They made it! Brave students become youngest pair to row the Atlantic

Charlie Gardiner-Hill
News

Jamie Sparks and Luke Birch won their record breaking battle with the Atlantic last night, arriving in Antigua as men with one hell of a story to tell!

Two maverick students who have been competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge finally pulled into harbour in Antigua last night after more than 50 gruelling days at sea.

Luke Birch and Jamie Sparks, studying at Edinburgh and Bristol respectively, crossed the finish line after 54 days, 5 hours and 26 seconds officially making them the youngest pair to have ever rowed the Atlantic.

The boys cross the finish line!

The boys cross the finish line!

The challenge, which is described as the world’s toughest rowing race, saw the boys face life-threatening ocean swells, gale force winds and some serious chafing caused by excruciating salt sores.

As they set off late last year on 4th December 2013 from La Gomera in the Canaries they were hoping to raise around £100,000 for Breast Cancer Care on their 3000 nautical mile journey to Antigua.

Before! The boys had to put on 25kg each before the race.

Before! The boys had to put on 25kg each before the race.

But the determined pair – who were sponsored by The Tab – absolutely smashed their fundraising target raising over £200,000, which Breast Cancer Care revealed this morning to be their biggest ever single donation. You can sponsor them here.

Mullet-sporting Luke aged 21, who swam the English channel at 18, and a samson-esque 22 year old Jamie pulled into the port with flares in hand to the cheers of crowds gathered to meet them on the dock.

As the boys finished the race, which at times saw them rowing with everything they had just to stop themselves going backwards, cameras captured amazing footage of the finish and an incredibly emotional reunion with their families.

After! Struggling to stand as they celebrate on dry land

After! Struggling to stand as they celebrate on dry land

Asked if they had their next challenge in mind Luke admitted they had “had a little talk about walking across the Antarctic, but [we will do] nothing for now – I’ve got to go and finish university… back to reality.”

Speaking live to BBC Radio Bristol from Antigua after the race Jamie said they were “absolutely ecstatic and completely over the moon” but also conceded that he “miss[ed] it, which is a sick thing to feel, as it’s caused me so much pain and grief.”

He went on to describe arguments on the boat over food, wearing each other’s underwear and who was rowing harder as the stress of the race took their toll on them.

In a particularly memorable phone call Jamie spoke Sir Ranulph Fiennes live on radio halfway through the race and he said it had “reminded me it does end” and that “perseverance was so important…especially when the days were dark.”

Once they were back on dry land the pair described “walking around as if we were drunk” after not standing for most of the trip and “having to learn to walk again!”

'I wouldn't want to rub lotion into someone's back right now, I'd probably cut them'

‘I wouldn’t want to rub lotion into someone’s back right now, I’d probably cut them’

The boys amassed over 2000 followers on Facebook and inspired many thousands more through local radio stations which interviewed them via satellite phone all the way across.

The “overwhelming” response on social media spread throughout their universities and across the country as stories on their blog of whales, full moons, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and emotional descriptions of losing equipment, being battered by huge waves and enduring excruciating pain gripped their supporters.

The past 12 hours has seen an outpouring of admiration and support on Facebook and Twitter ranging from statuses such as “Luke Birch and Jamie Sparks are heroes in our midst” to more personal messages of support from university friends,”quite upset I didn’t get to see your chaffed arse crack but otherwise well played sir.”

First things first once the boys on dry land...time for burgers

The boys grab a burger after eating dehydrated sachets of food for over 50 days!

The boys endured non-stop rowing throughout the day and night burning around 10,000 calories a day but their only food came in the form of dehydrated meals which provided them with a meagre 6,000 calories each day.

The massive calorie deficit meant that they both lost an enormous amount of weight, with Jamie saying that he had lost ‘about three stone’, perhaps the most weight that anyone has ever lost over the course of the race.

Their only respite from the oars and the elements was a tiny cabin in which one of them could snatch around 80 minutes of sleep before rotating back onto the oars.

Asked for a last comment on the adventure this morning on BBC Radio Bristol, Jamie said “you will be a hero forever once you get there and you will get there, you will get there in the end”.

The Tab was a proud sponsor of Jamie and Luke. You can donate to their cause (all proceeds go to Breast Cancer Care) here.

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