They survived on a bottle of rum, packets of dehydrated food, assorted snacks, water, will power and hope during a 53-day journey covering more than 3,000 nautical miles from Gran Canaria to Barbados.
That trip, which was thought to be insane by many, was first conceptualized back in November 2016 by stepbrothers Greg Bailey, 28, and Jude Massey, 19, following the death of their father almost a year prior.
Their father died of skin cancer in August 2015, prompting the duo to take a keener interest in helping to find a cure.
Greg, an accident & emergency doctor, and Jude, a sailing instructor, then decided to raise much needed funds to help carry out the necessary research by taking a trip across the Atlantic in a 21-feet long rowboat named Pete, in memory of their father Pete Massey.
So after several months of planning, and despite some doubting Thomases and the disapproval of their mother in the initial stages, the brave lads embarked on their 1, 272-hour journey in late January from the Canary Island.
They arrived at the Port St Charles in Barbados on March 11.
At the end the epic journey, the self-styled Ocean Brothers managed to raise approximately £84,000, which would go to the British Skin Foundation for research purposes. However, their actual financial target was £100,000.
“The reason we have done this is all in memory of our father, Pete Massey, who died of skin cancer over two years ago,” Greg told local journalists at a media conference recently.
Grateful for the opportunity and the support, he described the journey as “an absolutely epic” one, adding that “it was a journey of adventure, a journey of brotherhood and most of all a test of adversity and character.
“This was no normal ocean row because we pretty much had everything go wrong,” he said.
Within the first week they lost their water maker, which was powered by solar panels to make up to ten litres of water within two hours. This left them having to do it manually, which then left them with very little time for rest and in lots of pain.
If that were not enough, their GPS also failed after water kept entering the vessel and damaged some of their equipment. This left them without a sense of direction in the vast ocean.
“As the trip went on our injuries increased. One of them that I had was a rotator cuff injury in my [right] shoulder. So I was able to pump water while being on really strong pain killers and even sometimes drinking a bit of rum to try and get through the day,” said Greg.
Jude said the most difficult point of the journey for him was when they lost all connection and sense of direction.
“It was scariest point. We could have died out there if something went wrong,” he said: adding that the rowing trip was “about 90 per cent mental and ten per cent physical”.
“To be in that environment with two hours rowing and two hours off, was definitely a re-adjustment,” he said: adding that they had very little practice prior to their journey.
“I remember that within the first week the reality hit me that we were on this row and we were going to be out there for about eight weeks. So just knowing that we would have to endure this for such a prolonged period, with our hands in agony, our bums so sore, and trying to battle sea sickness and keep food down, it was definitely the hardest moment of my life,” said Jude.
They were, however, comforted at nights when the waves were less boisterous and all around them was calm.
“We are just so happy to be here. We took so many things for granted before the row, like running water and a variety of food. To have that on offer to us now is just insane and we are just so grateful for the opportunities,” said Jude.
“We wanted to do something that was big enough to generate enough attention and that is why we chose to row the Atlantic. The ocean was very important to us because my stepfather, Jude’s father, loved the ocean, and it was one of his dreams to cross the Atlantic. We had a bird that followed us all the way from the Grand Canaria to Barbados. I am pretty sure that was Pete,” he said: adding that while there were many other Caribbean islands they could have gone to, they chose Barbados because it was the one recommended by friends.
In the end, the journey was worth every gruelling hour, they said: pointing out that upon arrival in Barbados people were “so generous with their donations”.
“It has been overwhelming and it is the same back home,” said Greg, adding that it also brought the family closer together and helped them in their own personal growth.
They will be taking some time to “reground”, according to Greg.
And while their aim remains the same – to bring greater awareness to skin cancer and help to raise funds for research in the area – their methods will be slightly different in the future, with Greg thinking about taking on either the Indian or Pacific Ocean, while Jude has his sights set on a marathon.
Whatever the methods for the future, the Ocean Brothers are both hopeful that the funds raised will help millions of people.
Their mother Alex Massey, who was first nervous, then alarmed and later in denial after her sons decided to row across the Atlantic, said she was simply happy that the journey was over.
“I think I am still numb, but it is absolutely incredible what they have done. I am in awe and amazed. I can’t quite take in what it must have been like. I said goodbye to them at the Gran Canaria and I said to myself, ‘will that be the last time I will see them?” she recalled.