A team of Newcastle University graduates will be taking a rowing trip like no other when they will push themselves and their boat to the limit rowing across the Atlantic Ocean continuously for 50 days. Arches found out about the challenge, which has been completed by fewer people than have travelled into space or conquered Everest.
Since its formation in 1963, Newcastle University Boat Club has competed in professional rowing competitions at all levels. Now, for the first time ever, former club members are taking on the Atlantic Rowing Race. Founded in 1997, the race, now known as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, is a biannual event which sees teams rowing a distance of almost 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to the West Indies.
The team comprises Liam Browning, James Timbs-Harrison, James Kendall and Stuart Markland. The team name, All Beans No Monkeys, harks back to their student days rowing for Newcastle and means to put the effort in, ‘lay the beans down’, and to make no mistakes ‘no monkeys’. Taking shifts, the team will row for two hours and sleep for two hours for the full 50 days. Over eight weeks, the team will face blisters, sleep deprivation, salt rash – and one or two sharks!
There is little doubt among the team that it will be a gruelling challenge. ‘We are training almost every day,’ said Stuart. ‘Our schedule includes Erg (rowing machine) sessions for over an hour at a time, various cardio tests such as running, cycling and cross training, and weight sessions to increase our overall body strength.’ The training will continue for several months before the team depart for the Canary Islands.
The trip, which starts mid-December, has taken months of planning and came about at a festive get-together. ‘James has always had an ambition to row an ocean,’ said Stuart. ‘He convinced us to join him on this incredible adventure, albeit over drinks at our annual Christmas reception! We’re really excited though, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!’
Life on the boat
The team’s specially designed rowing boat is made of fibreglass, offers two rowing positions and has a full marine grade electrical fit. ‘Our boat measures 29ft x 6ft,’ says Stuart. ‘It’s particularly small when you consider the shortest of us is actually 6ft – imagine trying to exercise 12 hours a day in an area smaller than your average living room!’
In between rowing, the team will need to maintain the boat and ensure their navigation is correct. They will also use their downtime to eat and have already calculated that they need to consume more than 10,000 calories per day.
The men don’t just need to stay physically healthy, but mentally too. ‘They say the biggest challenge out on the Atlantic will be against the mind,’ explained Stuart. ‘Mental fatigue is certainly going to be one of our biggest threats.’
‘The only way we can prepare is to mimic the conditions we’ll face and spend lots of time on the boat. Life on the boat will be interesting and we will certainly experience a range of emotions. Like the ocean waves, it will be up and down, but hopefully the highs will far outweigh the tough times!’
The team is using their challenge to raise funds for charity too. ‘We’re fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust,’ said Stuart. ‘I have a family member who has cystic fibrosis, so this is a great opportunity to raise awareness and raise money.’
‘We’re also fundraising for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), which saves lives at sea on a daily basis. We hope we don’t need them during our training in the UK, but it’s reassuring to know they are there.’
Looking ahead to more months of training, Stuart and the team remain focused and excited. ‘We’re all looking forward to the challenge and know it’s something we’ll never forget. Our motivation remains to raise funds for our two extremely worthy charities and the personal challenge that the race poses.’
James Timbs-Harrison (MEng Mechanical and Mathematical Engineering 2009)
James is former captain of the University’s Boat Club, having received a talented athlete scholarship whilst completing his degree. He now works for Mitsubishi Electric.
Liam Browning (MPhil MAST 2010)
Following his Marine Engineering Master’s degree, Liam now manages a commercial shipping company that utilises the Caledonian Canal to help reduce road traffic.
Stuart Markland (BA Geography 2007)
In addition to rowing, Stuart played for the University’s football team. He now works as a quantity surveyor for a high-profile residential company.
Whilst at Newcastle, James received a talented-athlete scholarship which allowed him to take the top spot during seat racing. He now captains boats around the Mediterranean.
published on: 17 August 2015