While you are tucking into your festive dinner on Christmas Day, spare a thought for Rotarian Garreth Murrell.
He will be rowing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with three other Army veterans aboard a 29-foot boat in one of the most gruelling sporting challenges – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
More people have climbed Everest and travelled in space than have rowed the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
A member of the Tyneside Rotary Club in Newcastle, Garreth will be able to claim the accolade of the first Rotarian from Great Britain and Ireland – and possibly the world – to have rowed the Atlantic.
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Setting off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 12th, they will be crossing 3,000 miles of ocean to Antigua in the Caribbean.
Battling 40-foot waves, extreme fatigue, sleep deprivation, sea sickness, muscle wastage, along with salt sores and blisters, their minds and bodies will be put to the ultimate test.
“What will we be doing on Christmas Day? Well, not putting too fine a point on it, we’ll be rowing!” explained Garreth.
“Actually, we are aiming to stop for Christmas lunch, and open a card or two plus perhaps a small present which our loved ones may put in our cabin before we depart.
“In fact, our lunch will be very festive as our skipper Jason Watkin has managed to get hold of some reindeer stew which we will be tucking into. Then it’s back on the oars and on with the job.”
The team of four expect to be rowing two hours on and two hours off the oars 24 hours a day for between 40 and 50 days.
Known as Team Emotive, the quartet are all drawn from military backgrounds where each have had their own mental health challenges.
They will be supporting the charity Veterans at Ease, set up by Garreth to support servicemen and women once they leave the forces.
Garreth, who was born in south Manchester, served for ten years with the Cheshire Regiment, mainly in the reconnaissance platoon.
He served two tours in Northern Ireland and then, in 1992 as part of the Cheshire Regiment vanguard, he was one of the first British soldiers serving in Bosnia under the United Nations flag.
After leaving the Army, he became a Crime Scene Investigator with Thames Valley Police and then Lancashire Constabulary, but then in 2007 Garreth’s world fell apart when experiences from his tour in Bosnia came to the forefront.
After getting help through the use of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), Garreth decided to leave the forensic world and set up Veterans at Ease where he has been the CEO and lead psychotherapist since its inception in September 2010.
Veterans at Ease provides free open-ended neurolinguistic psychotherapy to all members of the armed forces community, including immediate family members over the age of 18.
The charity has helped more than 500 men and women deal successfully with a number of issues ranging from depression to complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as thoughts of suicide.
- Rowers will row for 2 hours and then rest for 2 hours constantly.
- Each rower will burn over 10,000 calories per day.
- Every day rowers are expected to consume 10 litres of water.
- 800 biodegradable wipes will be used by each crew member during the crossing.
- The boat will have a total of 220 days of food onboard at the race start.
- In the 2020 race, four boats had their hulls pierced by Marlin strikes.
- All rubbish will be checked on arrival in Antigua – missing rubbish will result in. disqualification.
- There is no toilet onboard – rowers must use a bucket
- The weight of each rower’s food onboard at race start will be approximately 41kg.
- In the mid-Atlantic, the closest other human beings to the team will be orbiting in the International Space Station!
It was the first military charity in the UK to be presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
Married to Christina, who is also a Rotarian, and with two children, Garreth is hoping the Atlantic rowing challenge will raise awareness about mental health in the military.
“This is my one last big expedition before I retire,” he explained.
“I am determined in doing this row because I want to highlight to the world that issues such as PTSD, depression and suicide in returning veterans do not need to happen.
“As chief executive of Veterans at Ease, I want to show my local community, the nation, and the world at large the positive impact which the charity has.
“All too often I see adverts on television from other charities trying to coax £2 a month out of viewers by utilising the negative side their beneficiaries suffer.
“I wanted to turn that on its head to show the world the positive impact of the charity and inspire people about the good work the charity does. I’m not pulling on people’s heartstrings to winkle out £2 a month, I think that is wrong.
“Personally, I feel that the way I am doing this is a much more ethical and ecological way to attract funding from the general public and companies that have a social conscience.
“So, I decided to do this race. All I needed to do next was find three other idiots and £150,000. How hard could that be in the current world climate and a more important question is, what could possibly go wrong?”
But Garreth and Team Emotive will be on the start line in La Gomera in December with the finish line at Nelson’s Dock in Antigua’s English Harbour at the forefront of their minds. This will be the ultimate test against Mother Nature with up to 43 other teams competing.
Garreth admitted feeling quite humble about being the first Rotarian from these isles to row across the Atlantic. He hopes the adventure might inspire other Rotarians too.
It’s all a far cry from growing up on a Manchester council estate in the 1970s.
“I didn’t even think I would get to see the Atlantic Ocean, never mind find the resources to do what I’ve done in my life and to then cross that ocean.
“But I truly believe that you can do anything you want to in this world as long as you’re prepared to do what needs to be done to achieve it.”
As for his family, the father-of-two revealed his children are more interested in a short holiday in the Caribbean to meet their dad at the end of his epic row.
“I don’t think they are that bothered about meeting me at the finish line at Nelson’s Dock, they just want the sun, the sand and the sea for a few days or a week perhaps,” he said.
“I know they are proud of me for even attempting this crossing which is more than enough for me.
“I am lucky enough to have a wonderful wife, and two kids who are rapidly growing up to be the most amazing adults in their own right.
“I know my wife Christina has her worries about me, though she is very confident of me and my capabilities at sea with the courses I’ve had to undertake.
“More importantly though, she completely trusts my fellow crewmates.
“She knows that whatever happens, whatever situations we find ourselves in, they and I will keep each other as safe as possible.
“Just knowing this allows me to relax and just focus on doing what needs to be done. Which is eat, sleep, row, repeat continuously for 40 to 50 days.”
Contact Garreth or alternatively visit the Veterans at Ease website or the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge site.