Shropshire rowers set for 2,077-mile Amazon charity challenge
You can't accuse them of shying away from a challenge. Five middle-aged Shropshire men, who only took up rowing four years ago, will spend November rowing the entire length of the River Amazon - in a boat one of them found in a field.
"I think by the end of the expedition, we will know each other very well," says 45-year-old dairy farmer Simon Furnival.
They will spend around 750 hours rowing, and if they complete the feat, they will become only the second team in history to row the entire length of the river unsupported.
And as they prepare to spend 30 days and 30 nights aboard the 28ft boat, navigating the 2,077-mile waterway in searing heat and torrential rain, the quintet are all too well aware there will be nowhere else for them to go if they fall out.
"We're a pretty good group, we're not fiery," adds Andy Griffiths, who at 53 hopes to enter the record books as the oldest man to complete the feat.
"It's just as well, as we will be spending a lot of time together, and there will be a lot of heat and exhaustion."
The five friends, who are all members of Shropshire Venture Rowing Club, have set themselves a target of raising £25,000, which will be shared between five different charities.
Andy, and fellow rower Martin Berry, aged 48, from Wenlock Edge, will be raising money for Hope House Children's Hospice, where Martin's mother June serves as an ambassador.
Stuart Manley, who at 43 is the youngest member of the team, will be raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and also for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, charities which are both very dear to his heart.
"My uncle, Brian Challenor, is dying from Motor Neurone Disease, and my godson, Ted Rogers, has just finished his treatment for leukaemia," he says. "Thankfully, he is better now."
Simon will also be splitting his share of the funds between two charities, Severn House Hospice and Caudwell Children.
"My wife Jennifer runs a day nursery, and a lot of the children who use that have benefited from Caudwell Children, for wheelchairs and things like that."
The fifth man, Steve Harpin is the most experienced member of the team. A former Royal Navy officer, he has rowed the Irish Sea a couple of times and in January this year recorded the 13th fastest row across the Atlantic in 39 days, 23 hours and 21 minutes. He also holds the 24-hour ocean rowing boat distance-speed record.
The story began when Simon, from Market Drayton, spotted the dilapidated-looking boat languishing in a field in the countryside just north of Shrewsbury.
"I found it in a bunch of nettles in a meadow," he says. Although the boat, called The Bishop, had been neglected, it was actually in very sound condition, and the five agreed to club together to buy it and restore it. They also found out that the boat had quite an interesting history, having previously been used for an Atlantic crossing, as well as a promotional boat for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
"We thought as it was an old boat, it would be nice to take it on a big adventure."
And it is certainly that. The team will start at Nauta in Peru on November 1, and have set a target of reaching Macapá in Brazil before the month is out.
Stuart says the temperatures are likely to be in excess of 85 deg F, with 90 to 99 per cent humidity, and the potential for very heavy rainfall towards the end of the trip.
"It will give us a shower," jokes Andy.
Simon says the biggest challenge is not the weather but the traffic along the river.
"There are a lot of barges," he says, adding that another problem will be the debris in the water.
"That is difficult because it will be going with the flow of the water, so it will hit us up the rear."
There is a tiny bed at each end of the the boat, and the plan is that at any one time, two of them will be sleeping, two of them will be rowing, and the fifth will be navigating.
There are also dangers provided by the wildlife in the water, although the group do not seem especially fazed.
"It will be something for us to look at," says Martin, although Simon adds that they have been warned about the dangers of being caught by a stingray if they step out of the boat in shallow waters.
"We are all been prepared in first aid," adds Stuart. "We have got support from Extreme Medics, who are providing us with proper first aid kit and training. "The chances are that we will all be sick at some point, so that is going to be important."
The boat will head to South America on Friday(JUL3), but in the meantime the team is looking for sponsors.
"We're funding the trip entirely by ourselves, so everything we raise will go towards the charities," he says.
He said the corporate sponsors would be able to have their logos displayed on the side of the boat, and the team would also be happy to take part in corporate promotions, or give talks to companies on their return.
"Any sponsorship is welcome, large or small," said Martin.
"We are seeking one lead sponsor, whose brand will be prominently displayed throughout the expedition and associated media exposure.
"Our rowing boat, the Bishop, has been painted white so that logos and branding are accentuated."
The team's progress will also be charted on it's website, with regular updates.
In preparation for the challenge, the team have all be been practising by rowing Celtic longboats along the River Severn in Shrewsbury, but Simon says there is a limit to how much one can prepare themselves for such a challenge.
"You can never actually train for what we are doing, it's pure endurance," he says,
"You can get physically fit, but a lot of it is in your head. You can't train for that."
*Any individuals or companies wanting to support the charity expedition can find more information on the website www.amazon-row.com
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