Adventurous Antiguans on countdown to ‘world’s toughest row’

Joseph Nunes (l) and Travis Weste are the fourth team – and the first pair – to represent Antigua and Barbuda in the annual event (Photos contributed)
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By Gemma Handy

Rowing 3,000 miles across the mighty Atlantic Ocean in a boat less than two metres wide might not be for everyone. But two intrepid young Antiguans are just weeks away from leaving the country to do precisely that, when they take part in one of the toughest sporting events on Earth.

Joseph Nunes, 19, and Travis Weste, 28, will be the fourth team – and the first pair – to represent the twin island nation in the annual Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

The duo will depart Antigua on November 28 to fly to La Gomera in the Canary Islands where they will go head to head against 20 other teams in the race to the finish line back on home turf in Nelson’s Dockyard.

They are hoping to smash the 37-day world record for the fastest pair, set in January this year by Max Thorpe and Dave Spelman. The race kicks off on December 12 and the men’s chosen charity is Rotary Club of Antigua Sundown. 

Nunes, from Cedar Valley, told Observer he had a lifelong affinity with the ocean, after growing up sailing, fishing and enjoying watersports.

“I have always been around the ocean. Even after all the stories people tell when they finish the row – how horrible it is, the aches and pains, and all the suffering that they go through – I see past that and just see the beauty in the ocean,” he said.

And while the Covid-19 pandemic may have hindered some of their training, the pair have managed to do several overnight rows in preparation for the challenge ahead. Their boat – used by last year’s team ‘Resilient X’ – is already en route to the Canary Islands.

Weste, a father-of-three from English Harbour, says the emotional training is just as important.  

“I do a lot of meditation and the mental preparation is a big part of it,” he said. “Even before I knew I was going to do this, I would go and watch the sunrise and then go to the beach and listen to the sea to connect with nature.”

Weste has previous experience sailing with the Antigua Yacht Club, said the nation’s previous entrants had been happy to offer valuable advice and support.

“They told us that teamwork is important, knowing your boat, knowing your teammate and being able to identify when they’re down,” Weste said. “And also to stay positive throughout, regardless of what happens because you’re going to experience all kinds of unforeseen things. Like it can be a clear day and out of the blue you’ll get some serious swells and there will always be unexpected situations.

“So never get too relaxed, just focus on what you have to do, go out and row and, when you can, take the downtime to rest,” he explained.

Both men said they were looking forward to seeing an array of wildlife along the way, such as dolphins, whales and sharks.

To keep up their spirits on the mammoth journey, Nunes said he planned to take “lots and lots of chocolate”, while Weste said he would be taking music, including some high-energy soca.

Other than upbeat tunes, the pair will be powered purely on muscle, moxie and sheer determination.

And while both men said they would miss their family most of all, they have their eyes firmly set on the finishing line – and the rapturous welcome which has greeted each one of the previous three national teams.

“We have a bigger drive to finish the race because obviously we have that local support and Antiguans love to support Antigua and come out and show their love for the nation,” Nunes said.

He added, “We are the only team that’s rowing home. Everybody else is rowing to Antigua – just this little speck on the map – but for us we will be coming home.”

Visit ‘Team Antigua Pairs – Atlantic Rowers’ on Facebook to track the duo’s progress.

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