‘Herculean’ charity rowing challenge for Home to Portrush

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Pitting their strengths against professional athletes, an amateur rowing team consisting of a restaurateur, a civil servant, a restaurant manager and a fitness instructor might be expected to settle for the ‘You Tried Your Best’ medal in a 3,000 gruelling rowing challenge.

But not the Northern Ireland crew of ‘Home To Portrush’ which is currently holding its own in the Herculean task of rowing in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge 2017, the “premier event in ocean rowing”.

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

The only local team in the field of 27 boats is crewed by four “local heroes” - 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 Canary Islands on December 14 and have been rowing 24 hours a day, seven days a week ever since.

Despite their amateur status, the crew has made remarkable progress and has powered ahead to be sitting fourth in their category and fifth in the overall, international field, meaning that the men are expected to come ashore in Antigua around January 15 or 16.

All the participating boats are using the project to raise money for their chosen charities.

The 27 boats in the race are representing 100 charities from all over the world but the Northern Ireland crew has kept its north coast links close to its fundraising heart and have challenged themselves to raise £15,000 for Willie’s Orphan Fund, the RNLI, the NI Children to Lapland Trust and Rowing for Ross.

Portrush barman Willie Gregg from Willie’s Orphan Fund paid tribute to the mammoth physical and mental effort being undertaken by the crew: “These are true local heroes, they are amateurs performing like athletes.

“This is the longest and hardest row in the world, 3,000 miles in total. It was the brainchild of George McAlpin of the Ramore restaurants complex, he’s had it on his mind for many years and finally decided this was the year to do it.

“The boys took the decision to forgo ‘luxury’ items which would have made their journey more comfortable to lighten the boat and that has dramatically paid off. There is every possibility that they are now looking at a world speed record for that class of boat.

“They have been rowing solidly for 26 days - three rowing while one rests - despite the most severe weather conditions. They are suffering from sore knees, sore hands, toothache, they are eating dried ‘astronaut food’ and the only company they have had other than themselves has been sharks, whales and flying fish.

“The shore committee are doing everything we can to raise the £15,000 target. And preparations are under way to welcome them ashore when they arrive in Antigua.” Check the Home To Portrush Facebook page for progress reports and details of how to donate www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/HometoPortrush