I’m rowing the Atlantic in memory of my dad
Three Army friends preparing for an epic voyage to raise money for charity tell Jack Rear why their lack of rowing experience doesn’t faze them
While the rest of Britain will be busy preparing for Christmas in December 2024, three Army colleagues, Robert Treasure, Charles Newman and Robert Cross have other plans. Eschewing pigs in blankets and turkey for dried curries and protein bars, the trio, all 27, will be heading to La Gomera in the Canary Islands where they’ll set out on a voyage like no other. Their challenge? To row across the Atlantic Ocean. The destination on Antigua is nearly 3,000 miles away – and there’s the strong likelihood that ocean currents and 20ft-high waves will knock them off course. At its deepest, the water below them will be more than five miles deep. Yet despite the immense challenge that lies before them, Treasure tells the Telegraph that “none of us would sell ourselves as rowers. We don’t have any experience, and I think [Cross] would openly admit that he gets seasick on a ferry.” Treasure, Newman and Cross have been friends for years and completed their Army training together at Sandhurst. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic they’d been training for the Sandhurst Cup – an inter-military competition held in West Point, New York, where teams from around the world compete in Army challenges to test their teamwork and skills. “We were doing a lot of training for that competition on top of our regular Sandhurst training, spending a lot of time together – then the competition got cancelled because of the pandemic,” Treasure explains. “But we realised that as a trio we were good mates and enjoyed competing together so we decided to find something else to do together. We were pondering what we could do when rowing the Atlantic popped up – as it would, of course. We went from there.” The current record for rowing across the Atlantic as a trio stands at 35 days, but it’s a record the three friends, who are working together under the name Team V3nture, are keen to beat. “Certainly we’d like to break a record, we want to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and we also want to become closer as three friends,” says Treasure. However, there’s a little bit more to the challenge than just these goals, lofty though they are. The plan is to raise at least £200,000 in sponsorship for charity, the lion’s share going to Macmillan Cancer Support – one of the charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Appeal. “I lost my dad, Stephen, to cancer about a year and a half ago now,” Treasure explains. “The cancer caught us by surprise and things developed far more quickly than we hoped they would.” Stephen Treasure was taken to the Renton Unit in Hereford, an outpatient facility run entirely by Macmillan, which cares for patients with many kinds of cancer, including those requiring specialist palliative care. Unfortunately the elder Treasure passed away before his family were able to bring him home, but the care and dedication of the Macmillan nurses left a real impression on his son. “If ‘The cancer caught us by surprise and things developed more quickly than we hoped they would’ we can support them and the work they do – that’s a huge privilege and opportunity and we’d like to make the most of it.” There’s no doubt that the trio’s voyage will be a gruelling one. Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the organising body behind the endeavour, reminds prospective rowers that their boats will have no toilets aboard, that they’ll burn an average of 5,000kcal per day, and most rowers lose over a stone during the row. It is Newman who’ll be behind the training regime that will get Team V3nture across the Atlantic. A natural-born athlete, rowing across the Atlantic will be the latest accomplishment to add to his collection. He’s just completed an Ironman (a triathlon involving a 2.4-mile swim, a 112mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile marathon) and is currently also training for Les Marathons Des Sables, a sixday, 156-mile ultramarathon across the Sahara Desert. “So far, it’s been a lot of gym work,” Newman explains. “At the moment it’s all about flexibility and mobility around our ankles and hips, and obviously a lot of time on the rowing machine.” While Newman did a bit of flat-water rowing at university, his mentor for the Atlantic challenge told him his technique needed to be built up from scratch. “When you’re rowing on flat water, you pivot your hip really far back, almost to the 3 o’clock position, but if you were to do that on the ocean, the waves would tear your hips apart – your back has to stay a lot straighter,” he explains. “We also have to do a lot of strength training – low weight by high repetition to replicate the rowing motion. We need to be doing 200 deadlifts in a session.” Beyond just the physical efforts though, Newman is also busy plotting the technical details of Team V3nture’s voyage. “Eating and drinking enough will be a major challenge that requires careful planning,” says Newman. “We’ll need to be consuming roughly 8,000kcal per day, and there’s a lot to think about. If any of us get seasick, the last thing we’ll want to do is eat, but if we’re rowing we’ll still need the calories. You can’t cook on a boat on large waves so that won’t be easy either. We’ll be on the water for over a month so we’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of variety in tastes and textures so we don’t get bored of anything. Thankfully, the world of expedition food is very impressive and there’s a huge amount of variety out there. If you can imagine it there’s probably a just-add-water expedition version of it. I’m very partial to the macaroni cheese and Thai Green curry, but equally I enjoy the chocolate and flapjacks, so there’s going to be a lot of sampling to choose from our menu.” Training will also involve sorting out their shift patterns: how they’ll find time to sleep and eat on board. “We’ll be so tired that we could probably sleep standing up,” laughs Newman. “So far, the plan is to have two people on the oars for two hours, while the other one eats, sleeps and does boat maintenance in the daytime. At night there’ll only be one of us on the oars, so the other two get four hours off and two hours on.” The boat itself is made by Rannoch, a company that makes expedition vessels specifically for this kind of challenge. It’s a technical piece of kit, 26ft long and made from carbon-fibre. It is self-righting in the event of a capsize, and fitted with solar panels and batteries to power the navigation equipment, as well as desalination plants to harvest water from the ocean on the go. However, despite all the tech, Team V3nture will have to make plenty of tweaks to ensure their journey is as smooth as possible. “You have to do a minimum of 180 hours rowing before you’re allowed to do the race, but we basically wanted to do as much as we could,” Newman explains. “You want to trial everything – you need to find the best oar handles and seat-covers to avoid blisters, you need to trial the shift patterns, you need to work out who is best on the front seat and who is best on the back seat, then we have to figure out all the navigation and comms equipment.” Perhaps the biggest challenge will be maintaining their morale and fighting ‘We don’t have any experience, and Chris would openly admit he gets seasick on a ferry’ cabin fever on the open ocean with nothing but each other’s company. “It has been known for teams to come off the water and never speak to each other ever again – that’s not what we want,” chuckles Treasure. “We’re fortunate enough that we’ve got this build-up now, this two-year period where we can address those potential issues and make sure they don’t faze us, essentially.” Being in the first team featuring three Army members will help them a lot in this regard, thinks Newman. “The Army, especially going through Sandhurst, has really helped with the mental side,” he says. “We’re trained to stay calm under pressure and deal with some of the sleep deprivation. We’ve also been told to have a daily team meeting to talk through anything that’s annoying us – it might be as simple as someone whistling a song they have stuck in their head; when you’re tired and hungry and have awful blisters, something that small can make you snap and spiral into a massive argument so you want to avoid that. “Although you’re on an 26ft rowing boat, you might hardly speak to each other because you’re eating or sleeping while they’re rowing or vice versa,” Newman continues. “It’s so important to be able to talk openly about how you’re feeling if you’re in a rubbish spot.” Over the next two years, the team plans to spend as many weekends as possible working at the gym, on English Lakes, and eventually in the North and Irish sea. They’ll set out in December 2024 (to avoid summer hurricanes on the Atlantic) and will look to arrive in early January. The hope is that the three friends will seize the record and exceed their planned donation amount for Macmillan, but no matter what, they’ll know that the memory of Stephen Treasure will live on through their efforts.