Campus - 27.04.2023 - 09:00 

Rowing the Atlantic: Students train for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

As participants in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, four students want to cross the Atlantic in 2025 in a rowing boat as Team 44West. For them, it’s not just about sporting success, but also about raising as much money as possible for charity. By student reporter Adria Pop.
Mit dem Ruderboot über den Atlantik: Studierende trainieren für die «Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge»
Gemeinsam mit seinen drei Kameraden, Matthias Fernandez (ETH), Lorenzo Henseler (HSG) und Julian Müller (HSG), trainiert Luca Fayd'herbe de Maudave (HSG) auf die «Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge» hin.

Together with his three companions, Matthias Fernandez (ETH), Lorenzo Henseler (HSG) and Julian Müller (HSG), Luca Fayd’herbe de Maudave (HSG) is training for the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. Considered the most challenging race in rowing, it involves crossing the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera to Antigua in less than 30 days. When they compete in the annual race in December 2025, they hope to not only outpace their 20-40 competitors, but also break the world record of 29 days and 18 hours. In addition to their simple dedication to their sport as athletes, the Swiss team is also driven by fundraising for a charity of their choice. With a distance of 4,800 km, waves reaching up to six metres and unpredictable weather conditions, this group of students will have only each other to rely on.

Numerous successes already

The four HSG students can already boast numerous achievements. Two of them set the world record for their boat category and won the U23 World Championship together in 2017. All of them have been Swiss champions at least once, one of them as many as eight times. But after time on the U-23 and U-19 squads and competing in the national, world and European championships, they have now got together to embark on what could be their most challenging journey yet.

The physical effort and maintaining an effective technique are among the aspects that make the sport unique for them, while the financial aspect is secondary for the team. At the elite level, Julian trained three times a day before beginning his degree course, doing so without the same monetary consideration customary in tennis, even though the sport puts a great deal of strain on the body. But it is the mental effort that binds them together, says Luca.

Necessary preparations before the competition

Fortunately, their studies at the HSG allow them to plan their time flexibly, which gives the team ample opportunity for sports in their everyday lives. In order to prepare for any emergency situations, the four of them are also packing spare oars and an inflatable island as well as navigational aids in the boat. Food rations have to be planned in advance and must be preserved for the entire month on the rowing boat, which involves dehydrating the food before the race begins. In fact, on average, participants in the competition burn 7,000 calories a day and lose between 10 and 12 kilograms during the course of the month. Each rower consumes an additional 10 litres of drinking water per day. For safety reasons, twice the necessary food ration must be taken on the Atlantic voyage. A desalination machine cleans the water on the boat. 

The race is unaccompanied, leaving the rowers mostly on their own at sea. Despite a sailing boat monitoring all participants, it has taken 24 hours in the past for help to arrive in an emergency, and helicopters can only reach certain locations. According to Luca, the cold is only a limited concern for the team, as the start is at a latitude close to the equator and currents would take the boat towards the Caribbean. He is much more concerned about chronic seasickness: “Chronic seasickness affects about a quarter of the population, and rowers who have suffered from seasickness during the race have been unable to finish. It’s almost impossible to maintain performance when suffering from chronic seasickness.”

A race against time, the sea and the weather

Luca is also concerned about the constant pressure of competing in a lengthy race against time, since the four students have never competed in such a long race before. Competitions usually last between one and five days on average, with individual races lasting between six and seven minutes. The team always sleeps in pairs to keep the boat moving throughout, so they have to get used to a special rhythm, alternating between rowing and sleeping for two hours. It’s a situation that also requires conflict and crisis management skills.

Participants in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge include former athletes from various fields such as rugby as well as ex-servicemen. Since the four students spent their time on the squad and have been involved in the sport for years, they consider their chances of winning the title and breaking the world record to be good. However, Luca notes, even their three years of preparation overall with 10 to 12 training sessions per week will not be enough if weather conditions are against them. After all, he adds, at sea there are many factors that could influence the course of the 30 days. 
Regardless of the obstacles and outcome, the four students want to give their all in any situation for the sake of their passion and a good cause, and they are currently looking for sponsors.

More information on the challenge and on 44West

Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Adria Pop is in the fourth semester of her Business Administration studies.

Discover our special topics