Our families were firmly encamped there, enjoying the delights of the island, while we were still slogging our way through substantial cross currents which delayed our progress by days. Morale was beginning to take a dip. We were constantly looking at our “deck repeater” (a screen on the deck that displays mileage, speed, course etc.) with the miles ticking down so slowly it almost felt we were now going to be at sea for at least another month! The update from our weather router, Simon Ellyatt, and Ian Couch, the Head Safety Officer at Atlantic Campaigns, indicated that all of the teams in our vicinity were experiencing the same conditions, leaving no option but to plough on and continue with our two hours on two hours off, with the exception that when we could we were rowing “two up”, both of us rowing together, which gave us an additional extra knot per hour.
Then at around 2 days out from Antigua everything changed. The easterly wind gathered strength and our measly 1 – 1.5 knots increased to a more respectable 2.5 – 3 knots. The seaweed that had plagued us became scarcer and David hopped over the side to perform his final “Lily’s bottom cleaning” exercise. Our constantly changing mathematical calculations (speed v time v distance), plus calls to the Safety Officer, indicated we should be in at around 2-3pm on 3rd February. That would do! We ploughed on, spirits raised and a very much happier boat. ANTIGUA HERE WE COME!
Progress remained good and it became clear that Wednesday, 2nd February was going to be our last night on Lily. This thought was very surreal as she had been our home and protector for so long. We had often talked about what we would do on our last night and often the consensus would be to have a rum, whisky or even a gin (small supplies of which were carried, purely for medicinal purposes!), but neither of us felt like any alcohol at all, even on the last night of our amazing adventure!
At some point in the proceedings, we realised that our progress was too good and we were in danger of coming in as early as 4am, far from ideal for our families and Guy’s grandchildren to celebrate our “Grand Arrival”, so we eased off to try to time our arrival for the morning. It was lovely to sit on deck and chat, without having to pull like billyo on the oars. Guy made dinner with his new-found cooking skills (heat water, add to bag, stir, leave then eat!). David really enjoyed the dried rations, but Guy was less keen. This was reflected in our respective weight losses. 10% for David and 13% for Guy.
That night, we were visited by two seabirds that took up residence on our stern cabin overnight. Much to David’s amusement, one even tried to land on Guy’s head – David called Guy “Cliff” for the rest of the evening! Needless to say, spirits were high.
During the early morning shift, at about 3am, with David rowing deep in thought and listening to the sea, he suddenly became aware of a fast-approaching boat with its engine at high-pitch and getting louder and louder. The alarm on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) hadn’t gone off so he was confused, worried – thoughts racing through his slightly delirious head – could it be pirates?! Or perhaps a boat that hadn’t seen us and we were about to be hit? Then suddenly it stopped, displayed its starboard green light and an Antiguan voice boomed out of the dark “Hello guys, I want to welcome you to Antigua! Not far now, well done, keep going and see you in Antigua!” Stunned, David muttered “thanks mate!” and with that the unexpected visitor roared off! Meanwhile, Guy, who had been asleep, popped his head out of the hatch, wondering what was going on. A slightly confused, bemused and shocked David simply said, “someone welcoming us to Antigua!” It was an extraordinary moment. The last thing we expected was someone travelling around 20 miles in fairly choppy seas to say those few words and speed off!
Seeing land for the first time in 53 days was totally amazing. It was early morning and still dark when we first saw the glow and then the twinkling lights of Antigua about 15 miles out. We were getting close, very close. At the same time the pesky current came back. This slowed us down, threatening our planned arrival time, so we again decided to row two up. The sun came up, warming our fronts, music on, happy, happy, happy as Antigua became bigger and bigger. We were almost there!
Dawn broke and gave way to a beautiful, sunny morning. With the wind and waves behind us, we soon found ourselves enjoying the row along her beautiful southern coast line, admiring the rocky sandstone cliffs and lush green vegetation.
Our first “contact” was with a dive boat. They popped over to say “hello” and “congratulations” and did a drive past clapping and cheering. We waved and exchanged thanks and carried on. Less than an hour to go! WOW! WOW! WOW! We could hear the waves on the rocks as we came in closer to shore, escaping most of the negative currents. Then, all of a sudden, the Coastguard vessel appeared. A large 3 engine, high speed boat, horns blaring and blue lights on, the Coastguard team shouting encouragement and compliments. Then, as we approached the entrance to English Harbour, the Atlantic Campaigns media boat came out and joined the Coastguard – the unmistakable and amazing photographer, Penny Bird along with media reporter Charlotte Drew and the rest of the Atlantic Campaigns media team shouting encouragement with horns blaring – this was it, less than a mile to go before we crossed the finish line! David remembers muttering to Guy, “let’s make sure we look good rowing and co-ordinate – no clashing of oars!” He turned around and saw Guy in the bow, tears of happiness streaking his cheeks. David felt a deep sense of pride and tears began to form, but he dug deep, not wishing to give in to these emotions until we had gone over the line.
We shouted out “ARE WE THERE?” and they came back “NO, KEEP GOING!” then, after what seemed like an age, “BANG”. We turned around, looked at the Old Fort at the entrance to the harbour and saw the flares and the whoops and cheers from our families…. WE HAD DONE IT! The rest was a blur – David leant back on his seat, threw his arms in the air and gave Guy a big upside-down hug. We were both in bits. Full of emotion, there were suddenly more shouts, a flotilla of small boats, clapping and cheering, instructions and directions from the Media team………
Having passed the finish line, we were completely numb. But we needed to pull ourselves together – this was ‘flare time’! David passed a white handheld flare to Guy ready for him to ignite and shouted “ONE, TWO, THREE…..” then whoosh – the flares were burning as the media boat circled round and round. We were laughing and smiling as the reality hit…. WE’D DONE IT!
Directed by the media boat, we slowly made our way into the harbour towards Nelson’s Dockyard. David rowed, with Guy handsteering. As we progressed, we passed several restaurants on the eastern side of the harbour – they were playing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” at full volume, accompanied by lots of shouting, clapping, cheering and whooping. We both thought this couldn’t get any better, but then the superyachts started sounding their horns, adding to the raucous cacophony!
The team shepherding us in then encouraged us to stop and set off some more flares and, without being asked twice, we glided, flares alight, as the quay at Nelson’s Dockyard came into sight.
The spectacle was such that we had to look twice – REALLY?! Along with the unmistakable Ian Couch, flare in hand and media guru Charlotte and Atlantic Campaigns Race Director, Carsten, there must have been over 200 people lining the quay. This was becoming unreal. Suddenly conscious that we had to dock, David shipped the oars and, with a small bump, we nudged the quay and came to a halt. WE’D MADE IT! Events accelerated, we saw our families, Aly and Archie on David’s side and Nicky with children, spouses and multiple grandchildren on Guy’s side. This was also a very sad moment for David as his older son, Fynn and his girlfriend Emma, could not make it to the finish due to work commitments. But YAY! We were now within stepping distance of land!
Carsten’s unmistakable Danish accent then came into focus……. “Welcome Guy and David and The Entrepreneur Ship!” We stood together, a British flag thrust into our hands, the noise, the crowd, the cameras, the whoops, the cheers, the smiling and happy faces. It’s impossible to describe the sheer emotion and amazement we both felt. With David having done six Ironman events, he thought the 500-metre red carpet was the ultimate finish, but he was wrong. This finish completely blew anything he had ever experienced out of the water. This was just extraordinarily special.
Carsten’s voice then boomed “Do we want to see Guy and David walk on dry land?” After a huge cheer, we unclipped and made our first (assisted) step on to dry land.
We both remember our first steps, or wobbles! Guy tried a little jig to help him find his balance, failing miserably. David was similarly unsteady. It reminded David of the film, Papillon, where he was held up in solitary confinement and could only walk five steps, turn around, then walk five back. When let out of solitary, he walked five steps and collapsed! We absolutely know how he felt!
Interviews followed, all a blur, we saw our families in the crowd – wow, we don’t want to be here but there! Then we spotted other rowers, JP from One Ocean Crew, Will from Team Peninsula, Hupp and Paul from Foar from Home, Simon and Tim from Mindcraft – brilliant! We were then scooped up and pushed through the crowd towards the private dining area of the “Copper and Lumber Store” for our first meal and beer, plus the long-awaited reunion with our families… we walked, or tried to. It was sooooooo hard. The ground was moving like one of those fairground waltzes. This was odd, concentrate, don’t fall…..
Just before getting to the entrance to the dining area, a short distance from the quay, David turned round and saw Aly and Archie, then belted towards them for a giant hug! Guy’s grandchildren swarmed over him, with other members of the family and, finally, Nicky. Tears and hugs flowed freely. This really was the end of the row!
We were shown to our table with pillows thoughtfully placed on our two chairs. On the table were two plates of burgers and chips, along with the much-awaited cold beer. We don’t really remember eating our burgers, but boy did that beer (or was it two?) taste AMAZING!
Epilogue – David
Back in the UK I have had time to think and contemplate. This challenge for me was about two men and an ocean. I had often discussed with my Dad sailing the Atlantic and having Christmas in the Caribbean. This was my version. The World Record is a side issue, an added bonus maybe, but I know how important it is for my friend and rowing partner, Guy. Obviously without him this would never have happened.
Will I do another? Or what’s next? I often get asked. I really understood what ocean rowing is. I loved it so much, the nights, the rawness of the ocean, the smell (even the cabin and Guy’s sleeping bag after 50 days!), the food, the routine, the scary nights and days.
I have also been amazed at the support and messages from my friends. Literally hundreds of messages of support pre, during and post row. These all came to a head, when Barry sent through over a hundred to us as we passed halfway. Guy and I sat down for an hour and went through them all, very emotional for us both.
I have come back to normal – normal day, night and life, but I know, on the inside, we have achieved something very, very wonderful. Something so special it is hard to put it into any words.
My thanks go to:
My family for their unwavering love and support. Plus all our friends who supported them whilst we were away.
Epilogue – Guy
It’s almost impossible to remember what life was like before taking on this challenge.
What seemed like a crazy idea back in 2019 sprouted wings (oars!) and eventually flew (floated!). For over two years, it became increasingly all-consuming, focused always on the twin objectives of doing something real and giving something back.
In terms of doing something real, I was inspired by David’s father, Richard. Richard was a fisherman, sailor and friend who I always thought of as living a “real” life, being challenged by and overcoming the elements as part of his daily routine. Stories of his fishing exploits always inspired me, particularly when I was deskbound, dealing with what seemed like endless mountains of paper! I would probably have hated it, but there was something strangely alluring about his activities.
As for giving something back, I have spent most of my life working with entrepreneurial types. Amongst other things, these ambitious and restless individuals create jobs and wealth, generally making the world go round and bringing benefits to their communities and to our wider society as a whole. It has therefore been both a pleasure and an honour to work with UnLtd (aka The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) helping them to raise funds to support social entrepreneurs who would otherwise struggle to fund their business ventures.
My thanks go to my wife, Nicky. I know I am impossible, yet we have somehow managed 45 years of happily married life, as well as producing three wonderful children. They, in turn, have rewarded us with five beautiful grandchildren. You are all amazing – thank you for your love and support.
And finally, my thanks go to my incredible rowing partner, David. Since joining the team in the latter part of 2019, we have worked together to plan and execute our campaign. It’s fair to say we have been successful in every respect. There is no “I” in team and I would simply not have made it without you.
Our wider team – A HUGE Shout Out
We are extremely lucky to have had a terrific team behind us during the years of preparation, training and planning that have gone into making this a success. We may have been the ones pulling the oars, but each and every one of them was with us all the way!
· Clare Facey for managing our marketing and for our social media pre and post row. You have been amazing and have supported us from the word go. Thank you for helping us knit our crazy journey together.
· Barry Hayes – Our social media guru during the row. Timely, thoughtful and engaging coverage and thanks for always being on the end of WhatsApp during our row!
· Duncan Roy – Our brilliant coach who taught us how to get across safely and in a great time too. Your no-nonsense Yorkshire approach and solid motivation really worked. We also loved getting your emails of encouragement during the row.
· Simon Ellyatt– Our very conscientious weather router, threading us through the very odd weather patterns and non-existent trade winds. Thank you for putting up with our constant calls!
· Simon Jones – our ‘non-exec’. Thanks for your encouragement, enthusiasm, creativity and support.
· Gareth Strangemore-Jones – our mindfulness coach. Thank you for your excellent mental preparation.
· The safety team at Atlantic Campaigns – Ian Couch and Fraser Mowlem – thank you and sorry for that panic call in the middle of a stormy night when our autohelm broke!
· The PR team at Fieldhouse, especially Romana who has tirelessly plugged away at getting us media coverage.
· Website and corporate ID – Unstuck design, James and Bexi – awesome design 😊
· Boat Wrap – Low&Behold, Lily looked stunning.
· Training – Chris Cleere for Guy and James Tait for David – You have both now trained World Record holders – perhaps something for your CVs?!
· And not forgetting the support we had from the team at our amazing charity UnLtd, Nick Scott and Christie Surridge.
To our sponsors and financial supporters – Thank you. You have helped us raise significant funds that will beneficially impact the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
And, of course, to all the amazing individuals who have donated and supported our row.