Arran waters helps Keith in 3,000-mile Atlantic challenge

The team in the For a Fitter Planet boat.

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A man with close family connections to Arran has just competed in the world’s toughest rowing race.

Keith Burnet spent his childhood messing about on boats on Arran and now the adventurer has competed in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge which saw him and his teammates, James, Richard and Josh, row more than 3,000 miles unaided across the Atlantic Ocean.

They were one of 21 teams to take part in the challenge and finished a respectable sixth, rowing 2,752 nautical miles from La Gomera across the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua raising more than £50,000 for charity.

Keith, who is 50, describes himself as a ‘keen adventurer’ and an ex-rugby player who has run lots of marathons include the famous Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert. His passion is fitness and  he is lucky enough to do that for a job as CEO global markets at Les Mills International, the New Zealand global fitness giant.

Their boat  ‘For a Fitter Planet’ was a Rannoch R45 – the fastest ocean rowing boat in the world. She is 26ft long and weighs in at 1.4 tonnes (excluding oarsmen).

There are two cabins (one at each end) each measuring around 6ft in length – leaving very little space for four rowers to catch 40 winks.

In a blog about the race Keith explained about the race start: ‘It was total amateur hour, as we rowed out with our oars clanking together in an uncoordinated fashion. The on-lookers must have thought ‘who are these jokers?’. It was true we were total novices trying to row across one of the most hostile oceans in the world.’

He went on: ‘The first 48 hours were brutal. The toughest mental and physical experience of my life. A combination of losing sight of land, the realisation we were not going back and were out here for five-six or so weeks, plus try to somehow acclimatise the daily routine of  two hours on,  two hours off. I was also terribly seasick – literally 10 times a day – for the first couple of weeks, which added to my challenge. I was loving life!

‘However, it was amazing how quickly we all fell into the routine of just learning to survive 24-7 in a 28-ft rowing boat.’

However, the finish was something he will always remember: ‘Seeing land again after six weeks was a huge moment for us but that was nothing compared to crossing the finish line and arriving into English Harbour. We had the Antiguan Coastguard escort us in with loads of other small boats. The atmosphere was incredible and totally overwhelming.

‘It is a moment in time I will never forget with supporters, friends and family on top of the cliff cheering us on and all the superyachts sounding their horns.

‘As well as my wife, it was a nice surprise to see that both of my boys had also managed to make it out to Antigua, despite the lockdown challenges in the UK.’

And his highlight was the team spirit: ‘I think what was important was that we got on that boat as good mates and stepped off it as even better mates; and despite some ups and downs, that was the biggest win for us.’

Keith grew up in Glasgow and Edinburgh and his entire family has been coming to Arran for several generations.

He told the Banner: ‘My grandparents (Bert and Kath Burnet) used to holiday in Arran and stayed in Road End in Shiskine. They retired and built a house in Shiskine (Cruachan) lived there full time.

‘Their two sons – Alasdair (my father) and Robin Burnet (my uncle) are regular visitors. Along with their children Keith, Lynne, Michael and Alison. Alasdair and Heather Burnet still own the house in Shiskine.

‘I spent almost every holiday in Arran from zero months to 18 years. Spent most of my time on the golf course at Shiskine. I now live in Northamptonshire with my wife Bridget and our two sons Harry and Archie and we try to visit the island every year.’