A retired police inspector has returned to his home in Hatton Park after spending six weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean competing in the Talisker Whisky Challenge, dubbed ‘the world’s toughest row’.
Steve Sidaway crossed the finishing line with his mixed crew in eighth in a 3,000-mile race between La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua - in a world record time for a mixed crew.
In doing so, Steve has raised more than £4,000 for Molly Olly’s Wishes, a local charity, which helps children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
The 51-year-old, who has been a member of Warwick Rowing Club for three years, was a late-comer to Team Tyne after replacing another crew member. They set off on their 3,000-mile crossing on December 12, arriving in Antigua’s English Harbour last Friday (January 25).
This year’s Talisker Whisky Challenge saw 88 rowers compete on 28 boats in a combination of singles, pairs, trios, fours and fives, supported by two safety yachts travelling alongside them.
Steve took his turns on continuous two-hour shifts with fellow crew members Allan Huntley, Phil Kite and Claire Hughes throughout the 42 days. They survived mainly on dehydrated expedition food and Steve lost nearly one-and-a-half stone.
He said: “Our crossing was tough on a level of toughness I didn’t know existed. Our bodies were tested physically to their limits, with the repetition of two-hour rowing shifts and two-hour rests throughout the entirety of the crossing.
“The level of malnutrition, sleep deprivation and fatigue combined to make for a really punishing environment. The two-hour rest periods are taken up with looking after your body, eating, drinking, doing some jobs on the boat and trying to get some sleep.
“We were sleep walking, we were hallucinating and you were completely reliant on the person who was already out there on their shift to take control and look after you when that happened.
“We experienced a very hairy moment early on when two big waves came together and their combined power put the boat literally up on its end and a big wave of water came over the boat - but we had otherwise calm seas all the way across which isn’t what we wanted actually. We wanted waves because they make us go faster.”
The crossing took place over Christmas because the months of December to March bring the least chance of major storms, but it did mean Christmas away from his family.
Steve said: “Christmas Eve was nice actually because we were stuck due to some headwinds and the boat wasn’t going anywhere so we went for a swim 1,000 miles from shore 2,500 miles deep. It was quite surreal but it was a lovely moment.”
Steve, who retired from Warwickshire Police four years ago, was welcomed over the finish line into Antigua by his son Adam and stepdaughter Jess last Friday. He said: “We experienced a level of euphoria that was simply off any scale you might imagine. Horns were blasted from the super yachts moored there, hand flares lit up the early evening sky and we saw our friends and family for the first time.
“Being showered in champagne and given such an enthusiastic welcome was so much to absorb at the time and even now feels surreal.”
But after the euphoria had died down, what was he most looking forward to?
“I was craving cold water. We had been drinking luke warm water for six weeks - and then a cold beer and a shower!”
Steve Sidaway raised thousands of pounds for charity Molly Olly’s Wishes after taking part in the 3,000 mile crossing.
The charity was launched by Steve’s neighbours Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw who lost their daughter Molly when she was eight years old, to a rare kidney cancer in 2011.
No matter how tough the challenges, Steve never lost sight of why he was out there and carried a photograph of Molly Ollerenshaw and an Olly the Brave toy in his cabin (he is pictured above holding the toy, alongside his son).
He said: “If ocean rowing does one thing it allows a very clear sense of a brutally honest perspective on life.
“This was a challenge of choice. In my cabin on the boat I carried a picture of a very special little girl - Molly who, with her family, faced a challenge that was most definitely not of anyone’s choosing.
“As I ticked off each day I only had to look at Molly’s picture to find the perspective I needed. Although I did nearly set fire to Olly the Brave with a hand flare at one point!”
“I love the fact that the charity makes sure that every single penny and every single donation is used wisely. The impact they’ve had on families who are facing horrible health conditions is making a real difference.”
Rachel Ollerenshaw said: “We are all in complete awe of Steve’s and all Team Tyne’s achievements.
"We have followed their journey daily since they left on the December 12 on a tracking app and have been fascinated to hear all the details from group updates and social media . It is hard to comprehend what rowing for that length of time and distance is like.
"We are so grateful to Steve helping to raise awareness of our work and have been particularly humbled by him having a picture of Molly with him on his journey and our therapeutic toy, Olly The Brave alongside him.
"Steve has always taken time to understand Molly Olly’s Wishes and has consistently helped in whatever way he can. He has helped in the setting up of the annual ball, fundraised at every opportunity and helped with wishes.
"Recently Steve and his wife Jules helped assemble some outdoor play equipment for a family who have a young son with a serious illness.
"We would like to say a massive thank you and well done. Just amazing!”
To support Steve by making a donation click here