There's an old adage in Ocean Rowing that the hardest part is getting to the start line. It's true, but never truer than for the crew of the Cockleshell Atlantic Endeavour. They were meant to be racing across the Pacific in July, (Competing in the Great Pacific Race; from San Francisco to Hawaii). Covid19 led to the cancellation of that race. Undeterred the guys simply created an independent row across the Atlantic, all in the space of a few short months. Now here they are just hours away from successfully completing that epic Atlantic row against all the odds. That says all you need to know about the character and qualities of the guys on board.'
In the early hours of this morning, the crew of the Cockleshell Atlantic Endeavour completed their 3,000-mile row arriving in Barbados.
Sam Edwards and David Bruce, both serving with 42 Commando at Bickleigh, joined Afghan veterans Juniour Mcilhiney and Will Schweppe in crossing the Atlantic leaving Gran Canaria on the 5th December 2020.
The team were originally intent on taking part in the Great Pacific Race that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In true Royal Marine spirit, they decided to crack on with rowing an ocean regardless and began planning to cross the Atlantic instead.
The team had collectively decided to take part in the challenge as a way of giving back to a community that had supported them in their hour of need. Using physical expeditions and adventures as a way of processing mental challenges, combining physical and mental fitness.
Will Schweppe was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan in 2011. Unable to hold a weapon, he was unable to carry on as a soldier; a man who had always wanted to be a Marine lost his focus and faced a loss of identity. He has permanent nerve damage in his hand.
He told ITV News:
"The first few years after I left were the worst. I had this sense something was going to go wrong, I was always on edge, it made me angry. Marines are the only people who understand and I had cut myself off from them."
Will was not the only veteran on board that had sustained injury whist deployed, Juniour, who was thrown from a vehicle on his second tour of Afghanistan when an IED was detonated in Helmand Province 2011, he suffered with guilt about getting injured.
"The injury for me, I found it pretty tough. I had massive guilt issues for allowing myself to be injured, and leaving my friends out in Afghanistan."
Aside from completing their aim to complete the 3,000-mile row the team were intent on supporting RMA -The Royal Marines Charity and raise vital funds to support Royal Marines and their families and the Cockleshell Endeavour Fund. RMA – The Royal Marines Charity are the Royal Marines own charity and focus on delivering cradle to grave support to the whole of the Royal Marines Family.
Many of us were left unable to see family and friends across Christmas and New Year, the Cockleshell team spent their holiday period in the Atlantic Ocean with limited communication with their loved ones. They have had to physically and mentally push themselves every day.
Their journey was far from smooth sailing, they were challenged by testing conditions and strong head winds slowed their progress. This did not knock the wind out of their sails, the team have battled on rotating between sleeping and rowing in two-hour shifts.
“Over the years, I have learned how to manage those negative feelings and found ways to live with them so they no longer hold me back. I’m proud to represent the Corps again and extremely grateful to share this mission with three other bootnecks, all close friends.”
On New Years Day the team deployed their para-anchor. Weather conditions had become dangerous and they were at very real risk of capsizing in high seas. The anchor helps to keep the stern of the boat facing into oncoming waves and prevents the boat from drifting off course. It was a difficult day for families at home, who knew only too well the feeling of having their loved ones deployed in dangerous conditions.
The team have pulled through high seas and stayed mentally robust to accomplish this row. We want to offer our deepest gratitude, and up most respect to the four men, Dave, Will, Sam and Juniour.
"Royal Marines are the world’s finest military because they are trained to instinctively apply the Commando Mindset – first to understand, adapt, respond and overcome. Junior, Dave, Will and Nutty have applied that Mindset in spades. Not able to row the Pacific, they switched to the Atlantic. Not able to be part of a big organised ocean race, they decided to do it themselves. They have face massive weather challenges and funding challenges, and smashed this challenge in the midst of a world pandemic. And they haven’t done this to prove to themselves how hoofing they are, they’ve done it to raise money for RMA-The Royal Marines Charity so we can help their fellow Bootnecks who are battling the mental and physical wounds of service. Massive congratulations and heartfelt thanks! There WILL be a party for them when they get back…sometime soon!
Chief Executive – RMA – The Royal Marines Charity
'It's fantastic to see the flag being flown so proudly for The Royal Marines Charity and the Cockleshell Endeavour by the guys during this incredibly challenging year. In true Royal Marine tradition, they've overcome every challenge they've faced, before and during this epic row, with unbreakable humour, relentless focus and hard work. I can't wait to see them step ashore in Barbados to the fantastic welcome their efforts deserve. PMPT.'