By Elesha George
Visitor numbers may be trending down a slippery slope due to the Covid-19 pandemic but advertising Antigua and Barbuda as an island destination is never ceasing.
Even with suppressed fanfare, the island continues to attract celebrities from around the world. Over the weekend, it welcomed the Atlantic Dash – a crew of four men including Dirty Vegan star Matt Pritchard, renowned travel Blogger Johnny Ward, skipper Billy Taylor, and the sea dog Martin Heseltine.
Within just an hour of landing at Falmouth, the men shared thoughts like: “It’s a beautiful island and the people are amazing. We are really, really happy to be here; we couldn’t ask for a better place to come into; and “the sand is white the sea is blue, it’s happy days”.
“The best time started when we landed,” remarked Heseltine, who is an extremely experienced seafarer.
Meanwhile, Pritchard who appeared relieved to have his land legs back, uttered jokingly, “it was absolutely horrible; it’s better now”.
Taylor, of Monkey Fist Adventures, was the only experienced ocean rower among the group of men who decided that they would row 3,200 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness for men’s mental health.
The men who had not known each other before certainly have a connection now.
Taylor weighed in that “it was very much up and down” but that the good times wouldn’t be good, if you didn’t have the bad times”.
Pritchard, on the other hand, added to his namesake, going from a prankster, to a plant lover and now to an Atlantic rower, after his latest feat. The celebrity chef said although it wasn’t like making his preferred cuisine, he quite enjoyed his time heating up water so he and his crew mates could have something to eat while out at sea.
“We eat our food, we get our sleep, and we move the oars day in, day out,” remembered Ward with Taylor who the men described as a “comfort” adding, it’s hard knowing that you can’t get off the boat but recalled that they managed to cope knowing that it would always get better.
The men rowed unsupported and independently for 50 hours 5hrs and 22 minutes before arriving at Catherine’s Café in Falmouth, Antigua, but their journey was not all smooth sailing.
The quartet began rowing from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands but encountered a problem when their seat rails broke.
Hayes told Observer that “they got a tow into Fuerteventura and spent six days fixing the boat [the rescue boat crashed into them and put two holes in the boat!] They eventually restarted from Fuerteventura on the 13th March – they are the only people in the world to have rowed from Fuerteventura to Antigua [or anywhere in the Caribbean actually]”.
Even before launching, all the rowers returned negative covid tests and had effectively been self-isolating on the rowing boat for those 51 days at sea. Health authorities stationed at Antigua’s port were on hand to meet them at the jetty at Pigeon Point to allow them to enter the island.
The Land Manager explained that “due to the pandemic, we felt that mental health was a much bigger issue, so this one was to raise awareness of men’s mental health – they are also doing research into the effects of extreme endurance exercise on mental health and mood. We know that outdoor exercise has an immediate effect – but we wanted to know if something so extreme might have a more longer lasting effect. So, they went in for extensive testing where they exercised in the university with the brains connected to a scanner which measured the brain activity and mood – they will do the same when they go back to see if there is any difference”.
Hayes said they’ve also been encouraging people to talk about their mental health throughout the campaign which has been incredible.
The four were aiming to raise £20,000 to be split between Dean Farm Trust and men’s mental health charity, Humen.
But this row is not the finale. Giving an exclusive sneak peek into the next project, Hayes told Observer they plan to launch an ocean rowing regatta also called the Atlantic Dash.
A bit like the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge which begins in La Gomera, Spain and concludes in English Harbour, Antigua, the Atlantic Dash races will start from Lanzarote and pending permission from Antigua authorities, end in Antigua.
The Land Manager said the idea is to make ocean racing as accessible as possible. He wants the race to celebrate diversity, all kinds of boats, all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds.
The name of the project is quite significant as well. According to Hayes, while the first word of the team is pretty much straight forward, the ‘Dash’ came about because of a poem by Linda Ellis called ‘The Dash’.
Hayes said “it talks about when you are in a grave yard you always look at the dates on people’s gravestones – but those aren’t important – the important bit is the dash between those dates. Life is about filling that dash”.