The Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge were still under construction in 1896 when Norwegian immigrants George Harbo and Frank Samuelson decided to leave New York in a skiff made of pine and white oak. Their destination? Europe, more than 3000 miles across the Atlantic.
Today, Harbo and Samuelson have a place in the history books. But back then, nobody knew what lay ahead for the men as they rowed off in search of fame and fortune. After 55 days at sea, the intrepid duo reached the Scilly Isles. Their extraordinary record stood unbeaten for 114 years.
In 1966, British paratroopers Sergeant Chay Blyth and Captain John Ridgway became the first pair to row across the Atlantic in the twentieth century, crossing from Cape Cod to Ireland in 92 days. They braved two hurricanes in their open dory, the English Rose III.
Three decades after his Atlantic crossing with Ridgway, Blyth organised the first official Atlantic race, the Port St Charles Rowing Race. Thirty teams left Playa San Juan, Tenerife, on the 12th of October 1997. Kiwi Challenge rowers Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs took the top honours in Port St Charles, Barbados, 41 days and 3 hours later.
In 2001, the race was sponsored by Ward Evans and drew 36 teams of competitors from 12 countries. Thirty-three boats reached the finish line in Barbados, with New Zealand teammates Steve Westlake and Matt Goodman of Telecom Challenge the victors.
The event was renamed the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race in 2003 and the new departure point – San Sebastian on La Gomera – was a fitting nod to one of history’s most famous seafaring figures: Christopher Columbus started his journey towards the New World from this same port. For the third time in a row, the winners flew the flag of New Zealand. The race was run every two years until 2015, when it became an annual event.
Atlantic Campaigns has organised the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge since 2013. The 3000-mile contest sees rowers cross from La Gomera (Canary Islands) to English Harbour (Antigua & Barbuda) either solo, in pairs, or as part of a team of up to five people.
The 2017 edition of the race saw multiple records smashed, including The Four Oarsmen for the fastest ever team (29 days); Mark Slats for the fastest ever solo rower (30 days); and Kung Fu Cha Cha for the fastest ever all-female team (34 days).
The 2018 teams set off on December 12th. Twenty-eight boats left La Gomera. Twenty-seven reached the finish line in English Harbour. The Dutch Atlantic Four claimed top honours with a crossing time of 34 days, 12 hours and nine minutes – and there were extraordinary performances all around.
In the past four years, participants of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge have donated more than six million euros to charitable organisations, and highlighted pressing social and environmental issues around the world.