Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Row, row, row your boat… right across the sea

Norman and James Beech became the first British father and son to row an ocean when they successfully rowed from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the Caribbean. At sea for 82 days, they completed the challenge in support of WaterAid.

Norman had ambitions to take part in an ocean voyage from childhood, although he initially thought this would be aboard a sailing boat.

Having seen various teams taking part in the Woodvale Challenge – known as the world’s toughest rowing race – he started thinking about taking part. Participants in the transatlantic rowing race use specially designed self-righting rowing boats.

He didn’t have a rowing partner in mind, but when he shared the idea with the rest of the family James volunteered to row with him. Having cut their teeth on other adventurous pursuits made the father and son ocean rowing partnership a solid one from the word go.

“The daily routine of rowing for two hours on and two hours off for the duration of the crossing is as much a mental challenge as a physical one,” Norman says. “This is particularly so at night time when the two hour alarm goes off, signalling that you are back on the oars and you feel as though you have only been asleep for ten seconds!

“If you don’t sit up straight away and leave the cabin there and then it’s all too easy to fall asleep again. Even lying down to get your lifejacket on can result in you instantly returning to the land of nod!”

At one point, James pulled a muscle in his back, which made any movement – especially rowing – very painful, but amazingly he kept going. Knowing family and friends were praying for them was a great source of encouragement. Every day they read a Psalm together and prayed. According to James, if ever one was a bit low the other was usually able to give encouragement.

As well as the dangers, there were many highlights to their voyage. James remembers seeing whales and dolphins right next to the boat and the fun of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. He even ate his 19th birthday cake in the water next to the boat! The absolute highlight, however, was reaching the end of the race. “The final row across the finish line and entering the English Harbour, Antigua, was incredible,” he recalls.

“We were met with the sound of boat horns and applause as diners at a quayside restaurant stood up to cheer us in, along with the greeting party assembled at the harbour wall, which included two special people: Christine and Lydia, the other two members of their family.”

A few year before the ocean adventure, friends of the family working for WEC in Senegal had raised funds for a pipeline to bring water into the village near the school they where they worked. This meant people didn’t have to walk long distances to collect water or become ill from drinking polluted water.

So James and Norman approached WaterAid to see if funds from the row could be used to support the charity. It seemed fitting since the pair would be surrounded by undrinkable water, just as one in eight people in the world are.

The two men also hope their adventures will give them a platform to share the gospel. “Lots of things in life can seem good to go after, but only Jesus can quench our thirst,” Norman concludes. “Jesus came to give us life and to enable us to live life to the full, and we hope this message has been communicated through our achievement and the telling of our story.”  

Read more about this the Beech Boys’ incredible cycling feat in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

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