Matteo Perucchini, ocean rower for Sogno Atlantico & experienced athlete, decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean in December 2015 for two good reasons; raise funds for charity and to achieve the biggest challenge of his life, to row over 3,000 miles solo and completely unassisted. Matteo made it! He completed the crossing in 52 days, winning the solo category and setting a new race record.
What made you take up this challenge?
I have been rowing since I was a teenager but I discovered the world of ocean rowing by accident. I was actually searching online for books on Mt. Everest expeditions and that’s when I found an article on ocean rowing and more precisely on Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, two Norwegians who in June 1896 rowed from New York to Isles of Scilly. I was mesmerized by the fact that such a feat was humanly achievable. I was hooked. I started reading book after book about ocean rowing and I first considered rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. It was only in 2013 that I felt truly ready to face this challenge so I went to La Gomera to see the start of the Talisker Atlantic Challenge and before I knew it, I had signed up for the 2015 race.
Most people ask me why and there is no simple answer to this question. There are many factors and events that can lead a person to take this kind of decision. In the end, although the crossing was certainly an amazing adventure and sporting achievement, it was also a very personal inner journey.
How did you prepare?
There are many aspects when it comes to training for a challenge like this; you need to prepare mentally, physically and technically.
Physically I worked with a highly experienced trainer who had previously supported polar explorers and international athletes.
He developed an intense and challenging programme which enabled me to improve my fitness while at the same time allowing me to have enough time to focus on all the other aspects of preparing for an ocean crossing. Something I truly loved about the programme was how it changed all the time and incorporated a wide range of activities, from cycling to crossfit and boxing. I clearly couldn't avoid long sessions on the rowing machine though, which in some cases lasted for more than 24 hours.
Although physical preparation was very important for a challenge like mine, it was not essential. The key to a successful crossing was mental preparation. Both yoga and meditation played a very important role. Short sessions that I could continue to do on the boat despite the 18/20 hours of rowing per day that I had to sustain during the crucial parts of the race. These allowed me to find the right mental balance and overcome the myriad of obstacles, which you have to face on a daily basis during an ocean crossing.
As for the technical preparation, I attended a number navigation and sea survival courses and the boat was for more than 12 months at Cantiere Costantini on Lake Maggiore in the north of Italy, where she was fitted and prepared.
Being out at sea alone for over 52 days must have been difficult. What was you most challenging moment?
Being at sea for 52 days was a true privilege and I feel very fortunate to have undertaken this challenge
but it was also very hard. Storms were the worst part of the crossing, especially when they hit at night.
They left quite deep emotional scars which made it hard to keep on rowing after sunset but now that I’m back on land and I’m lucky enough to be able to look back at those moments, I feel that they are an essential part of what made this journey truly special.
The Atlantic passage was for a worthy cause - what has been the media impact of such an achievement?
My row was in support of the Associazione Italiana per la Lotta al Neuroblastoma (ANB) and Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). Neuroblastoma is a malignant tumour which affects mainly infants and children under 10 years of age. The goal of ANB is to raise funds to support medical and scientific research on neuroblastoma. Every week in the UK at least 12 young people die of undiagnosed heart conditions; CRY works to reduce the frequency of Young Sudden Cardiac Death (YSCD), promotes and develops heart screening programmes and funds medical research.
These are two truly fantastic charities and I really wanted to use my adventure and the publicity around the race to promote their causes and raise funds for them. As the first Italian to take part in this race I received quite a lot of media coverage before and during the race. Having won the solo race, the interest in Sogno Atlantico is continuing and it’s great to keep on promoting the two charities. I’ve also been contacted by many associations and companies that would like to hear my story and this is a great way to attend various events and continue raising funds for ANB and CRY.
What would you recommend others if trying to undergo crossing the Atlantic?
It’s never too early to start planning your challenge. There is an incredible number of things to plan and prepare. So start early!
Furthermore, when you choose to embark on a major challenge, you need to be prepared to make significant sacrifices. You have to be willing to invest all of your time and, in some cases, a lot of money into preparing for your challenge. You need to be honest with yourself and decide whether you’d be prepared to keep going even if you cannot find sponsors or do not receive support from friends and family. You really need to want to achieve the goal, this will drive you through the tough times, and there will be many of them.
Embarking on a large challenge is like starting a business, you need vision, tenacity, passion, discipline, self-belief, and a high tolerance to risk and stress. It will be hard, it will be painful but in the end, it will be worth it.
What's your next challenge?
In 2014 I cofounded a new business and I was lucky enough that my two business partners allowed me to drop everything and follow my dream. Now I want to focus on growing the business and continue the adventure that we started together. Nevertheless, I have been thinking of a few possible sport challenges although not as big as rowing an ocean solo. It’s a bit too early to tell though!
Other than this one, what has been your most memorable shipping experience?
Although I have nearly 20 years of rowing experience and my family have run a boatyard for over 100 years, I had very little experience of the open ocean. This Atlantic crossing was my first truly memorable shipping experience.
What's your favourite ship?
As a fan of the Aubrey-Maturin series, I’d have to say HMS Surprise.
Editor, Marine Strategy
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