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Shropshire Atlantic rower wants to tackle the Amazon River in new challenge

Telford | News | Published:

After battling intense heat, pressure blisters and waves of nearly 40 feet, Stephen Harpin is getting used to being back on dry land – and is already planning his next adventure.

Stephen, 47, from Shrewsbury, took on the feat of rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic with six other crew members in an effort to beat the 32 day record of crossing from Gran Canaria to Barbados.

He is now busy getting his boat ready for a fresh challenge – this time along the mighty Amazon River in South America.

  • One nautical mile is equivalent to 1.151miles
  • The team rowed 2,557 nautical miles in total which took 39 days, 23 hours, 21 minutes.
  • The team broke the world record for the 24 hour distance-speed record at 103.88nm in 24 hours.
  • It also made the boat, The Toby Wallace, the most successful ocean rowing vessel in history with four under 40-day crossings under its belt.[/breakout]

Speaking of the Atlantic voyage, father-of-four Stephen said: "It was tough. And the challenges seemed to change as we got further along the row.

"To begin with it was the sea sickness – we would be rowing our shift and throwing up over the side as well.

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"But it was the weather as well, as we were up against 40 foot waves.

"The wind was against us, it became so tough that it was impossible to travel across the waves, we had to go backwards some days."

Stephen said that by the fifth day they had begun to make good progress, but more challenges lay ahead.

The seven-man Toby Wallace Crew rowed for more than 30 days in shift patterns, which saw the boat travel almost non-stop across the Atlantic.

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The team set out on November 25 hoping to reach the end by Boxing Day, beating the current speed record of 32 days.

But instead the crew arrived on January 3 after 39 days, 21 hours and 15 minutes, missing out on the title by seven days.

Stephen Harpin with his boat which is under renovation

And whilst the crew didn't break the world record, they did set a new one for the speed travelled in one day.

He said: "We rowed about 104 nautical miles in 24 hours so we were really pleased with that.

"But the next difficulty was the heat. We were sleeping in coffin-like bays below where we would be rowing and there is no air down there so it gets very intense.

"We all also got pressure sores from sitting down and salt sores from the water.

"It was incredibly painful, and trying to sit and row was extremely difficult so we would all be on pain killers for a lot of the time."

But the crew had to keep going with their rowing shifts, despite the pain and exhaustion.

"They were a great crew," said Stephen. "They were all a really lovely bunch of chaps but it was such a relentless pace.

"The only time the boat stopped was on Christmas Day when we all had a swim for half an hour.

"It was the only time we sat down together and had lunch and ate together – there would always be half sleeping and half rowing."

The seven man team became six shortly into the row when one crew member suffered asthmatic problems and had to be airlifted from the boat.

But despite the challenges and problems with the weather, Stephen has some fond memories from the relentless journey, organised by Oceanus Rowing.

The rowers endured monstrous waves

He said: "There was one point when dolphins were surrounding the boat, we saw them diving and jumping in the air – that was really wonderful.

"And there was something amazing about being on the sea at night time, the sunsets and sunrises were beautiful.

"Seeing land was of course extremely exciting – I think that helped us on and we rowed the longest distance in the days up to Barbados."

But once the crew got onto dry land, there was a new problem.

"Walking was really difficult," Stephen said: "We were all stooped over and wobbling around like we'd had 30 pints or something.

"And none of us wanted to sit down because of the sores!

"But we were so happy to see family, especially after being away over Christmas.

"It was really tough being away from family then, because it wasn't planned but we were delayed by the weather."

Stephen has thanked staff at his business Choice Shops for supporting him throughout the race.

But he also thanked his family, wife Nikki and children Charlie, 13, Coco, 12, George, 12, and Isabella, 9.

He said: "They have all been incredible and supported me so much in this."

Local people have also got behind Stephen in raising money for the Bickerstaff Endoscopy Unit at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital as well as a scout hut in Northumberland.

The unit diagnosed his trainer's bowl cancer in its early stages two years ago and prompted him to have a life-saving operation.

Across the two charities he raised a total of £10,000.

Now, he's ready to take on the next big challenge – rowing the Amazon.

The Toby Wallace crew on dry land

Accompanied by four other rowing enthusiasts, Stephen will be taking to the Amazon River in November for a 2,077 mile journey and will be only the second crew to row the navigable length.

The team hopes to row it in 30 days or less in a 28 foot rowing boat named The Bishop, which is currently under renovation.

"It will be a different kind of challenge," said Stephen.

"There is a navigational challenge as we will be rowing in the night as well of course.

"But there are large boats that also go down the river, so we will have to be careful with that.

"Then there are the animals and bugs – there could be a potential health risk.

"But one of the biggest challenges will be the heat and the humidity which makes it so much more intense.

"But we are determined to do it, so we will have to see."

The team will be raising money for a range of charities and are hoping to secure sponsorship before the row as well.

The Amazon River is the largest river by discharge of water in the world, averaging a discharge of about 209,000 cubic meters per second.

To donate to the Bickerstaff Endoscopy Unit at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital visit www.justgiving.com/Stephen-Harpin.

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