Denmead grandad breaks world record for being the oldest person to row the Atlantic ocean
For weeks at a time, all Peter Ketley could see was miles and miles of ocean. As huge waves crashed on to his rowing boat, soaking him, he keenly felt every aching muscle in his body, his stomach rumbled with hunger and his eyelids drooped. But, gripping the oars tightly, 62-year-old Peter dug deep for the energy he needed to cross the Atlantic Ocean with his rowing partner Neil Young, 61.
Both grandfathers, Peter and Neil had set themselves the incredible challenge of becoming the oldest pair to row that wild ocean.
And there was no way ex-serviceman Peter, from Denmead, would let it defeat them. On February 13, 63 days after setting off from the Canary Islands, they became the oldest people to have rowed any ocean, with a combined age of 123 years.
‘We were very much led by the waves and the wind,’ says Peter. ‘It was an amazing experience. The biggest issue was the sheer longevity of it.’
Peter had never rowed before in his life – not even on a rowing machine. The only time he had been on the ocean was as a Paratrooper in the Falkland Islands in 1982.
And drawing on their joint paratrooper past, Peter and Neil, from Berkshire, knew it was an adventure they just could not miss.
‘We wanted to do a big challenge – something that not everyone would consider doing. And this was something we could raise a good amount for charities as well.’
They chose to support the Royal British Legion Industries, Support Our Paras and children’s charity Dreams Come True, and have raised £47,000.
In 2017 they started training for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. ‘We had to learn how to row’, laughs Peter, ‘and learn sea navigation, radio procedures, safety at sea and complete an ocean rowing course. Both of us have remained fairly fit throughout our lives but neither of us knew anything about rowing.
‘I joined the Southsea Rowing Club. They were brilliant there. It prepared me for what it was going to be like out on the open water.’
With hundreds of packets of dehydrated food, a homemade fruit cake for Christmas and clean clothes, Peter and Neil flew to Tenerife last November for the start of the challenge at La Gomera on December 12, 2018.
From there, the Grandads of the Atlantic – as they called themselves – began their 3,000-mile endurance journey to the leafy palms of Antigua.
Peter and Neil worked shifts of two hours on and two hours off, rowing just under 400 shifts each.
‘In that time we had to wash, sleep and eat. I probably got no more than an hour-and-a-quarter of sleep at a time for the entire nine weeks,’ explains Peter.
‘It was just a question of getting into a routine and being in close proximity to another guy for a long time. We get on very well and we learnt to work together as a team’.
But spending 63 days on the vast ocean was not all fun and games, insists Peter.
‘Rowing at night was very difficult because if there was no moon it was pitch black,’ he says.
‘We couldn’t see where the water was coming from. You just never knew if a wave would hit you or what size it could be.
‘We thought we would do it in about 50 days. It soon became very apparent after about two weeks that the wind and the waves weren’t going in the right direction for us.
‘The ocean isn’t to be underestimated. We were able to get there without being capsized. But we had some big waves and some tough conditions to overcome.’
Undoubtedly, the wildlife was breathtaking. Befriending ocean birds and riding alongside the world’s biggest mammals were just a couple of highlights.
‘We came across some whales. They were almost riding with us – that was quite incredible.
‘Two days before we got to Antigua we saw a bird circling the boat and the next thing I knew it perched on the back of the boat and stayed with us for seven hours.
‘We became friends,’ chuckles Peter. ‘When it learnt that we weren’t an enemy it kept coming back.
‘Seeing the sun set and rise was interesting. What we hadn’t fully appreciated was that we were going to have around 12 hours of night time. Sunrise started at around 9am and it would often set at around 10pm.’
On December 25, Peter and Neil put Santa hats on and devoured Peter’s wife Sally’s fruit cake.
After 63 days and 22 minutes, the pair arrived at Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, Antigua.
They were greeted by family and friends, including Sally who was a big part of the team, running all the communications while they were away, and his three-year-old grandson.
‘Finishing was probably the highlight,’ says Peter. ‘We were really pleased to see our friends and family. We had a huge turnout, not just from relatives but from the Antiguans.
‘It was the most fantastic feeling, very difficult to describe. There was a huge amount of joy to be off the water and to be on dry land.
‘It took a little bit of time to sink in that we had rowed the ocean. It was mind-boggling. It was a bit difficult to get the sea legs back to land legs as well. But the sense of achievement and relief was overwhelming.’
As one of the oldest people to row the Atlantic ocean, Peter says his record-breaking achievement still feels surreal.
‘ We wanted to prove that just because you’re a certain age, it doesn’t mean you can’t enter different challenges.
‘You might not do it as fast as younger people, but you can do it. For us, that was what we wanted to show. It gave us a good sense of achievement.’
Peter will continue to row with Southsea Rowing Club – but quickly adds: ‘I have no intention of rowing the ocean. It’s given me a love of the sea that I didn’t have before.’
Peter and Neil have raised nearly £50,000 for charity. And they have more events coming up to add to that total. A homecom ing party takes place in Port Solent on March 29.
To buy tickets, please visit tickettailor.com/events/grandadsoftheatlantic
To find out more information about the challenge, go to grandadsoftheatlantic.com