Three Hong Kong-based rugby players battled a “relentless” schedule to win the trio class in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Campaigns race, but their hard work has created a lifetime bond between them. “We were best of friends going in, and best of friends coming out. That is a really positive result,” Matthew Bell said. Bell, Martin Muller and Rob Lennox – crew-mates as East Rows West and teammates at Hong Kong Dettol Premiership rugby club Valley RFC – rowed from La Gomera to Antigua in 37 days, arriving this week. The race is completely unsupported, so they carried their own food and made water with a desalinate. Usually, rowers work in shifts of two hours rowing and two hours sleeping. But as a three, the days did not divide so evenly. So they rowed in a pattern of two hours and 20 minutes on, and one hour and 40 minutes off, all day and night. Posted by Atlantic Campaigns on Wednesday, 19 January 2022 “We knew the ‘fun’ to expect – it would be 30-plus days, battling monotony, boredom and pain,” Bell said. “It was pretty much as expected. What we didn’t realise was just how relentless it would be. It was just all the time.” Muller compared it to a working week, saying that even if you love your job, when the alarm goes off you want to lie in. On a typical nine-to-five job, though, you have that five times a week – Bell, Muller and Lennox faced those alarms six times a day, seven days a week. Hong Kong rugby players win Atlantic rowing race trio class “But other than that we had a really good experience,” Bell said. The first week of the new year was particularly hard. The trio had expected a good tailwind, but there was no wind at all – the boat felt heavy, every stroke hauling it through the water. Then the week after, they had a powerful tailwind, but they did not have the experience to take full advantage of the conditions. They were leading the trio class at the time, but the second boat cut into their lead at the end of the tough fortnight. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Atlantic Campaigns (@atlanticcampaigns) “So the last week or so we had a flat out race against them. We had an update every four hours on our mileage, and it would make or break morale for the next four hours if we had made ground on them or they’d gained on us. That is when that relentlessness was really apparent,” Bell said. “In hindsight, it was probably a good thing for our experience. At the time, we had pretty dark, negative moments. We also had massive high, elated moments when we were fighting back. “But it added value to the trip. It felt like we really worked for that victory in the trios. It was a great experience, I’m glad it happened. It is something that made the trip more memorable, more epic. We definitely worked hard, and did more miles than if we hadn’t had them. It gives you motivation.” The team raised nearly US$100,000 (HK$779,206) for ChildFund Rugby, which uses sport as a tool to achieve gender equality and to end violence against children. Coaches teach social and emotional skills as well as rugby. “It’s humbling,” Bell said. “We wanted to do this, and charity was initially an ancillary goal. But as we got going on the project, we got more and more invested in the charity side of it. And as the project went on, more and more people donated, a staggering amount of money. It is so humbling.” Two moments stood out. On Lennox’s birthday, on December 31, they stopped rowing. It was one of just three times they did not have someone on the oars. They pulled out a dram of whisky to celebrate. “For just 10 or 15 minutes, no one rowed and it was an incredible sunset. It was a special moment, just the three of us sitting there in the middle of nowhere, taking stock of what we had done and what was ahead of us,” Bell said. Then again, with just 50 miles to the finish, the trio stopped for a final swim in the Atlantic, and spoke about what their journey meant to them. “During the swim, Rob put it really well. He said, ‘for the rest of our lives, this will bond us together, and no one will be able to take away what we went through together’. It is about a close as you can get to people,” Bell added.