Atlantic Challenge: Scottish brothers take on 3,000-mile rowing challenge

MacLean brothers
The MacLean brothers Ewan, Lachlan and Jamie

Jamie MacLean is one of three brothers attempting to become the first sibling trio to row the Atlantic. Ask him what his greatest concern about the 3,000-mile journey through shark-laden waters is, and it's not exhaustion, sleep deprivation or potentially stormy conditions.

"The biggest fear is not enjoying it because we set out to do it to have an amazing experience together, and if it dawns on us that actually it's going to be horrible, that would be quite a sad end to it," he says.

Most people would consider the race, which Jamie, 26, and brothers Ewan, 27, and Lachlan, 21, aim to complete in 41 days, impossible given its scale. Starting on Thursday and travelling from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, to Antigua in the Caribbean, they will take on teams of former navy military personnel.

They have trained under the guidance of world leading endurance athletes to prepare themselves. Only, nothing can really prepare anyone for the physical and mental challenges that go with such a mammoth undertaking. Even a 48-hour training venture to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, then back again, tested their resolve.

At one point they dropped the para anchor so all three of them could squeeze into the cabin to nap in the middle of the night, as the boat just floated in the sea.

"The full scale of the whole thing dawns on you and how challenging it is going to be," says GHK rugby player Jamie. "Your body doesn't want you to sleep during the day so at night you're exhausted and you feel as though you're falling asleep at the oars.

"When you go for a nap in the front cabin, you wake up and it's like your head's just hit the pillow. And then you get up and it's just two blokes sitting in silence, rowing away. So stuff like that makes you think, 'oh god, if it's going to be like that is it really going to be that enjoyable?' I'm not sure what we've signed up for."

'We do a good cover of Caledonia'

That trip to the Outer Hebrides was a mere taster. Fortunately the bond the brothers share is a close one. And there are bound to be a few dark moments. Times when one, two or all three of them are exhausted and maybe even feel like giving up.

Luckily, they have a plan. One that involves a set of bagpipes, a ukulele, and a harmonica.

"We have played a lot of music together over the years growing up," Jamie explains. "We can't take our full-scale instruments but we're going to take downscaled versions and hopefully have a few jams here and there to keep up morale.

"We've kind of formed a ramshackle traditional [Scottish music] band so we're somewhat limited to contemporary Scottish trad, but we do quite a good cover of Caledonia. It should keep morale fairly high... we hope."

MacLean brothers

20kg of oats & a bottle of whisky

Out at the sea, the plan is for two of them to row while one sleeps for an hour, before rotating positions. It's a gruelling prospect.

According to the organisers of the Atlantic Challenge, more people have climbed Mount Everest than rowed an ocean. Jamie, Ewan and Lachlan can expect to row more than 1.5m oar strokes sometimes against 20ft high waves. One previous competitor arrived at the finish with a marlin fish's beak pierced through the hull of the boat.

The brothers expect to lose some weight, too. They will burn around 10,000 calories per day each, and will be unable to consume the equivalent. On average each rower loses 12kg on their voyage. Luckily a bottle of whisky and other Scottish stock will keep them going.

"We've got 20kg of Scottish Oats for our daily porridge," Jamie explains. "We've got 30kg of mixed fruit and nuts and lots of energy bars and chocolate bars. Just high energy, high fat, just stuff that you can get in relatively quickly that will not be too hard on the digestion. We're going to take a wee dram too."

As well as raising money for two charities - their target is £250,000 - the trio have a profound motivation for taking on the event. Oldest brother Ewan initially took a bit of convincing to take on the task (who can blame him), but, the family pull was too strong.

"Ewan was of the mentality that there was not a chance we were doing it and he wasn't getting involved," Jamie said. "I think what changed his mind was the family Christmases to come and the family would be like, 'aw Ewan how was the row?' And he'd have to be like, 'yeah that wasn't me'.

"When we had the idea, it was the same sort of reason. The main driving force was wanting to share this incredible experience as three brothers and share a defining moment in our lives together."

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