OVER 15 YEARS ago, a French crew of 12 men crossed an ocean in a rowing boat, leaving from the Canary Islands, docking 35 days, eight hours and 30 minutes later in Martinique. Apart from the huge challenge of getting themselves across a vast expanse of water, 2,952 miles, and battling 50ft waves, they also managed to smash the world record for rowing across the Atlantic.
Since then there have been many attempts to break the Atlantic rowing record, but all have failed. Nobody has come within two days of beating it, and the average crossing time remains 70 days.
It takes a certain mindset to contemplate taking on such an awesome feat, but Edinburgh-born adventurer Leven Brown is more than ready for the challenge. After crossing the Atlantic solo two years ago, tracing Columbus's route from Cadiz to Trinidad, Brown decided his next project would be to get a select team together to break the Atlantic record, what the Ocean Rowing Society considers the Holy Grail of rowing challenges.
What's more, Brown decided the team would make the attempt in the very boat used by the Frenchmen who held the record. "Le Mondiale is the apt name of the boat, it's French for worldwide", he says, "I bought her from the Ocean Rowing Society, which had acquired her from the original crew, when she was initially sold as a museum piece. "When we discovered that she was in good condition, we resurrected her. I've now bought the boat and she's going to be riding the waves of the Atlantic again very shortly."
After buying Le Mondiale, Brown launched a radio appeal to find candidates with the right mental and physical abilities for the record-breaking attempt, which is set for November. "We need people with quiet confidence, not arrogance, with the courage to follow dreams, but the humility to follow orders," Brown explains.
He initially had more than 200 interested applicants, who were whittled down to 70 interviewees. That number is now down to 20, and the 12 who have made the final cut will be named this month.
Brown describes the process so far as "The X-Factor for rowing boats".
One of the candidates is Edinburgh-based Rob Loder-Symonds, a 35-year-old who works for management accountants and cost consultants Canturian. For him it's "a once in a lifetime chance to try to break a world record".
The training for the expedition is intensive, as each crew member will be required to row in pairs in two-hour shifts for 12 hours each day. A rota will be in operation whereby at any one time eight men will be at the oars, two will be sleeping and the remaining two crew members will be cooking and undertaking other tasks.
The potential team is currently doing mainly land training so there's no chance of damaging the boat, the reason for the failure of most attempts. "I'm looking forward to the world record attempt but I'm trying to focus on what I can control, and that's my fitness and my mental state," says Loder-Symonds. "I'm training on land at the moment, concentrating on stamina training and rowing on the indoor rowing machine".
Loder-Symonds may be in optimum physical condition, but he stresses that the expedition involves a profound mental challenge. "When Leven named the short-list, he chose us for the right character fit and temperament - it's equally as important as being physically fit."
Brown adds: "Choosing the right crew is a little like trying to pick astronauts who'll get on together. We have got very difficult conditions in a small environment."
One of the main hurdles for the rowers will be sleep deprivation, so the potential team members will gather later this month for a sleep-deprivation exercise before Brown names who has made the crew. "This preparatory operation will be very physical," he says. "We'll climb about ten Munros - the equivalent of climbing about half of Mount Everest's height - swim across Loch Tay and paddle about 60 miles in kayaks, as well as getting not much sleep and hardly any food."
Apart from the physical preparation, Loder-Symonds is still seeking a business sponsor for his part in the trip, which will cost him 10,000. The crew will wear branded clothing and the sponsors will be involved in talks before and after the challenge. There may even be post-expedition television footage, as Brown is in the process of recruiting a documentary cameraman to join the crew and record a high-tech captain's log.
So what are the odds of them smashing the world record when they set sail in November?
"The record has stood for 15 years because it's a very tough record to beat," says Brown. "We're quietly confident as we're running the boat a lot lighter than the French did.
"I think we've got a better crew in terms of the overall fitness, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed and see what happens".
• For more details about the record attempt, visit www.oceanrowing.com