Atlantic rower navigates his way into the record books

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
world ocean rowing

Williams and his crew crossed the Atlantic in 57 days

A near-fatal crossing of the Atlantic would be enough to deter most rowers from further ocean challenges. Not 27-year-old Peter Williams.

Williams, part of the 14-man La Mondiale crew attempting to break the world record for an east to west crossing of the Atlantic, suffered the disappointment of a failed attempt in February last year.

The voyage came to an end amid much drama after 11 days at sea. Williams explains how the rudder “sheared itself off and dropped into the ocean.” The quick-thinking crew members unscrewed the centre board in an attempt to use it as a manual tiller.

But it soon became clear it was not a satisfactory solution. It ultimately left the boat without a rudder, jeopardising the crew’s safety. Williams describes how the crew “lost confidence” before the captain promptly called the Falmouth coastguard who alerted a passing Russian container ship to La Mondiale‘s “precarious position”.

But the drama was not over quite yet.

Each of the 14 crew members were forced to climb a dangling rope ladder up to the Russian vessel while avoiding La Mondiale‘s wind generator turbine and at the same time contend with dangerous ocean swells.

The sense of alarm amongst the crew members was heightened as the adventurers’ boat began “smashing to pieces” as it continuously collided with the hull of the large container ship.

Despite the overwhelming disappointment of the failed trip and the mental exhaustion of such a traumatic experience, Williams immediately turned his thoughts to the future.

While everyone was, in the words of Williams, “seriously depressed”, the next day he came to the decision to pursue another ocean challenge. He ventured into the foreign container ship’s gym as his fellow crew members opted to rest up.

Within a month Williams, along with fellow La Mondiale crew member Matt Craughwell, founded World Ocean Rowing.

Following the purchase of their boat, Sara G, the pair began looking for a crew, advertising on relevant rowing websites and travelling to the Henley Royal Regatta. Once they had found six members—two Irishmen, two Englishmen, a Canadian woman and a Swede—the next hurdle was locating a departure port.

The Spanish authorities were unhelpful in securing a possible location in their waters. Eventually Agadir, in Morocco, was selected.

A key factor in the success of the attempt was the preparation of the oarsmen. While their physical fitness was required to be “reasonable” at the very least, even more important was ensuring the crew were “mentally prepared” for the challenges that lay ahead during the 5,000 km journey.

High seas and strong winds delayed their departure on successive mornings before the Sara G crew finally left civilisation and ventured into the vast wilderness of the Atlantic Ocean on 12 January of this year.

The aim was to complete the crossing in 40 to 50 days, but due to the particularly calm conditions the expedition took longer than anticipated.

“There were only 10 days in which a strong wind pushed the boat along,” says Williams.

The boat hosted six members—three oarsmen would row in staggered two-hour shifts while the others rested.

Williams describes how their time during the breaks was “dedicated to cooking, writing emails, tending to one’s body and resting.”

Unlike the previous failed attempt, the Sara G crew escaped any alarming moments which might have threatened their progress, but in order to keep himself motivated Williams kept a list of things he could feel “positive about when feeling a bit low.”

After 57 days and 20 hours, Sara G finally arrived in Barbados on 11 March 2010. It heralded the first successful expedition for World Ocean Rowing and, on a personal note, Williams became one of only nine Irishmen to successfully navigate their way across the Atlantic ocean.

Williams has undertaken other endurance-based challenges including circumnavigating Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Corrib—a 74-mile roundtrip—in 14 hours and 30 minutes. For now, however, he intends to allow his body some vital recuperation time and focus on his career before doing it all again in the new year.

If you are interested in rowing the Atlantic with World Ocean Rowing next year, visit worldoceanrowing.com

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