The Atlantic Challenge – A History

“More people have climbed Mount Everest than have rowed across the Atlantic.”

Every year, in December, people from around the world gather to make up some 35 teams to take on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. A grueling 3,000 mile row, from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Spain to English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda. There are critical elements to preparing for the challenge, but there are also factors that one cannot prepare for. First though, let me share with you a bit about where it all began.

In 1896, two Norwegian immigrants, George Harbo and Frank Samuelson, were the first to ever row across an ocean. They took on the North Atlantic, from New York to England, and their record was not broken for 114 years. In 1966, Sir Chay Blyth paired with John Ridgeway to row the Atlantic from Cape Cod to Ireland. Blyth went on to organize the first Atlantic race, Port St. Charles Rowing Race, in 1997. The race consisted of only pairs teams, rowing 3,000 miles from Playa San Juan, Tenerife, to Port St. Charles, Barbados. With 30 teams at the start, 24 teams finished with Team Kiwi Challenge having completed the row in 41 days, 2 hours, and 55 minutes. In 2003, Team Holiday Shoppe Challenge rowed from La Gomera to Barbados with the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race in 40 days, 4 hours, and 3 minutes. Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race teamed with ORS Atlantic Rowing Regatta in 2005, opening the race to classes other than just pairs. In 2007, the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race initiated what is now the traditional start of the race to be in the month of December. In 2010,  Charlie Pitcher set a record as a solo rower, completing the challenge in 52 days, 6 hours, and 47 minutes. In 2011, after signing with the Woodvale Challenge, The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge (TWAC) got its start.

Talisker was founded over 200 years ago by the MacAskill brothers, who rowed from Eigg to Skye in search of the perfect location for their distillery. For this reason, Talisker expresses their whiskey to be a reflection of the row and “made from the sea”. In the TWAC 2013 race, 2 Boys in a Boat set a record in raising 360k pounds, being the largest amount raised for a charity in history. In 2015, developments to TWAC safety procedures proved to be successful, as the 26 boats that left La Gomera made it to Antigua. This same year, Team Ocean Reunion set a record for completing the race in 37 days, 9 hours, and 12 minutes. Just one year later, Team Latitude 35 set a record of 35 days, 14 hours, and 3 minutes, and Team Row 4 raised a record 650k pounds for charity. In 2017, more records were broken, with Four Oarsmen completing the race in 29 days, 13 hours and 34 minutes, and Mark Slats completing a solar crossing time of 30 days, 7 hours, and 49 minutes. The four men of 2019’s Team Fortitude IV set a record of 32 days, 12 hours and 25 minute. The fastest time for pairs was set this year with team Row4Cancer, completing the challenge in 32 day, 22 hours, and 13 minutes, but it is interesting to note that they were a part of the TWAC Open Class.

TWAC has two main classes: the open class, and the racing class. The open class is for those who wish to take on the challenge of rowing the Atlantic ocean, while the race class is to do so competitively. In both cases, to take on rowing the Atlantic challenges the ordinary person to become the extraordinary. Acquiring the proper equipment, knowledge of how it works, physical training are some of the elements which one must take on in order to prepare.

The race organization takes on the responsibility of ensuring the safety of those that register for the row and supporting the teams in achieving their goal. All race entrants are required to complete safety training courses that educate a person in first aid, sea survival and more. Things such as: how to identify dehydration or heat stroke, what methods can be taken in order to mitigate the effects for someone who is prone to getting sea sick, are crucial elements learned from first aid. Getting to know the boat is also essential: knowing how the water maker works, and even knowledge of how to repair a punctuation from, lets say, a marlin spike (which happened to two boats in the TWAC 2020 race!). Education and strength building, for example, are essential to preparing for the race.

As mentioned earlier, though, there are also factors which one cannot prepare for. Pushed to the limit physically and mentally, experiencing hallucinations and exhaustion. The more than 1.5 million oar strokes that each person will row will only be faced when the time comes. The conditions such as waves up 20 ft in height will only be faced head on in the Atlantic. In 24 hours periods, teams rotate in watch shifts of 2 hours on and 2 hours off, burning up to 5,000 calories daily. Perhaps this is why less people have rowed the Atlantic than have climbed Mt. Everest. This is why, it is not merely the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Race, but the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge.



  1. Talikser Whiskey Atlantic Challenge 2020 Started
  2. Meet the Team Taking on the World’s Toughest Rowing Race
  3. Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge – Race Report 2019/20
  4. Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge