Scottish adventurer rows across the Atlantic


A SCOTTISH business executive has rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise funds for a hospitality charity.

Robbie Laidlaw (34), a business development director from Gullane, East Lothian, now living in London, set sail from La Gomera, an island off Tenerife, on 13th December.

His boat, Maria, was also crewed with his boss, managing director Chris Mitchell (41) of Genuine Dining, a contract catering business.  They named their row The Spirit of Hospitality

The pair reached Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua on Sunday in a time of 38 days 15 hours and three minutes.

Boats in the World’s Toughest Row are still at sea, but Robbie and Chris came in 5th and, a reflection their achievement, first in pairs.  The boats ahead of them were all crewed by four or five men.

The port, San Sebastian de la Gomera, was where Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World.

Admiral Lord Nelson briefly lived in the Antigua dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and which is named after him.

Along the way, they endured very heavy seas, blistering heat – and capsized on Day 6.  They had been experiencing waves of 10 to twelve metres, when Robbie saw a “monster wave coming straight at us,” and which flipped them over.

Luckily, their boat is designed to be self-righting, but they did lose all power for several days, affecting their emergency positioning system and auto-helm, which keeps the boat on course.

It meant that, instead of two hours on and two hours off, both men had to work all the time – one to row, the other to manually steer the boat.

Underlying the mental challenge, both Robbie and Chris suffered hallucinations, which they had been trained to expect.

Genuine Dining, an award-winning company, employs some 750 staff,  provides corporate catering services to companies across the UK, as well as events and front of house services.

So far, the duo has raised over £150,000 for Hospitality Action, a charity for the hospitality sector, providing financial and mental health support.

Chris and Robbie hope to raise further funds and would be grateful for any donations, large or small. If you would like to support Robbie and Chris they have a Just Giving page at 

The scale of their epic voyage is underlined by the fact that more people have scaled Everest than rowed the Atlantic.

They each rowed in two-hour stints, and slept, ate and cleaned for two hours, 24 hours every day.  In total, they made some one million strokes to complete the journey.

Their 7.5 metre boat only carried basic medical, navigation, communications and survival equipment alongside enough food to sustain them for up to two months. They converted seawater into drinking water and used buckets as toilets.

During the journey, they only ate vegan food, to avoid stomach problems, and both were looking forward to a burger when they landed!

“The hospitality industry is built upon a strong community spirit, and this spirit was damaged during 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 wanted to support them on our Atlantic campaign,” he said.

They had been training for two years in preparation for this challenge, rowing three times during the week, gym work, with longer rows at the weekend. 

Christmas was probably the worst time for the duo with strong headwinds and heavy rain with both men thinking that they were never going to finish the course. 

“It was a fantastic, exhilarating and terrifying experience.  We knew it was going to be tough, but we’d prepared and trained well.  We are also grateful for the support of our families,” said Robbie.

Their training also involved working with mindset coaches who normally train fighter pilots so, when things got tough, they were able to think clearly and stay safe. 

Waiting for them at Nelson’s Dockyard were Chris’s wife and three children, and Robbie’s partner and their baby son, only born in November last year.

First held in 1997, the World’s Toughest Row has been an annual event since 2015.  While billed as a race, everyone who completes the crossing is a winner.

There were lighter moments on the journey, including regular visits from families of whales and pods of dolphins.  The whales would sometimes swim under their boat, and the dolphins would play with their oars.

They saw tuna jumping out of the water and flying fish every day – including one that landed in their boat.

You can see some of their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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