A RETIRED police inspector has returned to his Hatton home after spending six weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean competing in the Talisker Whisky Challenge – dubbed ‘the world’s toughest row.’
Stephen Sidaway was part of a four strong team which broke the record for a mixed crew when they crossed the finishing line in eighth place in the race between La Gomera in the Canary Islands and Antigua.
And in doing so he raised more than £4,000 for Molly Olly’s Wishes, a charity launched by his neighbours Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw who lost their daughter Molly at age eight, to a rare kidney cancer in 2011.
The charity, which recently announced it has raised more than £2million, helps children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
The 51-year-old and his crewmates set off on their 3,000-mile crossing on December 12, arriving safely in Antigua’s English Harbour on January 25.
This year’s challenge saw 88 rowers compete on 28 boats in a combination of singles, pairs, trios, fours and fives, supported by two safety yachts travelling alongside them.
Steve, a member of Warwick Rowing Club, took his turns on continuous two-hour shifts with fellow crew members throughout the 42 days – which took their toll. They survived mainly on dehydrated expedition food and Steve lost nearly one-and-a-half stone.
He said: “Our crossing was tough on a level of toughness I didn’t know existed. Our bodies were tested physically to their limits, with the repetition of two-hour rowing shifts and two-hour rests throughout the entirety of the crossing. The level of malnutrition, sleep deprivation and fatigue combined to make for a really punishing environment. The two-hour rest periods are taken up with looking after your body, eating, drinking, doing some jobs on the boat and trying to get some sleep.
“We were sleep walking, we were hallucinating and you were completely reliant on the person who was already out there on their shift to take control and look after you when that happened.
“We experienced a very hairy moment early on when two big waves came together and their combined power put the boat literally up on its end and a big wave of water came over the boat – but we had otherwise calm seas all the way across which isn’t what we wanted actually. We wanted waves because they make us go faster.”
No matter how tough the challenges, Steve never lost sight of why he was out there and had a photograph of Molly and an Olly the Brave toy – the charity’s mascot – in his cabin.
“If ocean rowing does one thing it allows a very clear sense of a brutally honest perspective on life,’ added Steve.
“This was a challenge of choice. In my cabin on the boat I carried a picture of a very special little girl – Molly who, with her family, faced a challenge that was most definitely not of anyone’s choosing. As I ticked off each day I only had to look at Molly’s picture to find the perspective I needed. Although I did nearly set fire to Olly the Brave with a hand flare at one point!”
“I love the fact that the charity makes sure that every single penny and every single donation is used wisely. The impact they’ve had on families who are facing horrible health conditions is making a real difference.”
Steve, who retired from Warwickshire Police four years ago, was welcomed over the finish line into Antigua by his son Adam and stepdaughter Jess.
Molly’s mum Rachel said: “We are so grateful to Steve helping to raise awareness of our work and have been particularly humbled by him having a picture of Molly with him on his journey and our therapeutic toy, Olly The Brave alongside him.”
Visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/steve-sidaway to donate to Steve’s fund-raising pot.