Back to Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Friday 17th November 2017

By Alison Sly-Adams

Are you a committed non-believer to the fundraising cause? Are you all ‘reliefed out’ after Irma and Maria? Maybe it’s more specific for you when it comes to the rowers?

Why should you support 4 men taking 2 months to go on holiday and live their dream? Is that your take? Or perhaps you’ve got an issue with the fact that Eli Fuller is the ring leader and he has money, so why can’t he pay?

OK so here goes…

When Team Wadadli set sail from La Gomera in 2015, I decided to put metaphorical pen to paper because when I saw the measly amount that they had raised – about US$10,000 at the time, all I could think about was the fact that all those ‘First World’ teams were out there with big dollars raised and how ‘mean’ Antigua would look to the world. There we were benefitting from the most amazing PR that money really can’t buy, and we were not getting involved. We were not supporting our own. I egotistically like to think that that article helped move the needle. So that leads me nicely into my list of 10 reasons you need to support Team Antigua Barbuda. And that last word will become very important as you read further. Focus on what is important to you in your life and see if something resonates – I would be surprised if there isn’t something there – and if it does, please donate. Think about it – if just 5,000 of us donate US$10 each, that’s US$50,000, and that will make a big difference. If we can reach more people you can do the math. Please share this widely with your network as that is what is going to make the difference.

Here are 10 reasons why this is important for everyone:

1. It isn’t about politics, race, religion, money – it brings the whole nation together!

Take your mind back to 2015 when we all watched the tracker with baited breath. It became the first and last thing you checked in the morning and come the day of arrival the exodus to English Harbour was REAL. You could feel the excitement in the air and everywhere you went it was the first thing we talked about. It becomes the topic that you can talk about in the bank line to complete strangers replacing our moans and groans for being in the line!

Even more importantly, this is actually the reason that Eli was approached by his secret donor who put the money down to guarantee a team from Antigua entered the race again. Why? Because as a regular visitor to our shores he could see and feel the difference, and wants to relive it. Hell, I think we all want to relive it! That moment when the flares go up and you are sounded by thousands of people in the Dockyard waving their flag all trying to get a peep through the crowd. That was as unifying moment. And by the way, Parks Team just giving you the heads up, we need to come up with a plan because I truly don’t think everyone will fit this year. If you weren’t there – for me this photo sums it up the best!

Photo by Peter Duce

2. Good businesses with their own good money are supporting them

Their support system includes individual donors who don’t wish to be named but also some outstanding corporate citizens. They have put their money where their mouth is but in a year that business wise has to be near the top of the record books for challenges, they can’t do it all. Their employees, their customers, their fellow countrymen are all needed to play their part. It isn’t fair for them to take the full brunt.

If you are not a business owner and don’t see the relevance of this point let me lay it out. When a business owner actively supports a cause in this way and hands over cash or in kind, yes, they get the marketing benefit as they should, but there is a big challenge that comes with public donations. You’ve raised your head above the parapet and opened the doors to receive donation requests from every man, cat, dog and turtle for anything and everything, from the opening of a paper bag, to sending my unborn son to school, to let’s be frank, Antigua Sailing Week. Everyone gets ‘hit up’ constantly and it becomes a job in itself to manage requests.

In case you didn’t know the sponsors are: Absolute Properties, ADOMS, Adventure Antigua, Al Porto, All Source Export: Jeff Coope, Anjo Insurances, Antigua Charter Yacht Show, Antigua Sails, Aquasports, Automotive Art, Carib Bean Coffee, Cloggy's, Digicel, DJ Quixx, Epicurean, Falmouth Harbour Marina, Frank B. Armstrong, Global Bank of Commerce, HIHO, Indigo Event Services, Itchyfeet: Paddy Prendergast, Kite Antigua, Lisa Nicholson, Nanny Cay Marina Tortola, National Parks Antigua, Seagull Services, Sterlings, Sugar Ridge, The Peninsula, Tropiscapes Ltd., Virgin Atlantic, Woods Pharmacy, and Yamaha Outdoor World, plus a number of anonymous donors - please take a bow.

Team Antigua arriving in Nanny Cay, Tortola, after a row from Antigua.

3. They don’t have a satellite system so no video updates.

Ok this one is a biggy. Can you imagine a week when we don’t hear from Eli. And I am not being facetious. For those of us that welcome his particular style of open debate and discussion on issues, this is really important. He has a skill in his written and spoken word. His upbringing and heritage come through and his love of country. He talks about the things that are important to him, but his solutions are always rooted in fact and his love of the natural environment. He may not always have a popular point of view or opinion, but he’s rarely wrong. Or that’s my take on it.

As an aside I think this is a good place to write my own personal meme about the first time I met Eli. Colin and I had owned Antigua Nice for 9 months when Eli’s company advertising was due for renewal. We sent out the usual notice and agreed to come by and meet Eli to discuss the business and collect payment. And I was terrified!  All I really knew of him was the guy on the tourism forum who not only had the best knowledge, but fiercely defended his fellow countrymen, picked people up when they were talking nonsense and overall did a great job of communicating with literally thousands of tourists on a daily basis. He knew way more than we did AND on top of that he was very clear about the importance of the internet. This was 2004.  

Colin and I drove to the meeting together and we started with our usual introductions which came from Colin, "I’m Antigua and she’s nice!". We felt it important to establish our credentials as we had with all the businesses we had met before. At that point Eli said something which has held us in great stead since then, ‘You know I like how you have approached taking on Antiguanice.com.  You’ve come to Antigua and you’ve listened. You haven’t said ‘Back home in the UK we do it this way. You’ve listened.” I remember now how pleased we felt. Belittling or ignoring people has never been our MO, but Eli verbalised our approach and helped me personally develop that skill further as we’ve grown the business.

So, getting back to the point! We need to hear from Eli. This is what this is all about. How we all get to leverage their journey!

4. Nico, John and Scott are sole traders and will earn ZERO DOLLARS for two months

Think about this for a moment, especially if you are a contractor, have your own business with no employees or even an employee who has used all your holiday. Your only option is take an unpaid break for 2 months to make this happen. Sure you can plan for it and save the dollars you need to cover the rent, the car payments, perhaps your land loan and any other financial commitments. But that is just the start.

You have a never-ending list of things to buy and do. Just a few weeks ago the team had to go to the dentist to get a full dental check. Any problems, they can’t go. Last week they all had a full head to toe medical check. A clean bill of health is Atlantic Rowing Requirement 101.

Then there are your skills. Just because you’ve spent your life on the water, quite literally for Eli, John and Nico, you have to have the paper to prove it. So off to Ondeck to get your boat master certification. And it’s no good just one of you having it. What happens if the one with the certificate gets really ill. No way! You all have to have skills, so days of classroom and practical is needed to get officially accredited. And that’s a double whammy because you have to take more days off to do this, meaning less money coming in.

So back to the money, think about the fact that when you run your own business, fishermen and personal trainers, you build up your customer base. And you won’t be here for 2 months. Businesses have to keep running, so they do deals with new suppliers. On their return they have to go back to their clients and hope that they can continue where they left off.

Eli’s situation as he states is slightly different. Adventure Antigua has a team in place who operate the business and so he was able to step back to concentrate on being the administrator for the project. Something that he had no concept of how time consuming it would be. My favourite quote, ‘The rowing, that’s the easy part. Rowing to the BVI’s and St Maarten, no problem. Getting to the start line, that is whole different story!’

Team Antigua: (left to right) Nico Psihoyos, John Watt, Eli Fuller and Scott Potter.

5. They are sportsmen – in it to win it!

As a bunch of fit young (ish) men they are also athletes. Having declared their entry to the race back in 2015 they have been training consistently since then. They got really serious really fast. Paid a trainer to come and put them through their paces; weights, rowing and of course yoga and stretching.

They have some old injuries between them, from Eli’s knee replacement three years ago to John’s back and new injuries due to the training. It is a whole new world for training and upcoming for eating.

Fascinating fact – did you know that the recommend daily calorie intake is 60 calories per kilo of body weight. For Eli that is 5,400 calories per day. Off the boat that is a cinch. Take your normal diet and add a couple of trips to KFC and your probably done! But when you have to eat freeze dried food, and each pack contains a maximum of 800 calories a day or you can supplement with nuts, power bars and some chocolate, you can see how hard reaching that level will be.

Then there is when you eat. Here is the plan. You row for 2 hours and then change shifts and have 2 hours off. So in your 2 hours off you get to eat, clean yourself (your salty skin is going to rub and rub and rub – though that is a whole other story), send your emails/messages, deal with everything (in front of your friends) and then SLEEP.  By Eli’s calculations you are looking at about 1 hour 35 mins in every 4 hours of actual sleep. And that is if you are lucky enough to sleep immediately. The Row, Eat, Wash, Communicate, Bathroom, Sleep start again cycle takes place every four hours. You eat and practically have to lie down straight away to sleep – not so good for digestion, but you can’t leave it until you wake up because then you are straight back on rowing duty. Incredible! I can’t think of another word for what you can train your body and mind to deal with!

As a final note the food cost is ridiculous- upwards of US$20,000 has been spent on freeze dried food alone!

6. They were first on the ground in the Barbuda Evacuation

No hesitation, no checking to see if it was allowed. As seasoned seafarers and weather watchers by trade they knew enough to know that by two days before Maria the evacuation had to start if they were going to clear everyone before the swells really kicked in ahead of the storm arrival. They made a number of trips.

For anyone who has been involved in the relief efforts whether physically in Barbuda or helping collect aid, sorting your own house, dropping goods to the shelter, putting a few hours in to the efforts, we all operated with some kind of brain fog. You are doing all that while your own inner turmoil has you panicking about dealing with your own life, home, business and family. Nike should be sponsoring them. They just did it! They lived the strapline.

They also made a trip to Dominica and on one such trip got hit by debris, fortunately not seriously, but a big reminder of the dangers they faced.

On these grounds alone, we should all support them.

Team Antigua members Nico and John offloading relief supplies in Dominica.

7. This marketing benefit to Antigua is OFF THE SCALE

This one is very close to my heart for all the reasons those who know me know! Marketing is our life and in such supercharged, social media, fake news, fart and the world knows environment in which we live, it appears to drive everything these days.  If you didn’t have a photo it didn’t happen. If you didn’t share, tweet or snap it no one knows about it.

Look at what happened for Team Wadadli. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook timeline was DOMINATED by the updates. Mind you, it was none other than Eli Fuller behind their social media campaign. You shouldn’t really be surprised about that. But social media worked its magic for all the right reasons for a change and the world heard the story.

The great thing about this event is that the worlds media get behind it. Why? Ok let me give you an example from this year’s entry list and a prediction.

Let’s take Team Kung Fu Cha-Cha. I can already hear a literal translation of their name as the DJ plays them in to Carl Douglas’s Kung Fu Fighting or my favourite Cha-Cha-Cha Marc Anthony’s Dimelo (much sexier in Spanish by the way). In fact the Cha refers to the Chinese word for Tea and in this context to a ritual of Kung-Fu Tea that the area in Guandong where they are from is famous for. These are 4 bright strong young ladies.

If any of you have been involved in a big sporting event where the Chinese media has played a part, they are serious about business. There is no doubt that just in Guandong there will be multiple reports across media channels daily of the plight of their team. In a 2005 census the population was measured as being just over 100 million people! Each time they talk about the team they will have a graphic behind the newscaster with a map. On the map will be a big arched arrow from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Little Antigua.  And that’s if the major networks don’t pick it up. The media mentions alone from updates across all media channels will be literally off the scale.

Then the teams arrive. Each team is met by their closest family. Many of them fly in a few days before arrival and stay for a few weeks. Big welcome parties, big nights out and an enormous amount of destination coverage all about Antigua.

Now multiply that by 32 teams. HUGE.

For this reason alone, anyone who benefits from tourism (and that is ALL of us by the way) needs to play their part and donate.

8. They will raise awareness of the plight of small island nations and the environmental impact from the first world

Made even more of a hot topic because of the devastation wrought by Irma and Maria, Team Antigua had selected marine conservation as their cause. Why wouldn’t they? They have spent their lives discovering and enjoying the natural beauty of Antigua. They are walking text books of the importance of sustainable practices. Another fascinating fact you might not know, Nico’s Dad Louie is a photographer and documentary film director who won an Academy Award in 2010 for best Documentary Feature for the film The Cove. The Cove uncovered and recorded the brutal capture and slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Eli’s Dad helped set up and steward the Jumby Bay Turtle Nesting programme. The genes run deep for this team. Their dream is to help in the development of a properly managed marine park in Antigua. They are in talks with National Parks currently to work out the details. This will be their legacy.

However, two months ago their singular dream got derailed when the hurricanes passed through destroying Barbuda and other islands in their wake. And moved the conversation of climate change to a whole other level. That of being a small island nation totally living out the nightmare of first world energy abuse. Stronger storms, ocean heating, rising sea levels and whole eco systems being destroyed. They therefore took the decision that Barbuda had to become a key part of this journey.

9. Barbuda

If I haven’t convinced you yet hopefully this will do it. The whole island evacuated. Whether you agree with what was done, how it was done, the outcome of many Barbudans now re-located to Antigua and seeming to be settling in – this is an unmitigated disaster that will go down in the history books as a game changer for Barbuda.

Take a listen to Eli’s blog yesterday to get his take on this but for sure his feeling is similar to that of many. The situation was not sustainable but whether what is being planned is the right way forward is very much up for discussion.

I was in a presentation by Philmore Mullin from the National Office of Disaster Services (NODs) earlier this week where he gave a Barbuda update. One statement that stood out for me was, "Irma did us a favour. We need to take a step back and look at our geographical space with regards to our environmental sustainability." He went on to talk about the challenges of getting Barbuda habitable. Water is coming next apparently which will be a massive deal. Work is currently being done on rebuilding the roofs on the hospital and the school. But his concern is that many of the teachers and nurses don’t have houses to live in. So, the pure act of rebuilding a public space has not impact if the people don’t have homes.

The latest assessment of the money needed to rebuild is EC$686 million or just over US$250 million. I don’t know what that includes and what it doesn’t, whether its including private homes or just government offices and infrastructure. But at this point and as uneducated observers one thing we can agree is that it’s a catastrophe and though Antigua as an island was spared, as we are ONE NATION with Barbuda, it means that the financial impact is major.

On a personal note I hope that leads our government to take some unpopular decisions to improve efficiencies that they have been loath to do for decades because of the political implications. Politics aside, Barbuda needs all of our help and this event will be the perfect platform to highlight why its ecologically such an important space and engage the world’s media in helping us raise the funds that are needed to rebuild it.

10. Eli gets to drop the worry and Row

But what of the man, Eli Fuller. If you have met Eli, or even watching one of his live broadcasts, you can you see he is a troubled man. He thinks deeply about the issues that many of us chose to let others worry about. The worry is there in his head constantly. And getting to the start line of this event has been a huge worry.

In his last few days he is now ready to drop the worry and row. Row for Antigua, Row for Barbuda, Row for the environment. As a former Olympian windsurfer (and the injuries to go with it) he knows what is like to immerse yourself in your sport for months at a time and the impact that has on you. How the time spent at sea will be his opportunity to push the reset button. With nothing to do but row and think for days and nights at a time he will have plenty of time to think about what is important to him. His son Skye and his large family no doubt a huge part of that.

We wish Eli, John, Nico and Scott all the good luck in the world. They are doing their part - now let’s do ours.

Donate on their website www.teamantiguabarbuda.com or directly at the Caribbean Union Bank to the Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers Inc account.

Remember US$10 from 5,000 of us makes a huge difference. If you can do more, please do.

All funds collected will go into the non-profit fund called Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers Inc, and used for their marine conservation efforts.

Join in the Send-Off Party for Team Antigua, the last fundraising event before they leave for La Gomera, on Tuesday 21st November, with live music by Asher Otto & Itchyfeet and special guests, drinks, appetizers, a raffle and auction, plus Team Antigua merchandise on sale.

Team Antigua photos via the Team Antigua - Atlantic Rowers Facebook Page.

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