Bray man Andy O’Reilly spent 41 days at sea, rowing 5,000km through often treacherous conditions to raise funds for two local causes
For 41 days, four hours and 18 minutes, Bray man Andy O’Reilly battled the Atlantic ocean, thinking of nothing except getting back to his family.
Through 20ft waves, dehydration, isolation and exhaustion, the 53-year-old was spurred on by memories of his three grandchildren and the support of his 11 team mates, as they worked day and night on their small rowing boat to make the 5,000km crossing from Tenerife to Antigua.
Setting out from the Canary Islands on December 5, the team were immediately hit by a storm and the challenge they had set themselves in order to raise much needed funds for Bray Rowing Club and local charity Purple House Cancer Support dawned.
The journey was arduous, with both mental and physical strength sapped as Andy and his fellow rowers struggled with life at sea.
Andy explained: “Some really found it difficult to handle the feelings of isolation on the boat and the rehydrated food we had to eat. A lot of the crew experienced seasickness in the first week.”
What made it easier for Andy to cope was thinking of those back home: his wife Mandy, children Leigh, Naoise and Cian, and his grandchildren Mayson, Rhia and Theo.
“I coped quite easily because I was just thinking about my family”, he said. “I focussed on getting through it and back to them.”
Preparations had begun for Andy in August, with three hours of training set aside each day until the voyage began in December.
He worked with personal trainer Dean Kane at CSP gym, and under advice of his family doctor, to make sure he was fit and well enough to see the challenge through. But even with all his training and dedication, the relentless nature of the journey took it’s toll.
“When you’re training on land you know you can stop if you have to, but during the real thing on the water you can’t stop,” he said. “You’re rowing 12 hours a day and it doesn’t matter how or what you are feeling, you have to keep going. You have to be prepared for anything.”
Before the mission he had to put on weight as a significant weight loss was expected due to the physical exertion and the supplies on board.
“It took me 41 days to lose the weight and then, when I came home, only 10 to put it back on!” He said. He was so exhausted when he finished his adventure that all he could do was eat and sleep.
When he finally got back he had to readjust to life on land, and he struggled to walk after being in a rowing position for so long.
”On the boat you were only taking around 100 steps each day, so when I finished I wasn’t able to walk anywhere,” he explained. “I couldn’t walk properly for four days, I was wobbling everywhere.”
Despite the hardships, Andy says the expedition was the “ultimate experience for a rower to do”. He described the wildlife encounters and unique sights of the night sky as a particular high point.
“I got to see all sorts of fish, even dolphins and whales. They were very nosey, they’d come up beside the boat to try get a look in at us. It was amazing rowing at night under the stars, seeing the moon rise and set and hundreds of shooting stars.”
The 12 crew kept spirits high on the boat, bonding over music as they sang songs together while the bluetooth speaker played tunes. It seemed a luxury item at first, but proved lifesaving in relieving the boredom of long, hard days at sea.
The crew was international, comprised of people from all corners of the globe including some from Scotland, the United States of America and China.
Alongside Andy were skipper Lizzie Brown, number two in command Chris Starr, Adam Ravenscroft, Nick Barrett, Tom Higham, Damien Lawrence, Ocean Zhang, Simon Rowe, Graham Steward, Neil Wittridge and David Ferguson, who kept the world update via a blog at rannochadventure.com.
The blog was on the Rannoch Adventure website, because they provided the £15,000 rowing seat, which the team christened Roxy.
Every day the 12 spoke about their lives back home and as they rowed through Christmas Day they spread festive cheer, taking turns to use the satellite phone to check in on loved ones at home, all the while decked out in Santa hats.
They later celebrated with music and stories, topping it all off with a can of Coke for each of the crew which had been kept as a surprise for the occasion.
And they rowed through New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day too, finally making land in Antigua on January 15.
The crew received a certificate of achievement from Ocean Rowing Stats honouring the feat, and have so far raised more than €9,000 via Andy’s gofundme.com initiative, titled ‘Andy’s Atlantic Rowing Challenge’.
All proceeds raised go to Bray Rowing Club and Purple House and donations for Andy’s epic voyage are still being accepted an though thanks to overwhelming generosity, the goal target has been raised.
Speaking for Purple House Cancer Support Centre, fundraising executive Stephanie Murphy said: “Everyone at Purple House especially our clients would like to thank Andy for taking on the epic challenge in aid of Purple House Cancer Support.
“Every year, over 1,700 families visit Purple House for a wide range of support services like Counselling, art therapy, Children’s Camps, hospital transport, Programmes and Classes. Andy’s donations means that Purple House can keep skilled volunteers and Counsellors ready to see children, teenagers, and adults, who need vital practical and mental health support to deal with their Cancer diagnosis. His support even helps families long after their Cancer treatment has stopped, through our many Post Treatment & Survivorship Programmes. These services ensure that Cancer survivors learn the skills to cope with their situation. This is all thanks to Andy”, Stephanie said.
If you or someone you know needs to avail of the support offered by Purple House, you can visit www.PurpleHouse.ie, where more information on the help they provide is available.
Purple House relies heavily on the support of volunteers and people like Andy who raise money to support their services. Fundraising by members of the local community and donations are used to fund vital services on a daily basis. While Purple House work in partnership with the HSE, the medical profession and other relevant agencies, they are independently governed and operated.