before, food becomes an obsession. In South Africa, one of our favourite snacks is biltong. I’ll be taking a fair amount of that with me.

The Safety Equipment

Navigation lights, towing eye, life raft, EPRIB, para/sea anchor, life jacket and harness, jackstay, fire extinguisher or blanket, flares, AIS, VHF, satellite phone, yellowbrick GPS tracking device, ipad, hatches, rudder, oars, water maker, fresh water supply, ballast, rowing gates and seat, waterproof bag, cooker and fuel, solar panels, bilge pumps, grab lines, publication manuals, plus 31 other items not including food. Did I mention the boat’s only 7.12m long?

The Water

Because the boat’s not exactly the QE2 I can’t carry all the water I’ll need – I’ll be drinking anywhere between 6 to 8 litres a day – so I’ll have to manufacture drinking water. Drinking salt water’s not good for you; you end up dying of dehydration. Even mild dehydration alters a person’s mood, energy levels and mental function.

I woke up one morning and thought, “The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Row, solo – that might be fun.” Now, that I’ve done it still find myself veering between “Does insanity run in my family?” and feeling like a kid who had the best Christmas ever.

Greg Maud

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Greg is Sponsored by the ELB Group:

Innovation and capability are two of ELB’s greatest assets. Greg will need to demonstrate those characteristics for his row which is why we are proud to be partnering with and sponsoring him in the 2015 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Operating in Africa and Australia the ELB Group is a total solutions provider to the mining, minerals, power, port, construction and industrial sectors in the field of materials handling and appropriate modular process plants.

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Greg is Sponsored by Investec:

Because we believe that education brings growth, not just in individuals but in communities and in South Africa we are proud to be sponsoring Greg Maud in his Atlantic Row. Especially as he’s doing it for such a worthy cause – Streetlight Schools. Investec is an international specialist banking and asset management group, providing a range of financial products and services to clients in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.