Christmas at sea: Festive cheer and Cava for team tackling world's toughest row for Devon Freewheelers

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Wearing festive hats and cracking open the Cava is how an intrepid team rowing 3,000-miles across the Atlantic in aid of Devon Freewheelers will celebrate Christmas Day at sea.

Force Genesis - Mark Sealey, of Wiveliscombe, grandmother-of-three Gemma Best, from Clevedon, Somerset, Amy Wood, from Salisbury and Will Cogley, of Portishead, near Bristol – are tackling the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2020 to raise £50,000 for Devon Freewheelers through a JustGiving page.

The team of four, who have already faced equipment challenges and seasickness since leaving the Canary Islands on December 12, are due to row into Antigua sometime in early January 2021.

While the rest of the UK is celebrating Christmas Day at home, the Force Genesis team face several more weeks at sea, rowing continuously, two-hours on, two-hours off, in a boat measuring around seven meters long, to tackle what is billed as the world’s toughest row.

Race organisers predict teams will face rowing against headwinds on Christmas Day.

Mark Sealey said: “We will have a few treats on Christmas day - Christmas hats and Cava.

Everyone is okay about being away – it sort of goes with the territory.

“I think we will all just miss our family and friends the most. The rest of things are just things.

“I’ll miss the kids.”

Force Genesis set off on Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge race on December 12, from San Sebastian.  To watch Force Genesis start the race, see here (55mins 13seconds).

During the first week at sea the Force Genesis team's boat, Jasmine Ann, suffered ‘electrical gremlins’, prompting the team to obey strict energy conservation measures put in place by the event safety officer.

The electrical problems scuppered the team’s ability to adequately make water and self-pilot the vessel.

A Force Genesis spokesperson said: “As well as having to rely on the hand-powered water maker, which makes four-and-a-half litres per hour rather than thirty litres, the crew are having to operate without the assistance of the autohelm while rowing.

“Further time away from the oars has come in the form of performing a re-wire of the solar panels onboard.

“Despite these challenges the team are in good spirits and making progress.”

The event safety team said since setting off most of the teams have dealt with seasickness, turbulence at sea, blisters, aches and pains, chaffing and sore bottoms.

Wildlife watchers have spotted a host of sea life while rowing, including a pod of 1,000 dolphins, turtles and an albatross.

An Atlantic Campaigns safety officer said rowers are contacted at least once every 48-hours, to check on health and technical issues, and sea conditions.

Head duty officer Ian Couch said: “As crews made their way out of the wind shadow of the islands, they have faced some localised turbulence caused by the undersea topography but now it is just open ocean ahead.

“There has been quite a lot of cloud cover which means some crews are struggling with power, and power conservation plans are in place - that means manual steering, handheld GPS and - for some - topping-up water by hand pumping

“At this stage a few crews have had or are having power issues. As cloud cover lifts this is improving but with back-up systems there is no risk to the rowers but it may slow them down."

Mr Couch added: “A lot of the crews have already been very lucky and we have had many reports of turtles which is unusual so early on, shark, whale, squid, jellyfish, orca, dolphins - including a pod of 1,000 - as well as storm petrel and albatross.

“The reports of the night skies are great to hear with phenomenal shooting stars lasting for hours.”

The head duty officer said: “Having spoken to all crews there is a huge range of emotion from buzzing, laugh-out-loud happiness and excitement, to worry and doubt.

“Surfing down waves and swimming with dolphin, to feeling sore and struggling with power. This is all part of the experience and rowers’ moods will change hour-by-hour.”

Force Genesis vowed to raise funds for the Devon Freewheelers charity after a chance meeting with one of the Blood Bike volunteers.

The team are to spend around six weeks at sea and will operate on two-hour on, two-hour off basis, continuously rowing in pairs. Their boat, measuring around seven meters long, just short of two meters wide, has a small cabin for protection against storms. 

Race competitors must carry their entire kit on their boat. Jasmine Ann, will not have any luxuries, and Force Genesis cannot have any outside help unless they are in life-threatening danger.

After flying out to La Gomera, in The Canary Islands, on December 1, the team spent the days before the December 12 race start packing up the boat with all the supplies and food needed for the 3,000-mile row.

See the JustGiving page here.

Follow the progress of Force Genesis here.

  • Photos show Force Genesis leaving San Sebastian at the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2020. Race images: Atlantic Campaigns. Team photo: Force Genesis. 

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