3000 miles, 100 days, 1 mission: my transatlantic challenge for WaterAid

4 min read
Image: Marianne Hutchison

It's a tale that would be at home on the big screen of a cinema - one man, his self-made boat, an angry ocean, daring rescues and friendly sea creatures.

For 100 days Duncan Hutchison, better known as Duncan Adrift to his supporters, rowed solo across the Atlantic, starting in New York and heading for his hometown of Lochinver, Scotland. His daring challenge was to raise awareness and money for WaterAid – both of which he has well and truly achieved.

Duncan’s story made national headlines, with support flooding in from hundreds of supporters far and wide. To date, his JustGiving page has racked up over a phenomenal £30,000.

Here the man himself tells us about his motivations, his epic voyage and the friends he made along the way…

My journey began a good few years before I launched my boat, the Sleipnir, into the sea, because first I had to build it from scratch. Rowing the Atlantic is a challenge that usually takes a lot of money, with expensive equipment and entry fees. But by building my own boat and organising the trip myself, I managed it on a tight budget.

Duncan, a WaterAid supporter who rowed across the Atlantic to raise money for WaterAid in the summer of 2018.
Me and my boat the Sleipnir, that took around two years to build.
Image: Euan Cherry

I wanted a challenge that proves ordinary people can do immense things if they really want to – a sentiment mirrored in WaterAid’s mission. By giving people their basic human rights of water, toilets and good hygiene, they too have the chance to achieve great things. In this day and age it shouldn’t be just the privileged that have access to clean water - everyone needs it to live.

My friends, family and community got behind my project right from the start, organising all sorts of events to help raise money. From stalls at the Highland Games, to local schools’ fundraiser days, to music and raffle nights at local venues. It was truly a team effort.

In May I finally set off from New York. I knew the journey was going to take roughly 100 days, but I felt mentally and physically prepared for the rough weather and isolation I knew I’d have to endure.

That’s not to say I was always alone – I had letters from my daughter Franci, messages from friends (including the all-important football scores) and all manner of animals pay me a visit. The whales blowing bubbles under my boat, 8 foot shark bashing my rudder and seagull that used my head as a landing point were all particular highlights!

Duncan, a WaterAid supporter who rowed across the Atlantic to raise money for WaterAid in the summer of 2018.
Image: Marianne Hutchison

Most days I would spend roughly 12 hours rowing, in between stopping for high energy food breaks and updating my log books and video diary. If the weather was really awful, I would put out my anchor and settle down with a film or audio book.

It may sound odd, but being in stormy seas was a highlight of my trip. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing, and I was so proud that the boat I had made myself was holding out so well and keeping me safe. The only thing I worried about was the boat’s electricity failing, which sadly was my downfall 100 days into the adventure.

On 21 September, I had no choice but to radio for help off the coast of Land’s End. I was picked up by a cargo ship called the ‘Asphalt Splendor’ – I owe the crew big time for taking care of me.

The view from the Asphalt Splendor, the boat that rescued Duncan
The view from the Asphalt Splendour, the boat that rescued me.
Image: Marianne Hutchison

I finally arrived home in Lochinver on 2 October, over four months after I first left. Coming back to land was a little overwhelming, but holding my family for the first time in such a long time was wonderful. I’ve still got my sea legs rather than my land legs, though, so at the moment I’m wobbling all over the shop!

It’s also been fantastic to receive so many well wishes and ‘welcome homes’. I cannot express my thanks enough to everybody who has donated to my adventure and to WaterAid. In my opinion rowing was the easy bit – everyone else’s efforts and support was the real leg work!

If you’re thinking of doing a sponsored challenge or fundraising for WaterAid, my advice would be to just do it. Make sure to spread WaterAid’s message that so many people in the world are suffering over something that we could fix. Raising awareness of the water crisis is just as important as fundraising to stop it.

You can still donate to Duncan's JustGiving page to support his challenge.