Dan Howie and Will North hit the headlines when, after nearly 54 days of rowing, they finished the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge – and won the 3,000 mile race's pairs category for good measure. Back on dry land we spoke to Dan in the calmer waters of London's Mayfair.
When you look at it on paper, what Dan Howie and Will North took on doesn’t look humanly possible: a 24-hour-a-day rowing schedule with the duo each completing alternate two-hour shifts until the 3,000 mile course, from the Canary Islands to Antigua, was completed.
And it’s not exactly like rowing in the gym: 50ft waves, sharing major shipping lanes, capsizing, physical exhaustion, salt sores and – curiously – a lack of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs all proved to be major challenges along the way.
Just under two months on, Dan Howie says the race already feels “like a distant dream – or nightmare!”. But the satisfaction of completing the challenge – and winning the pairs category – is evident.
“It was amazing to win the pairs as that is exactly what we set out to do.
“We always set out to be competitive and that got us back on the oars at the end of each break. There were seven teams in the pair’s category. About four or five of them were really gunning for the win. It was tough going which is exactly what we expected it to be like, then when things started breaking and we went through a huge storm in the first week, that started pushing us back to the start line, the reality of what lay ahead really kicked in.”
Their competitive spirit was tested especially when the boat capsized for the second time.
“There was about 10 minutes where I thought ‘I want to get off this boat now, this is really dangerous’, especially when we heard one of our competitors had been rescued by a cargo ship.
“But I always thought we’d finish the race unless we had an issue with a part of the boat like the rudder breaking or something like that. Even then we said ‘We’ll get out and swim, we’ll push the boat if we have to!’ We were both pretty determined to get to the finish no matter what it took.”
Thanks to a satellite phone and the wonder of social media, supporters of the pair were able to follow their progress across the Atlantic. Twitter has its detractors but it certainly can bring you to the heart of the action in situations like this.
The guys’ Twitter followers heard about storms, whales, rainbows and surreally, on January 20th, an impassioned plea for Cadbury’s Mini Eggs. Watchers were reassured when it turned out to be a random craving rather than mental disintegration.
When the challenge was over and the duo was reunited with friends and family in Antigua, Dan crowned a remarkable two months by proposing to his girlfriend Jo. The ring had not made the Atlantic crossing.
“It was far too risky taking it with me on the row - one capsize and it could easily be lost - so my mum brought it out when they all came to meet us. Jo and I hardly had any time to ourselves for the first few days. About the fourth day we decided to go for a walk to a secluded beach: that was when I popped the question!”
Back in the UK, Dan’s quick to emphasise the importance of the other side of the challenge – the money that has been raised for Cancer Research, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the Ghanaian children’s charity, St Anna’s.
At the time of writing, the duo had raised just under £120,000 for these charities and if you admire what they achieved the best acknowledgment is to go to virgingiving.com, search ‘Sponsor your friend’ type in ‘Dan Howie’ and make a donation.
When things started breaking and we went through a huge storm in the first week... the reality of what lay ahead really kicked in
And has this achievement given Dan a taste for another challenge?
“Yes, but probably not for a very long time, and probably not something that takes two and a half years to prepare!
“Maybe something smaller which you can bash out in a day. Nothing that’s going to take up that much time again.
“It’s just fantastic to now have so much free time now. ‘The Row’ is over and I don’t have to worry about the watermaker breaking, the rudder, oars snapping, storms, whales, shipping etc etc.
“It’s great to be back and to now appreciate the smaller things in life. It’s just incredible to have running water and a soft bed to sleep in’.
Dan & Will's Big Adventure in Tweets
It’s official! Race start is confirmed for 1pm on Wednesday 4th December! Now heading to bed for the last time before the challenge
Rowing alongside dolphins and 20ft waves - life on the Atlantic Ocean AFTER the storm
A message from Dan and Will on this special day - Happy Christmas everyone!
We’ve passed our next target. We have less than 1,000 nautical miles until Antigua. Bring it on!
@Cadbury UK We have a real craving for Mini Eggs. It’s such a shame you don’t sell them in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
We’re currently being followed by a pod of whales
Switched phone on after 53 days and greeted with 750 emails. Amazing thing is that most are donation notifications!!
First day back at work after 3 months of awesomeness!! Missing those rum punches more than ever now…
Are we there yet? Not yet! But we only have two nautical miles left
Our official time for crossing the Atlantic Ocean was 53 days, 9 hours, 30 minutes and 4 seconds
A rainbow out in the Atlantic - we’re taking this as a sign of good times ahead!
Over the last two and a half days we haven’t been rowing. We’re currently waiting for a storm to pass