Atlantic row: discover the world's toughest race

16 teams prepare for the adventure of their lives in the Atlantic Challenge rowing race.
Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean
“Rowing the Atlantic is hard,” says Humphreys ©
By Fredrik Ölmqvist

Sitting comfortably? As you read this, dozens of brave, mad and inspiring individuals are preparing to embark on one of the toughest races on the planet — the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (TWAC).

The Atlantic rowing race starts next week on December 2nd from La Gomera in the Canary Islands and finishes some 5,000km later in Antigua in the Caribbean. More people have been into space or climbed Mount Everest than have rowed the Atlantic.

It's bloody hard.

Rowing in the rough sea of the Atlantic
A boat mid-ocean during the 2012 race ©

Although the ocean is calmest in December and January, the teams can still expect unpredictable conditions and storms with waves up to 12m high.

Held every other year, the 2013 line-up consists of 16 teams from four countries – Britain, Sweden, Australia and Spain. It includes one boat made up of pro polo players — not a sport traditionally associated with endurance and suffering.

The members of the Atlantic Polo team. © Atlantic Polo Team

James Glasson, 39, of Atlantic Polo Team, describes the upcoming adventure as ‘crazy, unknown and ridiculous’.

“We are completely at the mercy of the elements and the only protection we have is a 7m by 2m rowing boat. This is one of the most challenging races on earth and an adventure where you have very limited control.”

“It's bloody hard,” says adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who completed the race in 2012 — and whose images are included here.

Who needs windpower when you've got oar power? © Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Glasson and his team of polo players aren’t unaware of the potential dangers they are facing.

So much can go wrong at sea, it would be pointless to even try writing down a list.

“It’s a mixture of concern and adrenaline-fuelled anticipation for what will greet us. Sharks and passing boats are big dangers. We are so low to the water that passing boats may not see us – which is probably a greater risk than sharks.”

“The biggest danger is the weather,” he adds. “If we hit a storm then the only thing we can do is lock ourselves in the water-tight cabin and wait for the boat to self-right itself.”

Rowing against the rainbow
Ocean row rainbow shot by Al Humphreys in 2012 ©

Carsten Heron Olsen, CEO of event organiser Atlantic Campaigns, says the event is the world's number one ocean endurance challenge:

“The teams face up to 90 days battling mother nature at her best and worst. They will be rowing for two hours on, two hours off, suffering hallucinations from sleep deprivation, eating ration packs and drinking desalinated water right from the start.

Teams will also row naked.

The teams will also have to nurse wounds as they go on, such as salt sores on their hands and buttocks. They will also row naked to try and save their skin from being worn away by the never-ending swell of the sea.”

“So much can go wrong at sea, it would be pointless to even try writing down a list,” says Bastien Leclair, of team Atlantic Splash. “We have trained and prepared for almost every crisis situation, except maybe an alien attack.”

Using a helmet protecting from flying fishes.
Resourcefulness is key when rowing the Atlantic ©

Competitors can expect to burn up to 8,000 calories every day and lose 20% of their body weight during the challenge.

In the 2011 race the winning boat completed the race in 40 days; the last team to complete the crossing took an heroic 79 days.

I woke from unconsciousness in the water only to see our boat drifting away.

Two weeks before the start teams gathered on La Gomera for final tests and preparations. In the past rowers have got cold feet and pulled out, intimidated by the Atlantic.

“Intimidated would be the wrong word, more apprehensive,” says Hannah Lawton, 23, of Team Inspirational Friends.

“You never know what to expect, each day will be different. We feel excited and nervous at the same time. It's an epic adventure,” she adds. “It has the ability to destroy everything about you but at the same time make you become someone you never thought you could be.”

Articles for caring for your bum after each rowing session.
Rower's best friend ©

Swedish contender Viktor Mattsson, 25, has unfinished business with the ocean, after having been rescued 26 days into the race in his first attempt to row across the Atlantic 2011.

“It was a combination of bad weather and bad luck. When our boat turned the third time I hit my head falling into the water. I woke from unconsciousness in the water only to see our boat drifting away. The safety cord had broken and I had to swim for what seemed like an eternity to eventually catch the boat again.

At one point I thought I’d never make it. Our satellite phone was broken but luckily a Maersk freighter had heard our distress call and came to our rescue after 12 hours.”


Home, for up to ninety days. © Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

After a month or so back on dry land Viktor decided he had to come back to finish what he started. In his charity organization he’s trying to inspire youths with low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

“Being a role model for these kids and giving them fighting spirit motivates me tremendeously. That’s why it’s important for me to finish what I have started.”

16 boats will line up next Monday. Not everyone will make it to the finish line but one thing is guaranteed — it will be adventure no matter what.

To follow the race or check out more info on the teams, go to

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