Wrekin Rowers: Proud, humbled and delighted but never again

After his first night's sleep in a bed for more than 40 days, one of the Wrekin Rowers has told of the emotional reunion at the end of their 3,000-mile challenge.

The Wrekin Rowers completed their Atlantic challenge in 40 days, 12 hours, and 33 minutes. Photo: Penny Bird for Atlantic Campaigns
The Wrekin Rowers completed their Atlantic challenge in 40 days, 12 hours, and 33 minutes. Photo: Penny Bird for Atlantic Campaigns

Stuart Shepherd and his crewmates Martin Skehan, and Gary and Stuart Richards, finished the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The team, who have raised £105,000 for charity with their efforts, arrived at the finish line in Antigua after 40 days, 12 hours and 33 minutes on the Atlantic – finishing in 14th place.

Their arrival was greeted with rapturous applause and cheers from family and supporters, with flares and the sound of horns filling the air.

Stuart was welcomed back by his wife Julie, and two daughters Tori and Amy, who were among the crowd.

After more than 40 days at sea he said it had been a fantastic moment for the crew as they heard the cheering from the shore.

He said: "We could hear them and locate them from what they were shouting. We came round the corner and you could hear them and recognise the voices. It was just amazing, so hard to describe that feeling when you know you are there.

"As you come in it is just pitch black with this massive rock to the one side, you can't see anything. We started to see the light and hear the noise and it was just an amazing feeling."

The Wrekin Rowers celebrate crossing the finish line. Picture: Penny Bird for Atlantic Campaigns

Stuart said that the realisation he was rowing towards his family, rather then away – after they had flown to Antigua – was a great push for the final leg of the journey.

He said: "It is just amazing, that is what keeps you going. There was a real trigger point last Saturday when I started rowing towards my family instead of away from them. They were flying from the UK to Antigua and I knew the point when I was was rowing towards them and that change of feeling was amazing and to see them, that was beautiful."

While the challenge obviously required huge reserves of mental and physical strength, the crew were also tested when their boat was speared by the spike of a marlin – leaving a huge hole in the hull.

The Wrekin Rowers on their 40-day Atlantic journey. Photo: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Stuart said: "When it hit I was on the oars with Stuart Richards and suddenly the boat just stopped with this massive bang.

"It is amazing how big it was but fortunately the marlin got itself out and was able to get away."

Despite the fish managing to escape, the team were left to carry out running repairs in an attempt to seal the hole.

Despite some innovative DIY involving the lid of a lunchbox, they still ended up having to take on water – with the equivalent of 100 extra litres on board for the 750 mile remainder of the journey.

The Wrekin Rowers team of Stuart Richards, Stuart Shepherd, Gary Richards, and Martin Skehan. Picture: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Stuart said they had been thrilled with the support from back home – particularly last weekend's Wellington sea shanty gathering – and delighted to have finished in such a quick time – having targeted anything under 50 days.

He said: "We are humbled by it. Although we have done the event we have done it with so many people. When we were told about the sea shanty and Stuart managed to call them and hear they were doing it, we are just amazed by how so many people in Shropshire and Wellington have been supporting us."

He added: "We are actually amazed at how fast we managed to cross. We surprised ourselves with the challenges we had on the way."

The Wrekin Rowers have raised more than £104,000 with their efforts. Picture: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

For now Stuart said he was enjoying being able to sleep in a bed for the first time in more than a month, as well as being able to wash his hair.

He said they had made sure the hotel didn't have a rowing machine, and asked when he would return to rowing he said that might be soon – but not on the open sea.

He joked: "On an Atlantic rowing boat? The answer might be never.

"This has been and amazing, amazing, amazing experience I never want to do again."

The efforts have raised a total of £105,000 so far, which will go to the Severn Hospice and the RNIB.

RNIB Director of Fundraising, Chris Jarrett, said they were thrilled at the efforts of the team.

He said: “We would like to send a huge congratulations to Wrekin Rowers for conquering the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Challenge in aid of RNIB. We are very thankful for their fundraising efforts which will help support the estimated two million people living with sight loss in the UK.

“From their boat getting struck by a marlin fish and using a lunch box to repair the damage, to beating their £100,000 fundraising target before crossing the finish line, following the Wrekin Rowers’ journey on this challenge has been nothing short of inspiring.”

Anyone who wishes to support the Wrekin Rowers fundraising can do so at justgiving.com/team/wrekin-rowers.

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