Preparing for the World’s Toughest Row

Atticus DQPro co-founder Andy Williams takes part this winter in the World’s Toughest Row, as part of team R3OB to raise money for charity. Here we get a glimpse of the scale of this epic challenge.


It would appear that I am a glutton for punishment! About 18 months ago, while running the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’ in the Sahara desert, the idea of competing in ‘the World’s Toughest Row’ started to form in my mind. Perhaps it was the dehydration. My friends and I were five days into the challenge of running six marathons in six days across the desert sands carrying all our kit in 50c temperatures and the idea of swapping that terrain for a vast expanse of water started to become more appealing.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge brings together teams from all walks of life united by the same objective: to take on the unique challenge of crossing an ocean in a rowing boat. It’s the premier event in ocean rowing, a challenge to row more than 3,000 miles from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands to Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda. The annual race begins in early December with up to 30 teams participating from around the world.

As I write, we are now days away from starting the race and our minds are firmly on the success factors that will make the race a brilliant one for us, our sponsors and our many supporters. There are many things to consider but, for us, it boils down to just three key areas – ensuring we get the best from the boat, from ourselves both physically and mentally and preparing to deal effectively with whatever this journey row across the Atlantic Ocean throws at us.

Food, glorious food

The first question many people ask us is how are we going to deal with the body weight loss estimated at 10% during the race? Easy – eat! I’ve put on six kilos (just under a stone) in the last three months, I’m now weighing 91kg and looking to top for 95kg on race day (9th December). To achieve this I’m consuming 5,000 plus calories a day over 6 meals – truly eating my heart out!

During the race itself, each of the four rowers will must consume 5,500 calories per day and we will need to take 60 day’s worth, so that’s 240 x 24 hour food packs. Storage is a key issue, as you’ll see from the image – it really is a tight squeeze on our four man rowing boat.

We will eat mainly dehydrated rations with some fresh fruit for the first two weeks. Snacks very important and we are taking some treats like Biltong and nuts, Peperami and chocolate bars. Jordans is one of our sponsors so we’re lucky to have great cereal and Frusli bars as well. We will take protein powder as well to ward off too much weight loss and, as we will be rowing 2 hours on and 2 hours off, we will each eat after every shift.

Drinking water, of course, is absolutely vital. We have an amazing solar powered reverse osmosis water maker, the Schenker 30, which can make 30 litres of water an hour. The water maker is the most power hungry bit of kit, requiring around 10 amps an hour so we need lots of sun to be able to use it. If it breaks we have been trained to fix it and have spares in board. Worst case scenario? We have a hand pump we can use that will take 8 hours a day to make enough water for all of us.

Other challenges

With various backgrounds, including in the military, everyone in the team is used to working in challenging, harsh physical environments. Our preparation has centred on both physical training, to deal with the rigours of rowing for up to forty days, and equally the mental preparation required to cope as a team.

The former has consisted of weight training and eating the right foods. The latter is less easy to prepare for; being ready for the mental challenge can best be described as knowing you will need limitless humour in the face of adversity, and choosing your attitude no matter how hard it gets.

Row, row, row our boat

Our mighty vessel for this challenge is a Rannoch R45. We weren’t alone in believing this to be the best boat for the job, as many other teams in the challenge have chosen the same – competition will be fierce but at least on a fairly level playing field.

We are proud to name our boat Emma after one of our team’s sister who died of breast cancer – this is also one of our two charity choices, St Luke’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and Over The Wall.

Over the past 6 months we have been building a working relationship with Emma, focussing on the following:

  • Rowing the boat in all weather and all conditions, day and night. We now know how the boat handles and what ‘levers’ are available to us for adding to boat speed; crucially we also know what slows us down.
  • Learning how all the technical equipment on board works from the water maker to the autopilot; how to repair anything when it goes wrong, how to maintain it so it doesn’t, and dealing with emergencies.
  • Bespoke fit out. We have designed the layout and living/storage systems to suit us and the race we are in. I doubt any other R45 will look like Emma and this has made the boat feel like part of us individually and collectively.

Whatever a 3,000 mile row will throw at us…

This is what makes the challenge exciting. We know we are likely to face storms, blisters, sea sickness, 50 foot waves, lack of sleep but we don’t really know what it will be like until we’re living it.

I can’t wait for the amazing night skies with no light pollution, the sound and smell of a whale breaching close by, the adrenaline rush from diving in to clean the bottom of the boat while the team are on shark watch! We all believe our ability to deal with whatever the weather and the Atlantic can throw at us will make us stand-out as a team and thoroughly enjoy the experience.

As humans we have the ability to make a choice about how we behave no matter what the external stimuli. We have collectively made a number of choices, but our main ones are to enjoy every minute of the amazing experience we are lucky enough to take part in, and to deliver a strong performance by being our best (individually and as a team) at all times whatever the challenges.

However epic our rowing challenge appears it is nothing compared to the work our charities undertake. We chose them because they both speak to our values, and hold personal connections.

‘Over The Wall’ encapsulates our ideals that adventure, the great outdoors and comradeship can be available for everyone, especially children. The charity does fantastic work building up very poorly children’s self-esteem and self-worth by engaging them in outdoor ‘adventures’ that was previously thought to be beyond them – we love this idea.

St Luke’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital conducts cancer research and treatment and holds a special place in one of our rower’s heart for the work they did with his family. They are entirely funded by donations and we want to help them continue to make a difference.

If you would like to contribute to the charities that Andy and his crewmates are supporting, please visit their Just Giving Page:

You will be able to track Andy’s progress on the official race tracker here: