After an incredible 32 days, 22 hours and four minutes on the water, the four Irish men raising money for the CUH Children’s Unit by rowing across the Atlantic are back on dry land.
Eoin O’Farrell (26) from Ballinlough, Sean Underwood (25) from Blarney, Patrick O‘Connor (27) from Castletownroche and Thomas Browne (28) from Dublin, set out from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 14 and arrived in Antigua in the Caribbean on Wednesday.
The Relentless Rowers set off flares on the boat as they reached the harbour at 5.30am local time, while a crowd of waiting supporters played Ireland’s Call.
It was a journey of 5000 kilometres and the men battled the weather, physical exhaustion and loneliness to complete the daunting challenge.
“We are a bit wobbly now, we still have our sea legs but it was an absolutely amazing adventure,” Eoin told the Evening Echo.
Thomas said seeing their family waiting onshore had re-energised them: “The adrenaline is still kicking in. When you see your family, the emotions of it keeping us going but we are approaching the wall. We haven’t had a sleep longer than two hours in 34 days so we are ready to sleep.” The Relentless Rowers were participating in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge, an annual race where solo rowers, pairs, trios and foursomes attempt the epic journey. They were the sixth team home out of the 26 taking part, and fourth home in the foursomes category. Five boats were forced to drop out during the race. Before this year’s race the world record for the crossing was 35 days.
Sean said they were adjusting to be back on dry land: "It feels a bit surreal at the moment, it's been so long coming.
"To actually arrive now on solid ground - it doesn't feel so solid, we're kind of swaying around the place - it feels great to be here, absolutely amazing."
The first week or so was the toughest for the crew as the elements conspired to throw challenges at them “The first week was extremely rough, we had sea sickness and we broke an oar,” Eoin said. “There was a storm for the first week as well, but we were kind of unaware it was a storm and kept ploughing through it.”
The bad weather did have an upside: “The storm was going in the right direction so we made a good bit of ground for the first couple of weeks.” As the weeks wore on, exhaustion and loneliness took a heavy toll on the men.
“We haven’t had a sleep longer than two hours in 34 days so we are ready to sleep,” Thomas said.
“The cycle was two hours off, maybe 20 minutes personal time and then about a 90-minute sleep cycle. You would be surprised how fast your body adapts to it.
“The lack of sleep caused some issues, I had really bad hallucinations; some of them were pretty scary and that was purely lack of sleep.
“The fatigue set into your bones. The only thing I can compare it to is that deep coldness you get in your bones in a winter chill. This was like a tiredness that wasn’t just in your muscles it was gone into your bones.” On the toughest days, the knowledge of the support back home was a major comfort.
Patrick said: "We've had a lot of dark days out there.
"My family came up with a book with messages from my friends and family on each day.
"It was one of those things I'd leave until it was the roughest point in the day and then I'd read it.
"When somebody mentions they're inspired by you and they know you'll get through to the end, you start doing it for them and you don't want to let them down.
"You get quite emotional about it - you come out of your cabin, you nearly have your tears, and you talk to the boys, and you get on the oars and give it 110%.
"Without the support we've had from people here and back home, there's no way we would have made it, so thank you."
Thomas agreed: “Christmas was rough. When you think about it, of the last 10 Christmases this is the one we will remember, even it is by far the hardest Christmas we have had.
“It is a testament to the families we have though, they all gave us loving mementoes. My mum gave me a book, and about 100 people had written in it, from cousins in the States to guys I went to primary school with. Going through that was incredibly emotional but it gave me a push on.”
Although none of them sore suffered major injury, their bodies were battered in the crossing.
“We all took a fair beating, we all have lots of cuts and bruises - on knees and feet,” Eoin said. “But no major issues, bar very sore bums from sitting on the seats!” “I have to write a handwritten letter to thank whoever invented paracetamol because it got us over the last seven days,” Thomas added “We had really bad pains by then, it was really, really tough.”
Despite the close proximity, Eoin said they had avoided too many arguments.
“We all got on very well, that’s probably why we did so well. I was rowing with Sean and Tommy rowed with Pat. We had one bust-up each!
“I think that let off the excess stress and we were able to put it behind us and row on. They weren’t major bustups by an stretch of the imagination, we actually got on better than we thought we would. We’re still friends and that is the main thing at the end of the day!”
After so many days in the most basic of conditions, Tommy said it was a shock to arrive to the luxury of Antigua.
“We arrived in a 6.5 metre boat that we have been living in for the last 32 days, with a poo bucket hanging off the side of it, two broken oars and a mouldy desalinator and we were weaving in and out of these super-yachts! But Saoirse, the boat, did us very proud and kept us safe.” They plan to spend a few days relaxing with family before returning home. The four rowers have raised more than €20,000 for their charity, the CUH Children’s Unit. The funds raised will go towards helping to equip the new unit with state-of-the-art equipment, purchase high-flow oxygen for respiratory conditions and provide resources to look after children’s educational needs during hospital stays.
The Relentless Rowers were sponsored by Affidea and also received assistance and support from the Port of Cork and CH Marine as they prepared in Ireland before heading to the Canary Islands.