FROM swimming with dolphins to a magical moment “like a scene out of Life of Pi”, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is an experience an intrepid team of North Berwick men will never forget.

Five In A Row rowers Ian Baird, 39, Ross McKinney, 44, Clive Rooney, 41 and Duncan Hughes, 40 – all from North Berwick – and Dunkeld’s Fraser Potter, 33, recently returned home after their gruelling 3,000-mile journey.

The men completed the Talisker Atlantic Challenge in aid of Reverse Rett, a charity close to the heart of Ross, whose daughter Eliza has Rett syndrome.

And they have been “blown away” by the response, with nearly £50,000 raised so far for the good cause.

East Lothian Courier: The team (from l-r): Duncan, Fraser, Ian, Ross and Clive) unfurl the Saltire to celebrate the end of their incredible journey. Image: Atlantic CampaignsThe team (from l-r): Duncan, Fraser, Ian, Ross and Clive) unfurl the Saltire to celebrate the end of their incredible journey. Image: Atlantic Campaigns

Ross told the Courier: “We were completely blown away by the money raised, it’s been incredible.

“The response from all our supporters was way beyond anything we thought we would be able to achieve.

“Reverse Rett is a small charity and they rely on people doing events and fundraisers but I don’t think they’ve ever had a challenge quite like what we did.”

The journey started more than two years ago, with the team looking for a new rowing challenge to complete, after Ian, Clive, Duncan and Fraser achieved gold in the skiff racing world championships.

The idea for an Atlantic crossing had been discussed but safety concerns and time away from the family had kept the idea on the backburner until one fateful night in the pub.

Ian said: “Me, Duncan and Fraser were in a pub one evening and we were watching the [world record holding] MacLean brothers finish a race and we said we’ll put the deposit in right now.

“A couple of pints is all it takes!”

READ MORE: Achievements of Five In A Row Atlantic Ocean rowers recognised at Westminster and Holyrood

Clive and Ross later committed too and the idea to raise money for Reverse Rett was the perfect fit.

Training then began, with over a year and a half of rigorous regimes at North Berwick Rowing Club.

The team had the assistance of former Olympians John and Rachel Schofield, who helped the quintet with strength and conditioning programs.

The team would then source the boat from the record-breaking MacLean brothers, raising £115,000 of funding through sponsorship and personal investment to get them to the startline in La Gomera in the Canary Islands.

Describing their 36-day journey as “brutally brilliant”, the men experienced a mix of incredible and tough moments throughout the trip.

East Lothian Courier: A group hug for the Five In A Row team as they arrive at the finish line in Antigua after their epic 3,000 mile challenge. Image: Atlantic Campaigns.A group hug for the Five In A Row team as they arrive at the finish line in Antigua after their epic 3,000 mile challenge. Image: Atlantic Campaigns.

Ian said: “Me, Fraser and Ross were on shift, it was properly pitch black, we didn’t get the moon rise and the phosphorescents in the water were incredible.

“The wake of the boat and every movement your blade made, every little bit of water you skipped with the corner of your blade was just glowing and it reminded me of a scene out of Life of Pi.

“It looked like crazy VFX, we had that for the whole two hours and that was mind-blowing.”

Their Atlantic isolation did not mean they were alone, however, and their close calls with marine life meant they could fulfil their dream of swimming with dolphins.

Fraser said: “We had dolphins all over the boat.

“I couldn’t get changed quick enough; I was just about jumping off the boat!

“There was a whale that came right underneath the boat and didn’t quite rub its belly but just about did, and that was another absolutely epic moment, but they were very much few and far between.”

The team also faced incredibly tough moments, stretching the limits of their physical and mental capabilities.

READ MORE: North Berwick rowers reach the finish line after rowing across the Atlantic

Ian said: “At times it was brutal, and a lot of our time was spent chasing miles – just staring at the screen thinking about what we needed to cover in the next two hours, and I think a lot of that meant it wasn’t enjoyable at the time.

“You spend your off-shift trying to cram some food in and try to get as much sleep as you can and you’re back on the oars again.”

However, even through all this toil and adversity, there were still things the men have been missing since returning home, in particular the simplicity and camaraderie fostered.

Ian said: “I suppose one of the things I do miss is the simplicity of life on board. We only had phone connection maybe once a day and it meant that any communication that did come through was much more meaningful and important.”

East Lothian Courier: Ross McKinney with his daughter Eliza, who has Rett syndromeRoss McKinney with his daughter Eliza, who has Rett syndrome

Fraser said: “I miss the camaraderie of the team, the highs and the lows – the highs were pretty high and lows were very low.”

When the men arrived at the finish line in Antigua, the relief and sense of accomplishment was palpable, but the best thing was seeing their families, many of whom hadn’t originally planned to welcome them at the finish line.

Ross said: “I spoke to my wife Catherine on New Year’s Day, she wasn’t planning to come out with the kids at all.

“But I said she needed to come, you need to come to the finish line, I really want to see you at the end.

“So she had to make it happen for her and the four kids – Angus, Nina, Felix and Eliza, with all her disability equipment.

“It was a great feeling to see them all.”

Clive said: “The atmosphere of arriving into Antigua was unbelievable, the sounds of the super yacht’s horns, people out beating pots and pans and the fort, mobbed with people shouting and roaring at us, was incredible”

He was welcomed by his wife Charlotte and his three children, Angus, Jack and Hector, and said that seeing them was unbelievable.

READ MORE: Rowing club do their bit boost to Five In A Row fundraisers

“To see our families as we stepped off the boat was very emotional, more so than I thought it would be – it will live with me for a long time,” he added.

After over a month of basic facilities, the arrival in Antigua also meant a return to the simple pleasures in life, like a hot shower.

Ian said: “On the few occasions we had a bucket bath on the boat, a couple of litres of fresh water and a bar of soap, that felt amazing, but once we got into the actual shower, oh my days it was just stratospheric, and I was in the shower for about an hour and a half!”

The men have now returned home to a hero’s welcome, but they still can’t quite believe the incredible support the town showed from start to finish.

Ian said: “It’s still not really sunk in for me, it definitely has more now we got back to the town.”

Ross said: “Just walking down the street or doing the school run, it takes so much longer because everybody just wants to stop and talk to you.

“We heard that the kids got to stop their school day early to watch us finish and you could tell it was inspiring to some of them to take on a challenge in their future.

“If we’ve managed to kindle that thought in young people’s minds, that’s a brilliant feeling.”

East Lothian Courier: A projection of the moment the team arrived at the finish line has been beamed onto the side of a building on North Berwick High Street to celebrate their achievementA projection of the moment the team arrived at the finish line has been beamed onto the side of a building on North Berwick High Street to celebrate their achievement

The team were also greeted by a projection on the corner of North Berwick High Street and Quality Street of their triumphant arrival in Antigua to celebrate their achievements and were honoured by the gesture.

Ian said: “No one told us!

“Someone started mentioning an open-top bus but I couldn’t think of anything worse!”

The team still haven’t had a chance to celebrate as their lives slowly return to normality, but they are eager to get together in North Berwick.

Clive said: “We haven’t had the five of us together to have a major blowout just yet.

“We’ll maybe have to do something around North Berwick and milk free pints as much as we can!”

With the challenge complete, the team are happy to relax and reflect on what they achieved – but they have not ruled out the possibility of doing something similar in the future.

Fraser said: “The human body is much more able than what we put it through on a day-to-day basis and it seems a bit of a waste to not push yourself to the absolute limits.

“It’s just about finding something that’s up there and is just as epic, but not rushing into anything anytime soon.”

Ian said: “It was a two year build-up to this, it was such a time commitment for us to get this project together, and the relief that it was all done when we crossed the finish line.

“But having put ourselves through this horrible pain cave, every day that passes, you realise that was probably one of the biggest challenges any of us will face and we did it, we achieved it, and it starts to make you think: ‘Well, if we can do that, what could we do next?’”

With the team back ashore, the efforts to raise money and share their story haven’t ended and they want to keep the momentum flowing.

Ian said: “There’s quite an appetite for us to do a Q&A type thing; we will try and organise something to raise more money for charity.”

With the fundraising nearing £50,000, the team have already exceeded expectations but people can still donate at