A talented team of four men, who have spent their lives and livelihoods on the seas, are preparing to put Antigua on the map once again for an incredible feat of seamanship. Eli Fuller, John Watt, Nico Psihoyos and Scott Potter will compete as Team Antigua in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. This transatlantic rowing contest, billed as ‘The World’s Toughest Row’ and inspired by Sir Chay Blyth’s epic North Atlantic crossing in 1966, departs La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 12th on a 3,000-plus mile journey ending at Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua. Team Antigua will pit their pure muscle power against teams from Australia, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa, the Ukraine, U.S. and U.K., following in the wake of fellow islanders on Team Wadadli, who not only successfully completed this grueling competition in 2015, but also earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest team of four to row across any ocean.
“John, Nico and myself were fishing together a decade ago about 30 miles east of Antigua when we saw a rowboat and two scruffy men coming in,” tells team captain, Fuller. “It sparked our adventurous interest. Since then, we have seen others make the journey including our famous team Wadadli. We followed all the teams last year without saying or admitting that we wanted to do it. It was Captain Nick (Fuller) of Team Wadadli who said that he wanted another team to continue the legacy of Antiguans rowing across the Atlantic. We were contacted by a potential sponsor in May 2016 who asked us to start a team. We didn’t need much more encouragement after that happened.”
What made this Challenge so appealing to Watt, Psihoyos and Fuller is that the three men all work, play, relax and vacation on the sea. Being so intimately connected to the ocean for up to 40 to 90 days during this transatlantic row keeps this trio right in their element. Watt, a competitive swimmer as a kid who preferred fishing and snorkeling, is now one of Antigua’s most experienced and respected offshore fishermen and well known on the Caribbean tournament circuit by his team, Rum and Coke. Psihoyos, who grew up on the island’s waters, is a chef and artisanal commercial fisherman who supplies fresh line-caught catch to Antigua’s restaurants. Fuller, who grew up in a family of Antiguan fishermen, divers and sailors, represented the island in the 1988 Summer Olympics in windsurfing and now owns and operates the Adventure Antigua excursion company. The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge requires a four-person team, therefore the trio asked Scott Potter to join them. Potter, a kite surfer and classmate of Fuller, is one of the most sought after personal trainers on the island.
Another unique feature of this Challenge that appealed to the team was the requirement of a donation of funds to a charity. Team Antigua’s members have collaborated with an environmental awareness group and National Parks Antigua to establish a protected Marine Park just outside Nelson’s Dockyard.
Just getting to the start line in La Gomera can be a test due to the logistics of planning, sponsorship, individual schedules and training. On this last point, the team has enlisted the help of elite personal trainer and past Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge competitor, Gus Barton, founder of Gus Barton Bespoke Fitness in the UK, who flew to Antigua. Barton created training programs tailored to improve each of the four rowers’ weaknesses. In addition, the team is training on the water together at least three to four times a week ahead of the December start.
Another pre-event need is that of acquiring a boat. More specifically, a Rannoch 45 row boat.
“This is a 24-foot long, six-foot wide self-righting boat with two cabins front and stern,” says Watt. “We will have two guys rowing and two guys sleeping at all times on a two-hour shift system around the clock. The electrical components such as GPS are all powered by solar panels. We have a water maker on board, which will provide fresh water for drinking and cooking. For food, we will have freeze dried meals. By adding water, we can rehydrate some delicious calorie-packed foods to keep us well fueled.”
There’s no powerboat support that follows each team on their ocean-going row. Therefore, each team member is required to take navigational, first aid and ocean rowing courses to assure self-sufficiency as much as possible. There is a race Duty Officer on call and organizers, Atlantic Campaigns SL, do have two support yachts that shadow the fleet from a distance, but are not close enough to all teams always to immediately assist.
“Our plan is to complete the race in the top five teams and to make the crossing in under 40 days. There are many variables working against us such as equipment failures, weather, currents and health, just to name a few. We understand any one of these factors will play a part during our row. However, the tough times will pass making way for the unforgettable moments,” says Fuller.
For more information and to follow and support Team Antigua, visit: www.teamantiguabarbuda.com
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.