By Guy Rigby
We are regularly told that the hardest part of an Atlantic row is getting to the start line. I’m not yet entirely convinced about that (!) but with around five weeks to go until our departure, and with our shore-based preparations very nearly complete, it’s easy to dismiss the countless hours of planning and preparation and focus on the enormity of the challenge to come!
As two relative landlubbers with only a smidgeon of relevant experience, it’s impossible to predict how we will cope with life on the ocean. In my own case, I wonder how I will handle the relentless regime of rowing for twelve hours a day, the short sleep cycles, dried food, the immense physical pressure, storms and up to forty-foot waves? Only time will tell, but now seems like a good moment to reflect on our activities so far, and how we got here.
It all started in 2019. Having recently entered my 67th year, the realisation dawned that it would be easy to adopt a kind of “cruise control” mentality and carry on with life as usual. However, it seemed to me that to do so would almost certainly lead to a sense of dissatisfaction later on. The urge to do something real, while body and soul were theoretically still capable, became all consuming.
To cut a long story short, I realised I didn’t want to (couldn’t?) climb mountains or run forty marathons back-to-back, but I did think I might be able to row. That was when the “world’s toughest rowing race”, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, swam into view!
The initial plan was to assemble a four-man team. However, all of my “dead cert” entrepreneurial friends quickly excluded themselves. One of my early targets even left half of his drink on the bar to escape my obviously over-enthusiastic sales patter!
That was until I spoke to David Murray, the son of my old friend Richard, who had died of pancreatic cancer in 2017. David was an almost instant convert and a breath of fresh air. Before finally committing, we and our wives, Nicky & Aly, travelled to La Gomera in December 2019 to find out more and see the start of that year’s race.
Needless to say we came back to the UK mightily enthused (there’s very little fear when a challenge is two years away!) and, at about the same time, we discovered that if we did the race together, rather than as a four, we would be the oldest pair ever to row any ocean. That sealed our fate, as well as adding fifteen to twenty days to our crossing time! And so it was that we duly registered in January 2020 and the preparations began in earnest.
It may sound simple but, looking back over the last twenty-one months, it’s incredible what we have had to plan, learn and do. Collectively, we have spent thousands of hours and there have been plenty of highs, as well as (from my point of view, at least) moments of uncertainty and self-doubt! Luckily the highs have comfortably outnumbered the lows, which have typically centred around having too much to do and a lack of available time!
To start with, we needed to organise our race entry and liaison with the organisers, decide on a team name and identity, identify and select our charitable cause and recruit a support team. As with any business, our support team has grown. Our thanks go to our original stalwarts Clare, Duncan, Simon E, Simon J, Louisa and James, more latterly joined by Darren, Tom, Cordelia, Jhanvi, Romana, Chris, Kristin & Barry. On the charity side we have been supported by Mark, Nick & Christie. We are so lucky to have you all on board!
The charity we chose to support is called UnLtd, also known as The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs. This amazing organisation finds, funds and supports social entrepreneurs in the UK, with a large proportion of its funding going to people from marginalised backgrounds, including women, the disabled and people from minority backgrounds. Many of the communities it helps are overlooked or located in under-served areas, so it is truly at the heart of the “levelling-up” agenda.
Our next step was to identify our structure and divide our responsibilities. Our respective skills pointed at David acting as Quartermaster dealing with general supplies and all things technical and medical (including, most importantly, our nutrition) and me dealing with boat acquisition, logistics and maintenance along with registrations, structure and finance. This basic split has served us well, although we are both available to support each other whenever required.
You don’t pay entry fees, buy boats, pay a myriad of different expenses AND raise money for charity without fundraising so, having decided on our cause and the use of a corporate structure, “The Entrepreneur Ship Ltd” was duly formed. Our strategy was to engage the entrepreneurial community to raise both sponsorship and donations with a view to making a meaningful contribution to UnLtd.
After some initial seed funding from David & I, we were delighted to land our first and principal sponsor in the autumn of 2020. We will always be grateful to Smith & Williamson for their commitment which gave us, and other potential sponsors, the confidence to move forward. The long winter months were spent contacting just about everyone we knew and we have ended up with an incredible tally of 24 sponsors and 20 support networks. The former have contributed in cash or in kind and the latter will help us promote our challenge and cause while we are on the ocean (and, hopefully, following our arrival).
To date, including sponsorship, donations and pledges, we have raised a total of in excess of £500,000. Our next target is £750,000 and our dream is to raise £1 million. To reach this, we know that our campaign will need to go viral. As followers and supporters, you can help us here!
The winter months duly gave way to spring and March saw the acquisition of our boat, Lily. Lily (aka “The Entrepreneur Ship”) is a 24-foot ocean rowing boat built by Rannoch Adventure in 2019 and rowed across the Atlantic by Cameron and Anna McLean, the brother and sister pair known as “The Seablings”, in the 2019 race. She holds two records – one for the first brother and sister pair ever to row the Atlantic and the other for the fastest crossing of a mixed pair. We very much hope to burnish these credentials by adding the world record for the oldest pair (David would have preferred the youngest!) ever to row any ocean. I could elaborate on Lily and our affection for her but it suffices to say that, one way or another, she found us and we have every confidence in her ability to look after us during our crossing. #WeLoveLily
July saw David & I in Teignmouth completing six days of mandatory RYA courses covering Radio, First Aid, Sea Survival and Navigation. Together with three other crews, the amazing Tim & Sue Cox at Seasports Southwest looked after us royally and drilled us in the all-important theory. We also had a practical session in a local swimming pool where we learned about the niceties of trying to launch and board a liferaft. It’s certainly far from easy and, once in, extremely bouncy and unpleasant. With Lily’s liferaft fully serviced and ready to go, we can only hope that we will avoid the need to deploy it!
Between March and August, we spent 140 hours rowing Lily and many more hours living and sleeping aboard. We also spent four nights at sea, one of which included our 3am encounter with what we can only describe as a ghost ship – a very old and beautiful 60/70-foot yacht under full sail (she had six sails up in total) with a bearded gentleman at the helm who, despite being fully framed by our spotlight, didn’t even turn his head as we passed just a few yards away. The fact that she had no electronic identification (known as AIS) and was displaying a red, instead of green, light on her masthead simply served to deepen the mystery.
With Lily due to be shipped to La Gomera towards the end of October, the last few weeks have seen us in final preparation mode. Apart from a couple of excellent sponsor days on the river in Marlow (with thanks to Smith & Williamson and Marlow Rowing Club) we have been making a few minor alterations and additions to Lily, finalising her design and race livery, buying and sorting out our food and, finally, packing her ready for her transportation.
It has been a long time coming and there’s been a myriad of learning, hard work and excitement. As the saying goes, it is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end. However, it does feel like the end of the beginning!
Our thanks go to all our sponsors and supporters, highlighted below. Your generosity has made our challenge both possible and hugely beneficial. We are proud to be carrying your brands and look forward to your continuing support during the long days and dark nights ahead!
David & Guy will row out from La Gomera in the Canaries on 12th December. They hope to arrive in Antigua by the middle of February. Please give generously at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-entrepreneur-ship