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‘The major hurdle is the mental factor’ – Four friends are rowing the Atlantic for mental health

By Dylan McCullagh
September 3 2020, 12.00

Four south west London friends aiming to raise £200,000 for charity will row across the Atlantic Ocean this December.

Harry Hearn, 35, is the driving force behind team Oardacity: four men who will race 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua in a 28ft rowing boat, in an event dubbed the world’s toughest rowing race.

Mr Hearn and his teammates Alex Soskin, Ed Batchelor and Tom Phillips will row two hours on, two hours off in rotating pairs for the entire race, enduring sleep deprivation, dehydration, hallucinations and 20ft waves as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

They are raising money for the mental health charity Mind and the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, which serves the wellbeing of the world’s oppressed and marginalized children.

Their ambition is to win the race and break the world record of 29 days and 15 hours.

The Battersea-based Mr Hearn said: “We want to use the platform of rowing the Atlantic to drive awareness of mental health.

“It’s an incredibly trying time so we’re passionate about driving change around the taboo and stigma of mental wellbeing.

“If we can make a difference to just one person that would be fantastic, but if we can make a difference to more then that’s a big job well done.”

OARSOME FEAT: Each team will row in excess of 1.5 million oar strokes during the race

The coronavirus lockdown proved an effective mental training ground for life in isolation on the high seas, Mr Hearn said, where the team will be closer to the International Space Station than they will be to land.

The pandemic has had a marked effect on British adults’ mental health.

Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of adults experiencing some form of depression doubled from one in ten (9.7%) in July 2019 to March 2020 to one in five (19.2%) in June 2020.

Mr Hearn’s past mental health issues led him to see a psychologist and be prescribed medication, an experience he described as ‘one of the worst and best days of my life’.

“We are completely expecting to be broken down mentally, there will be tears. There will be angry points. There will be disagreements,” he said.

“To come back and talk about how we have been to hell and back will hopefully instil confidence in people that you can mentally drive yourself through situations that are horrific and come out the other end a better person.”

Despite lockdown the team was able to continue training at home on rowing machines, using everything from plant pots to books to partners for weights. Their row will be the culmination of two years’ preparation.

More people have climbed Everest than rowed the Atlantic.

Oardacity trains with world-leading ocean rowing coach Duncan Roy. They hit the water with their Rannoch R45 boat for the first time in June.

“None of us come from a rowing background. None of us have actually ever been in a rowing boat,” said Mr Hearn, while stoically acknowledging an inevitable fact of ocean rowing.

“We will capsize. It’s not an if, it’s a when.”

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