Racing to the start line

She could soon claim an iconic world record during an epic contest - but first there is the challenging question of getting to the starting line. As the final days of preparation for a head-to-head Atlantic race between a British/Irish crew and an American crew build to a crescendo, La Mondiale set off yesterday from the port which has been her East Anglian home in recent weeks.

She could soon claim an iconic world record during an epic contest - but first there is the challenging question of getting to the starting line.

As the final days of preparation for a head-to-head Atlantic race between a British/Irish crew and an American crew build to a crescendo, La Mondiale set off yesterday from the port which has been her East Anglian home in recent weeks.

Craned out of the water at Lowestoft docks and onto the back of a flatbed lorry early in the morning, the 50ft craft was then strapped down securely to set off on a 1,500-plus mile road trip to Cadiz in Spain. In a few days, she will catch a ferry from Cadiz to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a trip of nearly 900 miles which will take a day and a half. Once the ferry has made landfall the escort will drive to the marina at Puerto de Mogán.

There La Mondiale will be put in the water to await the arrival of both the 14-strong team who will crew her and also her challenger in the race - an American-crewed boat called Orca. As well as a straight race, the two boats will also vie to break the world trans-Atlantic rowing record of 35 days, eight hours and 30 minutes. The current record was set in 1992 by a French team, also rowing La Mondiale.

Three of the 14 British and Irish crew are from Norfolk: cardiologist Liam Hughes, businessman Julian Barnwell and independent financial adviser Mike Tooth.

The trip from Lowestoft to Puerto de Mogán was a last-minute emergency solution to the failure of the team's plan A, explained crew skipper Leven Brown, and a reluctance to spend precious time on an emergency plan B.

Most Read

"La Mondiale should have gone to the Canary Islands on a freight liner, but after being booked in for four months we were told by the company that a crane had been changed at Gran Canaria and it was no longer possible to unload her that end, which you could say was slightly annoying.

"We were prepared to motor her down all the way by sea with a small engine on the back, although that would not have been a terribly good option considering how long it would have taken - and volunteers would certainly have been hard to come by.

"We only had about a week to make a decision and arrange a plan C, but we pulled out the stops and got it done.

"I keep on reminding myself about this whole project that if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

"But there was no way we were not going to be on the start line on time."

Mr Barnwell, who runs a family printing business and newsagents in Aylsham, described the last-minute hiccup as "the curve ball".

But he added: "There were real concerns, but we got stuck in and sorted it - we had enough resourcefulness to deal with it."

Mr Barnwell said he was looking forward to turning his attention away from business pressures and focusing purely on the challenge at hand.

"I can't wait to get to Gran Canaria in a few days' time, when the whole thing will become the boat, the row and nothing else.

"At the moment, there are so many distractions: I ask myself if I have done enough training, if I have got the domestics taken care of and so on.

"I just want to get out there, get the skin used to the sun, get into some sea trials and go."

Meanwhile, the crew were being encouraged to cut back on training levels and "beef up", said Mr Brown: "We don't want silly injuries at this stage, so we are asking people to back off the training.

"And they need to pile on the pounds to help with the ethos of preserving the body at peak performance as long as possible on the trip. Some fat helps with that because it prevents a range of problems on a long trip like this associated with having just muscle.

"They need to be beefy at this stage."

The progress of the project can be followed at www.oceanrowevents.com, where there are links to the various charities which are being supported by the row. Locally these include an ambitious project to build a new centre of excellence in Norfolk to provide support to sufferers of multiple sclerosis and the Balloons4Hearts Appeal which is trying to raise £1m to see a lifesaving heart procedure fully implemented at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Mr Barnwell said he had recently held a "bon voyage" charity party at the Thai restaurant he owns in Upper St Giles Street in Norwich with his wife Lam Yai where just under £2,000 was raised.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter