“And how did you enter the country?” asked the immigration officer at English Harbour in Antigua in 2010 as Adam Rackley and James Arnold presented their passports. “We rowed,” came the reply. For 76 days. Across the Atlantic.
They weren’t the first to do so. Theirs was the 268th recorded attempt to cross an ocean by muscle power alone, since a pair of intrepid Norwegian fisherman sought fame and fortune by rowing from New York to the Scilly Isles in 1896. The latter spent “only” 55 days at sea, an almost unbelievably swift time given that they enjoyed none of the technological aids available to present-day adventurers.
“Enjoy” is not the right word to describe Rackley and Arnold’s crossing. The psychological strains were matched by severe physical hardship – agonising boils and blisters, and the unremitting grind of the rowing itself. But this is far more than a misery memoir; Rackley has also woven in a history of ocean rowing, and his tales of the motley crews who have taken to the oars in ever-increasing numbers since Chay Blyth established the biennial Atlantic Rowing Race in 1997 make for vivid reading.
At one extreme there is the former Foreign Legionnaire and double murderer who rowed with his probation officer, and the former pirate, smuggler and gambler who liked nothing better than picking a fight with sharks. Rather more genteel are the Dutch mother-and-son pairing who would stop rowing for a couple of hours each afternoon to savour a few gin and tonics.
It’s hardly a surprise that Rackley found it difficult to readjust to his former life as a fund manager in the City on his return, and resigned. Whatever he does next, he has left an enduring legacy in this lively account of an extraordinary endeavour pursued by extraordinary people.
Published in hardback by Viking, £18.99