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Woodvale Challenge Boats Row Across the Atlantic in Spring 2010

The last of the transatlantic rowers arrived in English Harbor, Antigua on April 24. James Ketchell completed the 2009/2010 Woodvale Challenge, a grueling 2,548 mile row across the Atlantic to Antigua in 110 days. Now, there are easier ways to reach this vacation island than to row thousands of miles, but the point is not getting to Antigua, it's the doing of it that counts.

This annual competition is one of the world's great "extreme sports." The ordeal is akin to other personal challenges like climbing Mount Everest, rounding Cape Horne, transiting the Northwest Passage or surviving a winter on a small boat locked in the ice of Antarctica.

More than 30 boats entered this year's Woodvale Challenge across the Atlantic. The winds and current helped push the fleet along, and while the towering waves could be daunting, no one capsized and no one was lost.

The field of over 50 rowers was made up of teams in two and four person boats, with 10 brave souls making the two to three month trip solo One of teams was made up of two women, Melanie King, 37 and Anne Januszewski, 41, both from the UK. They made their crossing in 77 days. The record crossing time is 33 days and seven hours. The field of international participants included two Americans; the majority of the rowers were from the UK.

Ketchell (Ketch for short) from Hampshire, England arrived feeling "rather good … what I'm looking for right now is a cheeseburger and a cold Coke." An account manager for Avnet Solutions, a UK IT firm, Ketch's voyage took two years of planning and preparation. His adventure, like most, cost just over $25,000 in personal and corporate funds. Speedo contributed $3000. Other companies provided gear, and his own company gave him eight months off to complete this personal quest. Upon stepping ashore at English Harbor, wobbly and hungry, Ketch said lessons the voyage taught him included, "just keep going … just keep going …" A hand-written message over the companionway door was his constant reminder.

This annual challenge is not a competition – at two knots one can hardly call it a race. It's not about who comes in first or last. Every one who finishes wins. It's about the struggle one faces when confronted by forces far greater them oneself. "The ocean allowed me to make this passage," said one rower. Leo Rosette, a 59 year-old retired U.S. Marshal, who arrived after 102 days at sea, said, "The ocean gave me three lessons. One: be afraid. Two: don't be greedy, take what the ocean gives you. Three: the sea is unpredictable, it will suddenly change." Leo, who lost 35 pounds en route, said he would not do this again, but was glad for having completed the crossing. "The hardest part of this voyage will be the next 200 strokes to the landing area," the wiry ex-policeman told me when I met him at the entrance to English Harbor. "I'm looking at climbing Mount Everest in two years."

After all but one of the boats arrived (one poor soul was so far off course that he would have to be towed back to Antigua), Woodvale organized a Prize Giving and banquet in London, scheduled to be held May 22 for all the rowers. For more information: atlanticrowingrace09.com and www.woodvale-challenge.com. Read Ketch's blog at www.AtlanticAdventurer.com.

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