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Rowing the Atlantic ocean: St Albans man’s 3,000-mile journey

PUBLISHED: 16:07 16 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:07 16 October 2018

The crew on a fundraising row along the Jurassic Coast (photo: Daniel Gregg Williams)

The crew on a fundraising row along the Jurassic Coast (photo: Daniel Gregg Williams)

Daniel Williams

It’s 3,000 miles of ocean, two hours on and two hours off for around 40 days - a St Albans geologist is taking up the challenge of rowing the Atlantic

Would you test yourself to the edge of human endurance? There are those in Hertfordshire who will. Meet Isaac Kenyon, a 24- year-old world record holder from St Albans, also a philanthropist, pioneering geologist and possible madman planning to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.

Dubbed the world’s toughest row, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge race starts from La Gomera in the Canaries in December and finishes in Antigua in the West Indies around 40 days later.

Isaac is part of the four-man Atlantic Discovery team taking on the race. Fellow crew members Ben Ajayi-Obe of Berkshire, Jack Hopkins of Somerset and Cameron Parker, living in Zurich but spending a lot of pre-race preparation time at his sister’s home in Herts, will set off in a 28ft rowing boat, loaded with almost a tonne of manpower, supplies and equipment. They will row continuously in shifts of two hours. Atlantic Discovery and the other 30 boats taking part will be unsupported during the crossing. The extreme journey will be a test of mental and physical endurance, beyond anything the participants have encountered before.

So what motivated Isaac to face extreme temperatures, sun exposure, freeze-dried meals, severe sleep deprivation, callouses, blisters, seasickness, 20ft waves and, most scarily, the unknown?

‘This crossing is an opportunity for me to combine my desire for personal growth, my love of all things salty and my interest in helping others.’

Atlantic Discovery team, with Isaac at front, in their heavy weather gear (photo: Penny Bird)Atlantic Discovery team, with Isaac at front, in their heavy weather gear (photo: Penny Bird)

He adds that a big part of this three-year experience is learning about himself. ‘It’s how I deal with challenging situations, overcome difficulty, manage stress and find my limits. I’m also building on my project management, fundraising and negotiation skills and setting the foundation for my future career aspirations.’

Isaac discovered a love for the sea a few years ago through his national level competitive swimming and, despite living almost at the furthest point from the coast in Britain, he had a keen interest in learning to row and sail.

‘Over the past 10 years I have taken part in at least 15 different sporting events to raise money for various causes. It gives me a really good feeling to be making a small contribution to people who don’t have the same privilege of good health and circumstance that I have.’

For team Atlantic Discovery, it’s Ben’s mother Rose who is the inspiration. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago, shortly after her daughter was born and Ben was still at school.

‘I always feel humbled when I listen to Ben telling me how his mum overcomes her symptoms with determination and grit every day,’ Isaac says. ‘Atlantic Discovery has chosen to row for Rose (#row4rose), hopefully raising awareness of MS which affects 100,000 people in the UK. Our total fundraising target is £60,000, which we hope will make a difference.’

Atlantic Discovery on a training exercise at Weymouth (photo: Penny Bird)Atlantic Discovery on a training exercise at Weymouth (photo: Penny Bird)

How do you prepare for such a mammoth challenge?

‘First I had to learn to row and start training. As part of the process, Ben and I did a couple of world record attempts. I am pleased to have been awarded a world record for longest ergometer row on an indoor rowing machine in the lightweight category (83 hours in May). Ben holds the world record for heavyweight category (100 hours and 30 minutes). Earlier this year we achieved the world record for longest continuous row on an indoor rowing machine mixed team (33 hours in January).

‘In addition to making sure we are in top condition physically and mentally, we are preparing our boat Ellida, our food and water supplies, learning and understanding safety and navigation procedures, teambuilding, managing our PR and social media presence, approaching potential sponsors and fundraising for our chosen charities. There’s not much time for a social life!’

Isaac says he would love Hertfordshire Life readers to join the crew on its journey. There are lots of ways to get involved – sponsorship, donating to the team’s charities the MS Society and Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, becoming a virtual stowaway and following their progress on social media. The website, atlanticdiscovery.co.uk has more.

Atlantic Challenge - unsupported across 3,000 miles of ocean from Africa to the West IndiesAtlantic Challenge - unsupported across 3,000 miles of ocean from Africa to the West Indies

The challenge

The annual Talisker Whisky Challenge (taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com) was founded in 1997 and attracts around 30 boats from around the world comprised of solos, pairs and fours who row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic unaided.

Another Herts rowing hero is Jeff Willis of St Albans, part of an international team of eight, Polar Row, which holds the most world records achieved in one rowing expedition (11). The team rowed 600 miles across the Arctic from Norway to the furthest northern point last year, before rowing 680 miles towards Iceland, ending the freezing expedition on Jan Mayen island.

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