My brother crossed the Atlantic in a row boat

Alice Birch is a history student at Edinburgh University currently working as a summer intern at Ladbury PR, these are her reflections on her brother’s resolve and the impact of his big ocean row

When my brother first announced that he was going to row the Atlantic Ocean with his friend Jamie, a distance of over 3000 miles in a 24ft boat, I was both shocked and impressed.

Luke has always been stubborn and motivated but at the age of 21, with little rowing experience and in the face of a gruelling race that would see them at sea for over 50 days, I found his resolution hard to believe. Not only was the challenge itself enormous, if they completed the race they would become the youngest pair ever to have rowed the Atlantic Ocean.

They did it. In February 2014 Luke and Jamie landed in Antigua after 54 days at sea. They overcame storms, 30ft waves, and inhuman exhaustion from a gruelling routine of two hours rowing, two hours sleeping burning over 10,000 calories a day. As they hit dry land, thick bearded, thin limbed and with unsteady feet it was clear they had undergone an intense transformation. Their hands were hooked and calloused after weeks at the oars. The salt had caused open wounds and blisters in unspeakable places: the places you want wounds and blisters least. The physical toll of the race was to be expected: none of us could foresee the transformation to his personality and the way that he looked at the world.

In his tiny boat at the mercy of the unstoppable, uncontrollable ocean Luke describes a kind of calm helplessness. I said goodbye to someone quick to anger, stubborn, and, despite his age, a worrier who made mountains out of molehills. He is now unphased and stoic in the face of the everyday things that cause most of us stress. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ferocity of the ocean he talked a lot about the small pleasures. The huge task at hand led to him seeing the row not as a whole but in a series of small stages, and he looked forward to the rewards after completing a stage. One of his greatest treats was the joy of clean socks after a night shift on the oars. In one video you see him uncontrollably excited about a Pepperami, a welcome treat after rehydrated space food, and he told of how the vision of big juicy tomatoes were a fixture in his mind! It seems Luke now understands something that I imagine it takes many people a lifetime to, and that is to let go of the stresses that are out of your control, to appreciate the little victories that are often overlooked, and to love the good things in life, even if it’s just a tomato.

Probably more profound is Luke’s newfound understanding of religion. A seemingly fervent atheist he has returned with an abstract belief in ‘a higher power’, the acute sense of insignificance few of us experience bringing the spiritual into sharper focus. He describes on (unfortunately rare) calm days being able to see the curvature of the earth in every direction. This sense of being so small and being able to comprehend the size of the earth around him is undoubtedly something few can relate to, spending most of the time surrounding by buildings. The stars in particular, the burning sunsets and the rejuvenating sunrises gave him a feeling that what he was seeing and the indescribable awesomeness and power of the ocean cannot have been an accident.

Luke returned, Guinness World Record in hand, with new understandings that I will be forever envious of, some that were immediately true and others that it has taken a few months to develop. He knows that he will never be comfortable in a nine to five office job. The unpredictability of the ocean and the fresh challenges that it brought with it each day have made him relish the unknown and want to push himself continuously. This was obvious when he swum the channel at 18 and I predict this will not be the last similar challenge he undertakes. Hopefully he will give it a rest for a while so my long-suffering mum’s nerves to return to normal!

To read more about Luke’s big boat ride visit:

Alice Birch can be found tweeting at @alicecbirch

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