The British Army’s ‘Oarsome’ Foursome

Four British Army Physical Training Instructors have just sliced a day and 10 hours off the world record for a mixed team of four to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Arriving in the Caribbean island of Antigua & Barbuda on Saturday 22nd of January they have completed the 2800 mile passage from the Canary Islands by crossing the finishing line in an official time of 40 days 23 hours and 57 mins beating the record that had stood at 42 days and 10 hours.

“The sleep deprivation is probably the biggest challenge. We’ve been getting about three hours sleep every night for the last 40 nights and that is hard to get over." Captain Scott Pollock

Captain Scott Pollock, Warrant Officer Class 1 Victoria Blackburn, Staff Sergeant Phillip Welch and Sergeant Laura Barrigan are team Force Atlantic 21 who set off in the Talisker Whisky Challenge from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on the 12th December with one aim in sight to smash the world record.

Speaking by satellite phone from the boat, Scott said: “We got into Antigua to watch the sun rise.” He went on to explain, “The one thing that could’ve stopped us would’ve been the weather and it hasn’t helped. We’ve had to row the whole way – no surfing off the waves, no ‘free’ mileage.” If the conditions are right, then wind and currents can help the boats along.

Asked what were the high and lows of the trip Scott replied. “The highlight of the journey has been some of the wildlife we’ve seen. We saw three whales, the first one was amazing; it was simply playing with us and kept circling the boat, it was just beautiful. We’ve also seen: dolphins, turtles, marlin in the distance jumping out of the water and an octopus.”

Of course team work has been the very essence to the success in this world record being broken. There is often mention of resilience in the face of such a challenge as this, but Scott was quick to highlight the need for team adaptability. “Whenever we faced a problem, everyone took it upon themselves to go away and: think, prioritise, seek a solution and execute the remedy. Our water maker (produces fresh water from seawater) wasn’t working properly. It was taking 3-4 hours to produce 40litres when it should only be half an hour. We all went through the whole boat; every single pipe clip and connection – in the end it was a little squid caught in the inlet valve!”

"For the last two years we’ve done lots of research. We’ve looked at how to tackle it and when we’ve come to do it, we’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do. We have done it in the manner which we said we wanted to do it in.” Captain Scott Pollock

“The sleep deprivation is probably the biggest challenge. We’ve been getting about three hours sleep every night for the last 40 nights and that is hard to get over. You go through all sorts of mood issues, hydration issues, feeding issues because you’re so tired. We went through a stage we called the Haribo shifts, because they were what got you through the third and final night shift. It will be interesting to see how we readapt back to normal life, will we be waking up every couple of hours? Will our wives and husbands be going, what you doing?”

Having completed the administration of arriving in English Harbour in Antigua & Barbuda and been medically examined, the team are now enjoying all those things they have yearned for over the last 41 days: ice-cream, fresh food, showers, bed, walking, but most of all their families.

Summing up the whole experience Scott spoke of his abiding memory of taking on the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s always going to be the team; the unity and the way we have engaged with each other has been second to none. For the last two years we’ve done lots of research. We’ve looked at how to tackle it and when we’ve come to do it, we’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do. We have done it in the manner which we said we wanted to do it in.”