The team of Yorkshiremen tackling the 3,000-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 October 2018

William Theakston with his  team of friends headed by army officer Robin Drysdale, Sam Bolt-Laurence and David Wallis, taking part in the 3,000-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

William Theakston with his team of friends headed by army officer Robin Drysdale, Sam Bolt-Laurence and David Wallis, taking part in the 3,000-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge


It’s more than likely the toughest rowing race in the world but four friends just couldn’t refuse the challenge, as Martin Pilkington reports.

William Theakston says Yorkshire is central to their fundraising effortsWilliam Theakston says Yorkshire is central to their fundraising efforts

William Theakston reckons more men and women from Yorkshire have succeeded in rowing the Atlantic than from anywhere else and hopes that he, born in Harrogate into the well-known brewing dynasty, will shortly join their ranks. The team of friends headed by army officer Robin Drysdale, another with white rose connections, and including Sam Bolt-Laurence and David Wallis, is taking part in the 3,000-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, with the aim of raising £125,000 for each of two charities close to their hearts. ‘It all started when Robin, our friend and team captain, and a captain in the army, informed us he’d been diagnosed with bowel cancer. He was fortunate – had he not been deploying to the Middle East he wouldn’t have had it diagnosed so early, at stage two,’ says William. Robin has been grateful to Bowel Cancer UK for their support during his treatment, and wanted to give back to them.

‘When we discussed the idea of rowing the Atlantic – I blame Robin for that – and the fundraising, we were struck by the similarities between bowel cancer and combat stress – three of us have army backgrounds – in that a lot of the problems come from people not seeking diagnosis and help soon enough through embarrassment,’ says William. So they agreed to raise funds for the charity Combat Stress too.

With two of the team having Yorkshire roots, the county is central to their fundraising efforts. ‘Community support has been outstanding,’ says William, ‘for example Sub Sports in Thirsk have been kind enough to supply clothing and training kit, Theakston’s have run a North v South beer festival, and Carol Dawson my mother-in-law, is organising the biggest event, a concert on October 20th at the Priory Church in Bolton Abbey. Carol thinks I’m mad, but is very supportive. I’m chuffed the majority of our fundraising will be in Yorkshire.’

Carol could be forgiven for having slightly mixed feelings about the whole thing. ‘It was a huge relief after Will married my daughter when he came out of the army, not going off to combat zones any more, but they don’t lose that need for adventure and this is a very exciting challenge for two great causes,’ she says. Soprano Alexandra Lowe will be giving the concert with fellow students from the Guildhall School of Music, and the four rowers will also be in attendance along with their boat.

Theakston takes a break from trainingTheakston takes a break from training

For months before they reach the starting line the event has dominated the men’s lives and thinking. ‘I try to train twice a day,’ explains William. ‘We’re spread around the country but we get together every weekend to train on the water in the boat. We’ve somehow missed the glorious weather; most of those days have been under black clouds and with rain in our faces, though that may be more realistic as regards what’s to come.’

Military backgrounds have helped in several ways, from William’s former regiment holding their own fundraising event for the team, to a methodical approach when learning how to use the boat’s equipment, like the desalinator that will provide their drinking water. ‘The first time we used it we weren’t sure, so got straight on the phone with the guy who fitted it, next time out it worked like a dream. And if it breaks, like good army people we have a fall-back option, a hand-pumped machine,’ he says. ‘We’ll be taking predominantly dried food, with a certain percentage of wet rations. The army again has been incredibly helpful – a kind and generous quartermaster, of which the army has few, has found us some rations. What’s been great in the last few weeks is that a lot of my regimental family, my old regiment based in Catterick, have been hugely helpful.’

The four have read up on others who have completed the event, like the Yorkshire Rows team, and talked to several for hints and recommendations, but when the race starts and they’re rowing two-hours-on, two-hours-off for more than a month it’s all down to their own mental and physical powers. ‘The record at the moment is 29 days, set last year, but given our boat design and the fact that we are not 6 foot 6 inch giants, we hope to do it in around 40 or so – we’re normal people attempting the extraordinary,’ he adds. u

For concert information and details on how to donate, visit

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