Crew with a Cause: Rowing for Ocean Relief

30 January 2019 By Lauren Beck

You could argue that crew thrive on challenges. Well, these five men have taken it to the next level after deciding to compete in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, an ocean row in a 28-foot open, unsupported rowing boat. The challenge means the team — the Ocean5 — and its 27 competitors will be tasked with rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua beginning December 2019.

The Ocean5 team — Lead Deckhand Will Hollingshead of M/Y Siren, Kevin Gaskell, Officer Chris Hodgson, former crewmember Sam Coxon, and Matt Gaskell — was formed by Hollingshead, who was inspired after hearing Kevin Gaskell speak at an event. When asked what adventure Gaskell would want to do that he had not already completed, Gaskell answered that he wanted to row the Atlantic. Hollingshead never forgot those words, but it was only six months later after an injury had laid him up for three months — offering ample thinking time — that Hollingshead had what he called a lightbulb moment. Why not row the Atlantic and raise money for ocean issues?

“I then sent Kevin a message on LinkedIn and asked the only two of my friends I knew who would be crazy enough to come along (Sam and Chris), [and] twelve months later we have a boat, a team, and are now ten months from the December start date,” Hollingshead says.

Prepping for the challenge is not easy, but it’s not all about the glory. The team is racing to raise funds and awareness for The Plastic Soup Foundation, which is fighting to combat ocean plastics. “… I was looking for the right-sized charity, who did very impactful work on the global stage but who we could make a big difference to,” Hollingshead says. “Our aim is to give The Plastic Soup Foundation a check for £250,000 to help in their efforts of changing minds and policy worldwide in regard to plastics and microplastics.” According to The Plastic Soup Foundation, 393 million tons of plastic is in the ocean, although just 246,000 tons is visible on the surface. While the plastic debris is bad enough, chemicals released by these plastics damage organisms’ feeding and reproduction, impairing long-term survival. The foundation focuses on curtailing the increase in plastic polluting by going to the source and influencing change.

Its “Beat the Microbead” campaign is supported by 98 NGOs in 44 countries — and 119 cosmetic brands have eliminated microplastics from 448 brands. The Foundation has also developed a “Plastic Diet,” which demonstrates how companies can reduce their Plastic Mass Index, thus reducing their impact on the environment.

The 3,000-mile journey is not for the faint of heart — the preparation for the non-stop row (two hours on, two hours off for 24 hours each day), means putting in some serious work beforehand. “We have a Concept2 rowing machine on board [Siren] and weights that I use regularly,” Hollingshead says. “When we’re alongside in a marina for an extended period of time, I get a short-term membership to a gym to do heavier weights and more intense gym sessions.” Crossfit, he says, is also a good method of training. “As a team, we also have some dates booked in this year to get out in the boat together for a few days at a time to all get comfortable living, working, and rowing in such a confined space,” Hollingshead says. “One of the most important things is mental preparation.” To help, he’s reading up on the conditions they could face, in addition to the physical and mental hardships that previous rowers have experienced. The team has to carry all their food — enough for 65 days — safety and medical equipment on board, plus produce their own freshwater through desalination. They will also carry 1,000 “backup” liters of water as ballast. Electrical power generated by solar panels is the only power available, and will be used for navigation, communications, and desalination systems. The object is to keep the boat as light as possible.

“It’s definitely not something to enter into lightly, but anyone who’s considering doing an adventure similar to this — [which] can take two years of planning and preparation — should talk to their captains and crew as the support I’ve found from current and former industry colleagues is amazing,” he says.

You can show your support, too. The team is still looking for help with sponsorship for the race. “We have a great team who are fired up and in serious training with our goal to achieve the world record for a five-person team in rowing the Atlantic,” Hollingshead says. Help them achieve their £250,000 goal — follow the team on and and donate to the cause.;