Heroes’ welcome for Team Antigua Pairs

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Travis Weste and Jojo Nunes complete epic voyage after 47 days at sea

By Gemma Handy

It may have lacked the throngs of eager crowds that have greeted previous national teams at the finishing line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – but Team Antigua Pairs’ arrival into Nelson’s Dockyard had every bit of the fanfare.

Horns blared, smoke blazed and beaming relatives brandishing Antigua and Barbuda flags set the scene for a true heroes’ welcome for Jojo Nunes and Travis Weste.

The intrepid duo completed the torturous 3,000-mile row from the Canary Islands to English Harbour in 47 days, six hours and 57 minutes.

There was rapturous applause from onlookers – and the heart-melting cries of “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” from one of Weste’s three sons – as their boat loomed into view escorted by the Coast Guard.

Unlike their competitors, Weste and Nunes were heading home – and their elation at finally seeing it after six and a half long weeks at sea was evidenced in their exhilarated grins as they made their final strokes to shore.

There was little sign of the exhaustion which must have engulfed them – right up until their first wobbly steps on dry land since departing La Gomera on December 12.

Strict Covid protocols forced most of the nation to watch the occasion virtually. Among the special guests in attendance were Sports Minister Daryll Matthew, Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez and Foreign Affairs Minister Chet Greene, MP for the area.

Also on the scene to greet their compatriots were previous entrants Team Antigua Island Girls. For Kevinia Francis, Elvira Bell, Samara Emmanuel and Christal Clashing, the moment was all the more emotional falling precisely on the second anniversary of their own historic arrival home in 2019.

But even their sentiments couldn’t compete with those of Nunes’ and Weste’s proud families who told Observer of their delight at seeing their loved ones again, safe and well.

“It’s a great relief to have him home,” Nunes’ father Terrence Nunes said. “Hopefully, now they can rest their bodies and minds.”

The toughest time for the family was Christmas, he revealed, particularly as the pair struggled to make as much headway on the water as they had hoped.

But after they had “accepted the fact they couldn’t win,” they instead resolved to enjoy the voyage.

Other relatives spoke of having “tears in our eyes” at the culmination of the men’s incredible feat.

Weste’s mother, Mavis Simon, said she had spoken to her son daily throughout the voyage and had been enthralled by his tales of seeing whales and sharks.

“I knew the Lord would take good care of them,” she told Observer. She added that Weste, 29, would have missed “food, his bed and his children” most of all.

Nunes’ mother, Pascale Gillis, and grandmother, Christine Gillis, both spoke of their pride that the 19-year-old had finally completed the childhood dream he had held for more than a decade.

Nunes himself told Observer that the lowest point of the journey was when bad weather set the team back three days. The highest point was when it returned, he said, doubling their speed and sending them “surfing” across the waves.

“The most important lesson I learned was how to turn a negative into a positive,” he added. “There is never only one solution to a problem, and there’s always something you can take away from the experience.”

Weste said he planned to do the row again in two years’ time. He described the challenge as “character building” and said it had shown him the importance of “pressing on in life” despite adversity.

Team Antigua Pairs’ chosen charity is Rotary Club of Antigua Sundown. The amount raised is still being calculated, but it is thought to be a six-figure sum with fundraising still ongoing.

They are the twin island nation’s fourth team to complete the annual event and its first pair.

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