Halfway mark in sight for 'sometimes best in the fleet' crew rowing 3,000 miles for Devon Freewheelers

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The halfway mark is in sight for a team of intrepid rowers who have been identified by experts as ‘sometimes the best in the fleet’ as they tackle a 3,000-mile Atlantic Ocean challenge in aid of the Devon Freewheelers.

The four-strong Force Genesis has around 1,500 miles left to reach Antigua as they continue to battle the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – billed as the world’s toughest row.

After struggling with power issues and seasickness in the first few days of the race, the oar-some team, hoping to raise £20,000 through a JustGiving page for the Devon Freewheelers, has ‘quietly been making great miles’ and is ‘sometimes the best in the fleet’ according to event officials.

Ian Couch, race duty officer, on Sunday (January 3) said Force Genesis has gone from ‘strength-to-strength’ to put 1,300-miles behind them in their quest to row their boat, Jasmine Ann, into Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, in Antigua.

Mr Couch said the team had around 1,618 miles to row, travelling around 26 miles in around a 24-hour period.

“Throughout the conditions Force Genesis have quietly been making great miles - sometime the best in the fleet - and have moved up the leader board,” said Mr Couch.

“Helped by a good southerly route they seem to be going from strength to strength.

“It is an emotional rollercoaster of exhilaration and homesickness but the crew are working well and making good time towards Antigua.”

A Force Genesis spokesperson said most of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge fleet spent Christmas Day on sea anchor waiting for weather conditions to improve.

Force Genesis took advantage of the pause to play card games packed onboard for the festive period.

“Amy, Gemma, Mark and Will found themselves experiencing north-north westerly winds and battling to try and prevent an adverse drift,” said the Force Genesis spokesperson.

“Once all the boat maintenance and general admin tasks were taken care of, they made use of the card games provided and hoped for better conditions.

“Towards the end of the day, Jasmine Ann was again on the move and covering good ground.”

Force Genesis, made up of Mark Sealey, of Wiveliscombe, grandmother-of-three Gemma Best, from Clevedon, Somerset, Amy Wood, from Salisbury and Will Cogley, of Portishead, near Bristol – have been at sea for just over three weeks, rowing continuously since December 12, when they left La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, to tackle the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2020.

Challenging weather conditions at sea have turned the race into a ‘grueling slog’, which race organisers said was not expected to improve for several more days.

The race duty officer said the whole fleet had been battling against a large low-pressure system moving from west to east, which brought fresh winds to challenge and slow the teams.

Mr Couch said the fleet was now spread over 1,147 miles. with the lead crews entering better conditions.

Rear crews ‘will be struggling’ for another six days, up to Thursday (January 7) and ‘that gap is only going to widen’, he said.

He said some crews would have to accept ‘hard-earned’ miles will be lost before weather conditions improve.

Mr Couch added: “There has been a large low-pressure system moving west to east and as it moves it is bringing winds that start as southerlies, pushing the crews north, then turn south westerlies pushing the crews north and backwards - then westerlies pushing them back, then north westerlies, before eventually turning north easterly.

“The weather is not constant and there are fluctuations in direction and wind speed but this has meant days added to even the fastest crews.”

Mr Couch said: “Speeds have been slow but this is the crews battling headwinds and trying to fight conditions to stay south as they avoid the worst of the conditions in the north.”

He said: “It looks that those conditions will persist until late Wednesday and Thursday when at long last some good north easterly winds fill in and give them a much-needed push in the right direction.

“After such hard work these next few days will seem especially unfair as hard-earned miles will be lost but they need to sit tight, rest when possible, hold position when they can and accept it is what it is.

“We will be talking with them throughout and advise how to take the best advantage of conditions when they change.”

Race safety organisers said Force Genesis, along with every crew, was ‘making progress’, adding every rower was ‘okay’.

Organsiers said the current distances completed by the crews would be pivotal in the race experience.

Mr Couch said: “These days will be the days that their stories will come from.

“There will be some emotional times from them and they may question what they are doing but this will all pass and speed will improve, and with it, mood, and Antigua will seem more achievable.”

Force Genesis rowers have been operating on a two-hour on, two-hour off basis, continuously rowing in pairs, since setting off on December 12, 2020.

The rowers face more than a month at sea, in a boat measuring around seven meters long, just short of two meters wide, with a small cabin for protection against storms. 

Race competitors must carry their entire kit on their boat and teams cannot have any outside help unless they are in life-threatening danger.

The Force Genesis team signed up to row for the Devon Freewheelers after crew member Mark Sealey's chance meeting with a Blood Bike volunteer, who told him about the charity's work. 

Support Force Genesis with a donation for the Devon Freewheelers here.

  • Photo shows (left to right) the Force Genesis crew onboard Jasmine Ann, and the crew.



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