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Shropshire's Amazon rowers tell of their 2,077-mile record-breaking challenge

North Shropshire | News | Published:

Temperatures of about 40C, crocodiles and being held at gunpoint – these are certainly not some of the experiences that dairy farmer Simon Furnival encounters in his everyday life.

But along with a few sharks and 40/50mph winds, this is certainly what the 45-year-old experienced when he was part of a team that rowed the entire 2,077-mile navigable length of the Amazon River in South America.

Despite the challenges, he and his four colleagues managed to complete the challenge in record time. Starting out at the beginning of November, the team of amateur rowers from Shropshire crossed the finishing line in 28 days.

The team's boat, which measures 28 feet from end to end, seen moored by the river's edge in Brazil

The team was made up of Mr Furnival, Martin Berry, who is director of Shropshire based surveying firm LandScope Engineering, and Stephen Harpin, a Telford-based entrepreneur.

Andy Griffiths, director of Wonderland Telford, and Stuart Manley, owner and operator of Manley Design & Construction, which is based near to Craven Arms, completed the team.

Mr Furnival, who farms near Norton-in-Hales, near Market Drayton, said: "It was one hell of an experience.

"We were four days late setting off because of Peruvian bureaucracy and we had to wait for the boat. But once we started we got on really well and after eight days we caught up with the four days we lost.

"For the first four days we found it quite easy as the river gave us quite a bit.

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"When we came along the Colombian border we had been warned that it was a dangerous area.

"We hit it in the middle of the night, which was the wrong time really. But we carried on and got to the end of the border when the Colombian police came out of the dark and pointed their guns at us. It was scary. Luckily one of the guys speaks fluent Spanish so the issue was sorted quickly. They shook our hands and let us go."

Simon Furnival and Martin Berry with five miles to go

He said after more paperwork and more hanging around they carried on. But it got progressively more difficult as the weather turned against them.

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Mr Furnival added: "We reached another dangerous area where there are a lot of piracy issues. We carried on rowing and then the Brazilian military police came and tied their boat to ours.

"Once again we were held at gunpoint and they searched our boat for drugs etc while we were in their boat.

"We noticed their boat was full of guns and ammunition. We spoke to them about it and they said it was guns they had picked up down that stretch that morning.

"They told us we should only row in the day time and for four or five nights we stopped at night. One night we were rowing a bit late when pirates all masked up started circling us. It was terrifying stuff.

"Then they went away which gave us enough time to turn and row to the bank. We rowed like we never rowed before."

He said they found a fishing boat and the people on it were very welcoming. They tied their boat alongside, watched football on their TV, and had a beer with them.

But things were to get even trickier when they got to Manaus.

Mr Furnival said: "Every morning we came up against 40/50mph winds and big storms which slowed us down."

He added: "I think one of the nicest things about it was how friendly everybody was. There were so many locals who have virtually nothing compared to us and they came out in their boats giving us cheese and fish. They always had big smiles on their faces.

"The amount of wildlife we saw was slightly disappointing.

"We did see some pink dolphins, which stayed with us for most days. We saw lots of parrots, one or two crocs. We also saw some piranhas being fished and some sharks which were pretty fearsome.

"One of the most difficult things was the living conditions. We faced extreme heat of up to 40 degrees, cramped conditions and were sleeping three hours a day.

"But there was never a cross word said or any fallouts, and we got the job done. We came back healthy and all of us lost a lot of weight."

Rowers Simon, Andy, Stephen, Stuart and Martin

Mr Furnival said he was driven on by the thought that his back-breaking efforts were raising money for Caudwell Children, the national charity that provides practical and emotional support to disabled children and their families.

Other members of the team were also raising money for good causes.

"I have raised about £10,000 which will be split between Severn Hospice and the Caudwell Children charity," he said.

"Another of the guys has raised about £10,000 for Hope House, and another guy has raised towards that for children with leukaemia and people with motor neurone disease."

The team are all members of the Shropshire Venture Rowing Club, and have now become only the second team in history to row the entire length of the river unsupported.

He said he wanted to thank everyone who has sponsored or donated, and added that people could still put money towards his two charities by visiting www.amazon-row.com

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