Trio from UAE to row across Atlantic to raise awareness of marine pollution

The athletes are aiming to row for 53 days, covering 5,000km on a small boat with no engine

James Raley, Toby Gregory and Rai Tamagnini will row 5000kms to cross the Atlantic to raise awareness about marine pollution. Supplied.
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Three UAE residents will set off next week on an “adventure of a lifetime” across the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat without an engine.

They will row approximately 5,000km for around 53 days across the Atlantic to complete the gruelling voyage in a bid to raise awareness about marine pollution.

Toby Gregory, 44, an ultra-endurance athlete from the UK; James Raley, 43, a British Army veteran and adventure travel enthusiast; and Rai Tamagnini, 48, a four-time Ironman and mountaineer from Portugal, make up the Arabian Ocean Rowing team that is undertaking the adventure.

They will set off from La Gomera, off the coast of Africa, on December 12 and row to Antigua in the Caribbean. They are teaming up with the UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas campaign for the challenge.

“We will be completely at the mercy of the winds and waves. There is no engine on board and we have to battle the currents day and night,” Mr Gregory, the team's founder, told The National.

“More people have been to space or have climbed Mount Everest. That is why this is a rare chance to do something unique for the planet.”

The team will be completely unsupported during the expedition and will have to rely entirely on desalinated seawater to drink, solar energy to power batteries and electronics, and they will have only power bars and dried food to eat.

They will carry a solar-powered desalination machine, satellite phones and dry food to survive the arduous journey

“When you have to spend 53 days in a boat 8.1 metres long — that is shorter than two cars, and just as wide as a small office desk, you need to be ready for many challenges,” said Mr Gregory, a father of two who quit his full-time job as a strategic advisory board member to undertake the adventure.

Nearly two years of training

The team has been training rigorously for nearly two years to prepare for the adventure.

One of the biggest challenges is to get enough sleep while rowing day and night through choppy, unpredictable waters, they said.

“We will sleep as and when we can. Sleep is premium and it is going to be incredibly hard to get much,” said Mr Gregory.

The team will take breaks and will row for two hours at a stretch followed by an hour’s break.

“We will have to row day and night. We will have GPS for navigation. But how much we rest, how much we row, everything will depend on the winds.”

The 900kg boat will carry a solar-powered desalination machine, satellite phones, enough food for three people, a complete safety and medical kit and a foldable safety raft in case of emergency.

One million calories

“Each one of us has to consume 6,000 calories per day. That means we need 18,000 calories per day and around 1 million calories for the whole trip,” said Mr Gregory.

He said they will carry the same kind of food that astronauts eat during space missions.

“There will be power bars and super hydrating powders that will replenish our bodies with vitamins and nutrients.”

Though their years of combined endurance training and extreme sports will come in handy while battling the ocean, Mr Gregory says they still have to be prepared for all emergencies.

“It is as much a mental challenge as much as it is physical endurance.”

“We will navigate the ocean with the help of GPS. We know the directions. But when you get pushed in all directions by the current, we cannot predict anything.

The team will conduct scientific experiments throughout their journey

Microplastics in the ocean

The team will also do scientific experiments throughout their journey and take samples of ocean water from day one through to day 50.

“We have a special net that we will use to sample the concentration of microplastics in the ocean, which is frankly unacceptable. And if they are in every stage of our journey in the water, what does it say about our oceans, what does it say about what we are eating, what we are swimming in.

“The majority of litter that washes up at our shorelines is plastic. People are aware of this, but they are not doing anything, so we hope to use our voyage to raise awareness about the need to reduce marine litter,” he said.

According to Guinness World Records, the first men to row across the Atlantic were George Harbo and Frank Samuelson, who were both from Norway. They crossed the Atlantic West to East from the US, from New York to the Isles of Scilly in the UK.

They departed on June 6, 1896, in a 5.48-metre boat without sails and arrived on August 1, after rowing 5,262km in 55 days.

The next attempt was 70 years later in 1966, when Sir Chay Blyth and John Ridgeway rowed across the North Atlantic in a 6-metre open dory called English Rose III. They completed the journey in 92 days.

Updated: November 29, 2022, 9:38 AM