Massive congratulations to Steve Sidaway, a retired police inspector from Hatton Park, for safely returning home after spending six weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean competing in the Talisker Whisky Challenge, dubbed ‘the world’s toughest row.’ Steve was one of four people to break the world record by crossing the finishing line in eighth place with his mixed crew in a race between La Gomera in the Canary Islands and Antigua. In doing so, Steve has raised more than £4,000 for Molly Olly’s Wishes – in all respects a fantastic achievement.
The 51-year-old was a late-comer to Team Tyne after replacing another crew member. They set off on their 3,000-mile crossing on December 12th, arriving safely in Antigua’s English Harbour last Friday 25th January. Steve, who has been a member of Warwick Rowing Club for three years, said the mental preparation was as important as physical training for this challenge.
“It’s mainly about getting your head right so you’re able to endure this huge mental challenge as an individual and as a team and keep going. We didn’t know each other very well so talked beforehand about the kind of things that could have been a challenge for us all being stuck together in a tiny box for 42 days. That was one of the hardest things,” he said.
This year’s Talisker Whisky Challenge saw 88 rowers compete on 28 boats in a combination of singles, pairs, trios, fours and fives, supported by two safety yachts travelling alongside them.
Steve said: “Our crossing was tough on a level of toughness I didn’t know existed. Our bodies were tested physically to their limits, with the repetition of two-hour rowing shifts and two-hour rests throughout the entirety of the crossing. The level of malnutrition, sleep deprivation and fatigue combined to make for a really punishing environment. The two-hour rest periods are taken up with looking after your body, eating, drinking, doing some jobs on the boat and trying to get some sleep. We were sleep walking, we were hallucinating and you were completely reliant on the person who was already out there on their shift to take control and look after you when that happened. We experienced a very hairy moment early on when two big waves came together and their combined power put the boat literally up on its end and a big wave of water came over the boat – but we had otherwise calm seas all the way across which isn’t what we wanted actually. We wanted waves because they make us go faster.”
The crossing took place over Christmas because the months of December to March bring the least chance of major storms, but it did mean Christmas away from his family. Steve said: “We exchanged Secret Santa presents on the boat and we had one bottle of alcohol but when it came to it nobody wanted it. Christmas Eve was nice actually because we were stuck due to some headwinds and the boat wasn’t going anywhere so we went for a swim 1,000 miles from shore two and a half thousand miles deep. It was quite surreal but it was a lovely moment. “
No matter how tough the challenges, Steve never lost sight of why he was out there and carried a photograph of Molly Ollerenshaw and an Olly the Brave toy in his cabin. “If ocean rowing does one thing it allows a very clear sense of a brutally honest perspective on life. This was a challenge of choice. In my cabin on the boat I carried a picture of a very special little girl – Molly who, with her family, faced a challenge that was most definitely not of anyone’s choosing. As I ticked off each day I only had to look at Molly’s picture to find the perspective I needed. Although I did nearly set fire to Olly the Brace with a hand flare at one point!”
“I love the fact that the charity makes sure that every single penny and every single donation is used wisely. The impact they’ve had on families who are facing horrible health conditions is making a real difference.”
Steve, who retired from Warwickshire Police four years ago, was welcomed over the finish line into Antigua by his son Adam and stepdaughter Jess last Friday. He described that moment: “We experienced a level of euphoria that was simply off any scale you might imagine. Horns were blasted from the super yachts moored there, hand flares lit up the early evening sky and we saw our friends and family for the first time. Being showered in champagne and given such an enthusiastic welcome was so much to absorb at the time and even now feels surreal.”
But after the euphoria had died down, what was he most looking forward to? “I was craving cold water. We had been drinking luke warm water for six weeks – and then a cold beer and a shower!”