Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland rowers spending Christmas at sea in Atlantic race for charity

The rowers
The rowers
The rowers in action

By Lisa Smyth

As families celebrate Christmas, four Northern Ireland men are rowing their way across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for three local charities.

Ally Cooper, George McAlpin, Gareth Barton and Luke Baker are pushing their bodies to the limit by taking part in the world's toughest rowing race.

The crew set off on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge on December 14 and will not see dry land again until February, enduring sleep deprivation, isolation from their loved ones and overwhelming sea sickness from 40ft waves.

By the time they have completed the race, they will have rowed 3,000 nautical miles - 4,709 kms - from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies, in a boat measuring just seven metres long and two metres wide.

The incredible physical and mental feat is even more remarkable, given the fact that none of the men had ever rowed before agreeing to take part.

Alan Simpson, a friend of the men, said: "They all have families and they are away from them over Christmas to take part in the Talisker challenge.

"It's tough for their families and the first thing they do every morning is get up and check on their progress to see how they are getting on.

"So far, they have exceeded expectations. They are doing absolutely fantastic and everyone in Portrush, where George, Gareth and Ally are from, is so proud of them.

"The past 48 hours in particular have been really tough with rough seas, and it is 24 hours non-stop.

"There is no sleeping cabin onboard, they maybe do five hours rowing and get a two hour break while they try and get some sleep."

The team - the first from Northern Ireland to ever compete in the challenge - was put together by Portrush man Ally after he saw footage of the race on the internet.

"The race has been going for five years and Ally saw something about it on YouTube and decided he wanted to do it," continued Alan.

"He got George on board and then the other two said they wanted to get involved as well.

"No-one had to be talked into it, everyone was really up for it.

"The thing is, none of them had ever rowed before this, but once they decided to do it, they trained every single day and evening in the gym and by rowing between Northern Ireland and Scotland and around the north coast for the last year.

"It's really hard for them to keep in touch with people back home, so that makes it hard and the fact they are doing it over Christmas is even harder.

"They are living on basically astronaut food, while we are all enjoying ourselves back home. We're missing them and they are doing it for charity so we're all proud of them."

The team are raising money for three different charities - the Portrush Lifeboat, Row for Ross and Willies Orphan Fund and have set a target of £10,000.

Alan continued: "The lifeboat was an obvious choice, with three of the guys being from Portrush. Anyone who lives in the town sees the incredible work that they do - it's unbelievable, they really are the life and blood of the sea. The lifeboat volunteers are heroes, so it was a natural choice to support them.

"Now we're asking people to support the Home to Portrush team, to raise as much money as possible.

"I have spoken to Olympic rowers about what the Home to Portrush team is doing and even they have said they wouldn't dream of doing it, because it is such an extreme challenge."

Donations to the Home to Portrush fundraising effort can be made by logging on to their JustGiving page at, or follow their progress through their Facebook page.

Belfast Telegraph


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