36 days, 10 hours and 32 minutes. That's how long the Dorabros - Rufus, Charlie, Lirim and James, a group of friends in their mid-twenties - spent at sea, on a tiny boat, rowing across the Atlantic to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust.
We've tracked their progress throughout, checking every few hours like nervous adoptive parents, cheering as they climbed the leaderboard and fretting when they appeared to be steering off course or caught up in terrifying storm conditions. As we watched the live stream of them reaching land in Antigua, finishing the gruelling Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in a magnificent 5th place, we could see the relief and elation on their bearded, tanned, and exhausted faces. But it was just yesterday, when we had the opportunity to have a lengthy phone call with Charlie and Lirim, that we got a real taste of the adventure that these chaps have been on.
Sounding remarkably perky and coherent for a group of chaps who have spent well over a month battling incredibly tough conditions at sea then surviving a heavy few days of partying on Antigua, Lirim and Charlie were only too happy to recount their most vivid memories of their time on the boat while they were still fresh; both the highlights, and the many, many dark and quite frankly terrifying moments that they had endured.
Upon reaching land, and during these first few days back on dry land, the group have been struck by how wasted their calf and glute muscles feel. With backs which stiffened the second they left the boat, tight and painful hips, muscles which hadn't been used in over a month protesting, and sporting an array of scars, half-healed wounds and open sores, they have become acutely aware of just how big of a physical impact this challenge has had on them. It seems as if they are - understandably - still processing the mental and emotional impacts, as they begin to tell their story to so many curious people. As they chatted on the phone to us, sipping hard-earned Pina Coladas in a beach-side bar (with a couple of moments of intense brain-freeze interrupting the call momentarily) they recounted their adventures; beginning with their departure and first few days at sea -a true baptism of fire.
Leaving La Gomera, the start point of the race, was a nervous and exciting moment for the team. They had no family or friends there to see them off; a decision which they felt was for the best, as leaving their loved ones on the shore would have made the departure even harder. They did, however, have a Marloe Watch Company shareholder, a real friend of the company called Mike, there to wave them off; Charlie and Lirim reported that the chat they had with Mike before they left and the questions he asked them was a great distraction and comfort ahead of taking on the very daunting task at hand (and that makes us very proud of our Marloe community indeed). The Dorabros, along with the 34 other teams who entered into this year's Atlantic rowing challenge, set off on 12th December and almost immediately hit some very challenging weather and sea conditions. They had been given a pre-race warning that they could expect some big swells, and that was no understatement; 30-foot waves had soon provoked violent sea sickness among the Dorabros, even those who had spent time at sea previously and who had never experienced sea sickness. Within half an hour the entire team were vomiting, trying to remain calm and clinging to the fact that most sea sickness passes in around 3 days. By the 4th day, hope of salvation from the unending nausea and vomiting was fading. There are 2 stages to seasickness, they recounted; the first is thinking that you're going to die, and the second is wishing that you would.
Lirim, in particular, became extremely unwell. Open wounds on his feet, caused by the straps which hold the feet of the rowers in place as they work, were swiftly becoming infected but the unending, disabling distraction of extreme sea sickness meant that he wasn't capable of treating the infection in its early stages. The wounds quickly worsened, and Lirim became seriously unwell as infection took hold of his already weakened body; he was unable to eat, vomiting bile, and unable to keep antibiotics or hydration down. With the remainder of the crew also battling sea-sickness and with significant damage to the boat already caused by the tough conditions, the Dorabros were forced to abandon their plans and focus on repairing the boat, and caring for each other, while navigating South and off their planned route to try and avoid the worst of the weather.
After 10 days of trying to battle infection and illness with antibiotics, and losing a significant amount of weight, Lirim was nearing breaking point - despite his determination not to let the team down by being 'the sick one'. Taking matters into their own hands, out came a scrubbing brush and the hydrogen peroxide, and Lirim's wounds were dealt with the old fashioned way; the retelling of which was enough to cause our toes to curl and our blood to curdle. After a 14-hour sleep / trauma nap, and his first meal in around 11 days, Lirim turned a corner and began to improve. He gratefully recounts how the rest of the crew took on extra shifts, allowing him to rest; a show of friendship and teamwork which most likely made the difference between being forced to abandon the race to save his life, and being able to continue. With the Dorabros in 13th place, and morale and strength low, the lads made a pact to step it up a gear and see what they could do. They gained a place, and then another, and the fighting competitive spirit which had driven them to undertake this challenge was, against all odds, back with a vengeance.
As their bodies acclimatised to the hard labour, the exertion, the heat and the pain, they began to feel stronger. As Charlie recounts, mental strength gave them what felt like an immunity to the pain that they were in. They began to row 3 hours on, 1 hour off, rather than the planned 2 hours on, 2 hours off - feeling that they had the strength and grit necessary to push on. Knowing that they were climbing up the ranks put a huge fire in their bellies and within 3 days, doing on average an extra 10 miles per day, they had climbed to 6th place.
There were moments of awe-inspiring joy to be had, despite the gruelling conditions; several large pods of dolphins, putting on acrobatic shows against stunning sunset backdrops, a whale breaching alongside the boat, stingrays, jellyfish, and up to 20 shooting stars spotted per night, including a comet which left a shower of glowing red debris in its wake as it disappeared over the horizon. Night shifts were often daunting; being unable to see the huge expanse of open ocean around you is, understandably, extremely unnerving. Harry Potter audiobooks and headphones were the entertainment of choice during night shifts, and during the day, a diverse menu of music was played through speakers to keep wearied minds occupied.
On 7th January, when most of us were easing ourselves back into work after the festive break, things took a dramatic turn. Charlie was in the tiny cabin of the boat tending to his salt sores; burning, open wounds which plagued the rears of the team, an occupational hazard when you're rowing almost (and often completely) naked in sea water. The next thing he knew, Charlie was on the roof of the cabin; his knee ripping open on a bolt, head crashing off the solid walls and the cabin filling with water. Managing to catch a glimpse of the rest of the boat, Charlie witnessed his team mates being rag dolled over the edge of the vessel. Their boat had pitch-poled; capsized arse over face, for those of us who aren't familiar with seafaring terminology. One end of the boat had been lifted on a huge wave and tossed over, throwing the Dorabros around with incredible violence. Fortunately, all were wearing the lines which keep them safely attached to the boat, but never the less it was a terrifying and damaging incident. Charlie sustained a concussion and a serious knee injury, and once again the team were forced to assume the roles of doctors, checking his pupils and ensuring that he didn't fall asleep at regular intervals until it started to improve. They did this while rowing their hearts out to keep the boat stable, fearing that they could pitch-pole again at any moment, among 10-metre waves and a 30-knot wind. During the night, headphones were used to try and drown out the noise of the waves pounding on the cabin boat - the team described the noise as something akin to bombs going off around them. Shaken, sore, and scared of a repeat incident, the team pushed on, acutely aware of every stroke and their position to do everything they could to avoid another capsizing. The adrenaline coursing through their veins played in their favour, and soon enough - somehow - the crew were laughing and joking again.
It's incredible to think that only one member of the team - Rufus, who rowed for Great Britain - was a rower before this adventure. While some rowing technical skill was obviously useful, every member of the team was forced to learn entirely new skills to get the most out of the boat. One such technique was essentially surfing the boat down waves. When opportunity to 'surf' presented itself, having oars in the water actually slowed the boat down, and the aim of the game was purely to try and balance the boat with body weight. The Dorabros would run up and down the boat, using it to surf the waves, hanging onto the grab lines for dear life; a technique that they described as 'fun but terrifying'. While I'm sure it strikes fear into the heart of every parent to read, they were really onto something, and by surfing the waves like this the Dorabros maintained their impressive speed. On a good day of the right conditions, where they could surf like this, the team could cover some serious ground; on one such day, they did 106 miles. In their time on the Atlantic, the Dorabros won bragging rights for travelling fastest down a wave without capsizing - hitting 16.4 knots - rowing the longest day, and having the longest sustained high speed. Not bad going for an inexperienced crew, at the end of a long year of extreme physical challenges, who had sustained some serious injuries, illnesses and setbacks during their time at sea.
Charlie and Lirim report that the greatest achievement, which far outweighs these accomplishments, is that the Dorabros are still firm friends. Some of the crews from this years' challenge have gone their separate ways; the strain of spending over a month cooped up in a small boat under tremendous pressure proving too much for their friendships. While there were obviously tense moments aboard the Dorabros' vessel, there wasn't a single serious falling out. Everyone was on the same page, and understood that 'off days' were inevitable. No grudges were held and their shared goal - to raise a fantastic amount of money for Teenage Cancer Trust - sealed the already strong bond that the team had formed prior to setting off. The boat was run as a democracy; if a decision needed to be made, a vote was taken. There was no captain, and if there was a 50/50 split in opinion, nothing would change unless someone decided to change their mind. The Dorabros credit this synchronicity with their ability to cover consistent ground, and achieve such an impressive result while maintaining their friendship. One of the best ways of breaking any tense moments was watching a team mate take a flying fish to the side of the head, apparently; not something that us land-lubbers can count on next time we're in the middle of a row with a friend, but a fairly frequent occurrence in the middle of the Atlantic.
By the final days of the challenge, as the Dorabros drew tantalisingly close to Antigua, they had run out of sweet treats. A chewable vitamin C became the culinary highlight of the day, and with every man having lost around 13 kilograms on average, anticipation for the first meal back on dry land was at fever pitch. The Dorabros had discussed their arrival while rowing; they had decided that, after well over a month of being crammed together in excruciatingly visceral close quarters, they wouldn't be hanging out an awful lot in Antigua. But, as they stumbled onto dry land, embraced by crowds of family and friends, they knew that wouldn't be the case. While they report that it's been good to have each others' company 'diluted' by friends and family, they've spent a good amount of time together over the last few days; reminiscing, reviewing, taking stock of the incredible adventure that they have shared together. Even over a crackly WhatsApp phone line between Antigua and England, the warmth in their voices and the laughter that they were sharing while recounting their stories to us was truly heartwarming.
We're proud to report that the Morar dive watches, which each of the Dorabros wore throughout their adventure, went down a treat; the exceptional lume gave a comforting sense of orientation and time during long, exhausting night rows and in the tiny, cramped cabin, while the silicon straps were reportedly very comfortable indeed. It's an honour that our watches have been a part of such a journey.
So what next for the Dorabros? These four young men have well and truly caught the adventure bug, and they've proven that they're as tough as they come; but for now, they want to concentrate on finishing their fundraising for Teenage Cancer Trust, and having a bit of 'normal life' for a while. The past year has involved back-to-back extreme physical challenges, at the sacrifice of careers, personal lives, spare time, finances and their physical wellbeing, so they're now looking forward to a hard-earned rest. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if we come to hear a lot more from every one of them in the future; they are a true embodiment of the modern day adventurer, and thoroughly good lads to boot.
There's still time to make these incredible sacrifices all the more worthwhile for both the Dorabros and the teenage cancer patients that they're fighting for; we will match your donation to the Dorabros' Just Giving page, as well as doubling your donation and discounting this off the price of any future Marloe watch purchases. Simply send us a screenshot of your donation and we will send you an exclusive discount code.
Watch this space for updates on how the Dorabros' fundraising total is looking and how it's being used; and, in the meantime, I'm sure you'll join us in congratulating this incredible group of friends on the amazing endeavours that they have undertaken, on behalf of those who can't. This is true, life-changing adventure, and we couldn't be prouder of them.
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