The Ocean Brothers: Jude Massey and Greg Bailey share their Atlantic story


- Credit: Archant

When two brothers from Lymington picked up their oars and headed out for an unsupported row across the Atlantic, neither knew what they were letting themselves in for. Rebecca Fletcher meets them back on dry land

Close encounters with marine life, 25ft waves, leaky boat and a dramatic capsize in rough seas, brothers Jude Massey (19) and Greg Bailey’s (28) story of their epic row unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean reads like a tale for seasoned adventurers.

Hatching a plan whilst travelling together in 2017, they wanted to do something extraordinary to raise vital funds for the British Skin Foundation in memory of Jude’s father (Greg’s step father) Pete Massey, who lost his sixteen year battle with skin cancer two years ago. Aiming to raise £100,000, they never expected their journey would see Jude end up in the Guinness World Records as the youngest person to have rowed any ocean in a pair.

“We were so nervous when we pitched the idea to the charity. Washing up was probably the hardest task we’d had to accomplish together before we started this,” laughs Greg.

The 3,000 mile row from Gran Canaria to Barbados saw them face some excruciatingly hard times along the way. Multiple equipment failures including losing their essential water maker left them hand pumping water in shifts for five hours a day just to survive. Forced to row with one arm and steer with another almost the entire way when the GPS auto helm broke, combined with sleep deprivation as well as mental and physical exhaustion, Jude and Greg had to dig deep.

“We were covered in salt and salt sores, constantly stinging. Our bodies ached and we were drenched all the time. I had to try and stay in the present moment although it was really hard because you want to think beyond the row. The first few days, I was completely broken,” Jude explains. “I wanted to get off the boat, sink it or set off a flare – anything to get off. I had to train myself to adopt a different mindset.”

“It’s tough. You can’t just call the rescue boat to come and get you unless you’re in a life threatening situation or have a medical emergency. You have to make it work,” shares Greg.

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However, there were unforgettably good moments too. Whales, turtles, flying fish, shooting stars overhead and a stowaway bird they named Pete which followed them for most of the way.

“At sunrise on the second morning, out of nowhere a dolphin fin came up next to the boat,” Jude describes. “I stood up and there were maybe a hundred dolphins rubbing up against the side of the boat and jumping in the air in front of us, riding the waves. It makes you feel so small but at the same time you have friends out there.”

Getting up close to nature was a highlight for both brothers as Greg relates. “It was a complete psychedelic trip to look up at the sky at night; or to hear the noise of water shooting up and being soaked by a whale. There was an amazing feeling of insignificance amongst the universe.”

On calmer days, they would play music on a portable speaker, read aloud at mealtimes or go swimming, a 30 metre rope tied around their waists. Both celebrated birthdays out there and marked the midway point with a three course vegan ration pack meal and a tot of rum.

“I’d put on a song, just stop rowing and have a dance. No one judging me, no one looking at me,” Jude laughs. “For my birthday Greg pumped enough water for me to have a shower.”

Miles from home and with little contact with the outside world, Jude and Greg were buoyed by the messages of support pouring in from social media, which their mother shared with Jude daily via satellite phone.

“Just to hear that gave me the motivation I really needed and helped to pick me up. I knew from hearing from people who were following us that we had to finish.”

After 53 days of rowing, they arrived in Port St. Charles on Mother’s Day to be reunited with their mother, author Alexandra Massey. Tired but euphoric, the brothers and their boat were safely loaded onto P&O Cruise’s flagship Britannia to return to Southampton. However they had no idea of the hero’s welcome which awaited them in their home town of Lymington.

“Lowered down from Britannia in the boat, we started to see boats appearing until there were 40-50 boats alongside us,” Jude describes. “Rowing up Lymington River with the whole of Lymington behind us, seeing so many people standing in the rain to welcome us – it was unbelievable.”

“I can’t tell you what it was like”, Greg beams. “Both yacht clubs were full to the brim, the pontoon and all along the sea wall with boats ranging from 50ft yachts down to single rowing boats. The RNLI went past and the ferry was beeping us. It was absolutely epic.”

“Our homecoming in Lymington completely topped Barbados,” Jude adds excitedly. “The amount of people who made the effort in the rain was unreal. We were one big community celebrating this massive achievement. I’m proud to have completed the challenge as someone from Lymington.”

With their fundraising target in their sights, the Ocean Brothers are working hard giving talks and continuing to spread awareness about how preventable skin cancer is. A highlight will be a trip to Buckingham Palace to mark their Herculean achievement. But is there more adventure on the horizon?

“I’ve always been driven towards adventure. I know that Jude wants to do something adventurous again and I’d like to do that with him. Whatever that may be! To be able to recall such fond crazy experiences together for the rest of our lives, for me that’s one of the high points of the journey, and all that it’s done to bring us together as a family,” Greg shares.

Jude smiles back. “I’m ready to look at what might be next but I know I’m not going to be rowing another ocean! When you do something like this, it’s really hard to go back to ordinary life without having that impending excitement of knowing you have something to look forward to.”

Whatever lies ahead, it’s safe to say these remarkable brothers have been well and truly bitten by the adventure bug.

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The Hampshire brothers rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to highlight the effects of skin cancer - Faith Eckersall meets two siblings attempting to row 3,000 miles unsupported across the Atlantic to highlight the deadly effects of skin cancer and raise £100,000 in memory of a very special man who lost his life to the disease