Crossing the Atlantic to help others beat cancer

21st January 2019

12 days before Christmas, while people back home in the UK were busy with office parties and going to see family and friends, Raleigh alumnus Robin Drysdale was 1500 miles south of London preparing to row across the Atlantic to raise money for charity. Here he updates us from the middle of the Atlantic on his reasons for taking part in the challenge and the team’s progress.

Raleigh Expedition alumnus Robin is part of a five-man crew called the Men of Oar. They are taking part in this year’s Atlantic Challenge, the annual ocean rowing event between San Sebastián de La Gomera in the Canary Islands and English Harbour in Antigua.

The crossing takes between 28 and 60 days for a crew of four to complete. During the challenge, crews are fully self-supporting; they take all the food they need plus enough for emergency, they make all of their own water, they are responsible for choosing and navigating the route and for keeping each other safe on board – not too dissimilar to trek then!

Robin took part in Raleigh Expedition 02P to Costa Rica and Nicaragua and is currently a serving officer in the British Army’s Royal Signals unit, so he has always had a taste for a challenge and adventure. However, Robin’s motivations to row the Atlantic were much more personal: “It seemed like an amazing way to raise money for the charity Bowel Cancer UK and raise the profile of early diagnosis of bowel cancer in young people following my own diagnosis of the disease in August 2016.”

Robin formed Men of Oar with a group of like-minded adventurers – Will, David, Sam and Guillaume – and soon discovered how big a challenge they had embarked on and he sent Raleigh this update from the mid-Atlantic:

“The whirlwind of organisation that followed to get us to the start line afforded us little time to think about the enormity of the challenge we were undertaking. We thought about the logical steps to get to the other side, we watched the two-minute snippets shown as part of the challenge marketing material and the occasional feature length film. Of course, the iconic victory arrival shots of teams holding flares against a tropical Caribbean backdrop suggested the experience of a lifetime. But the reality was still a long way off.

“It all seemed like an amazing idea until we had been at sea for just four hours of an expected 45 day voyage. The adrenaline had finally worn off and we were settling into our first night on the Atlantic. The cabin, cosy for one, now accommodated two six-foot men, cushions beneath them soaking in sweat, walls running with condensation as they tried to get two hours of sleep before their next shift, all whilst battling the onset of seasickness.

“Reality hit us. There is no going back, the ocean is all we can see and all we hope is that the promised experiences of dolphins, whales, swimming in the mid-Atlantic and strong winds would motivate us enough. If you can survive a day, you can survive 2; if you can survive 2 days you can survive 4. And if you’ve survived 4 days you can survive a week. Once you’ve survived a week, you’re golden. The question is, how many difficulties will arise in that first stretch?”

Raleigh believe in the power of finding the courage and never giving up – and we feel Robin is living proof that these values live on in our volunteers long after they have completed their Expedition.

You can follow Robin and his team mates’ progress across the Atlantic Ocean on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can donate to their chosen charities – Bowel Cancer UK and Combat Stress – through their website: www.menofoar.com.

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