The author (far left) and his crewmates arriving in Antigua 48 days after setting off from the Canary Islands, in 2014
The author (far left) and his crewmates arriving in Antigua 48 days after setting off from the Canary Islands, in 2014 © Ben Duffy

We were four guys taking on the adventure of a lifetime – rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It would take us 48 days, rowing two hours on and two hours off, in pairs, non-stop around the clock. Man overboard, shortage of electricity, a broken rudder and surfing 30ft waves were just some of the features of everyday life. 

The crossing was entirely self-sufficient (if we needed help it could be days away) so we carried food rations for up to 60 days below deck, and preparations for our gear had to be meticulous – a missed multitool here or battery pack there could make or break the crossing. 

Our one glimmer of hope each day was a call with our weather router, an experienced sailor based in the Isle of Wight who let us know the forecast. Thanks to a tracking beacon affixed to our boat, he would read weather charts based on our live location and advise on the most favourable route to navigate. 

We spoke to him via an Iridium satellite phone, which was one of our most vital pieces of kit. Without this, the only other forms of communication we had were rudimentary – a VHF radio, with a range of about 35 miles, or an EPIRB, an emergency location beacon that we could trigger to alert search-and-rescue services in a dire situation. So we kept the phone when it wasn’t in use in a Peli Case, a water- and crush-proof container that ensured it would stay safe even if we were unfortunate enough to capsize. 

Carrying out final checks before setting off across the Atlantic
Carrying out final checks before setting off across the Atlantic

Post-storm, there was little time to relax. When not at the oars, we did chores to keep things shipshape: there was equipment to fix, barnacles to remove from the boat’s hull, navigational checks or meals to cook. Adding to the anxiety, the boat’s two large batteries were nearly always critically low thanks to faulty solar panels – we were unable to use the electric water-maker for some weeks. As a result, we had to use a small, hand-operated backup device – by dropping a small pipe into the sea and pumping a lever for half an hour, we had ourselves a bottle of drinking water. It was a laborious and time-consuming task, but without this amazing bit of gear, the expedition would have been over almost as soon as it started. 

Scholes on a five-day 250km marathon in Jordan’s Wadi 
Scholes on a five-day 250km marathon in Jordan’s Wadi  © Jamie Sparks

On reaching Antigua, the boat bore the marks of bodged fixes, and we were considerably hairier and thinner than when we set off. Looking back at the row, there were many lessons to learn from the adventure, such as teamwork, overcoming adversity and endeavour – but having a failsafe kit was also key to our survival.

The SOS kit list

1. Filson Tin Cloth field jacket

Founded in 1897 to outfit hunters, loggers and explorers, Filson has a rich heritage in top-quality workwear, ideal for adverse outdoor scenarios. Its field jacket is made from a very hard-wearing, tightly woven, wax-sealed 14oz cloth, supplied exclusively by waxed-cotton experts British Millerain, meaning it will resist tears, punctures, wind and rain. Admittedly this makes it a heavier jacket, which will take some time to wear in – but once it has, you will have a coat for life that is rubber-stamped by its guarantee. £550 

Filson Tin Cloth field jacket, £550
Filson Tin Cloth field jacket, £550

2. Naglev Unico Combat WP boots

Naglev’s waterproof hiking boots have the potential to go on and on. The upper is made from a single piece of lightweight Kevlar – a near-indestructible material – lending the boots unparalleled durability and protection, yet this doesn’t hamper their superior comfort in any way. The liner, footbed and sole are made from natural materials – wool, coconut fibre, leather and rubber – all of which can be replaced when they wear out, leaving the old parts to biodegrade or be recycled. €260 

Naglev Unico Combat WP boots, €260
Naglev Unico Combat WP boots, €260

3. Leica Ultravid BR Compact 8x20

These binoculars happily fit into a regular-sized trouser pocket, yet with a powerful 8x magnification they have many practical uses. Very high-quality optics provide a near-flawless viewing experience, plus they are waterproof to 5m and very light at just 240g. The body is made from aluminium and coated in a durable rubber armour, so they can withstand really hard use. £559, from cliftoncameras.co.uk 

Leica Ultravid BR Compact 8x20 binoculars, £559, from cliftoncameras.co.uk
Leica Ultravid BR Compact 8x20 binoculars, £559, from cliftoncameras.co.uk

4. LED Lenser P7R CORE rechargeable LED torch

This neatly sized torch, measuring around the length of your hand, delivers a beam up to 300m away via an immensely bright setting of 1,400 lumens. It is constructed from aircraft-grade aluminium, so as well as being really durable and corrosion-resistant (you get a seven-year guarantee), it’s also dust- and waterproof to 1m. Twist to adjust the focus from a spot to flood illumination and charge it via magnetic contact points – this is your must-have adventure-ready aid. £109.95, from ledlenser-store.co.uk

LED Lenser P7R CORE rechargeable LED torch, £109.95, from ledlenser-store.co.uk
LED Lenser P7R CORE rechargeable LED torch, £109.95, from ledlenser-store.co.uk

5. VSSL First Aid

When there’s no time to think, grab this first-aid kit, throw it into a backpack or car glove compartment and you’re good to go. The waterproof aircraft-grade aluminium canister measures just 22cm long and 5cm in diameter. It houses a curated roll-out of 46 mini essentials, from tweezers to 3M steri-strips. Also, very handily, on either end is a 200-lumen light and oil-filled compass, just in case you need a backup. $125

VSSL first aid kit, $125
VSSL first aid kit, $125

6. MSR Guardian purifier

Delivering more than 10,000 litres of safe water from even the murkiest of puddles – filtering sediment, waterborne protozoa, bacteria and viruses – this highly durable and advanced military-grade backcountry water purifier is very easy to use and even cleans itself. It’s just 480g and 21cm tall, so once you’ve filled a 2.5-litre bottle with one minute of hand pumping, it stows away neatly into your backpack ready for your next water break. £281.31, from alloutdoor.co.uk

MSR Guardian purifier, £281.31, from alloutdoor.co.uk
MSR Guardian purifier, £281.31, from alloutdoor.co.uk

7. Leatherman Charge+ G10 Multitool

This palm-sized 226g engineering wonder offers 19 tools in one slick gadget. The knife blade is made from high-end S30V stainless steel, reputed for its excellent edge retention and rust resistance, and the eye-catching red handles offer great grip and are immune to corrosion. Store in a nylon sheath, attach to your belt and, with a 25-year guarantee, it’ll be a trusty go-to companion to get you out of many sticky situations. £229.95

Leatherman Charge+ G10 multitool, £229.95
Leatherman Charge+ G10 multitool, £229.95


8. Vollebak 100 Year Pants

Copper, carbon fibre and ceramic are just some of the materials Vollebak uses in its innovative and near-indestructible clothing. The brand’s 100 Year Pants feature a three-layer fabric, which includes aramid – commonly used in military ballistic-rated body armour – making them exceptionally durable as well as fire-resistant. Despite this, they are breathable, water-resistant and remarkably stretchy and comfortable. The pants also have generous storage including two large zipped bellows pockets on the front, plus rip-proof reinforcements around the ankles, designed with waterproof zippered vents to keep you cool. £495

Vollebak 100 Year Pants, £495
Vollebak 100 Year Pants, £495

9. Built to Send X2 Alpine backpack

Built To Send’s pared-back packs are among the most hard-wearing and long-lasting you’ll find anywhere. Made from a single piece of expedition-grade fabric, which is waterproof, highly abrasion and tear-resistant, the main compartment is almost entirely seam-free (but triple-stitched where necessary). The X2 has a generous 30-litre carrying capacity – 42 litres in “overload mode” – plus multiple external loops with a stretchy shock cord to secure gear. It’s also well suited to extended carries, thanks to padded hip straps and a back panel made from foam similar to that used in fighter-pilot ejector seats. From £209

Built to Send X2 Alpine backpack, from £209
Built to Send X2 Alpine backpack, from £209

10. Peli R20 Personal Utility Ruck Case

The water-, dust- and crush-resistant Ruck Case is the ultimate for storing smaller valuables. It’s about the size of a large pencil case (there are two other slightly larger options), so easily stashes into a backpack and has enough space, for example, to carry important papers, passports, SD cards and two smartphones. The case opens via an easy-to-use latch and internally it has some great compartments for organisation. From £49.45

Peli R20 Personal Utility Ruck Case, from £49.45
Peli R20 Personal Utility Ruck Case, from £49.45

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