Omar S: When we met in 2013, we clicked right away. On the surface we’re very different, but we’re both driven people. Plus we’ve now stared death in the face together and survived. We’ve become close, like brothers. We were intrigued by the physical and mental challenge of rowing the Atlantic in the 2017 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a voyage of more than 5556 kilometers (3,000 nautical miles). The trouble was, neither of us had been in a rowing boat before. Still, we signed up within two hours of receiving the invitation.

Omar N: We also wanted to do it to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and displaced people, many of whom come from our part of the world and have to cross dangerous oceans to reach safety. It’s easy to watch the news and get desensitized to the perils they face; so although we would be well-prepared, have the best equipment, and get to go back home to our families, we knew we would have a difficult time out there. It seemed like such a fitting cause. We chose the Twitter hashtag #Rowing4Refugees.

Omar S: The logistics of the project were massive. We needed a high-tech boat with equipment from all over the world shipped to the start of the race in La Gomera, Canary Islands, so it made sense to partner with DHL. Then there were the courses and certifications we had to complete – and the training we went through was incredibly tough. But we stayed focused and in a matter of months went from knowing nothing about boats, navigation or rowing to being one of the best-prepared teams in the race. Otherwise the outcome of our story could have been very different.

Omar N: Our boat measured 7.5 meters in length and was made of wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber and Kevlar. It was equipped with solar panels, tracking beacons and a satellite telephone.

When we set off it was hard going, with each of us rowing two hours on, two hours off and battling with an angry ocean. But on day nine disaster struck just before sunrise when we hit a massive wave and upturned. And worse, because the capsize was so aggressive it damaged our cabin, which filled with water – so the boat was unable to self-right.

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Omar S: Then our struggle for life really began. We couldn’t get the emergency raft to inflate properly and at one point had to watch our distress flares float away. Back on land no one knew where we were, and the race owner said it was the darkest day of his life. Thankfully, 13 hours after capsizing we were rescued by a cargo ship. The story of how we survived is told in a new documentary called “Beyond the Raging Sea.”

Omar N: Would we enter the race again? We’re giving ourselves time to explore what happened, and we don’t want to do it just because of our egos. That said, never say never...
As told to Tony Greenway

Published: September 2018

Images: Ben Duffy, 2017 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge