Rowing to educate Nepal children

Atlantic charity rowing race

Four members of a boat that took part in the world’s most challenging competition to raise money for schools in Nepal have come third in a grueling trans-Atlantic rowing race.  

Calum Barclay, Ashley Jones, Nick Kempster and Jack Carter took part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge to row 5,000 km from the Canary Islands to the West Indies in 37 days.

“Being a Gurkha officer in the British Army, I had knowledge and love for Nepal, and we have so far raised enough money to build two schools in Nepal and hopefully we will raise more,” says Ashley Jones. The two schools are in Taplejung in eastern Nepal.

The crew has a target of raising $300,000 for The Human Practice Foundation (HPF) to help build schools to educate 1,300 children every year. HPF, set up in 2014, has built 59 schools in Nepal and Kenya, helping educate 27,000 children. It also supports a Coffee Impact Program in Nepal.

Atlantic charity rowing race

The team rowed for two hours at a time and had two hours off, doing this for 24 hours a day for the 37 days it took to make the crossing. They ate freeze-dried high calories foods, and consumed 5 litres of water each per day from a water maker device on board. They navigated using an electronic chart plotter and had information on weather so they could avoid bad weather and take advantage of winds.  

“We never slept for more than 1.5 hours at any one stretch, and once a day could link to the internet for 5 minutes,” Jones said.

The team left the UK at the height of Covid-19 and reached La Gomera in the Canaries. But for the worst part of the pandemic the team was out at sea. The team took a more northerly route because of the weather, but it lost its lead. Then northerly winds battered the boat with waves over the beam.

“During the last third of the trip, it was really quite hot and no escape. The cabins were hot to touch and the inside was like an oven,” Jones recalls.

The crew did some fishing more for distraction than for food, catching mahi-mahi and tuna. They saw minke whales, dolphins, turtles, tuna, and swordfish. Of the 20 boats that left the Canary Islands, four were attacked by marlin, and their hulls speared.

Members of the crew have served in war zones, rowed the North Pacific, climbed mountains, and ran marathons. Some members of the group now want to row across the Indian Ocean, but the others will go back to their day jobs in the UK. “We will have to wait and see how the recovery goes, but I imagine it will take some time to forget the hardship, but who knows,” Jones says.   

More people have climbed Mt Everest than rowed the ocean, and the team members spent two years planning for the race with over 100 hours of training. They battled 10m waves, and used buckets for toilets, losing 12kg of body weight during the crossing.