Rowers prepare for marathon sea challenge

An Irish Olympic rower is making his final preparations for an epic journey across 3,000 miles of open seas in a bid to become the fastest man to row across the Atlantic.

An Irish Olympic rower is making his final preparations for an epic journey across 3,000 miles of open seas in a bid to become the fastest man to row across the Atlantic.

Fewer than 160 people have crossed the Atlantic swells in a rowing boat but 27-year-old Gearoid Towey and Ciaran Lewis, 35, are determined to become the first Irish crew to win the race.

“We are hoping to win the race but by about halfway probably all we will want to do is to finish,” Towey said, as the week-long countdown in Tenerife began.

In preparation for the race which sets off on November 27 from the Canary Islands following the route taken by Christopher Columbus, the pair have been building up their stamina.

Months of intensive training sessions, weekends on the 23ft boat at sea as well as braving nights in their boat off Cork’s Bantry Bay to become accustomed to rowing in the dark were part of their hectic schedule.

“We have been preparing for this for about 10 months, we are now doing a lot of last minute things. The main thing has been getting the boat ready,” Towey said.

The 23ft boat, where Towey and seven times Irish Champion rower Lewis will spend Christmas and New Year, includes a 6 and a 1/2ft long little sleeping cabin.

As part of the Atlantic Rowing Race the competitors have to row a boat without receiving outside assistance for around 2,550 nautical miles across the Atlantic ocean.

Among the other 25 competitors is double Olympic rowing Gold medallist James Cracknell and the BBC One Presenter Ben Fogle who are planning on writing a book on their attempt to take on the toughest rowing race on earth.

Towey, who reached the Olympic semi-finals in the lightweight double sculls in Athens 2004, said the pair will be able to take advantage of the predominately South Westerly flowing current from the Canaries to South America and prevailing winds.

“We will be following the same route that Columbus took on the first voyage, it is a trade wind routes,” he said.

Fitness is not all the pair have had to contend with there are also the dangers of high seas and 50ft swells, and container ships to negotiate around.

“There are dangers, and we are pretty nervous about it,” he said, adding that over in Tenerife speaking about it with other rowers now made the mammoth challenge sound like a normal task.

“As long as we take precautions we should be fine.”

He added: “Rowing at night isn’t a problem, it is almost better you get a different sense of speed. It will be quite difficult from the aspect of sleep - we will be working in two-hour shifts.”

The pair will be burning 6,000 calories a day during their month on board the 20ft boat as they attempt to smash the record of 42 days at sea.

Eating a variety of freeze dried food and energy bars the pair will row in two-hour shift rotations continuously throughout the lengthy trip during which they are expected to lose several kilograms in weight.

During any rest time – 6ft Towey and 6ft 3in Lewis – will be crammed into the 6.5ft cabin.

The rowers, who are hoping to raise thousands for the Irish Cancer Society and Merchants Quay, will update their fans at home through a daily web diary posted on the internet through their satellite phone each day.

“My family are a little bit concerned that is to be expected but they say they are excited about following it on the web diary,” he said.

The 23ft boat being used by the Digicel Atlantic Challenge team was sourced in New Zealand and was previously used by other rowers to win the race in 2001.

Towey, who was a member of the Irish Olympic Team for the Atlanta, Sydney and Athens games, is hopeful the physical strain and mental pressure will stand him in good stead for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

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