Four RAF pilots have become the first serving RAF team to take on and complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, finishing the 3,000-mile oceanic row in an incredible 36 days and 24 minutes. Suitably named the Atlantic Flyers, the team of Wing Commander Phil Holdcroft, Flight Lieutenant Si Berry, Wing Commander Sonny Roe and Flight Lieutenant Chris Carrington-Smith, set off from La Gomera in the Canaries on 12 December 2021. The annual rowing challenge pitted the pilots against 36 other teams all vying to be first in their class to reach Antigua. Their final 24-hours of racing saw them neck-and-neck with fellow competitors Five in a Row but by digging deep and averaging 4 knots overnight, the Atlantic Flyers were able to beat them to the finish line to claim a very respectable second place.
united by the oars that have taken you all the way across
Following a hot shower and his first decent meal in weeks, team member Phil Holdcroft sent out the following message to his supporters:
“I just want to thank you for your incredible messages of support which has followed us every step of the way… they served to inspire us and helped us dig deep. Never more so than last night when we were locked in battle with Five in a Row. I think each of us lost part of our soul, it was an incredible battle but we’re incredibly proud of how it all turned out.
“I want to thank our incredible sponsors who made our impossible dream possible. They got the project up and running and they believed in us.”
The RAF Central Fund is extremely proud of what that the Atlantic Flyers has achieved and is privileged to have had the opportunity to be one of those supporters by funding the team’s oars; an essential bit of kit as highlighted by the compere who welcomed them to the quayside in Antigua:
“You have been united by more than just the wings on your chest that you normally wear,” he said. “You have also now been united by the oars that have taken you all the way across. You wanted to test your leadership, teamwork, guts and stamina and I think you have done that.”
With a shared experience of frontline combat, the team felt they had the grit and determination to take on the challenge and said that they were comfortable in chaos. And they were certainly tested over their 36 days of racing, with autohelm problems on day three and big oceanic waves by day 25 which were exhilarating during the day but somewhat terrifying at night.
The Atlantic Flyers also wanted to use the race to raise money for the Starlight Foundation as Phil’s daughter Isla was greatly supported by the charity when she was battling leukemia. Today Isla is a happy, healthy nine-year-old and the team’s efforts have so far managed to raise nearly £39,000. Those wishing to show their support can do so by visiting www.atlanticflyers2021.com.
As the charity that supports serving personnel through sport and physical activities, we hope that others will be inspired by the Atlantic Flyers achievements and look to take on their own physical challenge. Our virtual trans-Atlantic rowing challenge is currently underway and it’s not too late to join your Station team and help them to be first across the finish line in Antigua. Find out more and register at https://rafcentralfund.wlve.co.uk/event/atlantic-flyers-challenge/
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