Rowing the Atlantic Ocean - Force Atlantic

Date: Thursday December 12, 2019 at 3:00pm

In Lewis Carroll’s words, “The time has come” the Walrus said, “to speak of many things”, as the crew of FORCE ATLANTIC surely will need to become very good at, as they hone their sights on the start line of the 2019/20 race. The crew has finally sent their boat ‘Daphne’, to be shipped to La Gomera, for the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2019/20.  In just over a month, from the 12th December, the intrepid foursome from the Army Foundation College at Harrogate, will push off from the Canary Islands on a 3000-mile journey across the Atlantic. Known to be the ‘World’s Toughest Row’, the FORCE ATLANTIC crew will row a 9m fiberglass boat, for 3000 miles to Antigua, in the Caribbean.

Depending on the weather, it is expected to take between 40 and 50 days to reach the destination of English Harbor. FORCE ATLANTIC will be racing against some 40 crews to the other side of the Atlantic - including one from the Royal Navy called ‘HMS Oardacious’! Competitors race in one of five of categories, separated by the number of members of crew, from the ‘fives’ to the especially brave solo rowers. FORCE ATLANTIC, competing in the fours category, will not only be racing to beat the Navy team and win their class, but will be seeking a few world records! By the time they hit Antigua, FORCE ATLANTIC aims to be both the ‘First Serving Armed Forces’ and ‘Fastest Armed Forces’ crew to cross the Atlantic, in addition to a personal record of ‘Fastest Teenager to row the Atlantic’ for 18 year old crew member, Kingsman Kian Helm LANCS. The current record the crew aims to beat sits around 43 days – if they beat that they will enter the record books!


The last two months have been the most frantic yet. After 18 months of planning, the crew have been working night and day to perfect the living conditions of their rowing boat, organising food, and racking up the hours on the open water. Having the boat full time in a garage on camp, has given FORCE ATLANTIC the opportunity to really dig into the tiny details that should make their crossing as bearable as possible. Using breathable seat pads from wheelchairs, foot strapping from windsurf boards, and heat resistant and reflective, materials from kitchen ovens, the crew have stretched the breadth of their imaginations to customize the boat to their liking, for maximum survivability.  

FORCE ATLANTIC have had incredible help from the local community to help them get ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Hartlepool Marina in particular has been exceptionally hospitable of their rowing antics! The crew has been launching from and returning to Hartlepool, on the North West coast, in order to train on and experience genuine open water rowing. The conditions on the British coast are famously difficult to navigate, with exceptionally strong tides and innumerable sandbanks and rock outcroppings, which force the sea into difficult currents and tide ways. These can cause British ocean rowers to learn a lot of fast lessons – spending time mastering the tack and jibe needed to cross a powerful off shore wind, or reading the eddies caused by a tide shifting. All valuable skills, but not relevant to the rolling swells, and unrestricted weather of the open ocean! Hartlepool has offered FORCE ATLANTIC the chance to push out directly into the North Sea, to get a feel for the world within a watery 360-degree horizon.  


The crew set about a solid week rowing concentration in October, where for four days, they rowed day in, day out, on the open water. A great deal was taken away from this experience – the guys set about unlearning the lessons of the estuaries and rivers, and had a crash course in the ‘big sea’! The final day of rowing was a 24 mile round trip from Hartlepool to Saltburn, looping out into the sea. Saltburn, being crew member Capt Chris Hames’ (RAPTC) hometown, saw a wonderful turn out of local supporters and well-wishers to great us at the end of Saltburn Pier.

The next stop for the crew is La Gomera, where they will spend ten days completing a series of kit checks and safety briefings from the race organisers, Atlantic Campaigns. This protected window of acclimatisation to the equatorial sun will also give FORCE ATLANTIC the chance to check out the competition and titivate with the boat before the off, and 40 days of rowing. On the impending row, Captain Alex Walsh RL said, “I can’t believe we have finally got to this stage… we might have been talking about it and training for it for what seems like two years, however it still feels as though H-hr has crept up on us! There is no doubt we are prepared for the challenge ahead – bring on the Atlantic!”

There is still opportunity to support the guys and their chosen charity, the Army Benevolent Fund, for whom they are seeking to raise £100,000.   Be sure to follow the crew’s journey at FORCE


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