Ever wondered what it takes to fight chronic sleep deprivation, battle 30 foot waves and still break the world record in an Atlantic rowing race dubbed the world’s toughest? Meet Angus Collins – an ocean rower and endurance athlete that has completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge three times and currently holds the world record of 35 days, 14 hours and 3 minutes.
To find out what motivates him to keep pushing himself and the sport, we recently caught up with Angus at the Rannoch Adventure headquarters to hear more.
Where did you love for rowing first begin?
"Different to most other ocean rowers – I’ve never done any traditional river rowing. I’d always been on the water sailing and windsurfing, but it was my uncle Charlie, who started Rannoch Adventure, who got me into it. He’d previously rowed the Atlantic, got the solo race record and then went on to break the world record as fastest solo. I’d been following his campaign closely and then he asked if I wanted to join Rannoch.
"After a bit of time at Rannoch I was invited last minute to do a row across the Indian Ocean. A guy that we had been training to row the Atlantic had taken a year out of university and called me up explaining he had six months left and didn’t really know what to do. The only thing we could come up with was the Indian Ocean. It’s normally a two-year campaign but somehow we managed to put it together in two months. That was my first bit of ocean rowing."
So your first Atlantic crossing was with ‘Ocean Reunion’, who first pitched the idea of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge?
"It was myself and Jack Mayhew, we were both inspired by what my uncle had achieved and so we set ourselves a deadline of December that year to find two other people. If we couldn’t find them then we agreed to do it as a pair. We didn’t really want to do it as a pair though as there seems to be a bit of a curse that pairs fall out, so we approached Gus Barton & Joe Barnett. Neither were particularly nautical though – Joe hated sailing and Gus couldn’t swim! Both are great sportsmen though so were up for a challenge..."
Tell us about your most recent completion of the Talisker Whisky challenge with ‘Latitude 35’, was it different second time round?
"Well, it was a completely different campaign to ‘Ocean Reunion’ where I was rowing with three of my best mates who wanted to win the race but also have a laugh at the same time. This time with ‘Latitude 35’, our skipper Jason Caldwell wanted to break the record so he brought myself, Alex Simpson, and former Olympic rower Matt Brown on board. It was pretty clear that we had come together to achieve one thing!
"In some respects that made it much easier as I knew all I had to do was make the boat go fast. We’ve talked about it since and we were actually all really nervous before the start. I kept thinking – “Are we going to get on?”, “Will the Anglo-American dynamic work?” Alex and I were experienced seaman but Jason openly admitted that he wasn’t really a nautical guy. Matt’s an incredible flat-water rower but he didn’t have much ocean experience at the time. Luckily, we quickly realised that we were onto a winning formula."
There must have been some pretty tough moments to break the world record?
"From the beginning, we had a huge amount of pressure on our shoulders to do well. This was compounded by the fact we had a rival crew, ‘Row 4 James’, on our tail chasing us the whole way. Everything was running through my head – “What are people going to say when a team I trained beat me?”
"Christmas day was truly dreadful. Actually, that and my mum’s birthday. I remember ringing to find out some local weather completely forgetting it was her birthday, and at that point ‘Row 4 James’ had just overtaken us. My mum answered the phone saying “Ah, are you ringing to wish me a happy birthday?” and I remember responding with “Mum, I can’t spend a single second thinking about your birthday!” I subsequently realised and then felt even worse for being so selfish. Add this to being tired and emotional and you can get an idea of my mood at the time…"
We followed your race with ‘Latitude 35’ closely and it seems your final stretch was a particularly tough one?
"Yeah! We’d set ourselves the target of beating the world record by 24 hours and we were on track for that – then Friday 13th happened. A huge storm collapsed on of us, winds and waves going against us and we lost our 24-hour lead. It was down to the hour whether we were going to make it or not.
"We had almost 400 miles still to go and we knew that every hour was crucial. We needed to average 85 miles a day for five days which had never really been done before. I was thinking, “I’ve come all this way and I can’t let another record slip through my hands.” It’s frustrating when you’ve put your all into the row and the one thing that stops you is the weather. Somehow the weather turned around, we averaged 85 miles a day and beat the record. But, for that 2-3 day period we were unsure whether we were going to make it. It was grim but we did it!"
A lot of crews fall out when crossing, how do you prevent that from happening?
"I’m really strict on writing down rules of the boat – once you get out there, and you’re tired, you don’t think in the right way. You don’t justify anything! We sat down in La Gomera in a bar and wrote down boat rules – e.g. you’re never more than a minute late for a shift. The whole way through we stuck to the rules and were honest with each other if we mucked up. You will get stuff wrong though – everyone does."
What was the one thing you craved the most whilst being out in the Atlantic Ocean?
"When you’re out there it’s the fittest and healthiest you’ve ever been because you’re not down the pub drinking - you’re eating healthily and burning it off. So, as soon as I got to Antigua all I wanted was a fully cooked English breakfast!"
We’ve heard of crews hallucinating whilst out at sea, can you tell us any funny stories from your crossing with ‘Latitude 35’?
"I didn’t see any mermaids but I did have a ‘bag lady’ hallucination who kept hitting Alex. On my other side, I had a bunch of children spinning around on one of those Merry-go-round swings. You’ll be pleased to know I wasn’t hitting the children but instead, for some reason, I was tapping them along and helping them to go faster."
Did that help then, sort of a game to keep your momentum going?
"Ha, no! My oar was completely out of the water. I also had a close friend’s face on my oar smiling at me for a long time and I kept shouting at him to get off. In my delirious state, I tried to drown him fully in the water which meant I put the boat ‘brakes’ on. Everyone on the boat turned to ask me what I was doing and I calmly explained: “Look, I’m just killing Tom!”
Upon landing in Antigua, what was the first thing you wanted to do?
"It’s a strange one – as soon as you land you’re surrounded by noise and loads of people, completely alien to the last thirty odd days spent out at sea. We dispersed as a team for 10 minutes to see our family and friends and then went for our first beer – always a tricky task with wobbly sea legs. After a few it suddenly hit me and all I wanted to do was get back to the apartment for a hot shower!"
So, what world records do you hold now?
"‘Youngest Four Man Team to Cross an Ocean’, ‘Fastest Four Man Team Across the Indian Ocean’, ‘Fastest Four Man Team to Cross the Atlantic’ and ’Youngest Person to Have Three World Records’."
Blimey! So, are there any records out there that you want to break?
"Yup! In rowing – I want to row across the Pacific Ocean solo. We actually built the boat for the previous record holder so I would love to do that! It’s the equivalent to rowing the Atlantic three times so I need to do a little bit more prep…"
You’ve just taken us around the workshop, tell us a little bit more about Rannoch Adventure
"Rannoch is the only company in the world that offers a full 360 approach to ocean rowing - we build the boats, help teams with their campaigns, train them on and off the water and prepare everything else you need for an ocean row. Rannoch is really pushing the sport forward."
Tell me Angus, what’s next?
"I’d actually like to do something land based – I’ve always liked the looks of Africa but can’t reveal a huge amount at this stage. All will be revealed…"
Finally let’s go with some quick fire questions. What’s your guilty pleasure?
"Good pint of ale! Next…"
Who would play your life in a film?
"It’s got to be Mel Gibson"
What’s your best quality?
Top of your bucket list?
"Free-diving, I'd like to spend 6 months exploring the world learning to free-dive."