A SCOTTISH business executive is set to row the Atlantic to raise funds for a hospitality charity.
Robbie Laidlaw (34), from Gullane, East Lothian, now living in London, will be setting sail from La Gomera, an island off Tenerife, on 14th December.
The port, San Sebastian de la Gomera, was where Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World.
Robbie will be rowing with his boss, managing director Chris Mitchell (41) of Genuine Dining, a contract catering business.
The award-winning company, which employs some 750 staff, provides corporate catering services to companies across the UK, as well as events and front of house services.
Robbie and Chris hope to complete the 3000-mile journey to Antigua in their boat, Maria, in between 40 and 50 days. They have named their row The Spirit of Hospitality.
So far, the duo has raised £150,000 for Hospitality Action, a charity for the hospitality sector. It was particularly busy during the pandemic, with many people requiring financial and mental health support.
But now, with the cost of living crisis, the charity needs help more than ever. Chris and Robbie hope to raise another £100,000 to reach their target of £250,000. They would be grateful for any donations, large or small. Every penny raised will go directly to Hospitality Action, so they can continue to support those within the industry that fall upon hard times.
The scale of their epic voyage is underlined by the fact that more people have scaled Everest than rowed the Atlantic.
They will each row in two-hour stints, and sleep, eat and clean for two hours, 24 hours every day. In total, they will each have to make some one million strokes to complete the arduous journey.
Their 7.5 metre boat can only carry basic medical, navigation, communications and survival equipment alongside enough food to sustain them for up to two months. They will convert seawater into drinking water and use buckets as toilets.
“The hospitality industry is built upon a strong community spirit, and this spirit was damaged during the fallout of the pandemic with waves of redundancies sweeping the sector during 2019 and 2020,” said Chris.
“Hospitality Action supports people facing mental health challenges, which we understand the importance of. It’s why we want to support them on our Atlantic campaign,” he said.
The pair will have to endure real hardships on their journey – from bad weather, up to 20-foot waves and high winds to medical problems including hallucinations and salt sores. They will also have to deal with the mental challenges of the harsh environment and long-term isolation.
They will have been training for two years in preparation for this challenge, rowing three times during the week, gym work, with longer rows at the weekend. During their training rows, they have rowed from Ramsgate to Rotterdam, from Falmouth to Southampton, and many times around the Isle of Wight.
“The training regime has been gruelling – 5am rowing sessions have become normal. We knew it was going to be tough, but the time it has taken up has had a big effect on our families, and we are so grateful for their support,” said Robbie, business development director for Genuine Dining.
“The mental preparations have been the toughest, but we have been working with mindset coaches who normally train fighter pilots, so when things get tough or scary, we will be able to think clearly to ensure we are staying safe,” he said.
The race across the Atlantic is organised by the World’s Toughest Row and comprises boats of one rower, or teams of two, three, four and five from around the world. The organisation has strict safety rules and works with each team to ensure proper preparedness.
First held in 1997, and an annual event since 2015, the fastest crossing was in 2017 by a 4-man British crew in just over 29 days.
While the event is billed as a race, the organisers say that everyone who completes the crossing is a winner. This year, some forty teams are taking part.
“We have named our rowing campaign The Spirit of Hospitality. Built upon generosity, cheerfulness and fun, our campaign brings together an industry that has suffered greatly, to achieve one important goal – to support Hospitality Action and the vital work they do,” said Robbie.
Their row is being supported by some of the best chefs in the UK, who have sponsored them with the creation of meals and snacks that will sustain them throughout the trip, and by clients and suppliers donating charitable funding.
Genuine Dining understands the importance of Hospitality Action’s work. In addition to the problems the pandemic caused, in 2017 their Sushi restaurant “Feng Sushi” was attacked during the London terror attacks, with some employees suffering PTSD and needing support. Within hours of contacting Hospitality Action, staff started receiving the help they needed.
If you would like to support Robbie and Chris they have a Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/spiritofhospitality