The Atlantic Campaigns

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The Atlantic Campaigns, formerly known as the Atlantic Rowing Race, started as an ocean rowing race from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, a distance of approximately 2,550 nm (2,930 statute miles or 4,700 km). The race was founded in 1997 by Sir Chay Blyth inspired by his 1966, ninety-two (92) days row along with his partner John Ridgway (from Cape Cod to Ireland). 

Sir Chay organized the event through his company The Challenge Business and dubbed the first Atlantic Race – The Port St. Charles Rowing Race. It started from Playa San Juan, Tenerife (Canary Islands) only allowing teams of pairs and was scheduled bi-annually. The race finished in Port St. Charles, Barbados 3,000 miles away. Thirty (30) teams started, and twenty-four (24) teams finished. After forty-one (41) days, two (2) hours, and fifty-five (55) minutes ‘Team Kiwi Challenge’ from New Zealand with Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs on board arrived in Barbados.

In 2001 the race name transitioned to the Ward Evans Atlantic Rowing Race. It was won again by a boat from New Zealand – ‘Team Telecom Challenge’ rowed by Matt Goodman and Steve Westlake – that finished first in Barbados after forty-two (42) days, four (4) hours, and three (3) minutes. Thirty-six (36) teams started the race and thirty-three (33) finished.

PetraTheSpectator Interview with Carsten Heron Olsen January 13, 2022

The race changed ownership to Woodvale Events Ltd., managed by Simon Chalk, in October 2003. It was called the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race and changed its departure port to San Sebastian de la Gomera, the same port and island where Christopher Columbus started his journey across the Atlantic. The first boat to arrive in Port St. Charles, Barbados was ‘Team Holiday Shoppe Challenge’ once again hailing from New Zealand. Team members James Fitzgerald and Kevin Biggar arrived after a record-breaking time of forty (40) days, four (4) hours, and three (3) minutes, closely followed by ‘Team CRC’ who came in just 9 hours later.

 In 2005 the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race combined with the ORS Atlantic Rowing Regatta. The event was opened to include other classes.  As a result Team Atlantic-4 with David Martin, Neil Wightwick, Glynn Coupland and George Simpson from the United Kingdom stepped on land in the new finishing port of English Harbour in Antigua after forty-nine (49) days, fourteen (14) hours, and twenty-one (21) minutes. Twenty-six (26) boats started the race and twenty (20) finished in Antigua. 

In 2007 a new start time emerged, December.  This start time has become a tradition to today.  Twenty- two (22) boats signed up to compete and twenty (20) boats finished in Antigua.  After forty-eight (48) days, two (2) hours, and fifty-two (52) minutes the British ‘Team Pura Vida’ represented by John Cecil- Wright, Robbie Grant, Tom Harvey & Carl Theakston were the first to complete the race.

The 2009 edition was delayed due to bad weather beginning in January 2010. Of the thirty (30) boats that participated, twenty (20) completed the race.  Englishman Charlie Pitcher won as a solo rower on board ‘JJ (Insure & Go)’ after fifty-two (52) days, six (6) hours, and forty-seven (47) minutes. Among the participants was the brother of Atlantic Campaigns CEO, Carsten Heron Olsen who is now the current owner and race director for the event.

Talisker Whisky signed their first one-year contract with previous race organisers Woodvale Challenge. The 2011 race departed with a fleet of seventeen (17) boats, only eleven (11) made it to the finish line in Barbados, with the winning team ‘Box no 8’ completing the race in forty (40) days, nine (9) hours, and fifteen (15) minutes.

In May 2012, Atlantic Campaigns SL, managed by Carsten Heron Olsen bought the rights to the Atlantic Rowing Race, now called the “Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge” – The World’s Toughest Row.  In the 2013 edition seventeen (17) boats started the race and eleven (11) finished. The race was won by Team Locura who arrived into Antigua after forty-one (41) days, two (2) hours, and thirty-eight (38) minutes with a blue marlin beak pierced through their hull.

In 2015 new developments and safety procedures introduced by Atlantic Campaigns bore fruit as twenty-six (26) teams left La Gomera on December 20th in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – and twenty-six (26) teams arrived safely in Antigua. Winners – Team Ocean Reunion, consisting of Angus Collins, Gus Barton, Joe Barnett, and Jack Mayhew, set the new race record of thirty-seven (37) days, nine (9) hours, and twelve (12) minutes. TWAC 2015 also set records for the youngest (Callum Gathercole) and the oldest (Peter Smith) ocean rowers.  The race schedule is annual going forward.  The first team representing Antigua and Barbuda, Team Wadadli Atlantic Rowers Nick Fuller, Peter Smith, Archie Bailey and JD Hall captured the heart and soul of the nation with their adventures during the row and finished to a hero’s welcome.

A new race record is set in the 2016 edition as the Anglo-American Team Latitude 35, manned by Jason Caldwell, Angus Collins, Matthew Brown and Alex Simpson, took almost two days off the previous record with a winning time of thirty-five (35) days, fourteen (14) hours, and three (3) minutes. The first onboard Inmarsat system sends back live footage of the race in real time. Team Row 4 James raised £650k to break the record for the largest amount for money raised for charity.  Twelve (12) boats started the race and eleven (11) rowed safely into Antigua.

In 2017 Atlantic Campaigns race is remembered as one of the fastest and most changeable in history.  There were world record finishes by The Four Oarsmen (UK) – twenty-nine (29) days, thirteen (13) hours, and thirty-four (34) minutes and Mark Slats achieved the fastest solo crossing in history with a time of thirty (30) days, seven (7) hours and forty-nine (49) minutes.  The second team from Antigua and Barbuda to participate in the event, Team Antigua – Atlantic Rowers, Eli Fuller, Scot Potter, John Watt and Nico Psihoyos placed 2nd in a record-breaking time, which remains a national record. There were also two rescues and two abandonments reducing the finishing teams to twenty-two (22) from the twenty-six (26) that started. 

2018’s race conditions were not the accustomed torrid conditions.  This presented challenging rowing conditions for the participants for significant portions of the journey. Dutch Atlantic Four (Marcel Ates, Erik Koning, David de Bruijn and Bart Adema) emerged winners in thirty-four (34) days, twelve (12) hours and nine (9) minutes.  Notwithstanding the unusual conditions world records were still achieved: youngest ever male solo (Lukas Haitzmann), the oldest ever pair (Grandads of the Atlantic), the fastest female pair (Whale of a Time) and the first all black female team to row across the Atlantic, Team Antigua Island Girls (Kevina Francis, Elvira Bell, Crustal CLashing and Samara Emmanuel) to name but a few.  Twenty-eight (28) boats started; twenty-seven (27) boats finished. 

Thirty-five (35) boats left La Gomera on December 12th, 2019: eight (8) solo rowers, six (6) pairs, four (4) trios, fifteen (15) fours and two (2) five-man.  All completed the race over eighty-seven (87) days. The winners were Fortitude IV (Olle Palmer, Tom Foley, Hugh Gillum and Max Breet).

Covid-19 impacted participation in 2020. Twenty-one (21) boats including the youngest ever female solo rower (Jasmine Harrison) and the oldest solo (Frank Rothwell).  Antigua and Barbuda fielded its first pairs team, Team Antigua Pairs – JoJo Nunes Travis West who successfully completed the race.  The Row4Cancer pair of Mark Slats and Kai Wiedmer set a winning record of thirty-two (32) days, twenty-two (22) hours and thirteen (13) minutes.  

The 2021 edition of the Atlantic Campaigns is currently ongoing with thirty-six (36) teams heading towards English Harbour, Antigua.  The epic adventure continues, The World’s Toughest Row!!

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