12 fascinating factoids about Gavan’s row across the Atlantic

12 fascinating factoids about Gavan’s row across the Atlantic


Helen Vaughan



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Galway adventurer Gavan Hennigan sets off soon (eeepp!) to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. And he’s hoping to win it. He’s currently in Spain doing his last minute prep in the Canaries before the race starts on 14 December 2016.

This is Gavan’s first ever rowing race. He’s had to learn everything about it from scratch. He’s a professional deep sea diver and a very experienced adventurer, having completed ultra runs in some of the most remote places on earth, including Siberia, Antarctica and the North Pole.


1. 1,500,000 strokes


That’s the number of strokes Gavan thinks he’ll have to make across the entire Atlantic Ocean. He plans to row in shifts of around 2/3 hours and then get some sleep, prepare food, desalinate water or do repairs on his beloved boat, Doireann. He’ll be rowing for up to 19 hours a day depending on the weather.

2. 650 baby wipes


Gavan has a strict routine to keep his bum in good health, given it’ll be in contact with the boat most. He’ll be sitting on it for hours and hours on end. He will also swim in the nude to avoid getting a salt rash from his shorts.


He says, “I really have to look after my hands and bum to avoid getting a rash or a sore. I’m bringing 650 baby wipes with me and after every rowing shift, I will baby wipe my bum and use talcum powder on it. I have to stay on top of the sweat and salt. 


“I could easily get a sore when I’m constantly getting smashed by waves and I’m always wet.”


3. 9,000 calories


Gavan will burn around 9,000 calories every day he’s rowing. He’s bringing 90 days worth of freeze dried meals that have 5,000 calories each. He’s also bringing snacks like flap jacks and beef jerky to keep him going.


4. 40 days


The record for the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge is 50 days, which Gavan is aiming to beat by 10 or so. There are just 3 solo rowers in this year’s event and he’s hoping to beat them and some of the teams too.


“I’m trying to do more like 40 or 45 days. That’s what I want, but it’s hard to say given the weather. It could be a bad season for storms, or if the trade winds don’t kick in and help me to row in the right direction.”


5. 21 years


That’s the age Gavan was when he went into rehab. He started drinking heavily as a teenager, and became a serious drug user too, even overdosing at one point. But rehab helped him to successfully give up his addiction and he started surfing in the Atlantic Ocean and found sport and the sea really helped him.

He puts his addiction down to his mental health difficulties as a teenager, having a Dad who was an alcoholic and he really struggled to accept his sexual identity being a young gay man.

6. 5,000 kilometres

The row will take him from San Sebastian in La Gomera (Canary Islands) to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour in Antigua in the Caribbean - a distance of 5,000kms in total. The start date is 14 December 2016, although last year the start was delayed because of unsuitable weather conditions, so keep an eye online and we’ll keep you updated.


7. 10 euro


It’ll cost him €10 to send or post a photograph online using his satelite phone while he’s in the middle of the ocean. He plans to keep us all updated on his progress by sharing pictures along the way. He won’t be able to get messages though, so won’t have a clue what’s happening in the real world. Bliss!


You can also follow his online tracker to see how he’s getting on. It’ll have a map with all of the boats on it, and will tell you his current speed and also the average speed he’s been rowing at.

8. 3 expeditions

This is Gavan’s third major expedition during 2016, which is a massive feat for any person. In February, Gav completed the 500km Yukon Arctic Ultra Marathon in Canada, coming second overall. He recorded the third fastest time ever, of 123 hours and 25 minutes.


Just three weeks later, he ran 700kms across ice on frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia in just 17 days. The Russian lake is the largest and deepest in the world, holding 20% of the world’s freshwater. He pulled a sled with all his food, tent and gear in it that weighed 60kg.


He’s spent a lot of the rest of 2016 training for the Atlantic row around the coast of Ireland and preparing his gear and boat for the journey.


He says being an adventurer feels right for him. “I don’t feel tested in any way in the normal world. I find day to day living quite tough. When I get into an event like the a run or the row, I become my authentic self. I like challenging myself, being in the moment with myself. I feel at home doing that.”


9. 4 oars


Gavan is bringing a spare set of oars with him on the trip, in case something happens to his first set. He’s done a huge amount of planning around what could happen and what might go wrong, and has back up plans for most contingencies.


“To a normal joe soap, this event might seem crazy, but I’ve had to take a calm and measured look at it. I’ve done a huge amount of planning. I’ve a friend who’s an engineer and he’s created an emergency rudder plan. That means if my rudder breaks or gets damaged, I can make an emergency one out of a spare oar and some marine ply that’s on the boat.


“I have a laminated sheet with instructions so I’ll know how to put it together. I’ve tried to thrash out every possibility. There is that level of planning. Maybe it is crazy, but a huge amount of work has gone into this.”


10. 12 feet


That’s the size of his sea anchor. No. We’re not being rude! He has a sea anchor that’s 12 feet in diameter and is attached to 70m of rope so he can sit out bad weather without being blown backwards and losing ground he’s already rowed.


A sea anchor basically stabilises the boat in bad weather. It doesn’t tie the boat to the sea bed like a regular anchor. Instead, it’s like a large kite or parachute in the water that creates drag and acts as a brake for the boat.

11. 2 weeks


It’ll take Gavan around two weeks to settle into life on the boat. So how does he cope with races like this? “I just embrace the hardship and know that I will be fine, even though it’s a big jump from sitting on the couch to being confined in a boat. 


“There’s an adaptation that happens with each of my adventures, and I know now to trust that process. In the first week or two, there’ll be tough times but I will adapt. I’ll turn into a bit of a machine or a robot.


“I also need to be switched on 24/7. I actually change completely as a person. I become a lot tougher on myself and tougher as a person being in that environment.”


12. 20,000 euro


Gavan is doing the challenge to raise up to €20,000 for two charities, Cancer Care West and Jigsaw, which is a youth mental health charity. He’s keen to use his story to inspire young people that you can come from a pretty bleak situation and still achieve your dreams. He says he wasn’t born as an adventurer or an explorer. He works hard on his fitness and his mental preparation for races like this one.


So what’s next?


Despite the fact that more people have been in space or climbed everest than have rowed across the Atlantic, Gavan thinks it’s not all that hard. He’s already planning his next one. He says, “I’d like to row back across the Atlantic in Doireann from New York to Galway. The route I’m doing this time is the holiday route. It’s nice and warm, but I’d like to do it again further north.”



Have a look at the outrageously cute video made for Gavan by students from Scoil Bhríde in Shantalla in Galway:



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12 fascinating factoids about Gavan’s row across the Atlantic

Galway adventurer Gavan Hennigan sets off soon (eeepp!) to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. And he’s hoping to win it. He’s currently in Spain doing his last minute prep in the Canaries before the race starts on 14 December 2016.