At 10 a.m. last Saturday, 50 days after setting off from Gran Canaria, two friends from Shropshire arrived safe and sound in Barbados, after rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, completing their Rowing 4 Research Challenge.
Harry Martin-Dreyer and Alex Bland left their successful London jobs to take on one of the most physically and mentally draining tests of human endurance to raise money for the Birmingham-based charities Cure Leukaemia and JDRF –– the latter dealing with Type 1 diabetes.
Family and friends travelled to Barbados to give the intrepid duo, who had negotiated treacherous waves, blisters, sores, extreme heat, exhaustion, boredom and sharks, a magnificent welcome. The boys received tremendous support throughout their voyage, with thousands of emails, tweets and good luck messages, and they kept their followers up to date with their progress, with weekly blogs, and even a festive photo on Christmas Day!
Despite the obvious travails they faced on the vast and unforgiving seas, they managed to keep their sense of humour. And, today, they are able to appreciate the enormity of their achievement.
“I think both of us are in agreement that this experience has challenged us in more ways than we could have ever imagined, and the predominant sense of excitement that we now feel is combined with a great sense of relief. Relief that all the things that could have gone wrong have not, and relief that, where numerous others have failed, we have succeeded,” stated Alex in their final blog.
On arriving in Barbados, both Alex and Harry were wobbly on their feet, walking into pillars as they acclimatized themselves once more to the stability of dry land.
Harry said: “The sensation is a little like jet lag with so much going on around us, but seems very separate. It is a huge relief to not have to do any more rowing, and I cant wait to sleep in a bed. A huge thank you to everyone at Port St Charles for making it such a special arrival. Your burgers are the best!”
Alex followed him with: “It’s quite surreal to be on dry land once again, and the reception we have received is unbelievable, as is the knowledge that we have made it 3,000 miles in a rowing boat –– although I’ve been told I might have to do it again, having failed to catch a fish.”
Their Rowing 4 Research Challenge, sponsored by London’s Hotel Rafayel, has raised over £142,000 (about BDS$464,000) for the two charities. The boys named the boat Alexandra after Harry’s mother, who was treated by Cure Leukaemia’s co-founder Professor Charlie Craddock at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and who sadly passed away in March last year.
Alex’s brother Ross suffers from Type 1 diabetes; hence the reasons behind their chosen charities.
The transalantic trip has piqued interest across the media, with coverage in the London Evening Standard, a mention on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show, live interviews from the boat on BBC Radio WM and weekly updates in the Shropshire Star. Ben Fogle, who completed his own Atlantic crossing with James Cracknell in 2005, sent a message of support, and Warwickshire and England cricketer Jonathan Trott and Cure Leukaemia patron and England One-Day International coach Ashley Giles sent their own video messages.
James McLaughlin, chief executive of Cure Leukaemia said: “We have the utmost admiration for Harry and Alex. Their drive and determination to complete this remarkable challenge is truly inspirational for everyone connected with Cure Leukaemia.
The money they have raised will significantly help give leukaemia patients across the West Midlands hope, as we continue our efforts to help find a cure for this terrible disease.
“On behalf of the charity, I’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks for their staggering efforts.”
Michael Connellan, senior media manager for JDRF, said: “Harry and Alex have proved themselves phenomenal fund-raisers, as well as athletes. Among the long list of heroic challenges that people have undertaken to support Type 1 diabetes research, this stands out as something truly exceptional. Their magnificent journey is taking us closer to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes, a condition which affects 400,000 people in the UK alone.”