British team, including Diageo’s Oliver Palmer, crowned winners of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2019 - the ‘World’s Toughest Row’

15 Jan 2020 | Press release

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  • British team, Fortitude IV, have been crowned winners of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge
  • The four-man boat completed the 3000-mile Atlantic crossing in 32 days 12 hours and 35 minutes from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean
  • The four long-time friends attest ''some of the scariest moments of [our] life’ but ‘memories that will last a lifetime’
  • The team witnessed incredible wildlife, as well as extreme challenges including capsizes (72 hours from shore), sores and 12 metre waves
  • The winning team stormed into English Harbour at a phenomenal speed of 7 knots – more than double the average speed for the race
  • This year, Talisker will enjoy a double-celebration, with one of the winning rowers, Ollie Palmer, also a Diageo employee
  • The next boat is due to arrive into Antigua within 48 hours, with the remaining fleet following between 1-65 days behind
  • Talisker are excited to announce their renewed sponsorship of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge for the next two years

British four-boat, Fortitude IV have been crowned winners of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – the world’s toughest rowing race.

The four friends – Ollie Palmer, Tom Foley, Hugh Gillum and Max Breet – completed the 3000-mile rowing race in 32 days, 12 hours, 35 minutes, arriving into English Harbour, Antigua on 13 January 2020 – the first dry land the team have seen since departing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, over one month ago, on 12th December last year.

It was not an easy crossing for the winning team - this year’s weather conditions were tough and there was a close rivalry with Australian four-boat, Rowed Less Travelled, who are due to arrive in Antigua within the next 48 hours.

The team endured some of the strongest winds ever experienced by the race - causing waves up to 12 metres in height, broken oars, capsizing as well as sores and bruises. 

But alongside extreme weather conditions, the participants have also experienced incredible wildlife sightings during their voyage – witnessing both highs and lows of mother nature during this elemental adventure. Whales, orca and repeat sightings of flying fish jumping over their boat and even hitting rowers’ heads – Fortitude IV reported a pod of dolphins and sea turtles circling around their boat on Christmas Day – such sightings lifting spirits on this epic journey. The natural wonders combined with the challenge of both mental and physical endurance result in a life-changing achievement – and affirm the rowers’ motivations for entering.

Elsewhere in the fleet, 9 boats are expected to finish within the next week, with some of the solo boats predicted to spend up to 8 more weeks at sea.

Talisker Whisky have sponsored the Atlantic Challenge for six years and share the same love for adventure and the world’s oceans. Talisker has a rich history with the sea – in 1830 Talisker Whisky was founded by the MacAskill brothers who rowed from Eigg to Skye to find the perfect spot for their distillery in Scotland. Just like the Talisker distillery, this row represents what it means to be made by the sea.

Talisker are excited to announce their continued sponsorship of the Atlantic Challenge and have renewed their partnership with the race for two years.

Speaking in Antigua after the race Ollie Palmer and Hugh Gillum of Fortitude IV said:

OP: “It feels amazing – words won’t be able to sum up how we feel, what we’ve just gone through and then seeing friends and family just now. The memories we have out there will last a lifetime. With all that time on the ocean, you definitely realise what is important to you.

“The most amazing thing I saw was this incredible array of stars – all moving along in a line like a train – there must have been 200 or 300 stars. That for me was the most incredible thing I saw – along with lots of wildlife; dolphins, whales and turtles.”

HG: “Being on the ocean in quite an extreme context, strips back all the noise and makes you realise what is really important to you. You have a lot of time to think out there – with no distractions – and that inspires you in different ways.

“It was an amazing thing to have done – we set off thinking it was a once in a lifetime thing and we can certainly maintain that position. The sum of all the parts is incredible – from seeing the shooting stars, to the arrival here tonight, and the support from all of our family and friends. There are tough times that we perhaps would wish away slightly but standing here now [in Antigua] we just think that the sum of all those parts is incredible.”

Natalia Montigny, Head of Global Marketing for Talisker commented: 

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Fortitude IV into English Harbour in Antigua as the winners of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. I am personally proud of my dear friend and colleague, Ollie Palmer, for him and his teammates to have accomplished this unbelievable achievement, unthinkable to most. Talisker joins their family and friends in celebrating these Wild Spirits and know that their journey will inspire others to embrace their inner-adventurer and reconnect with nature and the things that matter most.”

CEO of Atlantic Campaigns, Carsten Heron Olsen said: 

“Our winning team – Fortitude lV with Tom, Ollie, Hugh and Max – have, from the beginning, done incredibly well. I salute them, and we are, as every year, blown away by our teams’ determination and capability to make what seems impossible, possible – rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. 

“The first team arriving into English Harbour, Antigua, is the greatest time of year. To see our rowers’ faces, their expressions, the way they have changed... as one of our rowers said in La Gomera ''the journey is the start of a new beginning'' and it is.”