This week, four men tried to row across the Atlantic from New York to their home in the Isles of Scilly. This assembly tells the story of their attempt and explains the rowers’ philosophy that it’s better to have tried and not succeeded, than never to have tried at all


It will be useful to have access to these web pages:

Scroll down to the bottom for photographs of the Scilly Boys rowing past the Statue of Liberty.

Map of UK showing Isles of Scilly

Map showing sea route to New York


Have you ever used the words “I can’t do it” before you’ve even tried? I think that’s something we’ve all said at one time or another. But why? Why are there times when we’re certain that we can’t do something even before we’ve tried it? [Take suggestions]

Yes, there are lots of reasons but the main one is that when we say “I can’t do it”, it’s because we’re afraid of failing, of getting it wrong, of not being able to do it. It’s natural to feel like that but, really, what’s so bad about getting something wrong?

Not a lot – we learn through making mistakes. If you never made a mistake how would you know what to do when something goes wrong? Making mistakes teaches us to cope in difficult circumstances or when things do go wrong.

Today’s story is about four men for whom things went very wrong indeed – even to the extent that their lives were at risk. But they’re still very glad they tried, even though they didn’t complete their journey.

The story of the Scilly Boys

On the 1st June, four men from the Isles of Scilly decided to row across the Atlantic in a rowing boat – a distance of over 3,000 miles. Well, the decision wasn’t quite as sudden as that; the trip took months to plan.

Let’s find the Isles of Scilly on a map. Who can tell me where to start looking? [Study map of UK and work out the sea route from the Isles of Scilly to New York]

Each of the four rowers was raising money for a different charity. For each man it was a personal challenge as well as the chance to raise money for a charity they care about.

Joby Newton is 19 and this was his reason for wanting to row across the Atlantic: “I was born on Scilly and I work and live on Bryher in the summer and fish in the winters. I would love to achieve something like this while I still have no real commitments.”

Joby’s charity is the Cornwall Air Ambulance, a service that helps local people and tourists when they’ve hurt themselves a long way from the nearest road (don’t forget that much of this part of Britain is very rural with few towns).

The next youngest rower is Tim Garratt, 27.

“I have gig rowed on Scilly for the last seven years and enjoy the competition, physical efforts and teamwork that the sport incorporates, and hope to apply these elements to the challenge ahead. As with the other members of the crew I hope this project can help to support the worthwhile causes chosen to enrich the lives of people who are not so fortunate.”

Tim was rowing for the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Charity.

Wayne Davey, 30 is already a bit of an action man, having been a professional rugby player and member of the Penlee Lifeboat Crew.

“I was really envious of the boys when they said that they were rowing the North Atlantic and told them that I would love to be involved as it will be the ‘challenge of a lifetime’. I think it’s going to be a real hard graft going without a pasty or pint of Guinness for two months!”

Wayne’s charity was the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, the RNLI.

Chris Jenkins, 43, is the oldest member of the crew: “This row is a fantastic opportunity to take part in something that most people are not in a position to be able to try, and a perfect opportunity to raise both awareness and money for our charities. I will be raising money for the St Michael’s Hospital Special Care Baby Unit in Bristol who looked after my first daughter Sophie when she was born five years ago.”

They all sounded very confident and all had very good reasons to take up this rowing challenge. But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds: only six successful crossings have been made on this route over the past 100 years!

The Cruel Sea

The journey was very dangerous; the crew didn’t have a motor on their boat if they did get into trouble, and the waves could be up to 30 feet high. It was difficult to sleep in the cramped, narrow rowing boat and the boys imagined that the voyage would take at least 55 days – probably much longer.

Even so, in June they left New York in America to row home to the Isles of Scilly. [Show photographs]

For two weeks and 450 miles, everything went well – then disaster struck. Their tiny rowing boat, called The Scilly Boys, capsized throwing the crew into the water in the middle of the night – with no help for miles around.

What thoughts do you think went through their heads that night as they clung to their capsized boat in the freezing Atlantic water? [Take suggestions]

The boys spent seven hours clinging to their upside-down rowing boat before a passing cargo ship found them.

In the boys’ own words: “Firstly a huge thank you to the entire crew of the oil tanker ‘Gulf Grace’ who done [sic] an outstanding job in rescuing us and manoeuvring the 228 metre ship in alongside our raft on two occasions, this was in 40 foot [12 metres] seas and 45 plus knots of wind. We are also indebted to both Falmouth Coastguard and the United States Coastguard for organising the rescue operation.

“We are sorry to friends and family that the anxiety caused was not outweighed by the successful completion of our record attempt. The desire to complete the crossing was the same desire that gave us the drive to survive in those conditions throughout the night. The messages of support were a constant reminder of why we needed to survive our ordeal, and make it back home to our families.”


The crew are now safely onboard a cargo ship and will return home in the next few days. They didn’t complete the trip and, as a consequence, didn’t raise nearly as much money as they’d hoped for their various charities. How do they feel about that? Totally gutted, of course, but for them it was important to try. And that’s the message that they would pass on to you – you have to try because it’s much worse to live without trying and saying “I can’t” than to simply say, “I had a go – maybe I’ll succeed next time.”

Prayer Dear Father, Thank you for giving us the spirit of adventure: to have a go. Teach us to be humble when we succeed and accept setbacks with a good heart and a determination to try again.


Edward de Bono, the great philosopher and teacher, said, “It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”

People famous for their determination
Bill Gates dropped out of university in America when he was a young man. He has since founded Microsoft and is now one of the richest men in the world.

Isaac Newton wasn’t very good in school but he became the greatest English mathematician of his generation.

The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was told by his music teacher, “as a composer, he is hopeless”. He is now one of the most popular classical composers in the world.

Thomas Edison attempted 8,999 times to invent the electric light bulb. He succeeded on his 9,000th try.

J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by six different publishers before being retrieved from the reject pile.

There are more of these stories at

Further information


•    Some children might be interested in working out how to change nautical miles into land miles and why the nautical mile is longer than the land mile (1.15 miles):

Charities supported by the Scilly Boys
•    RNLI
•    Breakthrough Breast Cancer
•    Cornwall Air Ambulance
•    St Michael’s Hospital Special Care Baby Unit in Bristol

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh