Taking to the sea for veterans

In a wet field in Ballogie sat the mighty Avalon, from left to right: Nikki Brown with Baloo, Lisa Furness, and Don Lennox
In a wet field in Ballogie sat the mighty Avalon, from left to right: Nikki Brown with Baloo, Lisa Furness, and Don Lennox

A historic series of voyages are taking place this month to raise money for a Deeside charity which uses horses to rehabilitate veterans.

Scotland to the Faroe Islands, and vice versa, are routes that haven’t been travelled by rowing boat since the Vikings, but now, for the first time in modern history, four teams of six rowers are completing the 300 mile trips - two from Thurso to Torshavn, and two from Torshavn to Thurso.

They will be raising money for HorseBack UK, a charity in Dinnet which uses horsemanship to rehabilitate veterans suffering from mental or physical handicapps, and for the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

They are being facilitated by Ocean Row Events - an expedition company co-owned by Skipper Leven Brown, the holder of five Guiness World Records for ocean rowing, and Director Lisa Furness, who lives in Ballogie with her fiance Nikki Brown, who also works for the company.

It was through Nikki, himself an ex-Navy man, that the decision to raise money for HorseBack UK came about.

Nikki said: “I went to HorseBack UK in Dinnet because I needed some help to get my head around civilian life, and through their programme, and doing a bit of volunteering with them, I’ve really been able to sort myself out.

“I see working for Ocean Row Events as an opportunity to help the charities that have helped me.”

Jock Hutchison, Boss at HorseBack UK, said: “It’s a huge undertaking what the rowers are doing, and I would just like to say how grateful we are - Nikki’s been part of our family for five years and he’s really helped us develop the place and now he’s determined to help others.”

Ocean rowing as a sport began in 1896, when two Norwegians deliberately rowed across the Atlantic in 55 days and 13 hours, a record that stood for 113 years until Skipper Leven smashed it with a crew of four.

The long journeys are rowed in the format of two hours on, two hours off, until the voyage is completed.

Of the monotonous sounding slog that is an ocean row, Nikki said: “It’s difficult to be bored when a wave the size of a house is coming right at you.

“Two hours on a rowing machine in a gym feels like two hours, but on the open sea, it can feel like 20 minutes.”

The voyages are expected to take four to seven days, and will be undertaken aboard ‘Avalon’, the largest ocean rowing boat in the world.

The 300-mile trips are relatively short by the standards of Ocean Row Events. The team have collectively covered the North Atlantic, the Mid Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean - the latter a world-record 123-day quest by Skipper Leven, through storms, stand-offs with pirates, and whales.

Nikki said: “The Scotland to the Faroes rows are short rows by comparison to the Atlantic trips that we’ve done, however, the highest recorded wave in history was seen off the Faroes around 2006 - it was about 106 feet.

“And the beauty of it being such a short trip is that we can offer it to the rowers being sponsored at a more affordable price.”

Don Lennox, part of the team that broke the 113-year-old record for crossing the North Atlantic under Skipper Leven, said: “People see what we do for the charities, and they say, ‘What great teamwork in the boat.’ But they forget about people like Lisa, organising everything, putting in the leg-work.

“For me. everyone’s a part of the team, the people that donate, the local businesses who give us good rates for shifting Avalon, even just the people who give you a smile when they hear what you’re doing.”

Anyone wanting to sponsor the rowers on these historic voyages can do so at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/oceanrowevents.