Making your dream come true? That's exactly what these brothers from Ghent are doing by racing across the ocean!

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11 Dec 2019
On Thursday 12 December, two brothers from Ghent, Damien (29) and Bernard (27), will set off on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a race across the Atlantic in their rowing boat 'The Brothership'. The starting point is La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, and the finish is 4,800 km away in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean Sea. The duo Atlantic Ocean rowing crossing record is 37 days, a time the ambitious brothers are aiming to beat. Taking part is not enough for them: they want to win and break the record.

A dream race

A few years ago, Damien heard about a rowing race across the Atlantic. After speaking to Bernard about it, they immediately decided that they would take part. Atlantic Ocean rowing crossing had been a fixture on their bucket list since they were in their teens. Back then, the brothers were a formidable rowing team from Ghent and had already competed in lots of races, both solo and together.

van durme

A family project

Obviously, you don’t simply row across the Atlantic Ocean on a whim. Sound preparation is essential in all kinds of areas, such as safety, scheduling and financing. Bernard and Damien might be the ones holding the oars, but this project has involved the entire family, with their sisters and parents taking on important tasks. The family is forming an ‘onshore’ team to determine the course on the ocean so the brothers can take advantage of the right winds and avoid storms. The race will demand a lot from the brothers and trust is essential. They have to be willing to do everything to help each other. “I couldn’t do this with a friend, but with my brother I can go to the limits, because our family bond is stronger than friendship.” In addition to the family, they have requested the assistance of a nutrition expert and a sports doctor.

Their ambition: the world record

“We’re aiming to beat the current world record of 37 days for duos. We’ve always been looking for challenges, both in competitive rowing and our personal lives. Our objective is to constantly push our limits, which is why we were looking for a new challenge after competing in rowing for so many years.”

Sponsored by Pauwels Consulting

At the Ghent marathon both brothers flaunted their boat and proudly told everyone who wanted to hear about their future adventure. Bert Pauwels, managing director, was quite impressed by the audacity and ambition of both brothers. Their adventure fits in perfectly with the values of Pauwels Consulting. They are ambitious and want to excel in their discipline. On the one hand, the Van Durmes show entrepreneurship and an innovative approach in this project, and on the other hand, there is the Ghent flair with which they do everything in their own way.

The Brothership

The boat was made-to-measure for Bernard and Damien, who weigh 105 kg and 108 kg and measure 1.98 m and 1.95 m respectively. Boat builder Koen Degezelle contacted them to make sure the project would be successful. The boat is called The Brothership and features a fast hull and aerodynamic design to minimise wind resistance and maximise the use of any tail winds. Sailing the ocean is different from somewhere like the North Sea, where currents intersect. On the ocean, the waves stretch further, so the brothers want to use these as much as possible by ‘surfing’ on them. Finding a route with the right currents and wind is therefore essential to win the race and break the record.

“We’ve got two rowing seats. There’s a small sleeping cabin at the rear of the boat and a storage area for food at the front.” The boat is designed to offer them protection in a storm and to automatically return to an upright position if it capsizes. The storage area with food and a water maker are essential, because the brothers have to take all their food with them. This is mainly dry food, but they’ll also be taking some goodies, such as dried apricots and chocolate. “If you row twelve hours a day, then food is the only thing to look forward to and it has to be tasty.”

A physical and mental challenge

To win the race in six weeks, they’ll have to spend at least twelve hours rowing every day. During the day, they’ll row together in blocks of four hours with a break. At night, they’ll alternate in shifts of two hours. While one brother is rowing, the other sleeps or carries out other tasks, such as repairs, cleaning, eating, etc. This requires a lot of both physical and mental effort from the brothers. To make sure they’re fully prepared, they’ve followed compulsory training courses, such as ocean rowing lessons and sea survival, first aid, navigation and seamanship courses. They were also given psychological counselling during their preparations.

The brothers are not afraid, even though the race is not without hazards. They will certainly come across whales, sharks, floating containers and storms on their journey. The heat and salt are additional tests, life on the ocean is certainly not for softies. For example, one of the brothers has to enter the ocean every week to clean the boat, while the other keeps an eye out for sharks and other unwanted visitors.

Handicap International

The brothers are using the race to support a charitable organisation. They chose Handicap International, which operates in 31 countries, offering children with disabilities the opportunity to go to school. Bernard, who works in the orthopaedic sector, is only too aware of this problem and how important mobility is for children. The decision to help HI was therefore a logical one.

The race in a few numbers

4,800 =                       length of the race in km
1.5 million =                number of rowing movements needed to cross the ocean
37 =                            minimum number of days on the sea during the race
250 =                         weight of food on board in kg
6,600 =                      calories each person will burn daily
12 =                            average weight in kg lost during the race
0 =                             number of toilets on board
2 =                             Christmas and New Year celebrated on the ocean

Start: 12 December

You can follow the race with the YB Races tracker app, which is available for iOS and Android.