Back on dry land

Back on dry land

Business consultancy veteran, Guy Rigby and his adventure partner David Murray, took to the Atlantic in December in an attempt to raise huge amounts of charity cash and set a new world record. Here’s how they got on…

You may recall back in April of last year that we told you the tale of an intrepid duo bidding to become the oldest pair to row the Atlantic. 

Guy Rigby (68) and David Murray (56) set off from La Gomera in December aiming to arrive in Antigua this month as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge race. 

Of course, given the risks involved, this could have been a very different piece full of warm tributes, proposals for a charity in their names, and use of the phrase ‘reluctantly, the search was called off’.

But, you know what? They only bloody did it!

Some 53 days after setting off they made it all the way to Antigua. They didn’t kill/eat/throttle each other, broke that world record and raised a stack load of cash for their charity to boot. More on that later. 

What an experience! says Rigby. A huge learning curve from start to finish ‘ planning, fundraising, registrations, buying a boat and her equipment, RYA courses, personal training, on-the-water training, mental resilience support, meeting brilliant people, 53 days on the ocean, arriving in Antigua and breaking a World Record!

Talking of the start of the challenge, Guy added:

There’s always the nagging doubt about what one might have forgotten, whether the mental and physical side will hold up, but generally I think we were as prepared as we could be. The last few days in La Gomera, we just wanted to get going.

And once they got going, the schedule was every bit as tough as it was anticipated to be, but the preparation was there. 

The biggest challenge was getting up every two hours in the night, he says. It was dark about half of the time, so we had three night time shifts each. However, once we were up, the night time rowing was some of the most pleasurable, as the sea tended to calm down and the boat took on a different rhythm. Although motivating oneself to get up was challenging, we soon got used to coping with four to five hours of sleep a day.

Anyone who has taken part in an endurance event will know that is all about mental strength and positivity. All pertinent to achieving success in business as well, of course. And the pair managed to maintain focus on their goal one nautical mile at a time. 

We really didn’t think about the finish until later on in the race. That would have been too frustrating. As they say, success by the inch is a cinch, so all we thought about was the next two hour shift and (hopefully) rowing five nautical miles, followed by eating and sleeping. Due to adverse winds and currents, we rarely made that goal, but we did average over 53 nautical miles (around 61 land miles) each day.

Not all plain sailing (or in this case rowing), however.

In the last ten days or so our morale dropped as we hit adverse winds and counter-currents which pretty much stopped us in our tracks. Our projected arrival date slipped from the Sunday to ‘now Monday’ to ‘definitely Wednesday’ to ‘almost certainly Thursday’. 

Finally, on the Wednesday, and with 50 miles or so to go, an easterly wind sprang up. At that point we were pretty sure we would make the Thursday. We wanted to arrive in the day, so we eased off overnight to try to time our arrival, only to find that the counter-currents came back at about 3am. Again it looked as if we might not make it in daylight, so we rowed together for about eight hours to get in, arriving around lunchtime. With blue skies and a light breeze, it was the most joyous row, as Antigua came into view and we rowed along her beautiful cliffs and in to English Harbour. We had a rapturous welcome, with family, friends and the general public welcoming us into Nelson’s Dockyard.

Having achieved their goal, however, the fun didn’t stop right away, with months of recovery ahead as the pair deal with the toll of not being able to walk anywhere and of course, all that rowing.

It’s interesting, as I thought I would get stronger and fitter as the row progressed. In fact, I experienced the opposite, although I didn’t really realise this until I was back on dry land. Despite eating for England (at least in my terms!) I lost 10kgs, with my weight reducing from twelve stone to ten and a half. My calf muscles almost completely disappeared, making it very painful to walk for the first few days on land. In addition, I experienced significant rocking (there are still traces of that over two weeks later!), making it feel as if I’m walking on a floating pontoon. Finally, and perhaps most long lasting, my hands are incredibly stiff and painful, with bruised fingers and stretched tendons. I am told that these can take two or three months to recover.

Notwithstanding the above, I am fit and well and looking forward to getting back to my normal routine of jogging, cycling and rowing. I have already started with the first two, but the rowing will have to wait!

Fundraising for UnLtd, The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, the pair raised a total of just over £690,000, which is still being added to and with speaking opportunities and continuing exposure in the media it is hoped it will reach at least £750,000. 

So, clearly it was very much worth it in terms of monies raised. But two questions remain – was it worth it in terms of the experience and what’s next?

In a word, yes! We think we’ve run a pretty successful campaign from start to finish and there have been many parallels with starting a business. As in business, there have been both disappointments and moments of sheer joy, but neither of us would have missed any of it for the world. When the challenges hit, our motto was there to support us ‘ Never Give Up!

My rowing partner, David, is already talking about his next adventure, including another possible row. For me, this was a bit of a one-off, doing something real and giving something back. Never say never, but I’m going to return to more normal levels of activity for the time being!

Very sensible. The words of Sir Steve Redgrave just after winning another Olympic gold medal, spring to mind: If anyone sees me going anywhere near a boat again, they have my permission to shoot me.

Steve knew. 

You can still boost the coffers of the pair’s charity (come on they’ve just rowed the Atlantic!) here

In Guys book, From Vision to Exit, he shares his key mantra If it isnt broken, break it. He has applied this principle to his own career, changing course and roles as opportunities and developments arose. At the age of 66, when Guy concluded that he should pass on his role as Head of Entrepreneurial Services at Smith & Williamson to the next generation, he came up with a radical solution to bridging the gap between full time work and his ongoing consultancy.

From time to time, everyone needs a new challenge. With a successful, office-based, career spanning over fifty years, I thought it was time I did something real and gave something back. I’ll therefore be talking about my most recent start-up, The Entrepreneur Ship Ltd, sharing the story of how I prepared for and rowed 3,283 miles across the Atlantic with my rowing partner, David Murray, raising significant funds for charity – The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs – and claiming a world record in the process.  

To view Guys keynote session, it takes place on the 11th March at 14.00 Click here to register so can watch the session for FREE.

Ronnie Dungan
Ronnie Dungan

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