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Pond Skippers

Friday, 16 September 2011
When brothers Mathew and Christian Cleghorn decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean for charity, little did they realise they would have to contend with lost rations, a capsized boat and a bird called Elton.

On 8 March 2011, brothers Mathew and Christian Cleghorn rowed into English Harbour, Antigua, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean in just over sixty-four days. Their arrival was greeted by the sound of ship horns, loud cheers and rounds of applause, marking the culmination of a dramatic and exhausting three-thousand, one hundred-mile journey.

This epic voyage was not undertaken on a whim. The brothers had embarked on their mammoth enterprise with one aim in mind – to raise as much money as possible for a charity that is dear to their hearts: Parkinson’s UK.

The masonic connection is Lewis Lodge, No. 872, in the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland. With Mathew and Christian initiated in 2007 and 2008 respectively, there is an extensive Cleghorn family connection with the lodge. Their uncle, John Cleghorn, is a Past Master and Provincial Officer and their cousin, also named John Cleghorn, is presently Junior Warden.

‘I really enjoy attending lodge meetings,’ explains Mathew. ‘Unfortunately I don’t get to them as often as I would like, as my job takes me to many far-flung places, not to mention spending two months on the Atlantic Ocean. I see the Atlantic challenge as an extension of my Freemasonry, as the whole aim
has been to benefit a worthy charity.’

Originally from the coastal town of Whitehaven, Cumbria, Mathew, 27, and Christian, 32, are no strangers to the high seas, both being ex-Royal Marines and highly trained in seamanship. But getting the project off the ground and into the sea was a feat in itself, requiring significant funding. It took nearly three years, but once the sponsorship began to materialise, the Cleghorns’ dream became a reality.

The journey began on 3 January 2011, when Mathew and Christian set off from Puerto de Mogán, Gran Canaria on Papa Delta, their twenty-three foot boat made in Dorset and Whitehaven. It was equipped with satellite-navigation devices, allowing it to be tracked twenty-four hours a day, while friends and relatives were kept informed via a daily blog and a map that pinpointed the Cleghorns’ position.

The journey provided a rare opportunity to view incredible wildlife; along the way, the brothers encountered whales, dolphins and sharks. For much of their journey they were befriended by a bird, which continually tailed them. The rowers are still not sure what species it was, but it became an honorary third member of the crew – so much so that, with the help of the children at Christian’s son’s junior school back home, it was christened ‘Elton’.

Naturally, the daily grind of rowing two hours on, two hours off, began to take its toll. But exhaustion was just the beginning of their challenges. At one point, they were nearly mown down by a passing commercial ship in rough seas; Mathew reported that he ‘was rowing like a man possessed’ to get out of the way, and the tanker eventually slid by about 150 metres away. They also suffered problems with steering, were blown completely off-course, and experienced as many extremes of emotions as they did changes of weather conditions.

Worse was to come when their food store – rations that provided essential energy for rowers burning five-thousand calories a day – was nearly destroyed in a storm. Luckily, the brothers were re-supplied by a passing Italian vessel.

The intrepid brothers even capsized and lived to tell the tale. With a violent sea creating waves seven to eight metres high, a combination of wind gust and changing direction tipped them over. Mathew, who was at the oars, was thrown out of his seat, hanging half out of the boat, while Christian was flung about inside the rear cabin. But the boat is designed to right itself, and their voyage continued.

After sixty-four days of drama and adventure, the Cleghorns finally made it to Antigua. Their feeling of euphoria and pride couldn’t be topped – until Mathew proposed to his girlfriend Colleen, and she said ‘yes’. Then the celebrations really began.

Mathew and Christian will never forget their experience, and know it has all been worthwhile. ‘If our journey across the pond has made just one more person aware of Parkinson’s and the daily suffering involved, then we have succeeded in our goal.’ Having raised £30,000, they are still short of their target to raise £50,000. Donations can be made by visiting: