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Two Rowing Finns' Atlantic Crossing

Two Finnish men who rowed across the Atlantic to raise awareness for crucial environmental causes reveal the challenges they faced during months at sea – and the motivations that drove them forward.

Markus Mustelin and John 'Jolle' Blässar relish a challenge. Which is just as well because they recently rowed across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain, to Antigua & Barbuda – a distance of more than 3000 miles (~4800km).

Calling themselves Two Rowing Finns, they were one of 10 'pairs' teams competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which started in December 2021 and featured 100 competitors from across the globe, including solo, pairs, trios, fours and fives. Markus and John finished their epic voyage on 18 January and were the first pairs team to arrive in Antigua, completing the annual race in a time of 41 days, 10 hours and 57 minutes.

Make no mistake: this was no ordinary rowing race. Indeed, it was a massive feat of endurance for both men, who took it in turns to row for two hours and then rest for two hours, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Teams battle with sleep deprivation, salt sores, and physical extremes inflicted by the race," say the organizers, who describe the event as 'the world's toughest row' and 'the ultimate test of body and mind'. "Rowers are left with their own thoughts, an expanse of the ocean and the job of getting the boat safely to the other side."

Yet for Markus and John, it was also the chance of a lifetime. They first met in the 1989/1990 Whitbread Round the World Race when they were sailing on the same racing yacht. Since then they have sailed around the world several times, and crossed the Atlantic about 20 times — but on different boats. They also became partners in business for more than a decade. "During this time, we got to know each other better and learned that we share a weird sense of humor, a 'never give up' attitude, a passion for extreme sports and competitive mindset," they say.

1.5 million

The number of oar strokes Markus and John were expected to complete during the race


The amount of calories they were each estimated to burn every day

However, their interest in rowing only began 15 years ago when they first participated in an endurance rowing race in traditional single wooden boats, just for fun. Rowing the Atlantic, they admit, is in another league; but it was also the perfect way to raise awareness and support for two charities – John Nurminen Foundation and Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association – that are working to save the Baltic Sea and the Finnish archipelago for future generations. These are causes that are close to both of their hearts.

"The Finnish archipelago and the shores of the Baltic Sea have been our home since childhood," explain Markus and John. "Today the Baltic Sea is in critical condition and is considered one of the most polluted seas in the world. The most severe problems are hazardous substances, risk related to marine traffic, loss of biodiversity and eutrophication. The Baltic Sea can still be saved but will require immediate actions."

Markus and John were still the middle of the race when we contacted them – but, incredibly, they managed to reply to our questions by email during their 'rest' time...

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What is it that you enjoy about this type of sea-faring challenge?

The ocean is calling! After 30 years of business life and family life it was time to do something else – and to do this before we are 'too old'. There's a special magic to be you, on your boat alone out there on the ocean. Plus we know each other from way back, and know each other's strengths and weaknesses. We're quite different in terms of skills and experience but we complement each other perfectly on a project like this.

What motivated you to take part in this particular race?

It provided the opportunity to participate in a real ocean adventure/competition. And racing perfectly combines with our charity ambitions.

How has this particular challenge gone for you so far?

The most daunting experience has been coping with sleep deprivation. It's been a constant challenge to find a balance between rowing and recovery, eating and sleeping. However, in a strange way, our bodies have got used to the hard work! The most exciting part has been the scenery and wildlife on the ocean: whales, dolphins, turtles, tunas, blue marlins. You kind of become part of all the sea life... 

How have you prepared for the race, both mentally and physically?

We believe our background as friends, colleagues and racing sailors gave us the best base in terms of mental stability. And, physically, for nearly two years we had a systematic and disciplined training program, planned by a professional ocean rower and personal trainer.

Why is sustainability and the fate of the oceans so important to you?

We've lived whole of our lives by the Baltic Sea and have seen (how it has been polluted). We wanted to make an effort to change that. The good news is that things can be done – it's not too late. We chose John Nurminen Foundation and Keep the Archipelago Tidy as charity partners because they share and represent our values and have the same spirit we do.

Why did you approach DHL to be a premium partner?

We're proud and happy to be working with DHL because a reliable logistics partner is essential for a successful campaign. DHL Freight Finland helped us to transport the boat first from the UK to Finland and then to the starting port at La Gomera. The company's (commitment to sustainability) was very important to us because it goes hand-in-hand with our project's goals in terms of protecting the Baltic Sea. 

Published: March 2022

Image: Wilhelm Öhman; Atlantic Campaigns Pennybird; DHL Freight Finland

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