Thirty-seven days, 17 hours and 44 minutes. That sounds slow for an Atlantic crossing in the jet age, but it was a record-setting pace for East Rows West – the trio of oarsmen proudly sponsored by Cathay Pacific Cargo.
Hongkongers Matt Bell, Martin Muller and Robert Lennox were competing in the extreme Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – an annual race regarded as one of the toughest endurance events in the world. Their time was a record in the trio class, and that wasn’t their only achievement – the team’s efforts helped to raise almost HK$1m for their chosen charity, ChildFund Rugby.
Late last year, Cathay Pacific Cargo stepped in to help the team after the disruption to ocean supply chains threatened the team’s ability to get their boat to the starting line, putting two years of hard training under threat. It flew the East Rows West boat to the UK on a freighter for its onward journey by sea to the Canary Islands. With the boat moved and able to compete, the team powered the boat across the ocean to Antigua in the Caribbean, over calm seas that actually made the crossing more of a challenge, thanks to the lack of wind blowing them in the right direction.
The crew worked in a constant rotating shift pattern, with each rowing for 14 hours and catching just three or four hours of sleep a day. The physical toll was extreme. Despite a daily consumption of 5,000-7,000 calories each, Martin lost 7kg, Matt lost 11kg and Rob lost 12kg. The team’s mental fortitude was also seriously tested in dealing with boredom, unexpected challenges, and finding the motivation to keep going. All of which made crossing the finish line the memory of lifetime.
‘It was a pretty special moment,’ says Robert. ‘We came in at 2.30am so it was pitch-black as we approached Antigua. The coastguard came out to meet us, and we saw the media boat and all our family and friends waiting on the docks. It was a phenomenal feeling, and just a huge wave of relief to be finished.
‘There’s no way the three of us could have done this without a huge amount of support from our sponsors like Cathy Pacific Cargo, and loved ones, friends, and employers,’ says Rob. ‘We owe a huge thank-you to everyone who sponsored us, donated to our cause and supported us with wonderful messages before, during and after the race.’