by Gemma Handy
The record-breaking granddad who made history as the oldest person to ever complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge has revealed he plans to undertake the incredible feat again in two years’ time.
Septuagenarian Frank Rothwell, from Oldham in England, arrived into Nelson’s Dockyard on Saturday after completing the arduous 3,000-mile row from the Canary Islands.
The 70-year-old, a keen sailor for more than three decades, told Observer age was no barrier to fulfilling one’s dreams.
He said he chose to do the race singlehandedly because he “wanted ownership” of it.
“I’m an old man, I do things myself. If I’d gone with a younger crew – it’s dead easy for someone to take their granddad along – I didn’t want anyone saying, you didn’t really row, you were in charge of the food or something,” he explained.
“Plus it makes life a lot more difficult when you’re with a crew of people. You have differences of opinion and it’s well documented that people often don’t get on during the process.”
Rothwell said he’s now poised to put down a deposit for the 2022 race set to depart from the Canary Islands for Antigua in December next year.
But there is one important modification he has planned for his next trip – an easy chair for his rest periods.
“Whether I keep this boat or go for something else, I’m not too sure. But I will make certain modifications; make it a bit lighter and a bit quicker,” he said.
Among the refinements he made to suit his advancing years on his current boat – aptly named ‘Never Too Old’ – was a seat adapted from a racing car.
“Everyone else’s rowing seat is just a square piece of wood with some foam on top. You get a sore bum and a bad back. With mine I could lean back and have a back rest,” Rothwell grinned.
“All the way through I got zero bum ache and zero back ache – and everyone else had both. I also had my own little shower head so I could wash myself all over every day which means you don’t get any infections.”
Rothwell said he had planned to row 14 hours a day for the duration of the journey but soon found it too taxing, opting for around eight instead. His initial fast pace also slowed down, making the crossing more enjoyable.
“I decided to do it as a saunter along the promenade – and I was able to do that all day. I had no aches, pains or wounds. Some people have had terrible injuries,” he continued.
One of the biggest challenges, he revealed, was eating the vast quantities of food – 5,500 calories a day – required to sustain his body during his 56 days at sea. Rothwell said he was pleased to only drop six or seven kilos in weight.
Since learning to sail shortly before his 40th birthday, Rothwell has racked up a plethora of impressive nautical jaunts across the globe – including the notoriously perilous Cape Horn.
And he said he loved his rowing training so much that he far exceeded the minimum number of hours required to join the race.
“You had to do 120 hours of training on your boat – and I did 400. I was rowing a lot around Scotland; it was brilliant, really challenging,” he recalled.
The only downside was the Covid pandemic meant “all the pubs were shut”, robbing him of a well-earned beer each time he completed a row in Scotland.
Unsurprisingly, the high point of Rothwell’s remarkable undertaking was crossing the finish line and being reunited with family, friends and wife of 50 years, Judith, who he described as his “best mate”.
Rowing into the dockyard, to the sound of yacht horns and with flares blazing, was a “euphoric moment”.
Low times were when the current was working against him, making his row all the more gruelling.
“At Christmas, I rowed during the day and put the sea anchor out at night. When I woke up I had moved eight miles backwards, so I rowed the same piece of sea twice and there is nothing you can do about that,” he said.
The lowest moment of all was the day, two weeks ago, he learned of the death of his beloved brother-in-law Roger.
The 62-year-old – who had Down’s Syndrome and suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease – had been the inspiration behind Rothwell’s chosen charity, Alzheimer’s Research.
Rothwell hopes to raise one million British pounds (EC$3.7 million) towards finding a cure for dementia – and he’s already 90 percent of the way there. His sponsor Iceland Foods has pledged to double every penny Rothwell raises, up to half a million pounds.
“Roger was a really good mate, a brilliant bloke,” he smiled. “He wasn’t able to talk and he got by with gestures and sounds. He was always the first one up to dance and the last to sit down again.”
Rothwell said he had received numerous heartbreaking messages from people affected by dementia during his eight weeks at sea.
He plans to spend two more days in Antigua, to which he has a special affinity having visited on many previous occasions, before flying back to the UK on Thursday.
“But I will be coming back to Antigua; it’s a lovely place. I was disappointed to find Shirley Heights closed because I love the drum music. It was one of the things I was telling my children about,” he said. “I will definitely be bringing them back with me and going there next time.”
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