Graham Walters became the oldest person to row any ocean at 72 when he pulled into Antigua this week. The Englishman left the Canary Islands 13 weeks ago on his final 4,828km voyage, having already crossed in 1997, 2001, 2003-04 and 2007.
“It’s sad in a way. But you’ve got to finish sometime. It’s nice to finally finish, to arrive though,” Walters said. “I built the boat in the front garden 23 years ago. It was the start of something new, rowing an ocean. And it was nice to finish together, as we started together.”
When he first crossed, it was as a pair in the inaugural Atlantic race, which has since morphed into the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. He thought he would do just one crossing, then four years later another race was held.
“My original partner had a friend who signed up who knew I had the boat. He asked if I was prepared to do the race again. I wasn’t going to. But he said he’d pay for all the extra parts if I brought the boat,” Walters said.
“After that second race, I got more involved and started thinking about it. What would it be like to do this solo?” he said. “I think that's what started this off, something different. It was better in a way because it wasn’t a race, so I wasn’t committed to two hours on, two hours off [shifts]. You could pick your times and I felt better. And it carried on from there.”
But it was more than just the prospect of someone else funding the trip that drew Walters in for a second time, and then three more after that.
“You enjoy different things,” he said. “It can be quite miserable when you’re being blasted by water, and you’re being thrown around. Then other times, when you’re sat down, the seas calmed down, the sun’s come out, you’re having something to eat and you’re joined by sea life, that incredible feeling, you can’t imagine really. You’re on a high really, that you wouldn’t get in normal life.”
This particular crossing, the weather was calmer than previous trips. Walters had a patch of bad weather as he headed south towards Cape Verde and was “fed up”, but after that the weather was more stable. But age was the challenge.
“I must admit, I do feel that 23 years. Being older, basically less fit, you might say,” he said.
Walters was kept up to date via satellite phone about the coronavirus situation and arrived in Antigua prepared for social distancing. Walters was towed the last few kilometres by the coastguard, as the winds were against him and he could not reach the harbour. But one of the main differences this time was a arriving to a media storm.
“I don’t mind particularly. I didn’t realise how much media attention I’d get. It’s not a problem, it’s just happening,” he said. “I was doing this for a charity, Help for Heroes, and the one good thing about the media attention is it helped raise money for the charity.”
Now, he is celebrating.
“I’m trying not to drink too much, but it’s difficult as people keep plying me with alcohol,” Walters added.
You can donate to Walters’ Help for Heroes page here.
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