Yorkshire doctor overcomes shark attack and near-miss collision on Atlantic row

Dr James Robins and the rest of the crew onboard
Dr James Robins and the rest of the crew onboard
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THEY survived an attack from a Great White shark and a close encounter with a tanker ship during a 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic.

But South Yorkshire doctor James Robins and the rest of an eight-man crew have joined a small and elite band of people to have successfully rowed the second largest ocean in the world.

Dr James Robins onboard

Dr James Robins onboard

The team completed their journey from Gran Canaria to Barbados – using nothing other than human power – in just 43 days.

Dr Robins, who works at Rotherham District General Hospital, said: “It was really strange to see land after nearly 44 days at sea. When out in the ocean you begin to realise how large the Atlantic actually is. In our crossing we only saw four other vessels – and one tanker was headed straight for our course, necessitating evasive action.”

On the 25th day of their voyage the crew’s boat, carbon kevlar monohull Avalon, was attacked by a Great White shark.

“I was having a break eating some food in the bow cabin,” said Dr Robins. “All of a sudden there was a huge bang and the whole boat shook. I rushed out on deck and was told a shark had attacked the boat, biting into the rudder.

The 3,000 miles trip took 43 days

The 3,000 miles trip took 43 days

“The rudder was made of solid steel and the shark was seen swimming off immediately after – perhaps to see a dentist. This reminded us how dangerous the expedition could be, not least if someone fell overboard.”

The 26-year-old, who has raised thousands of pounds for Sheffield-based charity Neurocare, rowed in two-hour shift patterns throughout the trip meaning neither he nor any of the team got a break of more than two hours during the crossing 2,986-mile (4,700km) crossing.

He said: “Despite having breaks of two hours, by the time we sorted out various tasks we rarely achieved more than 90 minutes uninterrupted sleep throughout the expedition. This sleep deprivation was really tough and indeed some crew members, myself included, experienced hallucinations while rowing at night. This was a really bizarre experience.”

But sleep deprivation wasn’t the only physical difficulty, just two days after the group set off from Gran Canaria Dr Robins dislocated his shoulder and was forced to reset it himself.

And tough winds and a broken GPS meant the trip took 11 days longer than expected, taking both a physical and mental toll on the group.

Dr Robins said: “While completing the expedition I developed a huge respect for the ocean and realised how quickly any situation could become extremely dangerous.

“We experienced seven-to-eight-metre waves, a huge mass of water, which made us feel incredibly small when in the trough between two of these waves. Fortunately we didn’t capsize or lose anyone overboard.”

The group were greeted by loved ones when they arrived in Barbados on March 5.

“It was great to see friends and family in Barbados and they made sure a steak dinner was ready for the crew even though it was about eight o’clock in the morning,” he said.

“The taste and also texture of real food was fantastic – as was the taste of one or two cold bottles of beer. It’s a bizarre feeling to know the job is complete and we don’t have to row anymore.”

Tea helped power the way

ROWING almost 3,000 miles over 43 days, Dr James Robins and the crew burned 5,000 calories a day.

During the crossing they ate a special diet which they were able to prepare with the minimal facilities available.

“We had specially-made, high-calorie ration packs which contained freeze-dried meals such as macaroni cheese – a good one – and beef stroganoff – a bad one,” Dr Robins said.

“We boiled water on a gas cooker, which can be a rather interesting process in a moving boat, and reconstituted the meals before eating.

“The ration packs also contained chocolate, energy bars, extra noodles, nuts, and, most importantly, tea bags for a good brew.”