Atlantic awaits for quartet of ex-military men

A retired military man who grew up in Morpeth will be part of a team going on an epic adventure, as they are attempting to row across the Atlantic next year.

Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 12:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 15:50 pm
The Atlantic Mavericks, from left, Roy Dixon, Ian Donnelly, Richard Baker and Ian Davies.

Ian Donnelly will continue his preparations for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – dubbed the world’s toughest row – in the months ahead.

He and Richard Baker, Ian Davies and Roy Dixon are among the groups of four that will take part in the 2019 event, due to start next December, from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Carribbean. The distance is more than 3,000 miles.

The Atlantic Mavericks will be raising money for The Royal British Legion, Myeloma UK and military charity 353.

According to the website for the challenge, participants will ‘battle with sleep deprivation, salt sores and physical extremes inflicted by the race’.

They will row for two hours or one hour then sleep for two hours or one hour respectively throughout. Ian explained that the general rule for the teams of four will be two people rowing and two people off at one time and the Atlantic Mavericks are aiming for sub 45 days if conditions are favourable.

The 53-year-old said: “Although we will be pushing our bodies to their limits, we’re all feeling excited at what we are attempting to achieve because the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, race in the world.

“It will certainly be an adventure, even for four ex-military greying elder statesmen, and people who have taken part in previous years have seen whales and flying fish, so we’re hoping to see similar and other wonderful sights.

“Roy is my dentist and when I was in the chair one day, he asked if I would like to join him and two others, who play for the Mavericks over 50s rugby team, in signing up for the challenge as a team of four.

“I have always loved a challenge and have taken part in marathons and a number of 24-hour and 48-hour endurance challenges. With most of them, I’ve also raised money for charities.

“I realised I would be taking part in something epic and supporting three good causes at the same time, so there were no doubts when I called Roy to say yes.

“I had never rowed a boat before signing up for the Atlantic challenge. I joined a rowing club and my training includes daily sessions on the River Severn and sessions on a Concept 2 indoor rowing machine.

“I also do gym workouts to build up my strength and fitness.

“Our key strapline for the challenge is ‘help us to help others’ and we hope that people will donate via our website to support the three good causes.

“We are looking to get a R45 self-righting ocean rowing boat. It has safety features that are similar to a lifeboat and three people can row it if required.”

Rowers have no outside help to transport their boat from the start to the finish, although there are two safety yachts supporting the teams as they cross the ocean and they are supported 24/7 by two land-based duty officers.

The other tasks they will need to do include operating the equipment to make fresh water, cleaning the boat and managing the GPS and communication systems.

Growing up in Morpeth, Ian lived at what was then known as Baysland in the town centre, then Stobhill and High Church – where his parents, Alice and Rennie, still reside.

He attended Chantry Middle School and King Edward VI School and was a member of Morpeth Boys’ Brigade.

Joining the Army as a Junior Leader in 1981 at the age of 16, Ian spent 24 years in the military, working up the ranks and passing the regular commissioning board in 2004 as a WO (warrant officer) 1 for promotion to Captain in the Royal Artillery.

However, he decided to retire from the Army in 2005 and moved on to work in the NHS.

He was deployed to Germany, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Hong Kong, among other places, and as well as trainer and senior instructor roles at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Larkhill, he was senior instructor in the gunnery wing at the Royal Military College of Science in Swindon.

Ian brought his leadership and teamwork skills to the NHS and after a few different roles, he is now Midlands area hub director for the national GIRFT (getting it right first time) clinical project – a quality-led improvement methodology.

For more information about the team and to make a donation, go to