Land ahead! Heroic finish to Atlantic crossing

Teams complete the 5,500km Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the world's toughest rowing race.
© Ben Duffy
By Fredrik Ölmqvist

The pain is finally over! For the last two months, 16 teams have been battling their way across the Atlantic in a bid to complete the world's toughest rowing race.

They've encountered storms, towering 12m waves and terrifying capsizes; dealt with sharks, sea-sicknessness, fever, despair, technical problems, rain – and lots of pain.

We had crazy weather conditions – really big storms.

But almost 60 days after from setting off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, the teams are finally making shore – to a hero's welcome in Antigua.

Erik Grafstrom and Stefan Erlandsson at the end of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
The elation shows for team Nordic Endurance © Ben Duffy

“It was just full on,” says Dan Howie of British team Atlantic Row, who completed the crossing in 53 days, nine hours and 30 minutes.

“It's like riding a roller coaster that you can’t get off. And it’s just non-stop the whole time. You get an hour and a half of sleep, you get problems with your boat, your hands start hurting, your bum start hurting, your feet hurt, your crown jewels hurt.”

I was in a lot of pain.

It was a real battle for Howie, as he and partner Will North were chased down by Luke Birch, 21, and Jamie Sparks, 21, the youngest pair to ever row across the Atlantic. As team 2 Boys In A Boat, the two completed the crossing in 54 days and six hours.

“We had crazy weather conditions, especially in the beginning – really big storms,” says Birch. “But we got through that without damaging any major equipment, which was lucky.”

A team rows across the Atlantic Ocean in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
Teams are at sea for two months © Ben Duffy

“The most difficult thing for me was in the beginning when I was wet the whole time,” adds Birch. “My bum constantly had salt water in it and was soggy. I was in a lot of pain and I was thinking if these waves and wind and rain didn't subside I would not be able to continue.”

The winners were two-man team Locura Rows The Atlantic, who arrived in Antigua after just 41 days and two hours. Locura had a faster boat and the two experienced ocean sailors Mike Burton and Tom Salt knew how to deal with the gritty conditions.

“We’re no strangers to extreme challenges but this is definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Salt told us.

My worst nightmare came true and I was knocked overboard. I have never seen waves like that.

Second team to reach the finish was the unlikely team of professional polo players – Atlantic Polo Team – who had no prior rowing experience. The dark horses of the race surprised everyone by winning the fours category in 48 days and seven hours.

“It didn’t take us long to realise that this was quite a serious mission we were taking on,” says Henry Brett. “I have never seen waves like that.”

Atlantic Polo Team members show their joy at the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge finish in Antigua.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Atlantic Polo Team © Ben Duffy

“Just after a few days my worst nightmare came true and I was knocked overboard. But it wasn't so bad. After getting back onboard I changed clothes, slept two hours and got back to rowing.”

Brett adds: “We were in constant pain but because of constant exercise the body never seized up. The pain just moved from one part to another and it hurt in all kinds of strange places. Our sore bums were particularly painful, it was like sitting on sandpaper.”

Team Atlantic Row 2013 (Dan Howie and Will North) row across the Atlantic Ocean in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
Teams had to battle waves up to 12m high © Ben Duffy

All teams have had their fair share of setbacks. The list of various technical problems suffered includes broken rudder, watermaker, autohelm, seats, satellite phone, satellite tracker, manual steering, lost oars, lost seats...

One team pulled out after their rudder snapped on day 51 while three teams were rescued by helicopters and container ship after their boats suffered irreparable damage after capsizing.

By the first week of February, all but one team are expected to have reached the finish in Antigua.

For the girls' team, Inspirational Friends, things are looking more difficult. They have a broken rudder, no dagger board, no compass, no autohelm, no charts and they still have 2,500km to go. But they have plenty of fighting spirit. Only time will tell if it's enough to see them to the finish line.

Follow them and get the full story on the race on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge website. Get more adventure on our Facebook page.

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