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UAE resident joins teammates to row the Atlantic Ocean to raise environment awareness

Team succeeded in raising around Dh500,000 to be donated to marine conservation organizations and plastic focused charities.


Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Tue 25 Jan 2022, 1:27 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Jan 2022, 10:32 PM

A UAE resident has rowed 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean with two UK-based teammates in a journey that lasted 38 days and 13 minutes to raise awareness on ocean plastic pollution.

Taking part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2021, Team Peninsula that comprised British nationals Toby Kendall, 36, Samuel Morris, 38, and William Drew, 37, set out from La Gomera, the second-smallest island in Spain’s Canaries, on December 12, 2021. After a rigorous non-stop row, the trio arrived at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua on January 19, 2021.

Through the journey, the team succeeded in raising around Dh500,000 to be donated to marine conservation organizations and plastic focused charities.

Speaking to Khaleej Times from Antigua, Morris said, “the key target behind taking such a rigorous challenge was to raise awareness on the ever-increasing volume of plastics polluting the world’s oceans and the damage it causes to our environment.”

Morris, a British Chartered Surveyor who has been residing in the UAE for 13 years, noted that the choice of NGOs aimed at tackling three main areas: beach, ocean and river clean ups, education about responsible use of plastic at all levels, and changing government policies around the world.

Despite being dubbed as the world’s toughest row, the challenge gave an opportunity for the trio to fulfill their passion for marine conservation, endless quest for adventure and desire to push the boundaries for physical endurance.

Morris, who had shed 11kg during the 38-day journey, described the challenge as a “magical and surreal experience.”

“We experienced nature in a way we have never had before. We came up-close with whales, sharks, sea turtles and birds. The sea was glowing during the sunrise in a sight that could never be seen from land,” described Morris.

Making a difference to the environment served as a main driver for the team to partake in the ultimate test for the body and the mind.

Besides the physical strength, the trio had to beat a long list of mental challenges that included sleep deprivation, stress, hallucinations and hunger.

Two years of preparation

No stranger to fitness and sports, the three athletes embarked on an intensive physical and mental training that began two years before the challenge.

Morris, an ultra-endurance athlete, said that “to achieve something big in life, you need to make sacrifices.”

For the past two years, Morris and his teammates started their mornings at 5:00am every day with a strict routine that involved cardio training in the morning and gym training and weightlifting in the evening.

“You can adapt to challenges physically because it is amazing what the human body is capable of doing, but the mind needs great efforts to be accustomed to dealing with anxiety, fear and sleep deprivation, while working with two other people,” noted Morris.

The mental training involved the trio coming together via online meetings every two weeks to share their hopes, desires and fears, while brainstorming every possible crisis scenario that can happen on the boat.

“We had to understand each other’s personalities and share what we liked and did not like about one another. We played scenarios for how to deal with arguments that break out on the boat and developed ways to manage stress.”

He added, “Most importantly, we had to train our minds to identify thoughts and manage them, especially since we were going to be under mentally stressful situations.”

The team’s training routine was designed and supervised by Tom Kelly, who was part of an ocean rowing team that crossed the Indian Ocean unsupported in 2011.

The trio also had to stack up the boat with enough food and nutrition to last for up to 60 days. To qualify for the challenge, they had to complete a sea survival training course, in addition to compulsory hours on a boat.


After meeting the required boat safety checks, the trio left La Gomera with divided tasks to row two hours with a one-hour break for 12 hours. At night, each member would take on the row so other members would have three hours of sleep.

To achieve optimal speed, the shift pattern had to achieve the right balance of effort, nutrition and recovery, noted Morris.

The most challenging parts were the hallucinations due to the lack of sleep and the giant evening waves that reached six meters (19.7ft) high.

“At some point, I saw spiders and snakes coming out of the sea and an Airbus A380 flying over my head, but I came to know these were all unreal,” said Morris.


Combined with the personal level of achievement that the team experienced, Morris said the trio ended the row with a stronger bond of friendship.

"We were all united to serve a cause we are passionate about. At the same time, we supported each other in overcoming tough challenges to prove to ourselves that there’s nothing we cannot do,” he said.


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