Going to great lengths

From hosting coffee mornings and coming together in our Sing for Life choirs, to walking over hot coals and swimming the Solent, our supporters know no bounds when it comes to raising money for local people living with cancer.

This December, The Bubbleheads, a crew of four deep sea divers, will show too that they are prepared to go to great lengths to support local people living with cancer, when they take on the world’s toughest row – the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. They’ll join 29 other teams competing to be the first to row 3000 miles from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, to English Harbour in Antigua and Barbuda. Wessex Cancer Support is a charity close to their hearts, as crew member, James, and his wife, Nikki, were supported by our Chandler’s Ford support centre when Nikki was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, Nikki died in 2020 aged 37.

Who are they?

The Bubbleheads are Chris Ayres, Andy Taw, James Piper and Lewis Locke.

Chris and Andy visited our Chandler’s Ford Support Centre to find out how we support local families living with cancer and how the money they raise will be used. We grabbed some time with them to find out a bit more about the challenge and how their training is going:

More people have climbed Everest than rowed an ocean. Your jobs as deep sea divers mean you’re no strangers to testing environments, but what made you take on this particular challenge?

Chris – The idea came when three of us witnessed the arrival of the 2018 Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge on a boat trip to Antigua. Our team member, James, had told us he wanted to find a way to raise money for Wessex Cancer Support, because of the support the charity has given him and his family. Standing at the finish line at Nelson’s Harbour, it felt like it was meant to be.

We read that none of you has ever rowed before. How’s the training going?

We don’t have any rowing experience at all between us, but we’ve been told all the best crews start as non-rowers because you don’t have any bad habits, so that’s lucky! We work away a lot so have to fit our training in around that, but we’ve been getting on the rowers in the gym and out on the water to take part in a number of other events which will contribute to the final amount we raise.

The record for the 3000 mile crossing is 29 days. What goal have you set yourselves?

Andy – Our aim is to win it! The good thing is we’re used to the sea – we’re just going to be on it rather than in it! It feels like more of a natural environment to me than a city, but we need to respect it and hope we get the perfect weather and tides.

We need to aim to cover at least 100 miles a day to be in with a chance of being the first boat over the finish line.

40-foot rolling seas, pitch black nights and very little sleep are just some of the things you’re going to have to endure. Previous campaigns promise that it’s going to be pretty rough. What are you most worried about?

Chris – For me, I think it’s going to be the sleep deprivation. You row for two hours and are off for two hours. In that two hours, we need to sleep, eat, monitor the weather and plot our course. But I’m told you soon get used to it.

Andy – I think getting off at the end is actually going to be the hardest! We spend all of our time at work under the sea, so it’ll actually be pretty cool to be back to basics and in the wide open.

As deep sea divers, your jobs are considered one of the most dangerous in the world, but how different mentally do you think this is going to be?

Chris – It’s definitely going to challenge and push us, but I don’t think any of us are scared about the row – we’re relishing it. The biggest challenge is the organisation and we were told at the beginning that the hardest thing is getting to the start line. We’ve had to get corporate sponsors, find time to train, meet deadlines, do all the publicity, plan fundraising events and raise money along the way.

We’re a team of 24/7s and we need that commitment from those around us. I hadn’t realised how much work would need to be done in the early stages.

How do you think you’re going to get on as a team over 3000 miles? How do your personalities differ and what attributes do you all bring?

Chris – We all work together in confined spaces anyway, so we’re used to that. As well as the row, we’ve got to be fully self-sufficient which will include allocating daily responsibilities of desalinating six gallons of water for cooking and hydration, preparing and eating military style ration packs, catching fish for extra protein and doing maintenance on the boat. We’ve got to keep each other motivated and positive, despite everything each day throws at us.

Andy – We’ve all got strong characters so I think there’ll be quite a lot of banter to get us through any tricky situation. To be honest, if anyone has any temper tantrums we’ll probably just take the mickey out of them! We don’t want to let each other down, so our determination will help us to get the job done.

What do your friends and family think?

Andy – My mum keeps asking me why I’m putting her through it!

Chris – Everyone thinks we’re mad!

To find out more about their challenge and to support them with their fundraising, click here.