30th July 2020
By David Murray
I remember it well, a call from Guy one evening in September. It’s always good to talk to Guy – he was one of my Dad’s best friends and we had met several times before, either at my Dad’s house, or in a bar or some other hostelry in Salcombe. As always, an easy conversation flowed – family , health, fitness, holidays and Salcombe, followed by a short pause… then Guy asked me a question that would change my life completely – “Would you consider rowing across the Atlantic with me?”
I remember my first reaction was one of “Is that really a thing?” and then “Can you do that and is it possible?” There followed Guy’s summary of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the “world’s toughest row”, with the months at sea, storms, wildlife, night skies and adventure. “Google it!” said Guy.
And so I did! I watched the video and was both amazed and in awe of these “hardy” souls of all shapes and sizes that battled the Atlantic for no obvious reason other than it is there and actually it is a “thing”. The finish looked totally awesome as they rowed into English Harbour, Antigua, making landfall at Nelson’s Dockyard after a 3,000 mile row. I then went downstairs from my office to speak to my long-suffering wife, Alyson, played her the video of the 2018 race and asked if I could do this…. She looked at me and then with a sigh, “David if it makes you happy, then 100% yes, of course!”
Rewind 30 years and it was a Friday night and a belt down from London in my Golf for a weekend visit to my Dad who lived near Salcombe. The plan as always was to arrive before 8pm armed with a bottle of whisky and hopefully being greeted by Dad with a freshly prepared crab, to be washed down with a suitable bottle of white wine. I was not disappointed. We sat and chatted into the small hours as we often did. My Dad, Richard, was a “retired” Salcombe crab fisherman and a keen sailor who had sailed all his life, so naturally the conversation turned towards this. I had read somewhere that most years a flotilla of sailing boats left from Europe and picked up the trade winds to spend Christmas in the Caribbean. This sounded like a brilliant idea! Unfortunately, we never fulfilled that dream and, sadly, Dad passed away in September 2018.
So fast forward 30 years plus 7 days. I was stopped in a layby talking to Guy on my mobile about my interest in the challenge and being part of the team that Guy was hoping to put together. I had thought of little else for the past 7 days, looking into and researching my newly discovered world of ocean rowing. At the time, I was recovering from a broken neck after a cycling accident while training for an Ironman competition. I was able to run a bit but nothing much more and I needed another challenge. The timing was perfect. We agreed that we should go to La Gomera to investigate and see the start of the 2019 race in December to make a more informed decision. At that time, Guy was keen to row in either a trio or a quad. I was happy just to be involved.
The race starts in San Sebastian, a town on the south-east coast of La Gomera, which is the most westerly of the eight main islands that make up the Canary Islands. It is not over-populated by tourists and is certainly off the beaten track. There are 5 classes of entrant - singles, pairs, trios and quads, as well as the occasional team of five.
Alyson and I flew out to La Gomera in time for the start of the 2019 race, to meet with Guy and his wife, Nicky, who had arrived there a few days before. I remember being completely naïve, still knowing nothing about the complexities and logistics of the event or the mental and physical requirements. I had never rowed other than splashing around on the River Wey in Guildford as a child!
Having flown to Tenerife, found our way to the port at Los Cristianos and boarded the ferry to San Sebastian, we got talking to an Australian gentleman whose son was one of the 2019 crew (rowing in a quad, Rowed Less Travelled). He had had to make a dash across Spain to pick up a part for their navigation equipment that was found to have failed on the pre-race inspection, as without it they would have been unable to start. This gave some reassurance to Alyson (and me!) that the race was well organised and that safety was a priority.
I could feel my excitement increasing as we arrived into port at La Gomera and I saw all the small boats lined up gleaming and glistening in the sun….