Gareth achieves glory in world's toughest rowing challenge!

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Gareth Reynolds has enjoyed a love of the sea since his time as a little boy in Dale, where his dad John and uncle Mike own Dale Sailing, and young Gareth enjoyed sailing almost as soon as he could walk and by the time he was seven or so he was gaining experience in Optimist and Topper dinghies.
As he grew older he represented Wales all over the UK and further afield as he competed in the World Topper Championships in Holland and the European championships – but laughs at himself as he admits he was there ‘to make up the numbers’!

Massive challenge undertaken . . .

Be that as it may, Gareth also loves surfing and anything else to do with the sea and has taken over the running of Dale Sailing, whilst still finding time for an amazing adventure where he came second of the single-handed rowers in the ‘Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge’ after rowing alone the 3,000 + miles from La Gomera, a small island just off Tenerife in the Canary Islands, to Antigua.
To achieve this massive challenge it must be remembered that whilst Gareth has always been a man of the sea he was not a rower or someone who had tested himself in anything like such an extreme trial of endurance – and had to raise funds to purchase a specialist rowing boat, all the equipment, food other things needed for an epic journey that saw him finish in a time of 51 days, three hours and 59 minutes.

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. . . Whilst promoting a worthwhile charity

But there was also another important challenge for Gareth because as well as promoting an awareness of coping with loneliness and Mental health he also set himself the task of not only finding the £100,000 costs he also wants to raise a lot of money to help the very worthwhile charity that is dedicated to helping those with Multiple Sclerosis.
“I know several people who suffer with M.S.” Gareth told us, and I’m delighted that we are already on the way to reaching our target figure, thanks to the generosity of individuals and companies.”

Family matters

Joining him in Antigua was his girlfriend Katie, who was a massive help in doing lots of the logistical work, with his dad contacting him every day with weather updates – whilst mum Anne waited anxiously at home for daily news.

“As a caring mum she wasn’t exactly convinced prior to the start that it was something I should be doing but she gradually warmed to the idea and was thrilled with my achievement, as were my twin sister Kay and her husband Tom Worrall.
“Both of them had been with me on an earlier, but less daunting challenge, when I joined them and my dad to sail a 47 foot ocean-going yacht across the Atlantic from Tenerife to Martinique.
“We took 23 days to complete the 3,000 mile trip as we sailed via Cape Verdi and although there were inevitably some rough seas, with four crew we were able to cope far more easily than in a 23 foot single-seater rowing boat.

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Setting out with arrangements

So just how did Gareth latch on to the idea of competing in the Talisker Challenge?
“To be honest it is hard to put a finger on the exact date but I remember that in December 2018 I was at a low point and wanted something to focus on, something that would really test me and push my limits. I guess it was something of a ‘light-bulb moment’ when I was looking on ‘YouTube’ and watched a short video of someone taking part from a previous year.
“That was the start of my deciding I wanted to take part and so I started to research what was needed, starting of course with a suitable boat, followed by other equipment, food and safety matters, like the fact that I would be sharing the Atlantic Ocean with ships many, many times my small boat, whales, huge fish like marlin and of course what was sure to be challenging weather.
“I knew that I would have to find ways of funding such a massive adventure and decided at the same time I wanted to do something for a charity – so I chose Multiple Sclerosis and have received great backing from the charity in pursuit of my large target.

A major purchase – and starting to row – until Lockdown

 “In November 2019 I was lucky to buy a second-hand boat from a man in Essex who had undertaken the challenge two years before and when I got it back to Dale I started to squeeze in my training as I rowed around the Pembrokeshire coast and out to the islands a few times  – as well as finding out lots more about the day to day tasks like safety drills and food preparation.
After acquiring my rowing boat in November 2019 I had to link my fundraising efforts with trying to gain sponsorship – and I kept the boat stored in our yard on Neyland Marina. But then the Lock Down came and stopped my training on the open sea in its tracks!

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Using Brett’s gym – and finally getting going

“I had already started training on a rowing machine at the ‘B-Fit Gym’ in Milford Haven which is run by my old school pal Brett Sheppard, who has been a magnificent help to me in the intervening two years. I trained there six days a week but to be honest nothing could prepare me for the rigours ahead.
“As restrictions were lifted I was able to get regular trips out to sea and finally the time came for Katie and I to fly out to the start and after a fair bit of razzmatazz the time came for me to get into the boat and start to row for at least 18 hours every day!

Conscious of safety issues . . .

“I was very aware of the potential dangers with regard to shipping, weather and ocean life – and from the outset I was very conscious of the huge tankers that sailed the sea – and so I always made sure that any that got within ten miles I was on to them via radio phone to let them know I was there!
“On the wildlife point I was a bit spooked en route when I learned that three boats had their hulls pierced by the powerful spikes of 12 feet-long Marlins but although I saw these magnificent fish I was lucky that none decided to come too near!

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. . . And weather worries!

“With regard to the weather it wasn’t the 20-feet high waves that were the worst thing, although I was regularly soaked through to the skin and suffered things like sores, blisters, muscle damage and depletion.
“No, it was the strong winds when they sometimes blew in the wrong direction, which were apparently at their most awkward for almost a decade.
“I decided early on that if I had to I would row 20 hours a day and after ten days I was leading the way amongst the single-handed rowers, but then I made a tactical error as I went down south to try and catch the wind that was promised there.
“Unfortunately, the forecast turned out to be wrong and I lost valuable ground so that on Christmas Day, my birthday, I only managed 12 miles in 18 hours, which was a sea snail pace – and in a frustrating week I only managed 100 miles!”

Calories galore but cold comfort meals when the stove gas ran out!

To keep up the tremendous drain on his energy throughout the whole challenge Gareth knew that he would need to have a daily intake of 7,000-10,000 calories, provided in the main from high-octane powdered food which had to have hot water added to the packet to produce meals like Spaghetti Bolognese, curry or pasta, alongside lots of high-energy bars galore and lots of strong coffee.
“I managed quite well until the last two and a half weeks, when I realised I had overdone the hot drinks because I ran out of gas for the mini-stove and I had cold meals until the finish; which I don’t mind admitting were disgusting!”

Cat naps of only an hour, especially at night – and keeping contact kept him sane!

A lack of sleep was something else that Gareth did well to battle and he limited himself to four hours in every 24, but always with a maximum of one hour at a time before the alarm went off so that he could check for danger or any likely problems.
“It was something that I soon got used to but it was never something that I could have learned about before the start – I just had to get on with it, even when I felt that I could sleep for a week!
“One of the highlights each day was touching base with my father and I knew that I could contact Katie on my satellite phone – and I developed a friendship with another singe-handed rower called Rob who was from Hazelmere, near Oxford. It was great to share our sufferings and I can see we will remain friends for life.

Safe and sound – and immensely satisfied at a job well done

Ask Gareth about that magic moment when he knew that the Antiguan coast was due to come into sight and he says that it was impossible to describe the mixture of relief, joy and satisfaction on a massive challenge undertaken.
“I will never forget seeing people waiting to welcome me and it was a moving moment when I spotted Katie amongst them – but it was strange to step on to dry land and it took me some time to feel able to walk even a few yards.

Back to earth – but still very busy fund-raising

“To be honest, even now that we are back home my legs are still uncomfortable and recuperation has been slower than I thought – but I am so delighted to have achieved what when I look back now I realise was something so beyond my comfort zone than I could ever have  imagined.
“But the most important thing is the fact that we will have raised a considerable sum for Multiple Sclerosis with the total standing at over £60,000 as we speak, and with other plans to increase the total even further before we finish.

And finally . . .

“Amazingly, I was able to sell the boat before we left Antigua so there is no chance of a repeat row next year – but Rob and I have been discussing another combined  challenge sometime in the future.
“At the moment, once my self-isolation period is over I need to get back to my work at Dale Sailing but I still need to thank my family and close friends for their wonderful support, my sponsors who range from large corporate involvement to those who found out about the Talisker Challenge and gave me some of their hard-earned savings.
“I will never, ever forget all those who got involved in any way and now I’m really looking forward to handing over a cheque to the Multiple Sclerosis Society to round off a memorable 51 days, three hours and 59 minutes of my life!

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