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Northern Ireland rowers prove an oar-some foursome

Only amateurs in 3,000-mile Atlantic race cross finish line

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Local heroes George McAlpin, Gareth Barton, Luke Baker and Ally Cooper

Local heroes George McAlpin, Gareth Barton, Luke Baker and Ally Cooper

Local heroes George McAlpin, Gareth Barton, Luke Baker and Ally Cooper

An amateur rowing team from Northern Ireland consisting of a restaurateur, a civil servant, a restaurant manager and a fitness instructor have completed a gruelling 3,000-mile challenge.

The team - Home To Portrush - held its own in the Herculean task of rowing in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge 2017, which is known as the premier event in ocean rowing.

The challenge takes the rowers more than 3,000 miles west from San Sebastian in the Canary Islands to Nelson's Dockyard English Harbour in Antigua and Barbuda.

The only team from Northern Ireland in the field of 27 boats was crewed by four locals - George McAlpin, Gareth Barton, Luke Baker and Ally Cooper - who are linked by their love of the north coast and of the sea.

The men left the Canaries on December 14 and have been rowing 24 hours a day, seven days a week ever since. The men finished their voyage at around 8pm yesterday and have so far raised more than £14,000 for the RNLI.

Former BBC broadcaster Alan Simpson, a friend of the men, was in Antigua to meet them at the finish line. Speaking shortly before they arrived, he said: "I have spoken to some of the other crews that have finished the race over the last couple of days, some of these guys you would nearly call professional rowers, and they have been blown away by how well Home To Portrush has done.

"Exceeding expectations is putting it mildly. They have blown everyone else out of the water. It has been an absolutely phenomenal performance, it is beyond words.

"Everyone in Portrush is behind them and supporting them. Everyone in Portrush knows them. What has impressed me as well is the people from Antigua, they have taken to them as well. They have been saying: 'These guys are from Northern Ireland, it doesn't make sense, how could they possibly do such a thing?'

"The Portrush Lifeboat does not exist without voluntary contributions, that's it. It costs more than £6,000 every time a lifeboat goes out and it is a busy station. They are the real heroes, they are the volunteers that have to go out in all weather. They are the heart of the community."

Judy Nelson of Portrush RNLI, said: "We are all just so proud of them, they are all local boys. We are delighted and all of us are watching the race on the internet, we have been following it all the way.

"The lifeboat station here is so thankful to them and we are really looking forward to getting them home and helping them celebrate their achievement.

"I am sure they have lost a lot of weight because of the rations they have been on and they are looking forward to a good feed when they get back."

Belfast Telegraph