HK Magazine Archive

Rowing the Atlantic for Charity... Naked

In December, Hong Kong-based Mark Agnew will row across the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados to raise money for the charity Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:18pm

What inspired you to join this expedition? A few years ago, my friend Stuart showed me a video of people rowing across the Atlantic, and it’s been on my agenda ever since. I’ve always been an active person. I’ve played rugby for as long as I remember; I’ve climbed five 4,000-meter peaks in a day in the Italian Alps; and a couple of years ago I cycled 500 miles around Scotland. I’ve also driven from London to Mongolia for the Mongol Rally—at one point our car rolled downhill at 80km per hour in Russia and I ended up driving a crushed car in a neck brace! My dad, who led expeditions across Greenland, is also a big reason why I want to do this.

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How have you been training for it? In April, I met the crew in Spain. I thought it was going to be a rigorous rowing trial and trained hard for it, but the moment I got there, I was handed a beer! Spain was an opportunity for us to get along. Next month we’ll head back for a week of intensive training at sea. In the meantime, I have been rowing with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Every week, I’ve also been doing three rowing sessions on the rowing machine at the gym, one session out on the water, and a couple of conditioning sessions in between. I also have to eat as much food as I can, in addition to protein shakes and supplements. A lot of the crew, including myself, have next to no experience with rowing, but among us are marathon runners, ultramarathon runners, and endurance athletes. We haven’t been told exactly how to train—we’ve all been trusted to get ourselves into great shape. I don’t think you can be fit enough to do this, you just need to be as fit as possible. The rest of it is mental strength.

What challenges do you anticipate? Being miserable from the lack of sleep. We’ll be rowing two hours on, two hours off, 24/7, so at any time there will be four people sleeping in the domes at the end of the two hulls, and four people rowing. We won’t have any support staff, just our captain and a first mate. Having the patience to cook is another issue: We’ll have to boil water, put dried food in, and try to eat 6,000 calories a day. We’ll also be drinking at least five liters of water a day. And then there’s the sunburn: I’m Scottish and fair-skinned. I was told that people who’ve done the expedition applied sunscreen for the first few days, and then gave up because they got so brown anyway. The upside is we won’t be getting tan lines, because we’ll be rowing naked—saltwater would stiffen our clothes and cause chafing. We’re going to get to know each other better than we’d like—because we’ll have to go to the toilet by hanging off the back of the boat!

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What are you looking to conquer next? My friends and I are thinking of rowing from Hong Kong to Macau, but it could get tricky because we might have to row the boat back. On top of that, I’d like to be on the first crew to row across the Northwest Passage, which connects the Arctic to the Pacific. It’ll be very cold, with erratic weather and polar bears to contend with.

Would you consider yourself fearless? No—it’s stupid to be fearless. You have to know when to say “no.” That said, I like my job—but being stuck in an office all the time rather than doing something extraordinary is scarier than the prospect of rowing across the Atlantic.