Monkey Fist Adventures -Brain Waves Challenge

Aquapac sponsors crew of six ready to row two oceans in order to raise money and gather research for PTSD and early-onset Parkinson’s Disease.

Early next year, a mixture of novice and experienced rowers will take part in ‘Brain Waves’. A record-breaking challenge with four team members setting off from Lanzarote in January to row 3,200 miles across the Atlantic to Antigua. Then, after a short rest, two of the original crew will be joined by two fresh faces to take on the Indian Ocean rowing from Australia to Africa.

They’re doing it to raise money and awareness for PTSD and early-onset Parkinson’s; partnering with Oxford Brooks University to gather research before and after the challenge. On the first boat, they have chosen Liverpudlian Liz Dennett to join them. Liz was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014, five days before her 44th birthday. She’s a keen runner, triathlete and paddleboarder.  

“There are loads of women going out and doing amazing things, which is great but it’s not tackling the issue of men and women being equal. We wanted a mixed crew, working on an equal platform.” Says skipper Billy Taylor, who last year rowed the Indian Ocean with his childhood friend, Robin Buttery who also has early-onset Parkinson’s.

“Liz is training really hard. She knows that it can be done with Parkinson’s but for her own mental health she wants to be as fit as possible and at the top of her game. That’s how she deals with it. Mentally her concern is letting people down. But we wouldn’t have her on the boat if we didn’t think she could do it.”

On the second boat, they will be joined by John Haskell, an old friend of Billy’s who has PTSD. John has more rowing experience than Liz, having rowed the Atlantic Ocean after acquiring an old wooden boat that was an exhibit in Swansea maritime museum and totally rebuilding it.

Aside from Liz and John, there’s able seaman Scott Butler who has previously completed a solo row of the Black Sea, and Rachel Hearn a paramedic who is an experienced paddleboard, kayaking and swimming fan, and who apparently was sick for 24 out of the 36 hours of their first practice row, “She was emptying her stomach at the time! It’s settled down now and, because she’s a paramedic, she’s good under pressure. You need a good team of people around you and she’s incredibly genuine.” Billy continues.

The crew is completed by Alex Mason, who will join Billy on both ventures. If all goes well, they’ll achieve two world firsts – with Alex becoming the first female to row across two oceans in the same year and, as a team, they’ll become the first people to row non-stop continent to continent between Australia and Africa.

The crew has been chosen for their individual skills but also how they will fit together. “It’s a pressure cooker environment. We can’t have grumpy people on board, it affects everyone. You have to fix things quickly and move on. And remember how lucky we are to be doing what we’re doing.” Billy says.

For Billy, the actual row is the least of it. He believes his role is to raise money, awareness and the possibility of more research into early-onset Parkinson’s and PTSD. “These people aren’t just people with Parkinson’s, they’re our friends and we want to do something to help them.

“I didn’t know what Parkinson’s was but now I know just how challenging it is, particularly for younger people. Being 35 and diagnosed with Parkinson’s when you have a career and family to think about comes with its own obstacles to overcome. This is why I wanted to do something; I’m not a scientist, I don’t have loads of money, but what I could do was provide a platform to promote the life-improving benefits of exercise. I saw this as an opportunity to do more in life than I was doing.”

Choosing to partner with Oxford Brooks University, as Billy did with their previous row across the Indian Ocean, they’ll be providing data for a ground-breaking research project into the cause of this neurological condition.

Aquapac has chosen to sponsor the crew providing waterproof bags and accessories for them to keep their clothes, gear and equipment dry. “You can’t appreciate just how much enjoyment you can get from dry clothing until you’re wet all the time. We’re most excited about Aquapac’s Waterproof Headphones – simple things like music can make such a difference to your mood.

“Everything needs to be kept dry but some stuff is more important than others. If your electronic equipment goes down, then you need to be able to rely on your charts, which need to be dry. The same goes for our first aid kit – although we’re hoping we won’t need to use it!

“I remember when I was sailing the Pacific last, every time it got cold you’d go into the cabin and reach into your dry bag for a jumper – the smell of washing powder was amazing.”