Well, back in 2016, five University of Southampton friends (Matt Poudevigne, Nick Rakowski, Rory Ormiston, Hector Strickland, and Paul Heerema) had the crazy idea to row the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for Cancer Research.
And by December 2018, the ‘Nauti Buoys’ (as they were known) had done just that! After 36 days, 19 hours, and nine minutes, the incredible feat had been achieved when they landed in Antigua from La Gomera. At the time, they had set a new world record for the fastest five-man crossing.
However, during the row, when they were in the middle of the Atlantic with no land in sight for thousands of miles, they came across a horrendous amount of plastic pollution, from milk jugs to plastic rope and boxes.
Before the row, they didn’t quite understand the scale of the plastic problem, but after speaking to me – a marine biologist and friend from uni – they realised just how pervasive the crisis is. I told them that the main cause of ocean plastic comes from rivers around the world, but that this wasn’t widely known.
Since they had seen the problem first hand, they wanted to raise greater awareness of the issue by doing the only thing they know how: undertaking an audacious rowing challenge. So three of the Atlantic rowers (Matt, Nick, and Rory) have now teamed up with me and an engineer, Ross Cumplen, to row the entire 1,800-mile length of the Mississippi River in 2021, in support of the charity Plastic Oceans.
Along the way, we’ll be taking simple water samples, in connection with the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS), as we transect down in order to provide scientific and general public awareness of the plastic problem.
The benefit of the Atlantic row is that it’s a well rowed route and you can – kind of – know what to expect (although Mother Nature does throw quite a few curveballs at you along the way!). The difference with this challenge is that a row along the Mississippi has never been done in this manner (unassisted) and for this distance, so we don’t really know what to expect. We’re naive enough to start and stubborn enough to finish, so be sure that we will make it to the end of the river in a world-record time!
We’ve been doing lots of thinking of how to transport everything on the boat (from medical supplies to waste), and now we just need to raise enough funds to adapt the boat and ship it over to the start line. Annoyingly, there’s a monopoly on the supply of these boats, and freight costs are not cheap!
This is our call for help! We’re in need for any support you can give, from corporate connections and sponsorship to logistical and PR support out in the US. If you’re able to help in any way, please reach out to us via email.
We here at the University would like to wish the Mavericks the best of luck on their row! And if you’re interested in their cause, check out our research highlight articles, which share how we’re making a difference to marine sustainability and the environment.
Photos: Ben Duffy and Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge