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Rowing: Couple set fair for rowing Atlantic without rowing

David and Nadia Rice take to the water at Los Gigantes, Tenerife, on Sunday for what represents the greatest challenge of their lives, the first rowing race across the Atlantic. Mike Rowbottom hears why they want to take the risk.

Cleaning the cottage, taking down the hanging baskets, ordering more logs in case the children come home, cutting the lawn, cancelling the milk - what else is there left for Nadia Rice to do? Oh yes. Rowing the Atlantic.

This Sunday she and her husband, David, both aged 50, will set off from Tenerife in a 24ft boat, bound for Barbados, some 3,000 miles away.

Just to make things more interesting, they will be in competition with 29 other intrepid pairings taking part in the officially entitled Atlantic Rowing Race - the first ever.

The race was conceived by Sir Chay Blyth, who himself rowed the Atlantic with John Ridgeway in 1971, taking 94 days to cover the northern route from Cape Cod to Ireland.

The entrants - who include Olympic oarsmen Peter Haining and Rob Hamill - have each laid out around pounds 40,000 for the privilege of taking part.

They will compete in identical boats constructed from kits. "They come in 24 flat-packs," Nadia says. "Like something out of MFI." Most reassuring.

The Rices entrusted their craft to a boatbuilding friend who constructed it for pounds 10,000. It has been the cost, rather than any consideration of personal risk, which has come closest to putting them off their project.

"We have managed to find sponsors for around half our costs, things like travel and accommodation," David says. "But we will still be spending pounds 20,000 of our own money to take part."

Nadia says: "I considered pulling out of this race a number of times, but such is Dave's single-minded determination and self-belief that he has persuaded me back each time."

The Rices bade farewell to friends and family recently at the cottage in Somerton, Somerset, which they share with their 15-year-old collie, now safely berthed with relatives. "The reactions varied from `Wish we could do it' to `You're mad'," David says.

He is well acquainted with the type of challenge posed by the race - a former Royal Marine, he runs an adventure training centre in Wales and has completed a single-handed Transatlantic crossing.

But for Nadia, who teaches children with special needs, this is a new experience and the couple's children, Gareth and Sam - both students - have expressed surprise that their mother should be risking her neck in such an enterprise.

"We have been too excited to be frightened," Nadia says. "I think that's the nature of the race." David plays down the element of danger. "I don't think it's particularly risky," he says. "Life holds risks whatever you do. You could be run down by a bus tomorrow."

When pressed, however, he concedes that there are three main perils: "Falling over the side in rough weather, being run down by ships or being overwhelmed by a severe storm." No worries there, then.

On the comforting side is the fact that the hurricane season has finished, air temperatures are warm, and all boats are carrying satellite tracking and emergency beacons, as well as being accompanied by two ocean racing yachts.

The Rices have been practising rowing since David responded to an advertisement for the race he saw in a yachting magazine 18 months ago.

"On the day before we set off I am sure we will both be thinking a lot about our children," David says. "But this race is going to be so demanding that once we are under way, we won't be able to concentrate on anything else.

"We will be rowing, navigating, eating, sleeping and rowing again. We won't have much time to reflect on anything unless the weather is particularly awful and we are huddled in the cabin waiting for a storm to pass."

That cabin - it is just 6ft 2in long, which will be ample for Nadia (5ft 1in) but more of a squeeze for David (5ft 10). If there are any arguments on what promises to be a venture of around 90 days' duration, it is not as if there is a spare room to stomp off to and watch television.

"We have been married for 26 years. I think we have become a good team. I think she would say I'm on a fairly short fuse, while I would say she's fairly tolerant," David admits.

The Rices have come up with an idea of revolutionary simplicity to ensure their trip goes smoothly - a "niceness contract".

"We're both going to have to sign it before we leave," David says. "We can get our shouting done beforehand. It will be no holds barred for the week before."

Their boat will set off on Sunday laden with 20 days of emergency rations and 70 days of freeze-dried food - just add sea water, which will be converted to fresh water by means of a hand-operated reverse- osmosis pump, at the rate of one gallon per hour. "We estimate that our water requirement will be four gallons a day," Nadia says. That should help to fill in any slack moments.

The question David has been asked most in recent weeks is: Why are you doing it? "I think," he says, "that the answer lies in a common human affliction - the need to explore. Once the start line is crossed, we are entering unknown territory."