We give up: stranded UWE rowers abandon hopes of finishing Atlantic race

After a series of disasters, UWE hopefuls call it quits 650 miles from the finish


Two UWE students have given up their hopes of finishing their row across the Atlantic after spending over 90 days at sea.

Lauren Morton and Hannah Lawton had been taking part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic challenge which sails from Tenerife to Antigua and are the youngest female pair to ever take part in the competition.

It was smooth sailing until disaster struck...Photo: Inspirational Friends

It was smooth sailing until disaster struck…Photo: Inspirational Friends

Every other participant in the race finished over a month ago, with the girls struggling behind the rest after a series of mishaps and setbacks. The ultimate breaking point proved to be an accident that left Lauren with a head injury and their boat with a broken rudder.

With no way of steering or rowing, the girls could do nothing else but use a para-anchor to keep their boat from drifting back towards Africa while they waited for supplies from the rescue yacht, a wait that lasted for three weeks.

Under challenge rules, the girls had to fix the rudder by themselves and despite their best efforts, unusually bad storms in the area meant they eventually had to call it a day as their supplies were beginning to run out with 650 miles still to go.

Writing on their challenge blog, the girls said: “We’ve spent the last month trying to make rudder fix, after rudder fix and nothing has worked in these conditions, we are now out of options.”

The girls have now been picked up by a Belgian cargo ship and will make their way to Canada before flying home from Nova Scotia.

Though they were unable to finish the race, the girls have managed to raise over £9,000 for Myton Hospice and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Lauren and Hannah were rowing in memory of their friend Eleanor Rose Ellis who died of cervical cancer in 2012.

Their poor luck is in stark contrast to the efforts of Tab-backed rowers Jamie Sparks and Luke Birch who became the youngest pair to ever row the Atlantic earlier in the competition. The boys, from Bristol and Edinburgh University, completed the race in just over 50 days.

Triumph: the two boys landed in Antigua nearly a month ago

Triumph: the two boys landed in Antigua nearly a month ago

The determined pair absolutely smashed their fundraising target, raising over £300,000, 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.

The boys reach the finish line!

The boys reach the finish line!

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.

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.”

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

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

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.

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

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

In a particularly memorable phone call Jamie spoke to 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!”

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.

‘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 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 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”.