ROWING: INTREPID rowers Jason Mckinlay and Phil Carrington should soon be home from their gruelling voyage across the Atlantic.
The Runcorn duo set off from the Canary Islands on October 19 in their bid to smash the world record of 44 days to make the trip to Barbados.
And despite having little more than 12 months of rowing experience, Jason and Phil are in fifth place at the halfway stage and look set for a December 3 finish.
Phil and Jason celebrated the halfway mark with spaghetti bolognese washed down with a small bottle of champagne each.
Team spokeswoman Vanessa Morson told the Weekly News: 'That is celebrating in style! All in all they are having fun out there, trying not to be disheartened when they slipped from third to fourth to fifth. No matter when they finish, it is an accomplishment that only 100 lucky people have ever done.
'The water has been choppy and heavy, making it difficult to cover ground and sometimes causing frustration. But Phil said they really want to have fun with it, so are trying to not let these things get them down!
'During the day they continue to be strong, rowing for two hours then resting for two. The nights are still the big hurdle, where fatigue is intoxicating.
'However, with flying fish unexpectedly whacking them in the face, they are sure to get the much-needed jolt of adrenaline.
'Their hands have hardened but though ugly looking, they don't hurt and still function well.
'Because they have lost so much weight, they don't have as much padding on their rears. In addition, they are putting a tremendous amount of pressure for about 90% of the day on their rear ends, so it is only natural to have sores that won't heal.'
There are just 15 boats left in the competition. Only 16 of the 30 originally entered in the Atlantic Rowing Challenge actually made it to the starting line, but, last week, team Bright Spark was forced to dramatically withdraw from the contest.
The number-nine boat reluctantly admitted defeat after days of attempting to fix their onboard water maker. And after having drunk nearly all their 150 litres reserve of fresh water, they were left with no option other than to accept a re-supply of drinking water from a support yacht.
However, the move was classed as outside assistance and Bright Spark was disqualified from the race. But despite being unable to win the event, Bright Spark's crew have vowed to finish the competition.
The Runcorn team, aboard Pura Vida, hope to raise thousands of pounds in sponsorship for their chosen charity, MacMillan Cancer Relief.
But before being allowed to compete, Jason and Phil had to raise £60,000 to earn their place in the starting line-up and hoped to stake their claim in the record books.
But leading crew Team CRC are expected to reach Barbados by November 26, with Jason and Phil arriving on December 3 - three days before the next nearest competitor, Huntswood Atlantic Challenge.
But organisers warned: 'These arrival times are purely estimated. The weather over the second half of the race could well have a big effect upon these predictions. The closer the boats get to the finish, the more accurate these predictions are.
'With muscle power as the only form of propulsion, the Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race truly is the ultimate test of physical and mental strength and endurance. There are easier challenges, there are more conventional ways to travel, but none quite so unique and exciting as this.'
To finish fourth would be a tremendous result for two athletes who only took up rowing less than a year ago. The pair have been rowing for a month across shark-infested waters, through extreme weather conditions in a boat which was assembled from a flat-pack kit.
And the challenge got off to a near disastrous start. When Jason and Phil arrived in Lanzarote - the starting point of the challenge - they found vital navigation equipment had been stolen.
And, on top of everything else, their 90-day supply of food was delayed in customs. However, the lads were helped out by their fellow contestants to make sure they had everything they needed to continue. The Royal Navy even chipped in, providing food and energy drinks.
Their attempt has been boosted by excellent sailing conditions from the start, with clear blue skies and a following wind.
The predicted mid-Atlantic storms have, so far, failed to materialise and as long as the duo can keep up the pace, they should be home in time to celebrate Christmas in Runcorn with their friends and family.
However, on Monday, weather reports revealed that the favourable gusts had been replaced by a North East wind of 10 knots which had slowed down the fleet. Competitors reported that these conditions made it feel as if they were 'rowing through treacle' in their seven-metre vessels.