UAE rowers to travel 5,000km in an adventure that's 'more difficult than climbing Everest'

Dubai - In an attempt to make history, the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team will cover a distance that is equivalent to travelling from Dubai to China

By Leslie Wilson Jr; Graphics: Raja Choudhary

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Published: Wed 14 Sep 2022, 2:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 6 Oct 2022, 9:14 PM

The high number of failures of people attempting to row across the mighty Atlantic Ocean demonstrates the difficulties and dangers of attempting such a challenge, but that does not deter three thrill-seekers from the UAE who are preparing to prove the records wrong.

Toby Gregory, James Raley, and Rai Tamagnini are currently engaged in intense training for the fast-approaching expedition, which will see them row a customised boat across the Atlantic from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean.

The distance they will have to cover is approximately 5,000 kilometres, which is equivalent to rowing from Dubai to China.

Together Toby, James, and Rai, expatriates who live and work in the UAE, will attempt to make history and become the first team from the Emirates to ever successfully row across the world’s second-largest ocean basin following the Pacific.

The Mission: Oceans are the lungs of the planet

Branding themselves the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team, the intrepid trio will use the ocean row — and the global publicity that it will generate — to raise awareness about environmental sustainability, reducing marine litter, and protecting the oceans. The expedition will also attempt to highlight the issues caused by plastic pollution, which is a global problem and of serious concern to the UAE authorities.

The team is also a partner of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas campaign, which aims to transform habits, practices, and standards around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and its negative impacts.

Oceans are vitally important to our planet – they are the earth’s largest biosphere and home to 80 per cent of all life in the world. They are not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also produce food, support jobs, mineral, and energy resources needed for life on the planet.

The team will also be conducting scientific experiments, designed by local students, so the students can understand first-hand how plastic pollution has impacted the ocean.

Motivating the crew

Toby Gregory, founder of Arabian Ocean Rowing Team and project director, explains what inspired the Atlantic crossing: “It was the perfect storm that came together. We’re all in. John, Rai, myself. This is our life, this is us, it's time. I wake up at 6 am each day and finish past midnight every day working on this project," he says.

Gregory says it is a great honour for the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to work alongside amazing and talented individuals within the Clean Seas initiative and campaign. "The ocean and coastal ecosystems sit at the nexus of the triple planetary crisis, the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and the pollution and waste crisis. The Clean Seas campaign has led the way in the global effort against marine litter and plastic pollution. Marine pollution is a complex problem and there is no simple solution. Every one of us has a part to play. This is where we came in, this is our motivation.”

The preparation

Given the fact that the team will be rowing non-stop, all day and all night, fitness will be an important part of the preparation. Failure is not an option when you are bang in the middle of the ocean.

The strategy that they will employ is simple but hugely demanding. Each member will row for two hours and rest for two hours. As a result, strategic training involves land and on-water routines while the crew with be conducting a lot of cardio and flexibility physical exercises.

Every day they are out on the sea off the Arabian coast between The Palm Jumeirah and The World islands development, fine-tuning their rowing for at least two to four hours every day.

The route, weather conditions and safety aspects

More people have climbed Mount Everest or traveled into space than have rowed 5,000km unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean which is what the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team will attempt should everything go according to plans and ensure a December 12 start to their expeditions.

At its deepest, the Atlantic Ocean is 8.5km / 5.28 miles deep and boasts waves that the rowers will experience can measure up to 20ft high.

The fibreglass rowing boat will be one of the smallest ‘objects’ in the ocean which is inhabited by killer whales, dolphins, sharks, and tonnes of other marine life.

Big ships may struggle to see the tiny boat which can be hazardous as toil tankers and container ships take five miles to stop!

For safer navigation, the boat will be fitted with an automatic identification system (AIS) that uses transceivers on ships and which is used by vessel traffic services (VTS) for safe navigation.

On board will also be a radar reflector.

The custom-built boat

The ocean wing boat is only 8 meters (26ft) long – shorter than the length of two cars. It is made of reinforced fiberglass and fitted with the necessary equipment that the crew will require for the 50-60 day expedition.

It was built in the UK and France and is fitted with a desalinated seawater unit to help Toby and his teammates to stay hydrated. It is also fitted with solar energy to power batteries and electronics and equipment to store freeze-dried food.

They will be confined to cramped conditions, which will push the team to the very edge of their physical and mental limits.

Since much of the world’s population depends on the seas and oceans considerably for our weather systems, to provide food, sustain livelihoods, and is home for humans and millions of species the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team’s successful crossing will further boost the UAE’s close relationship with the sea.

The ocean also aids significant marine transportation and recreation activities from fishing to sailing, to surfing.

In addition, several medicinal products are sourced from the ocean including ingredients that are used in the fight against cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.

It is of paramount importance that we care about the ocean and a successful crossing of the Atlantic by the UAE’s rowing team will bring more awareness to the role it plays in our everyday lives.

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