By Mayu Purushothaman
In May 2015, Peter Fletcher, the Global Sales Director of World Challenge, along with his ex-colleague and good friend Tom Hudson, took on a challenge that embodied the World Challenge ethos by aiming to row unassisted across the North Atlantic Ocean from New York to London, a distance of 3000 nautical miles! They called it ‘Dare to Dream’ and said right from the beginning that the journey was truly about ‘having the courage to challenge themselves’.
The pair have just completed their epic row and although they were unable to make it all the way to London, they were still successful in their attempt to cross the ocean in a two man row boat. Right from the beginning, their journey promised to be one of epic proportions, but nothing could have prepared them for whirlwind adventure that followed.
Expeditions of this scale are not new to Tom. In 2009, Tom and his partner, Jodie, cycled 28,000km around the world from London to Auckland, New Zealand to the Rugby World Cup; all in the name of charity. For Pete, however, it was a very different story. “It was by far the most challenging yet enlightening thing I’ve ever done,” declares Pete as he remembers the time he spent conquering the North Atlantic Ocean with Tom.
Before the row began, both men didn’t really know what to expect. Rowing unaided across one of the world’s biggest bodies of water is not what you would call an easy task and certainly one they both had little to no experience of. The big question was always whether or not they would ever be prepared for the voyage. They spent the last couple of weeks before they embarked on their long journey stressing over whether the boat was ready, worrying about its autopilot and electrics. However after some time in New York, they decided that they would never, ever feel completely prepared. So, on the 21st of May, they made the decision to go, leaving New York at 10pm and rowing into the darkness.
The forecast showed two weeks of perfect weather for rowing: calm winds and warm temperatures, but they didn’t really know what to expect after that. Unfortunately, the first two weeks would end up being one of the longest stretches of ideal weather they had. Throughout their entire journey, the boys were hit with a number of rather large storm systems which wreaked havoc for them.
Early on, the boys had some food spoil due to their late departure and some of their food warming in the boat for too long. They had initially planned for 90 days worth of meals with the help of naturopath and had these meals prepared and packaged in the US. They noticed the food begin to spoil within the first two weeks of the journey. Pete and Tom lost about 40% of their food and it quickly became evident that making it all the way to London with the sudden food shortages and string of bad weather was going to be an even bigger task then they initially thought. Little did they know then that this loss of food would be the start of the greatest challenge and test of patience the boys would have to endure during the next three months.
Soon after, they encountered another challenge as their auto pilot system began to play up after a bad storm and eventually become unusable. This meant that they would have to steer the boat manually for the rest of their time at sea. A little mishap that could potentially, change the trajectory of their journey (literally!).
After a rather nasty storm system in June, Pete and Tom had their first of two capsizes at 2am in the morning – a rude awakening that proves Mother Nature sings to her own tune! They lost quite a bit of equipment during the roll: their drogue (a device attached to the exterior of the boat to help slow it down so it doesn’t gain speed coming down large waves.), their primary pump, the rudder bridal, some rope, the fender, their beanies, a GoPro drone & mung beans. It left them frustrated but the pair dried off and continued on.
The spate of bad weather didn’t stop there, throughout the entire duration of the row, Pete and Tom faced storm system after storm system, each bringing with it a ruthless combination of strong winds, heavy rains and giant waves. At one point the boys battled 40 knot winds and waves up to 30 feet high, all while being wet and cold. The discomfort of constantly being wet proved to be another huge test for the boys’ resolve.
Pete and Tom tried to ensure they were both well rested for their shifts of rowing and as efficient as they could be in term of their energy consumption. All the ideas they had before they left including cutting the nights in half or rowing 6 hour shifts proved to be difficult to maintain. They also initially thought they would like to row together most of the time but quickly found that it wouldn’t be feasible. They finally found a system that worked for them, settling into a pattern of 2.5 hours on and 2.5 hours off and basically rowed individually all the way to the end. Being the absolute gentlemen they are, they agreed that they would need to be completely dried out before their rest shift ended, since it was so horrible changing back into wet or damp gear to start a shift. Hence, some of their shifts would go much longer to ensure they abided by this rule.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Pete and Tom said that everything is so clear when you’re out on the ocean – they saw so many whales, and at one time saw probably a thousand dolphins all feeding together on a massive shoal of fish. Everything is put in perspective – you have a lot of time to think about things, and observe the world around you and just be present. Although the boys had a lot of trials, they certainly also had some incredible moments and not to mention breath taking views!
The last month of the journey proved to be the hardest of all. They had been on meagre rations for weeks and were both surviving on a mere 1000 calories day and burning close to 10,000 calories a day with the round the clock rowing. They soon realised that everything changes when you are hungry and found it difficult to stay motivated when there was no end in sight. The dwindling supplies made every stroke physically more demanding on them and at times they questioned their ability to go on.
“We just had to keep going – it was kind of like, if you knew the big picture and you knew it was going to take 98 days and 98 nights, and that you’d literally be starving by the end of it, you’d just never do it. We just took it day by day and shift by shift, focusing on the task ahead,” says Pete.
Bishops Rock, a rock in the Atlantic ocean known for it’s lighthouse, is about 45km off the coast of Cornwall and signifies the official end point and completion of a North Atlantic Ocean crossing. It took every ounce of energy they had to get to that finish line. While the initial goal was to reach London – the boys had to change their course as they realized their dwindling food supplies would not be enough to sustain them all the way.
When they did cross the Bishops Rock finish line, they were met by HMS Portland, a battleship in the Royal British Navy, who so kindly responded to a call for aid from the boys’ team on land. HMS Portland greeted the boys with hot food hand delivered by the head chef on board the ship, supplies to last 3-4 days and a bottle of champagne to celebrate with upon reaching land!
“We could see it coming – it was flying towards us, and when this huge ship emerged out of the mist, it was a bit like a movie scene. They dropped a boat with four people on it, and it flew over to us – it was just so professional, it was amazing. These people were so pumped and happy to help us – handing over flasks of soup and other hot items,” says Tom.
“It was honestly just mind-blowing, it was so good. They gave us about four days’ worth of food all up, and within 20 hours, it was gone. We had barely eaten in three weeks, so you can imagine the level of hunger that we had reached. Tom ate about 70% of the food – he just could not stop eating, he was so hungry!” laughs Pete.
After fuelling up, Pete and Tom continued on for the final 24 hours of their epic row. They arrived in Falmouth to a hero’s welcome on the 27th of August, 98 days after they began this incredible journey! They were met with friends, family and numerous local supporters. Those who could not be there in person watched them arrive live on a webcam a local fish and chip shop generously help set up to stream their arrival. By far the best part of the journey was being reunited with their loved ones again.
“Of course you think about them when you’re out there, but not too much or it softens you – you just miss them so much. It was just really so amazing when we arrived in Falmouth, it was incredibly humbling seeing loads of people and boats there to greet us. I could hear my girls before I could see them, and could soon make out my three year old daughter Daisy in her pink dress in the distance. I can’t even describe how great it was to be back with my family after such a challenging journey,” says Pete.
Since completing their row, the boys have also found out they’ve set a new Guinness World Record for the longest distance rowed in 24 hours – they covered a whopping 116.74 nautical miles. Pete and Tom also managed to raise over $15,000 for the McGrath Foundation which is over 50% more than what they initially targeted and they couldn’t be happier! For now, they are both enjoying being with their loved ones and eating to their hearts content!
Until the next big adventure….