The idea to cross the Atlantic in a small rowboat is already crazy enough. Especially when you have no experience in oarsmanship. The four British polo players Bobby Dundas (hdc +3, 29 years, 10th Viscount Melville), Henry Brett (hdc +5, 38 years), James Glasson (hdc +3, 39 years) and Fergus Scholes (hdc -1, 31 years) dared it anyhow. As Atlantic polo team they took part in Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the toughest row contest worldwide.
The route led from Spanish San Sebastian de La Gomera 3.000 miles across the Atlantic. The only 6,4 meters long rowboat named “Tiny Dancer” became their home for almost seven weeks. At tightest area they had to eat, sleep, preparing water – and of course rowing, rowing, rowing.
On their own and alone with the waves, the venturous players had to get through many deprivations and exertions. After five days, a violent storm forced them to stay three days into the small, 2,4 meters large and 1 meter wide, cabin. Two men went overboard. Due to the storm they floated back to the east and spent days to caught up the lost miles. But the tour also had a lot of great, memorable moments.
After 48 days the Atlantic polo team reached the port at the Caribbean island of Antigua – this made the team winners of the four-person category and second overall winners of the entire challenge. In the beginning, hardly anybody would have thought this fantastic effort would be possible.
For Henry Brett, it was the experience of his life, which made him stronger and more focused. Barely back ashore, the 38-year-old is already thinking about new adventures. POLO+10 has spoken with the +5-goaler about his plans for the future, the feeling of spending almost seven weeks in a little nutshell in a group of four, how important a tiny piece of rope can be and why chicken korma is the best.
POLO+10: Congratulations on your great performance. In the beginning, nobody would have though that you are capable of doing this. Before your start, did you believe in your success? After all, none of you had experience with rowing…
Henry: We had talked about it, but our main aim was to get across as fast as we could. We knew that so much depended on our conditions, but we couldn’t plan too much at all.
POLO+10: None of you of has ever rowed?
Henry: No, none of us. We trained on the rowing machine and built up the hours.
POLO+10: How did you come up with the idea to take part in the challenge?
Henry: It was an idea by James Glasson. I started the ball rolling by going to a seminar with Bobby Dundas and from there it snowballed. Originally we were going to do it with Jamie Lehardy, but he decided against. Fergus Scholes got in touch when he heard about it and we were complete. It all came together pretty quickly.
POLO+10: You were almost seven weeks on this 6,4 meters long rowboat. Didn’t you get on each other’s nerves?
Henry: Such a long time in such a small space, with sleep depravation and the continual discomfort made it tough at times to get on. But all boats had to fight with it. This is part of the race. You realise that you need to pull together to get the job done and that is what we did. Back on land we are all very happy now. And we are still friends!
POLO+10: How did you manage the time?
Henry: We were rowing in shifts of two hours, so two hours of sleep and then two hours of rowing. It took a couple of weeks to get used to this rhythm. The cabins could get really hot – at first it was a nightmare. Especially in the beginning the cabin was very claustrophobic. But by the end of the trip I actually liked my cabin, even though I couldn’t straighten my legs and the mattress was wet the whole time.
POLO+10: What did your daily routine look like on the high seas?
Henry: Just trying to do the smallest thing on the boat in the big waves is difficult. Changing clothes becomes a real issue. Sometimes at night we would just sleep in our wet salopettes and jacket, so we had more time to sleep than having to change twice within two hours.
We had a satellite phone on board. Almost everyday we talked to our weather router who was in England and he told us what the weather was going to do. So we knew which waypoint was up next or if we needed to change course. We also had iPods, which we used to listen to music and audio books. This helped to entertain us. Sometimes when the weather was very hot, we jumped in the sea.
We had no toilet, so we used a bucket and just chucked the contents overboard. Quite often you would be shoulder to shoulder with the person needing the toilet. Everything happens right next to you.
We were alone the whole time. We didn’t see another boat for six weeks. Just a week before we arrived we saw this boat which was the support boat for us – to see this boat was such a great feeling.
POLO+10: In terms of nutrition the challenge wasn’t a gourmet trip, right?
Henry: The most time we spent to make water. We had a handheld pump that desalinated the seawater. 500 pumps would make about a litre of drinking water – that took a bit of time. We needed the water also for our food. The food we had was mainly dry food, which we had to add hot water to. Actually it was pretty good, especially the chicken korma was delicious.
POLO+10: After five days at sea you got into a heavy storm…
Henry: That was pretty horrible. We were all suffering from seasickness as it was within the first week at the sea. The waves were huge, about nine meters high. We sat in the cabins for three days and nights. In this time I didn’t eat anything just drank a bit of water. It wouldn’t have stayed in my stomach. Two men went overboard. Fortunately, both nothing happened.
POLO+10: What happened?
Henry: I was the first one to go over board. The first thing I remember was thinking how warm the water was. It happened very quickly. When the wave hit me I was trying to get to the cabin – suddenly I was being dragged under the boat by my safety line. In this moment you realise that without that bit of rope you would never make it back on board.
POLO+10: What were the most beautiful and the worst experience for you?
Henry: Once surfing the waves under a full moon with Bobby Dundas – that was magical. The worst experience was definitely the storm.
POLO+10: What was your first thought when you were on firm ground again for the first time after almost seven weeks on the high sea?
Henry: I just felt relieved and was so happy to see my parents and sister.
POLO+10: Did the tour physically affect you?
Henry: We were all in good shape. We felt great. We lost some weight and got a tan. Fantastic! Back on land we needed to adapt our balance, as we weren’t on a shaky boat anymore. This took about two days.
POLO+10: You are all polo players. Could you benefit from this for your trip?
Henry: I don’t think so. We really could have done with a bit more knowledge on the sea. One thing I can insure: Playing polo is way more easier than to row across the Atlantic.
POLO+10: Did the challenge change you?
Henry: I think it has made me more focused and given me more confidence on future ideas I have, whether for private or business. The most important experience was to recognize that you can achieve everything as long as you want it: At the beginning the challenge just seemed so big but if you stick with it and deal with the situation you can get to the other side. The challenge was the adventure of my life and at the same time the hardest thing I ever had.
POLO+10: Would you do it again?
Henry: No, it’s done.
POLO+10: What are you up to next?
Henry: I would like to do another adventure, but this time land based. I still need to decide…
Dear Henry, thank you for the interview. We wish you goo luck for all your adventures, fair winds and following seas (☺) and a lot of success on the polo field. See you soon.