The final stroke

“If you never try, you will never know what you are capable of.” John Barrow

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atlantic discovery; a team of hundreds

On Tuesday 22 January 2019, Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack rowed into English Harbour, Antigua, to complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in sixth place; a time of 40 days, 23 hours and 33 minutes.

It took the four men almost 1,000 hours rowing, nearly 1 million calories, 700 litres of water, 52,000 watts of solar power, unimaginable inner strength and a large dose of humour to row the 3,000 nautical miles, unsupported, from the Canaries to the Caribbean island of Antigua.

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They were given an emotional, rousing welcome from their families, friends and the “green team” - a fantastic group of stakeholders from our platinum sponsor Nagico Insurances, on what was undoubtedly the most euphoric moment of all of our lives.

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Cameron said that rowing into the harbour to the horns of the super yachts, the cheers, whistles and screams was incredible.

“Isaac was on steering duty so he was facing the crowd when we came in. We were all able to watch his expression mirroring the amazing sight before him and we all felt a surge of indescribable emotion and pride at what the Atlantic Discovery team had achieved together. And, when I say Atlantic Discovery, I don’t mean a team of four rowing an ocean. Atlantic Discovery is a team of hundreds.”

our heartfelt gratitude

Isaac tried to put into words what he and Cam, Ben and Jack felt about the tremendous, selfless support shown by everyone.

“Our families, our friends, our sponsors, colleagues, supporters, the charity organisations, the media and people we’ve met along the way, have all given a part of themselves to our endeavour. We spent a lot of time talking on our journey about the inspiring and encouraging contributions - in so many forms - that have been made since we started this journey. Everyone who learned about what we were doing has done something to help us. We are so privileged to have been the recipients of all this generosity - it’s a gift that will remain with us all for the rest of our lives. Thank you doesn’t even come close to expressing how we are feeling.”

Welcome warmth

From the first conversation Cameron and I had with Kyria and her Nagico team back in May last year, I have been deeply touched by the continuous flow of warmth, camaraderie and heartfelt touches we have received. I have not experienced anything like it before.

Nagico have been exceptional partners from the start. They embraced our experience wholeheartedly, sending us rowing demo’s, video’s of staff singing to us from their 21 territories across the Caribbean, they honoured the boys with a special welcome event, they included us in their annual client calendar, hand made us memory bracelets and we are proud to have become fast friends. I have learned so much from everyone in this amazing business.

They are genuinely a wonderful team and we couldn’t have asked for a greater sponsor. Nagico have made this experience one that none of us will ever forget.

One big family

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Nagico’s Chairman Imran McSood Amjad greeted the team as they stepped off the boat: “We are very proud to be associated with Atlantic Discovery. These men have embraced the extreme hardships they have faced at sea and found the strength to triumph. Their resilience and teamwork is commendable - I consider Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack to be part of the Nagico family.” 

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 “It is also an honour for me to symbolically countersign the Excess of Loss Treaty between Nagico Group and Swiss Re which Cameron signed in the mid-Atlantic in a world first on behalf of Swiss Re.”

our cause

The team did the row to raise awareness and £60K (USD 80K) for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which affects 2.5 million people worldwide.  Ben’s mother Rose is the figurehead of the fundraising campaign with hashtag #row4rose and was on the quayside to greet the team.

Ben’s face alight at the sight of his mother and family.

Ben’s face alight at the sight of his mother and family.

Ben talked about how humbled he was by how much had been raised while they were at sea.

“Penny has been updating us with every name and donation amount made throughout the row. But I had no idea how much had been raised in total and I’m deeply grateful for the wonderful donations made to our cause.

“I know increasing awareness of this condition is difficult to measure, but so many people have come forward to share their personal stories, I hope what we have done has made a difference to understanding this secret disease.

“Finishing this race means our charities will receive extra promised donations from the Hiscox Foundation, Lyme Bay Consulting and a personal donation from Kyria Ali, Group Chief Strategy and Development Officer and the staff of Nagico Insurances, boosting funds raised so far to £24K - 40% of our target.”

Jack continues to think of ways to raise more funds for the cause - his next mission is the Marathon Des Sables and he is thinking of ways to motivate the team to join him. Donations will continue to be graciously accepted.

Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

The art of crossing an ocean

“Art is a personal act of courage, something that one human does, that creates a change in another.” Seth Godin

A remarkable painting (and my personal favourite) by Alfonso Andériz, Ballena - Whale, oil on canvas, 97 x 130cm - 2018

A remarkable painting (and my personal favourite) by Alfonso Andériz, Ballena - Whale, oil on canvas, 97 x 130cm - 2018

The courage of expression

The beautiful Spanish island of La Gomera has been the chosen point of departure for Atlantic crossings for decades, so it’s not surprising that the annual influx of the extraordinary clique of past, present and future rowers, has left an indelible mark on the tiny port of San Sebastián.

As a 2017 and 2018 race observer, I am familiar with the incredible emotional response these exceptional human beings evoke. Watching the tiny boats making their way slowly across the vast expanse of sea, imagining the highs and lows they are facing, feeling the upwelling of gratitude when they arrive safe, but changed forever, on the other side, is a rollercoaster for the watching world.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge inspires imagination and creativity.

The Exhibition

In 2016, a group of local artists in La Gomera began hosting an annual exhibition and we were touched to be invited to attend this event showcasing an array of genres reflecting the emotion of the race depicted in sculpture, photography, literature, music, journalism, painting, drawings, cross-stitch and poetry. Each of the rowers was given a small wooden carving, a talisman to remind them that they “never row alone”.

The gorgeous Grandads of the Atlantic receiving their talisman and good wishes for the row from the artist community in La Gomera.

The gorgeous Grandads of the Atlantic receiving their talisman and good wishes for the row from the artist community in La Gomera.

The artwork is magical and shows the local talent’s deep understanding of the journey the rowers face.

The artwork is magical and shows the local talent’s deep understanding of the journey the rowers face.

The memory book

Artist Eduardo J. Castro creates a notebook each year, and collaborates with Alfonso Andériz for the illustrations of the teams and their boats, while Juanma invites all the rowers to record their personal motivation for their journeys. It is a beautiful record of a special time, and they’ve done one each year for the teams.

Two pages are allocated to each team and the boat illustrated. Each team member is then invited to record their personal motivation to row the Atlantic.

Two pages are allocated to each team and the boat illustrated. Each team member is then invited to record their personal motivation to row the Atlantic.

the Photography

I have the greatest respect for the two main race photographers Ben Duffy and Ted Martin who are part of the fabric of this event, and who capture the heart and greatness of the rowers in the moments they are at one with the elements. They have both produced iconic photographs over the years which epitomise the magnitude of the participant’s achievements.

“I want each and every rower to look back at their celebration images and know I couldn’t have captured their emotion any better; a true visual representation of exactly how they felt at that moment, knowing they’d rowed an ocean. An image that will inspire them, and all of us, for the rest of our lives, to continue challenging, to continue exploring.” Ben Duffy

Ben Duffy does the official pre-race photograph for  Atlantic Discovery .

Ben Duffy does the official pre-race photograph for Atlantic Discovery.

the Tradition at the Blue Marlin

Almost a rite of passage, rowers scribe their names on the wall in the Blue Marlin Taberna - a local bar and eatery on the edge of the main plaza in San Sebastián. Studying the artwork gives one a sense of the history of these explorers and adventurers.

Look out for  Atlantic Discovery  on the right hand top corner of the taberna as you enter the door.

Look out for Atlantic Discovery on the right hand top corner of the taberna as you enter the door.

Atlantic Discovery  enjoying one of their final cold beers before the start of their row in the shade outside the Blue Marlin Taberna.

Atlantic Discovery enjoying one of their final cold beers before the start of their row in the shade outside the Blue Marlin Taberna.

the writing

Bruce Parker sent in this poem from South Africa. He penned it during Atlantic Discovery’s crossing.

Atlantic Discovery  (Crossing an Ocean)

 It started as a rhythm

The proud flash of an oar

Beautifully curved

Disciplined artistic efficient.

Sinews tensing and corded

We happily showed the ocean we could do as we pleased

And a stroke meant we were not there anymore!

 

Then the jokes more spaced with each in his world

Thinking about thinking.

Was this a universe marred only briefly

By our beetle tracks

Our supreme effort gone in a vanishing swirl?

We pulled harder to see if the swirl lasted longer

It didn’t that we could see.

 

Who was the master?

Were we only rough and poorly machined cogs fitted into the ocean

And run by the ocean?

Wasn’t this our show, ours to own?

  

Yes! It was our show and we had an island

Hidden now by distance and an endless skin of blue.

And we were headed there.

No matter how sticky the ocean!

Soon we’d see gulls and rocks and golden sand

And grin in the burning flares of victory.

 

At last it was quiet and we were at the end

Looking at Ellida with souls torn

For she was as much us as we.

Was this it?

All done and dusted and now to pack?

 ‘Wasn’t this our show, ours to own, ours to win?’

 

Standing in the dark

We watched as she rocked on her moorings

Feeling pain as deep as we’ve ever felt

As real as the oar grip our souls would always know.

 

What have we done?

For sure we made no mark on that great ocean

But we honoured ourselves and those who launched us

Tasted Discovery for sure, became men of the sea and

Made lots of friends, hailed those who helped and

Reached for the imaginings of those who could never follow.

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Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Aiming for the front page of the internet

They’re salty, scruffy, bearded and exhausted, but they want you to ask them anything so they can raise money for their MS charities on their extreme 3,000 mile row.

They’re salty, scruffy, bearded and exhausted, but they want you to ask them anything so they can raise money for their MS charities on their extreme 3,000 mile row.

Atlantic Discovery not-so-fresh from the sea

Heard of Reddit*? aka the front page of the internet?

I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t familiar with the workings of the sixth most visited website in the world, until Atlantic Discovery asked me to organise an AMA** (ask-me-anything) from a rather unusual location.

Straight off I asked my friend Google if anyone had attempted an AMA from an ocean rowing boat while on a 3,000 mile extreme row, and I couldn’t seem to find anything…but that figures - my boys love thinking out of the, erm boat!

If this catches on, it would be a fantastic way to create awareness of MS and even boost our fundraising. Fingers crossed.

So, when is it?

Monday 14 January 2019 from 14:00 GMT (10:00 AST) for up to 4 hours. We are accepting questions in advance to try and make it easier for the team, and you can ask questions during the session. We will try and answer as many of your questions as possible during the AMA on Monday.

How do you ask your questions?

via Reddit You need to be a member of the Reddit community. Create your account at www.reddit.com and then click on this link - it’ll take you straight to the session. You’ll also find the link on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Once you are in the AMA session, just write your question in the comments box and click on “comment”.

via Twitter #AskADAnything You need a twitter account and then just tweet your question to the Atlantic Discovery handle @atlanticdisc18 and include the hashtag #AskADAnything

What should you ask?

Anything! What interests you about rowing an ocean, the food, the sleep, the water, getting on together, nature, sights seen, how they go to the toilet, how they feel, what was hardest, the mental challenge, what made them do it - anything that comes to mind. If your question is specific to one of the team, just write their name (Ben, Cam, Issac or Jack) at the beginning of your message.

How will the team answer the questions?

Two of the team will be on their rowing shift, while two of them answer questions. The answers to your questions will be sent to the land-based reddit-team myself and Jack’s brother George, via an instant messaging platform using a satellite signal. George and I will post the answers - fresh from the Atlantic - on the AMA. Please be patient, in some cases, there may be a bit of a time lapse. Wow. An innovative plan indeed.

Don’t forget to upvote during the AMA

Reddit is run by voting. Upvotes (which are much the same as ‘Likes’) send content to the top of the page - it’s good karma (apparently!).

Looking forward to an interesting, lively session!

*Reddit is a massive community (234 million unique users: February 2018) with different forums or interest groups called subreddits. They are identified with /r/ and then the subject, for example, www.reddit.com/r/oceanrowing

** An AMA is a live Q&A session where interested users are invited to ask, well…anything! Bill Gates and Barak Obama have hosted AMAs, but you don’t need to be famous, just interesting! AMA sessions are held in the subreddit www.reddit.com/r/IAmA.

Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

World first treaty signing mid-Atlantic

When your office is an ocean rowing boat…

Cameron takes the concept of working from home to new levels…

Cameron takes the concept of working from home to new levels…

“Risk taking is vital for human progress. People succeed and businesses expand because of our determination to move forward, despite uncertainty.” Swiss Re

Cameron halted his gruelling two-hour rowing shift, 1,000 nautical miles from land, in rolling seas, took out a laminated reinsurance treaty agreement which had been taped, together with a marker pen, to the inside of his tiny cabin, filled in the reinsurance treaty terms advised to him via satellite link earlier in the day, and signed it with a flourish.

Cam makes history when he signs the first reinsurance treaty over 1,000 miles from land

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For the past 26 days, Cameron - whose day job is Head of P&C Structured Solutions for Continental Europe at Swiss Re - has been on sabbatical, at sea in a 25 foot ocean rowing boat, battling physical and mental extremes in an endurance event; the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge - aptly named the “World’s toughest row”.

Over the same period, NAGICO Insurances Group - platinum sponsor of Atlantic Discovery - has been working on implementing a reinsurance treaty with reinsurer Swiss Re, which came into effect on the first day of 2019.

Cameron has been one of the 14,000 employees at the world’s second largest reinsurer for 20 years and, in his own words, he has undertaken the most formidable challenge of his life “for epic personal growth - so I can learn what I am capable of - and become a better person.”

He is deeply passionate about people and relationships, so it isn’t entirely unexpected that he came up with the idea that these two entirely separate, but parallel events should meet; in the middle of the Atlantic.

To Cameron, connecting his business life with the personal challenge of a lifetime is simple.

“My symbolic signature - a world-first - made mid-ocean - is in recognition of the exceptional partnership Swiss Re and the NAGICO Insurances Group have built over a number of years,” said Cameron.

“It is also - on a personal level - a gesture to mark and show my deeply felt appreciation for the significant relationship our team, Atlantic Discovery, has built with NAGICO Group Chief Strategy and Development Officer Kyria Ali and the hugely inspiring NAGICO family, through their sponsorship and support of our crossing. From the first moment we engaged in discussions about a sponsorship partnership, I have been humbled by the exceptional calibre of people, level of care, support, inspiration and encouragement which has made our journey unforgettable.

“I am looking very forward to meeting NAGICO’s Chairman Imran McSood Amjad and Kyria when I reach Antiqua - I hope they won’t mind my attire after 40-odd days at sea - and, as soon as Mac has countersigned the treaty, I will insist on buying them both a celebratory drink!”

Who would have thought the insurance industry could be so exciting and inspirational? #anythingispossible

Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Isaac's letters

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motivating letters to support fundraising row

25-year-old Claire describes herself as an old soul, a traditional girl.

Her grandmother spent a lifetime writing letters and Claire has always been intrigued by the romance and mastery of penning thoughts and feelings to a perfumed page; the personal touch of sending carefully folded paper, enveloped and stamped, even sealed in wax, to someone special. A traditional, timeless form of artful communication she feels should be preserved.

“I’m not sure if it will work, but to enhance the letters just that little bit more, I have sprayed each one with a different perfume. I’ve heard pleasant aromas can motivate and stimulate the brain, which in hope, will make each day a little brighter. Today’s perfume - ‘Brit Rhythm’ Aromatic & fresh lavender, orange and iris, by Burberry.”

Isaac is pictured front right and Claire is just behind him.

Isaac is pictured front right and Claire is just behind him.

Claire has a passion for baking and works as a Marketing Communications Manager at a catering company in Abu Dhabi. “We both went to Royal Holloway, University of London, but started talking only after we graduated.  It’s nice to keep in contact and see the amazing things your classmates are doing around the world.”

When Isaac told Claire that he was going to row the Atlantic to raise awareness for Multiple Sclerosis and raise £60K for a world free of MS, she knew she should take the opportunity to help him from afar. “Letters from a friend when you’re enduring the most challenging journey of your life will hopefully bring comfort and motivation. I felt this was a heaven-sent opportunity to help someone through my writing.” And so began the most wonderful story.

Isaac helping to raise awareness and funds for the MS Society and Berkshire Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in the summer along the Jurassic Coast. The team’s extreme ocean crossing to raise funds for MS inspired Claire to write the letters.

Isaac helping to raise awareness and funds for the MS Society and Berkshire Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in the summer along the Jurassic Coast. The team’s extreme ocean crossing to raise funds for MS inspired Claire to write the letters.

“I’m writing this letter in a taxi, so please excuse my handwriting… so you want to reminisce, I thought what better way than to show our first and possibly only photo together (sad face emoji goes here), but you know what… I actually remember a lot about this photo. I remember specifically how you changed your position for the photo and came to crouch right in front of me. I must say you look very handsome.”

Claire began writing letters to the team two months before they left. She asked the team the kinds of hardships they would face on the journey, how they would feel at times, and when they would likely need inspiration and encouragement. She wrote until her hand ached. 150 pages of letters, poems, quotations and cards. Letters for when Isaac needs a laugh, motivation, inspiration, a pep talk, courage, for when he feels lonely, and even a card for when he doesn’t feel well.

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Pieces of her heart, beautifully penned. Then, there’s a letter for each day of the row. Starting the 12th December, ending 20th January 2019. She also chose a thoughtful little Christmas gift for the team, and a birthday present for Cameron. And then, instead of posting them, she entrusted this generous package of love to a courier, and asked them to deliver the parcel to Isaac in La Gomera, before his departure.

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Unfortunately this is where this delightful tale is derailed. Isaac’s letters didn’t arrive on the Spanish island. The courier notifications have listed them as “awaiting delivery”.

“If you’re feeling down, pull yourself up! You don’t get anywhere by staying where you were! You have the skills, you have the tenacity. Now get off your ass and go row faster than you ever have before! With all of my heart, I know you have got this! Claire.”

delivery to rowing boat mid-Atlantic?

The thing is, Claire is no ordinary young lady. She isn’t even slightly deterred by the fact that Atlantic Discovery is somewhere in 3,000 miles of open ocean. Far beyond the horizon. Claire is committed to getting the letters to Isaac and nothing is going to stop her trying to make it happen.

Claire is confident that the letters are going to reach the Atlantic Discovery team and motivate them to complete the row and raise the vital funds for their chosen MS charities.

Claire is confident that the letters are going to reach the Atlantic Discovery team and motivate them to complete the row and raise the vital funds for their chosen MS charities.

She rang up the courier company and stood firm that they find and deliver her package.

“How’s the team doing? Have you had the time to ask how you all are feeling, how their day is and if anyone needs anything? I’m sure you’re taking good care of each other and really pulling together for the final 10 days!”

For now, we wait to hear from the company. Cameron missed getting his birthday gift, it’s unlikely the team will receive their Christmas gift in time, and they’ve just all rowed through what must be the toughest 12 days of their lives. But the letters were written with love and care, and may still help Isaac and his team mates on their journey of a lifetime. Just as soon as they are delivered.

“I wonder what a beautiful sight you must have at night with zero light pollution and without noise if you really wanted to. Now that’s an experience I’m hoping to have one day. Although I have so many priceless memories camping with friends in the peaceful desert of Abu Dhabi. The stars at night in the desert are a sight to see!

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So, what is the feasibility of delivering a package to Atlantic Discovery? Tracking the vessel isn’t a problem. The team would need to switch on their AIS (automatic identification system) so they can be found on the vessel finder website or, the race tracker is updated every four hours so can give a good idea of where Ellida is situated.

“…the deadline to send your package of these letters is quickly slipping away and my hand feels like it’s about to drop off from writing so much. You can possibly tell from how poor my writing has gotten…”

Finding a craft to reach Ellida could be more tricky. Perhaps a long range helicopter, or aircraft, or a boat to intercept them? Whatever their plans, the courier says they are investigating every option to deliver the package to Isaac and, while they have an extensive land-based network, they don’t have a network at sea. “We are currently exploring all options because we understand the emotion behind this story.”

“Know that you are always in the thoughts of many around the world. Also remember the MS Society and the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre - the beautiful charities you are helping raise so much money for! Remember them and the incredible work you are doing to change the world. Yes, YOU are changing the world through raising money, and raising awareness for MS. God Bless you for your sacrifices and your courage! Lots of love, Claire.”

how will this story unfold?

This level of customer service by the UAE-based courier is absolutely mind blowing. Most of us, and I include myself in this category, would have written the package off as undeliverable. But not Claire. And not the delivery company. I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds…

Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

The first stroke

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“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” Sir Richard Burton

The first stroke

At 11:30 on Wednesday 12 December, Atlantic Discovery dipped their oars into the water for the first of 1.5 million oar strokes it will take to row the Atlantic ocean between the Canaries and the Caribbean.

The first stroke was the culmination of months and months of relentless campaigning, training, preparation, investment and forbearance. For Ben, it was the overwhelming moment his dream, born four years ago, became a reality.

It was also the moment the team’s world shrunk to the size of a 28ft vessel, containing everything they need to survive, and their ties with the world were set aside. From now on, they have only each other.

Atlantic Discovery leave the safety of the marina and head for 3,000 miles of open ocean.

Atlantic Discovery leave the safety of the marina and head for 3,000 miles of open ocean.

Waiting for word

For those of us left onshore, there is now a wait for about a week while the team become accustomed to their circumstances. We are unlikely to hear from them. The early stages of this extreme journey are challenging. They need to adjust to rowing at least 12 hours a day in shifts, sleeping in bursts of an hour or two, cleaning themselves with a cup of water and wet wipes, fitting in regular boat maintenance and eating rehydrated food and high calorie snacks. They are also acclimatising to constant movement.

It’s a galaxy apart from the past two weeks spent on the festive island of La Gomera.

It was so lovely to see the letters and gifts the team were given in the days before they departed.

It was so lovely to see the letters and gifts the team were given in the days before they departed.

The whole rowing fleet being photographed by Ben Duffy.

The whole rowing fleet being photographed by Ben Duffy.

The schedule for the team has been all consuming. Social events, farewell parties, photo shoots, rigorous safety briefings and checks, and, of course, spending last moments with family and friends. This whirlwind has occupied every waking moment. I can’t help but think that in a way, the soothing immersion in nature, with just the sounds of the sea, must be welcome to them all.

I’ve been part of the team for eight months; chatting to them every day, sitting in on weekly meetings, photographing their training drills, sharing teambuilding weekends, and watching them grow into giants, connect and meld as a unit.

So, as I sat perched at the waters edge, on my own, and watched the ocean rowing boat get smaller, and the sea become more vast, I realised that inevitably, my boys had taken a big part of me with them.

Then I caught sight of all the family and friends gathered on the pontoon, read through the hundreds of messages and emails, outpourings of support and goodwill, saw all the donations being made to our MS charities, and I realised that Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack have captured all our hearts. The next days and weeks and months will be spent watching their progress on the race tracker.

Some of the family who gathered to wave off the team - photo credit George Hopkins

Some of the family who gathered to wave off the team - photo credit George Hopkins

Generosity of spirit

The thing about such enormous human endeavour, is that it spreads with a ripple effect and infects everyone with inspiration.

Eric, my generous-hearted personal chauffeur who motored me around to catch the light. Photo credit - Cameron Parker

Eric, my generous-hearted personal chauffeur who motored me around to catch the light. Photo credit - Cameron Parker

Cam’s team have set up a tracker so they can monitor his progress every four hours.

Cam’s team have set up a tracker so they can monitor his progress every four hours.

  • Eric Kervarrec was moored peacefully in the San Sebastián marina when I asked him to take me to sea so I could photograph the team on the water, and he agreed without a moments hesitation.

  • Cameron’s Swiss Re team have set up a live tracker in their office and are taking bets as to how many fish he will catch on the crossing, how much weight he will lose and where Atlantic Discovery will finish in the race.

  • Ben’s dad Colin emailed 3,600 colleagues in Hiscox to ask them to donate to our MS charities. The boost in donations was wonderful.

  • Our platinum sponsor NAGICO Insurances Group recorded a Christmas video message from 10 offices in the Caribbean (Antigua, Aruba, BVI, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Martin and St Martin French office, Trinidad & Tobago) to show that they are always there and routing for the team.

Rose, Tony and Sue Unwin meet for the first time in La Gomera, despite attending the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre together for years. They made a special effort to come and wave off Atlantic Discovery. Photo credit Tammy Demmers.

Rose, Tony and Sue Unwin meet for the first time in La Gomera, despite attending the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre together for years. They made a special effort to come and wave off Atlantic Discovery. Photo credit Tammy Demmers.

  • Ben dropped his wallet in the street on the day before race start. A do-gooder picked it up and handed it to Leven Brown, our weather router, to return to Ben. (The people in La Gomera are wonderful, and Atlantic Campaigns has fostered heartwarming relationships with the locals.)

  • Emma Self designed the Atlantic Discovery logo and info graphic to track the team’s journey (which she updates every week) but she has also made a donation to our MS charities.

  • Thank you to the past, present and and future rowers who supported our Hot Santa run. We organised it to coincide with the Reading Santa Run in the UK which is one of the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre’s annual fundraising activities. It was a wonderful sight!

Two dozen Hot Santa’s watched the sunrise and then walked to the lighthouse to show solidarity for Atlantic Discovery’s commitment to a world free of MS.

Two dozen Hot Santa’s watched the sunrise and then walked to the lighthouse to show solidarity for Atlantic Discovery’s commitment to a world free of MS.

I can’t possibly include all the wonderful gestures people have made, all the donations, all the kind words. I just know that this huge wave of positivity is going to help the team reach Antigua and make all of us proud.

A last wave from the team as they turn to face the greatest challenge of their lives.

A last wave from the team as they turn to face the greatest challenge of their lives.

Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Racing the green line

A life not lived for others, is not a life. Mother Theresa.

Our journey log

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seven days to race day

In one week, Atlantic Discovery will dip their oars into the calm waters of San Sebastián, La Gomera, and pull the first of 1.5million oar strokes it will take to make landfall in the Caribbean.

Their bow will be pointed in a south/south-westerly direction and the team will become one with currents and, hopefully the winds, to reach Antigua. Rowing 24-7, they will draw a solid green line as they cross our chart - each dash representing100 nautical miles travelled. We’re hoping that they will move that line at least five dashes each week. Fingers crossed.

make the action happen from your sofa

For those of us who prefer standing on solid ground, eating fresh food, and sleeping eight hours in a dry bed, there are two lines we can race: an orange line (The MS Society) and a blue line (The Berkshire MS Therapy Centre). And yes, we move those lines with our donations!

Best of all, we have a head start on the green line - so far, 171 supporters have donated over £7,654. We have a strong chance to beat Atlantic Discovery to the finish line!

Let’s make this row a triumph for Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack

According to race organisers Atlantic Campaigns, buoyant and enthusiastic supporters can, and do, make a huge difference to a row. Event co-ordinator Nikki Holter says:

“Even though we’re far from the action, and shore-based, we can make the experience for rowers and their loved ones a positive and unforgettable experience.”

The 2018 tracker is live and the boats will be added in the run up to race day, ready for the start. Check back to see when Atlantic Discovery is uploaded.

The 2018 tracker is live and the boats will be added in the run up to race day, ready for the start. Check back to see when Atlantic Discovery is uploaded.

Follow #thegreenline

You can watch the green line’s progress in real time using the race tracker (shown above). Here’s how to have a bit of fun with friends and family - or raise money for our MS charities.

  • Company sweepstake - choose the top three teams to win.

  • Guess the finish position of Atlantic Discovery.

  • Guess the number of nautical miles Atlantic Discovery will row.

  • The team can go north - the most direct route - or south, to catch the trade winds. Which route will they take?

  • Predict Atlantic Discovery’s arrival date.

NAGICO’s Niala Singh has been busily asking her friends to make donations with great success; our bronze sponsor Lyme Bay Consulting has promised the team a finishing donation of £1K to MS on their arrival in Antigua and, in addition, a family member has initiated a school fundraising project to boost this donation further. Wow. Isn’t all this support super-heartwarming?

When the team arrives in Antigua, weathered, wild and at least 12kgs lighter than when they began, having experienced despair and fear, found courage, and realigned their sense of self, they will have joined a small, elite community on our planet.

More people have climbed Everest than have rowed an ocean.

Let’s do our bit and help them achieve their goal to raise £60K for a world free of MS.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Boat #42 reporting for duty

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“I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.” James Bond

Boat #42 reporting for duty

My story starts with four Daniel Craig-wannabes, who’ve been practicing their special agent moves for weeks, in anticipation of reporting for duty in La Gomera, to Nikki - the beautiful and talented heroine of this story - who is also the Atlantic Campaigns Event Co-ordinator.

(I’m not sacrificing my title of Miss Moneypenny to you, sorry Nikki! You can be the Bond girl - but I’d start running now if I were you!)

Instead of an Aston Martin, they have a sleek green R45 ocean rowing vessel named Ellida, with three ejector seats on deck (take that James!) and multiple hatches for contraband goodies (mostly sweets that Ben, Cam and Jack have squirrelled away out of sight of Isaac’s watchful eye, and possibly a bottle or two of the tasty Talisker Whisky…).

A new Bond movie?

So, I’ve been thinking about whether these guys would be contenders for a new Bond movie, starring opposite you Nikki? We’ll get to the name in a minute.

To me, the ‘whole package 007’ should be in peak physical condition - with a few battle scars of course - a penetrating gaze (preferably focused on me), a razor-sharp wit (I’m laughing already), calm, confident, super tough and sexy, with a little hint of badness...a man who creates a tingle of excitement in the air when he gets close. (Sigh.) What do you think Nikki? Sound about right?

Hmmnn. Well, Atlantic Discovery is definitely fit, but I’m not sure they fit the bill…

OK. So let’s look at the storyline instead.

Adventure? Rowing 3,000 miles across open ocean, unsupported, being horrendously shaken and stirred… Yep. Totally qualifies for this.

Bad guys? Oh yes - 27 boats piled high with 84 bad guys (only kidding teams! We love the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge community - especially Team Antigua - The Island Girls - they’re our favourites - and it’s not because they’re dressed like Bond girls).

Team Antigua - The Island Girls

Team Antigua - The Island Girls

A worthy cause? Yes! We’re doing this for Rose and a world free of MS for future generations.

Bond girls? Hey Nikki - you’re front of the queue here.

Miss Moneypenny? Here I am!

A plot? Well, this is the point at which I’m going to stop. You’re going to have to watch the story unfold as Atlantic Discovery face their demons, experience the most incredible force of nature at her best, and at her worst, triumph over adversity and emerge from a very real experience as hero’s. This story is definitely going to make me laugh, and make me cry, and gasp at the wonders of the mid-Atlantic.

And the name? Why, Atlantic Discovery, of course.

Wishing you the best of luck and fair winds boys. My heart and mind is with you on your travels.

Follow Atlantic Discovery’s journey along the green line. Be part of our story by donating here.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

Surviving the storm

Humanity reaching out, across an ocean

We are very, very small, but we are profoundly capable of very, very big things. Stephen Hawking

Atlantic Discovery spent a little time talking to two employees at NAGICO Insurances Group - our primary sponsor based in the Caribbean. Both Niala and Kyria have remarkable, very personal stories to tell.

I am sharing their stories with you, because there is so much value, learning and growth in simple human connection, in reaching out across an ocean.


The story told by Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator (aka Policewoman), NAGICO, Trinidad

Atlantic discovery’s challenge is a metaphor for my life, and for nagico

Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator, NAGICO

Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator, NAGICO

I have worked at NAGICO for three years and from the first moment I read about your extreme challenge to raise funds to research a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, you had my heart. I am your biggest fan.

In particular, I felt an immediate affinity with Ben. We both have parents who have been struck by illness. Just over a year ago, my active, lively, outdoor-loving father Barat had a stroke. He is 61 years old. He is now in a hospice, and I cry to know that he won’t be able to hold me and dance with me at my wedding.

Ben as a baby, with his beautiful mum Rose. She has lived with MS for two decades and is the inspiration for our fundraising row #row4rose

Ben as a baby, with his beautiful mum Rose. She has lived with MS for two decades and is the inspiration for our fundraising row #row4rose

To get me through this time, I set myself little personal challenges every day. Sometimes I stop and question whether I can do them, and then something in me changes. I grow strong and fierce and resilient and tell myself - I can do this!

I am brave because of my Dad. I remember when I was about six, I was terrified of the sea. It seemed so overwhelming and the waves so big compared to me. My Dad would hold my hand and urge me to go in, and when it got too terrifying, he would hold me tight to his chest and carry me in. He taught my sister and I to be risk takers and to challenge ourselves no matter how much it scared us.

You are going to encounter times when you question whether you can go on. You can. You’re going to be strong and fierce and resilient and come out of this extraordinary human beings. This is a parallel with the NAGICO story. We support people faced with terrible loss or tragedy and help them come out stronger.

Niala cradled in the arms of her father on the beach at age 6.

Niala cradled in the arms of her father on the beach at age 6.

NAGICO is rapping for you Team AD. You are doing something incredible. Pitting yourselves against extreme adversity in a huge, selfless act for humanity. This is very rare. You want a world free of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and this journey is to raise awareness for the disease and to pay towards research to find a cure. I want everyone to fall in love with you and help you do this.


The story told by Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO, St Maarten

I thought I was going to die that night

Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO

Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO

One month after I moved my parents from Trinidad, to live with me in St Maarten, Irma struck my home. A direct hit by a category 5 hurricane. One of the most powerful storms ever seen in the Atlantic, and to pass through the Caribbean.

I had heard many stories about hurricanes, but nothing prepared me for the reality. Nature, in her almighty glory, at her most violent, leaves catastrophic devastation and death, in her wake.

We knew she was coming, and we prepared as best we could. But similarly to Atlantic Discovery, we were largely preparing for the unknown. Unless you’ve experienced a storm of this power, or rowed across an ocean, the truth is you don’t know what you will face. We had plenty of supplies and water, barricaded our homes, and planned emergency procedures should disaster strike. Then we waited.

At midnight on 7 September 2017, the massive storm moved in over our heads - stretching 650 miles east to west - bringing pulsating winds of up to 185 mph. It killed 38 people in the Caribbean and caused an estimated $50 billion damage.

The pressure on our heads, deafening sounds and the sheer violence of the storm that night, I will never forget. Roofs and shutters were ripped off, cars were tossed about and there was water everywhere; the battering was as constant as an angry heart beat, and it went on for hours, interminably. The fear of losing your loved ones, your life, plays on your mind through the living nightmare. And, when we emerged from our tiny concrete safe room in the first light of day, deeply grateful to be alive and safe, to have each other, the enormity of our loss stilled us. We didn’t even have water to drink.

Kyria’s home after the  Hurricane Irma  had passed.

Kyria’s home after the Hurricane Irma had passed.

It is very hard to describe exactly how I felt and what we endured. We are so used to taking our homes, our sustenance, and all the luxuries of life as a given, the setback is overwhelming. It’s a true test of one’s courage, resilience and strength.

You’ve got to reach down into the deepest part of yourself to find the strength to begin your battle for survival.

Satellite image of three active hurricanes  Katia ,  Irma  and  Jose  threatening land simultaneously on 8 September 2017

Satellite image of three active hurricanes Katia, Irma and Jose threatening land simultaneously on 8 September 2017

Against a backdrop of the frightening possibility of a hit by Hurricane Jose, which thankfully missed the islands, followed two weeks later by Hurricane Maria - a second, and equally devastating direct hit, I rushed to address the basic needs of my family so I could move on to my next priority, work. I knew that I had to help all the people who needed to get their lives back. I had made a promise to them when I accepted my role at NAGICO. I neglected my own needs and family to work 15 to 18 hours a day for months. Even today, my home still bears the scars of Irma.

One never goes back to the way one was before.

Atlantic Discovery will be rowing 24-7 in rotating shifts, sacrificing their sleep, health and comforts. They will find their own path to surviving this test. They will wear the experience of this crossing on their hearts for the rest of their lives. They will never go back to the way they were before. They will be stronger. More resilient. And they will have found their courage.


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Learning from each other

Atticus was right. You never really know someone until you stand in his shoes… or, perhaps, spend time listening to each other. Thank you to Niala and Kyria for reaching out across the ocean to share your stories with us. Compassion, and empathy, are borne of sympathy. The call was uplifting, inspiring and emotional for us all. Tears were shed. Laughter was shared. We ended the exchange as firm friends.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.

A place where hearts and souls touch

A place where hearts and souls touch

A VISIT TO THE BERKSHIRE MS THERAPY CENTRE

Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it. Winston Churchill

Last week Atlantic Discovery visited one of our charities, the Berkshire Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre. The welcoming blanket of warmth and good cheer when you open the door enfolds every person visiting this purpose-built oasis - it felt to me as if I’d come home.

It’s a place where hearts and souls touch, where kindness happens, where you are understood, and where nothing else much matters.

Waterfalls, wild sea and whisky

Waterfalls, wild sea and whisky

We chose the remote Isle of Skye for our final gathering, because it is the home of the 200-year old Talisker Distillery; official sponsor of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

The weekend visit promised remoteness, a brush with the elements, adventure, and an opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the spirit of this premium brand of fine whisky, made by the sea.

What's our favourite colour?

What's our favourite colour?

GREEN, GLORIOUS GREEN

The colour of life. The colour of nature and renewal. The healing properties of green can enhance vision, stability and endurance. It is also the corporate colour of our main sponsor, The NAGICO Group.


Inspiration wildfire

Inspiration wildfire

The first spark

I’ve lived a very ordinary life; I’ve not put a foot very far outside my cushy comfort zone. But on my birthday, two years ago, my second cousin Chris Bertish (whom I’d not yet met) set off on a journey so out there, that it caught hold of my imagination and triggered a sequence of events, connecting me to a handful of super-inspiring people who have completely shifted my world.

Into the unknown...

Into the unknown...

pulling across an ocean

“Everything that has ever happened in your life, is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.” Anonymous.

This week I asked the Atlantic Discovery team to tell me about their mental, physical and emotional preparation for the race. But before I share this, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the known factors they will face on their journey.

Rain brings rainbows

Rain brings rainbows

Towards the best possible row

My admiration for the four men in this team grows day by day; through the setbacks and through every one of their triumphs. 

I've been told by ocean rowers that crossing the Atlantic ocean in a tiny rowing boat, standing against tempestuous Mother Nature and overcoming unimaginable physical and mental tests, is something that can be taken on by anyone. 

But I really don't believe this is true.  It takes a special kind of person to take on this extreme journey. 

Rowing through time

Rowing through time

Ah, Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack always seem to do things a little differently - that's what's so special about my modern-day-adventurer-heroes.  I love this team.  So, why not join in a 100-kilometer run along the coast, erm, with a boat?

On Saturday 21 July 2018, Atlantic Discovery will be taking part in the Jurassic Coast Challenge.  Instead of walking, running or jogging the route like the other 2,000 participants, they will be racing the lovely boat Ellida 60 km in the sea below the stunning 185-million-year-old-cliffs to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis charities.  How cool is that!