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Death at Sea in the “Worlds toughest row” to Nelson’s Dockyard

by Zoë Carlton 

A pall hangs over the 37 boats now rowing from La Gomera in the Canaries to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua after the death of one of the rowers.

Alisdair Putt, famously a former Australian spy, was the skipper of the four-man team Aussie Old Salts, the only Australian boat in the fleet. Race organisers confirmed he died on 4 January, of a suspected heart attack, despite the efforts of his crewmates to save him.

“It is with heartfelt sadness that we must convey the news of the death of Alisdair Putt – skipper of the four-person team, Aussie Old Salts,” competition organisers said in a statement.

Putt’s crewmates – Stuart Moore, Andreas Koenig and Alastair Horton have returned safely to land. “This tragedy will of course also have a profound impact on the other 37 teams we have still racing across the Atlantic,” race organisers said.

The Aussie Old Salts, three of whom  were former or serving members of the Royal Australian Navy or Australian Army, were raising money for a military veterans’ transition centre and an Indigenous women’s crisis centre in Kununurra. 

The British Royal Navy team, Oardacious has been leading the fleet all the way. With about 700 miles to go, they are expected to arrive in Nelson’s Dockyard on January 18th. The death of Alasdair Putt will inevitably cast a somber shadow across celebrations, although  the achievement of rowing over 300 miles with an average of over 1 1/2 million oar strokes per person will still be celebrated. 

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is an annual event, dubbed “the world’s toughest row” that takes teams from the Canaries to Antigua. While there is no Antiguan team rowing this year, the island will no doubt be back in the race in 2024. It is a unique event; as Alasdair Putt himself said in an interview before the teams set off “ it’s a bit daunting….There have been more people who have climbed Mount Everest than rowed across the Atlantic.” 

Out thoughts and prayers go out to Putt’s family and the 37 teams still rowing to the shores of Antigua. 

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