How did you spend your December? If you’re like most of the world, you were winding down into the holiday season chaos. If you’re like charter crew, it was probably your busiest time period of the year.
But maybe not quite as busy as the Ocean5 team, who tackled the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, an ocean row in a 28-foot open, unsupported rowing boat. The competing teams rowed 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua in December 2019, carrying all necessary equipment for 65 days. The team also produced their own desalinated freshwater (they also carried 1,000 “backup” liters of water as ballast). They also had to generate their own electrical power via solar panels with the goal of keeping the boat as light as possible.
The Ocean5 team — Lead Deckhand Will Hollingshead, Kevin Gaskell, Officer Chris Hodgson, former crewmember Sam Coxon, and Matt Gaskell — came fourth over the line at 35 days, 19 hours, and 50 minutes. They also broke the world record for the fastest team of five to row across the Atlantic.
“The experience was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” says Hollingshead. “It was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Physically, it was a tough undertaking, and Hollingshead had detailed to us previously how he and his team were preparing, mentally and physically. But it’s all well and good prepping, but an unknown, completely new endeavor is sure to present unforeseen challenges. “We didn’t realize how relentless two hours on and two hours off would be. Most of us were only getting around five hours’ sleep in a twenty-four-hour period,” he says. “Once we adapted to the sleep deprivation, then the routine and sights were very rewarding.”
While the team were prepared for the challenge, it still took them a week to 10 days to fully adapt to the conditions and to the new strain their bodies were under. There were some hard days, Hollingshead says, including one where they were faced with 10 to 15 knots of wind on the bow. While it was tough going, the team ultimately decided to forgo the para-anchor and push into the wind. “None of the team’s heads went down and each of the guys gave 110 percent for 36 hours until the wind switched, and the rowing got easier,” he says.
They also snapped two oars their first night out, surfing sideways down a wave. Right before that, another wave crashed over the aft cabin, sending 50 liters of water inside. “That first night, I remember thinking this adventure is harder than we imagined, and we might not be ready for it,” Hollingshead says. “But that’s why we signed up — to push our boundaries and get out of our comfort zone.” They also experienced a knockdown — surfing down a wave at 15.6 knots before the bow dug in. Two of the team ended up in the water, and the two crew who were asleep in the cabins wound up on the ceiling. “What was great was once we knew everyone was safe and that we hadn’t broken anything important, each of the guys had a huge grin on their faces,” he says.
Although the physical challenges of the race are apparent, the mental side of the equation was just as important. “The biggest part of our mental preparation was making sure that each of us were on the same page and committed to the same goals,” Hollingshead says. “You can’t make someone row, so we needed to ensure that each of us were giving all that they could when they were on the oars — this was ultimately what allowed us to break the previous world record.”
The team was also rowing for a cause: to raise funds and awareness for The Plastic Soup Foundation, which works to halt plastic pollution by influencing change. The Ocean5 team aimed to raise £250,000 for the foundation. Currently, Hollingshead says they’re still working to tally all the donations, “but it looks like we’ll be able to give a significant amount of money to The Plastic Soup Foundation and they couldn’t be happier with the money and awareness that we’ve given them.” (You can still donate: www.theocean5.com)
“In terms of a life-changing adventure, inspiring expedition, and a chance to raise a significant amount of donations, then I wouldn’t do anything differently,” Hollingshead says. “With the team we brought together and the preparation that we put in, we hit all our goals and each of us enjoyed the experience.” The Ocean5 team arrived in Antigua on January 17, 35 hours, 19 hours, and 50 minutes after setting off from the Canary Islands, but they had one more surprise in store — a proposal on the finish line when team member Sam Coxon proposed to his girlfriend. Talk about a joyful ending to a long month at sea.
“Would I do it again?” says Hollingshead. “Ask me again in three to six months! I would highly recommend it to anyone who is considering a tough adventure or expedition — it will challenge, frustrate, and ultimately grow you as a human being.”
For more related content:
Crew with a Cause: Rowing for Ocean Relief
Crew Donate Medical Supplies to Australia
M/Y Elixir Fundraise for Australia Bushfire Relief
Crew with a Cause: The Green Stewardess