The Scottish brothers who rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic

The Elliot brothers celebrate in Antigua after completing the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Picture: Ben Duffy
The Elliot brothers celebrate in Antigua after completing the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Picture: Ben Duffy
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Earlier this month firefighter Kris Elliot (30) along with his brother Blair (28), completed the ‘world’s toughest row’, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

Rowing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean, the boys from Dunblane rowed as Team Noble to complete the 3,000 mile challenge in 55 days, 1 hour and 54 minutes on 7 February. The brothers battled the elements throughout, facing everything from 40ft waves to enduring sweltering heat as they each rowed one hour on, one hour off during the race. More people have been into space than have rowed the Atlantic Ocean. Here they tell us about the challenges and some of the highs and lows they experienced as they took on the adventure of a lifetime.

Tell us a little bit about how you came to undertake this challenge? And what exactly did it involve?

Kris: We decided to take on a large-scale adventure about four years ago whilst having a pint in the local pub. We looked into all the big challenges available around the world and eventually decided upon the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. This is a 3,000 mile endurance row across the Atlantic Ocean in custom designed rowing boats. We spent four years fundraising and organising as well as having to make a few team changes along the way. The final team consisted of myself and my younger brother, Blair. We decided to raise money for the Fire Fighters Charity whilst taking part in the challenge and named the team after my late boss in the Fire Service, Watch Manager John Noble. He was killed in the line of duty on my old shift in 2008.

Do you think it was easier or harder doing this as brothers?

Blair: We think being brothers helped massively. We could talk frankly with each other without fear of offence and we supported each other in times of strife, and knowing each other so well before we started meant there were no surprises.

What was the highlight?

Kris: The highlight was definitely the wildlife and the sheer beauty of the sea and stars. We came across a huge number of animals, such as turtles, swordfish, dolphins and whales. Looking up at the stars at night was the best pain killer for the various problems our bodies and minds were experiencing. We were constantly sleep deprived and had salt sores as well as frequent aches and pains as the work was non-stop. The sea also took on a personality of its own, rewarding us and punishing us day to day. It challenged us, but it has made us stronger knowing that we have taken on such an adventure and made it to the other side.

What was the lowest point?

Kris: At the start of the race we unfortunately got caught in a large current ripping us back towards Tenerife and the start line. For four days we battled the elements to get away from the islands. Despite Blair suffering from debilitating sea-sickness and us both suffering from the shock of the open ocean we managed to break free and pick up the north-easterly winds that would take us out to sea. Other teams were not so lucky and for a few their dreams were over for 2017, but we dug deep and pushed through. We prepared as much as we could over the years prior to the race, but nothing can really prepare you for rowing an ocean.

What did the experience teach you about yourselves?

Blair: We learnt that you don’t require a lot in life to survive. Our life consisted of eating, sleeping and rowing. Our only stress was the ocean and we formed a primitive form of self-preservation from the start. This can be surprisingly rewarding and gives you a massive amount of courage and confidence within yourself. It’s really transformed us and changed our perspective on some things.

What kept you going through the difficult times?

Blair: We ate dinner together every night and we learnt a hymn that our late grandfather sung in the Merchant Navy. By the final week we had every verse down, and reciting this was surprisingly good for morale and felt like a bit of a project. The hymn was Eternal Father Strong to Save, the seafarers song.

Why did you choose this event to raise money for The Fire Fighters Charity rather than say a marathon, or a long distance cycle?

Kris: I ran two marathons for the charity in the preparation for the row, as well as a Tough Mudder, two 10ks, a half marathon and a bungee jump. So I guess we’ve done everything and topped it off with the row. I believe people feel a connection with such a rugged challenge on a massive scale, and the support we received for the row itself was phenomenal. We even spent Christmas Day and New Year’s away from the rest of our family and friends which was tough, but we had a pre-Christmas Day before we set off which was great and we knew the challenges would be worth it in the end.

What’s next for you? Will you keep rowing?

Kris: We do a bit of sailing back in Scotland, so we will use our skills that we’ve learned from the ocean there now. I feel I have learned lots of lessons and gained new skills to use and share when I get back home within my job as a firefighter, and Blair being an engineer offshore feels the same. The row gives so much back for all the effort we have put in over the years.

How much money did you raise for the charity?

Blair: We have raised over £65k so far but a lot had to go on the expedition itself so we’d still love to raise more. Since we left La Gomera, every penny raised has gone to the charity and we will have a final figure after our summer fundraising ball which will be the last stage of the 2017 expedition.

Can people still donate and where to?

Kris: Yes of course, you can donate via our website www.team-noble.org, Facebook page @teamnoble2017 or Twitter @nobelsince1824. We also will have a documentary being released this summer for people to follow. All announcements will be on our website and social media.