An extreme challenge like no other - The extraordinary Harrogate group taking on the Atlantic

As far as extreme fundraising challenges go, this one will take some serious beating...

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 3:37 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 3:37 pm
The Force Atlantic team have been training hard before their departure.

It's so challenging, that in many ways it's almost incomprehensible - but an extraordinary team from Harrogate's Army Foundation College are just two weeks away from setting off to conquer the impossible and make history.

An extraordinary four-man crew will attempt to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in just 40 days, aiming to raise a staggering £1 million for ABF The Soldiers' Charity in the process.

The team - named Force Atlantic - will be the first in the British Army's history to participate in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, and their phenomenal efforts could be permanently recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, as 18-year-old Private Kian Helm sets out to become the fastest teenager to have ever rowed the Atlantic.

The Force Atlantic team. Picture: Charlotte Graham.

As it is, more people have climbed Mount Everest than rowed across the Atlantic, and Kian would already earn the title of being the third youngest person to have ever rowed an ocean.

Kian has taken on this mammoth feat with the Commanding Officer of the Army Foundation College, Lt Col Richard Hall, Capt Chris Hames, and Capt Alex Walsh. The race starts on December 12, and they hope to finish by January 20.

This means spending Christmas and New Year at sea - away from family, friends and loved ones, and facing the monotony of rowing in shifts throughout the day and night, as they battle their way from the Canary Islands to Antigua, all on one small seven-metre long boat. Yes, really.

Then there is the calorie consumption - all four team members will need to drastically increase their intake to 5,500 calories a day to allow their bodies to keep up with the sheer physical and mental endurance of the challenge, which is dubbed the world's toughest row.

Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

Force Atlantic have thrown themselves into a rigorous training regime that seems to have left no stone unturned - although the conditions of such a vast challenge are difficult to simulate, the hardy foursome have done their best to get a real flavour of what it could be like.

Richard said: "I imagine that there will be some teams who are feeling nervous, thinking that maybe they haven't prepared enough, but I feel like we have hit every angle we could. We've been abseiling, rock climbing, skydiving, team building - anything that we think could possibly help to prepare us in our training.

"I think the monotony of the rowing, combined with sleep deprivation and the conditions out there, will make things tough. Inevitably we are going to pick up sores and scrapes and knocks, and feel a bit of homesickness. All of these things conspire to make every difficulty ten times worse.

"But I think sleep deprivation is going to be the worst for that, producing heightened emotions and irritability. As a team, we've had to talk about what annoys us about each other, and what we do not want to have to talk about on the boat. We have worked hard to try and understand each other's idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, in a way that other people wouldn't want to know or need to know."

The very real possibility of the boat flipping over is another stark factor that the team has had to prepare for and think about. Richard said: "I imagine that there will be times when the boat flips over, and we have to prepare to be bounced about until a storm passes. It will be a hair-raising moment, no doubt about it - not knowing when you come back out on deck which kit has survived or snapped. It's quite hard to train for that.

"But I think sense of humour is really important to get us through things, the army is famously dark humoured."

For Kian, who is not long out of basic training, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that he is ready to embrace with a mixture of excitement and pride.

Kian said: "Mum and dad were very nervous at first, when I first took it to them and said, right, I am going to be rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. But I told them I've been approached to do this opportunity, and I'm going to take it - it's a once in a lifetime experience.

"I think one of the things I will struggle with the most is being away at Christmas and family time, which is one of the things we have discussed as a team."

Although they will find themselves in the middle of the Atlantic come Christmas Day, there are plans in place to bring a much-needed sprinkle of festive morale to the boat.

Alex said: "We might be in the middle of the ocean, but it's still important to clock in, and take some time out to eat mince pies and have a couple of brandies.

"The highs will be especially high, and the lows will be especially low. But we've been living and breathing it for so long, we are absolutely ready to go. These last few weeks are going to be like purgatory, we just really want to get going and sink our teeth into what we have been planning for so long.

"My overwhelming feeling is excitement. I think we're in a place now where all those worries have been put to bed - we were apprehensive before, but through discussion and training, I don't have those demons hanging over me anymore, there's just clarity."

Despite the monotony of the rowing itself, the team are expecting some surprises along the way, with talk of dolphins, sea turtles and other wildlife making appearances in previous years of the challenge.

Force Atlantic have also been going into schools to speak about their challenge, and hopefully inspire the next generation to look at opportunities that the army can open up.

Richard said: "We are a Harrogate-based team, the college is a totally unique facility in the world. It's inspirational story after inspirational story here. We don't see ourselves as a basic training unit, it's about setting life skills, and the expectation that young people are going to achieve."

To sponsor the Force Atlantic team and help them power towards their £1 million fundraising target for ABF The Soldiers' Charity, visit their JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/force-atlantic