Team Hesco, powered by Commando Joe

Team Hesco comprised Commando Joe, a four-strong team of Army personnel who took part in the inaugural Shepherds Ocean Fours Rowing Race 2006. Striking out across the previously unconquered North Atlantic rowing route, this 3,100 nautical mile odyssey would truly be the mother of all races. It goes without saying that the team would need to be in perfect physical condition just to make it from one side of the ocean to the other, battling the fabled North Atlantic weather.

But they would also be battling on other fronts, too. Imagine spending every minute of every day with the same three people for up to two months. Teamwork, courage, endurance, humility – all these and more would be needed if the crossing was to be a success.

Why do it? There’s a certain thrill and satisfaction that comes from accepting a challenge – particularly one of this scale – and completing it. However:

  • only four teams would start the race
  • this would be the first-ever race west to east across the Atlantic, and the first race solely for four-man crews
  • until 2006, there had been only nine successful rowing crossings of the North Atlantic
  • no-one had yet rowed from the US mainland to the UK mainland without having first made landfall elsewhere
  • a successful crossing would therefore see participants gain entry to an elite group of achievers. They would expand the boundaries of ocean rowing history and set new records.

Crews of four would compete on equal terms in a new 29ft long ocean rowing boat over a North Atlantic route similar to that which Sir Chay Blyth took back in 1966. The Challenge was to begin on the North American Coastline (New York, United States) on June 10 2006 and would finish in Falmouth, United Kingdom.

The race covered 3,118 nm. This particular passage would involve weather conditions completely opposite to those experienced in the traditional Atlantic Rowing Challenge events. The North Atlantic route is not a trade wind route and although the current would be going with the teams, weather patterns and wave direction are changeable throughout the voyage. Colder temperatures, fog and icebergs were expected around the Grand Banks and there was the chance of storm conditions as the result of hurricanes formed in the Caribbean. Sharks and whales also presented their own, unique hazards.

The first crossing of the North Atlantic by rowing boat was undertaken in 55 days by two Norwegian immigrants back in 1896.

The Cause

By completing the Challenge, Commando Joe hoped to raise at least £100,000 for the Meningitis Trust, to enable it to continue its valuable work in fighting meningitis worldwide.

So why did Commando Joe choose this charity?

On May 23 2003, the unimaginable happened to Pete Rowlands and his family. They received a call from their son Gareth’s boarding school, informing them of the tragic news that he had died, aged 16, after contracting meningitis. Gareth was immensely fit and had represented North Derbyshire at cross country, skippered the schools 2nd XV at rugby and during July and August 2002 toured South Africa with the school rugby team for three weeks. He had recently returned from a two-week skiing venture with the school at Easter 2003 and sat his AS Level Sports Studies exam the day before his death. He had definite plans to attend university on completion of his A Levels and lived life to the full. His only complaint on the day of his death had been a headache.

For Pete, his wife Helen and daughter Sian, the Meningitis Trust has provided much-needed help and support – as it does for countless other families and individuals whose lives are affected by this disease.

“What the Trust did for me, my wife Helen and daughter Sian following Gareth’s death was nothing short of amazing,” recounts Capt Rowlands. “Sadly, it’s what they’re good at because meningitis continues to claim lives.

“Raising funds for them is a display of gratitude. Moreover, it will allow other families to benefit from their understanding of the disease.

“And through their disease awareness work it might even prevent another family experiencing the loss of a loved one,” Capt Rowlands points out.

Pete, together with Charlie, Mark Waterson and Ben Fouracre, made up the four members of Commando Joe’s Atlantic team.

The Outcome

The crossing wasn’t easy. Shortly after leaving New York, the team was hit by the remnants of a hurricane, providing a very quick introduction to life at sea in an ocean rowing boat. Later in the voyage, communication was lost with the boat, leaving them unable to receive weather forecasts, send messages to family, or consult with the Shore Support Team.

But 85 days after leaving New York, the team rowed triumphantly into the harbour at Mevagissey, Cornwall, UK – taking two Guinness World Records for the effort.

More importantly, they captured the imagination of their supporters and members of the public. Generous donations allowed the team to exceed even their most optimistic hopes for fundraising – the Meningitis Trust benefited from more than £250,000 as a result of Team Hesco’s efforts.