Atlantic rowers race to a record finish

THE rowing race from Tenerife to Barbados that began in farce on October 7 is poised for a dramatic climax this weekend as New Zealanders Rob Westlake and Matt Ward surge towards breaking the world record for the 3,000-mile crossing. And, nearly 400 nautical miles behind, fellow Kiwis Stephanie Brown and Jude Ellis, the only all-female team in the 37-boat race are fighting a neck-and-neck battle for third place with Belgian brothers Alain and Bruno Lewuillon in Win Belgium.

The New Zealand men, in Telecom Challenge, streaked away from the start at Playa San Juan, determined to break the record set in 1997 of 41 days by fellow Kiwis Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs. After a gruelling early battle with Australians Paul McCarthy and Patrick Weinrauch in Freedom they gradually extended their lead until, by Wednesday this week, they established a 137 nautical mile lead.They are now predicted to arrive in Barbados some time this Sunday and could finish up minutes either side of the Hamill/Stubbs 1997 record. Weather conditions as they approach land will finally determine whether they break the record or not.

But the really exciting battle is between the Kiwi girls and their Belgian rivals for third place. The two 27ft rowing boats have been
fighting for supremacy over each other from the very start, with the advantage swinging between them on an almost daily basis. On Wednesday the Belgians had the edge by a mere 25 nautical miles a lead that could easily change hands as they head towards their predicted arrival on Monday week. Because they are so close together, each boat will benefit or suffer from the same weather conditions. Who grabs third place will depend entirely on grit and stamina. Whether the Kiwi girl triumph or not, they will have the satisfaction of making history as the ninth and 10th women to have successfully rowed an

Much further back in the field is 22-year-old Debra Veal,continuing alone after her husband, Andrew, gave up the challenge and hitched a ride on one of the rescue vessels accompanying the race. At her present rate of progress she is on course for her own record as the slowest crossing a record mother and son team Jan Meek and Daniel Byles will be glad to lose after their 101-day joint crossing in 1997.

Rowers in the middle and and tail-end of the field are spread out across the Atlantic, with many expecting to spend Christmas and the New Year on the ocean. Many have been overtaken by two entirely separate ocean-rowing bids fighting their own individual battle.

Norman Butler, who had to drop out of the race when his partner backed out, found a substitute rower in Tenerifes Phil Scantlebury and they left from La Gomera the day after the main race began. They are making good progress but are slightly behind Ukrainian lone rower Theodor Rezvoy, who set out from the same spot four days later. Red Ted, as he is known, is buoyed by the ambition of being the first rower from the former Soviet Republic to row an ocean and is consistently adding more miles to his daily lead over the Britons. At one point last week he took a brief respite to row over and talk with
Lincolnshire brothers Steve and Mick Dawson, whose boat, Mrs D, is towards the tail end of the main race. They refused his offer of a beer because accepting such assistance would have disqualified them and they parted but their boats remain close on the ocean.

Separate panel piece

The exciting final stages of the Ward Evans Atlantic Challenge 2001 make up for the fiasco of its start, when organisers, Sir Chay Blyths Challenge Business, failed to arrange the hoped-for start from Los Gigantes. Families and well-wishers were left waiting in vain at the marina in Los Gigantes as Challenge put out more and more confusing information about the start point.
Sponsors Ward Evans insurance brokers fought down their anger and disappointment with the chaos, saying merely: There will have to be an inquest. As a result of the poor arrangements it is unlikely there will ever
again be such a race from Los Gigantes or even Tenerife.

Friday, November 16, 2001


1983 -  2001 Ocean Rowing Society 

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