Record-breaking rower set for new challenge on dry land

Elliott Dale from Lyme Regis at the wheel of his open-top 1937 Derby Bentley

RECORD-breaking British Atlantic rower Elliott Dale, from Lyme Regis, has turned his attention to adventures on dry land and will take on Europe’s toughest car endurance challenge this week. 

Le Jog Challenge takes the hardest route from Land’s End to John O’Groats and Mr Dale, 59, will be completing the challenge in his own open-top 1937 Derby Bentley, despite the cold weather, from December 8 to 11.

But braving the elements is nothing new for Elliott, who has twice rowed the Atlantic, the second time in 2014 breaking the world record for modern ‘open class’ pairs boats.

After 60 days, one hour and six minutes to complete the 3,200-mile crossing from New York to the Isles of Scilly by the longest and hardest route, just like Le Jog, he and co rower Chris Walters had raised more than £110,000 for Children’s Hospice South West.

Elliott and Chris previously completed the Atlantic Challenge in 2012, crossing the ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados, with two other team mates.

Having endured horrendous weather conditions, near misses with sharks, whales and ships plus rowing blisters the size of rollocks, you would expect Elliott to consider Le Jog a breeze, but he describes it as “as amazing challenge in its own right”.

“Endurance is common to both, as is the mental preparation required,” he added.

“Open to the elements in both events, you can get cold and miserable but when we were really down and struggling against the Atlantic conditions we just thought of the families of life-limited children and that spurred us on.”

Elliott will be as prepared as the most seasoned of Le Jog competitors, who will cover 1,500 miles in four days and three nights with precious little sleep.

He commented: “I’m able to adapt to different sleep routines, at night on the boat we rowed two hours then slept for two whilst Chris took over alternating until morning, but I’m lucky to have this ability to keep going!

“I’m moderately fit but the fitter you are the better you are able to deal with problems and set your mind to deal with them.

“I row in Cornish pilot gig races, which helps, but I never played a lot of sport at school. I was less of a team player so I didn’t have to rely on anyone else, that’s why I was a good cross country runner, I enjoy the endurance aspect!

“You set yourself an achievable target, then you push to the next little target until you achieve the main goal, you hear this little voice in your head pushing you on saying ‘you can do it’.”

Tackling the elements

Elliott will need to transfer some of his endurance skills and experience to his partner Charlotte Ryall, who will be taking part in her first serious ‘black marked’ expert endurance rally as a rookie in the famed Le Jog.

The pair have competed in some 12 car navigational rallies and recently returned from competing in the Devil’s Own and Ross Traders Rallies in his open-topped, pre-war Derby Bentley Special.

“We covered a couple of thousand miles to try and get Charlotte used to the cold, but in the rain it is such hard work,” said Elliott.

“It’s difficult not to get blown away sometimes, but you have to try and make it as easy as possible for the navigator as they do all the hard work. With the wind constantly in your face, you get cold and tired, but the worst is if it starts sleeting.

“Remembering to look after the time cards by stuffing them into your jacket is important, otherwise all you can show at the next control is a piece of mush! Protecting your maps is just as important, although HERO events are great because for the vintage brigade they supply laminated maps!

“On the first Classic Marathon to Norway my navigator had folded and unfolded the map so many times that it started to wear away causing issues. We were already getting a bit niggly and miserable in the severe cold but on the last regularity there was a massive hole in the map right where we were so I just grabbed it and threw it over a hedge in frustration!”

Elliott’s father and grandfather both ran garages and Elliot left school at 15 to work in the business but started on his own at 21. He is a top mechanic and panel beater who runs his own small garage, South Western Coachworks, in Lyme Regis.

He is proud of the variety of machinery you will currently find in there for fettling, Delage, MGTD, Rover 12, Porsche 911 to name a few. But Elliott’s ability to fix things could prove valuable in Le Jog as in any endurance event, just crossing the finish line is everything.

He says on these long events you become stoic.

“You accept what happens although you never know what’s round the corner. We regularly had to go over the side of the boat to fix things but one big wave came over and smashed the lap top, it took a while as it was in lots of pieces, but eventually I got it going again, we needed it!”

“In an open top vintage Bentley in winter anything could go wrong, we can’t go to Halfords for any parts, we’ve just got to fix it. We have to keep going.”

Record of success

Elliott already has a record of success on land as well as sea. He has been a regular on the ERA ‘Flying Scotsman’ event and competed on Le Jog a good while ago but remembers it fondly.

“I remember a fabulous time control night section in remote hills in Wales and a brilliant test in Caerwent, but then I always love the sections when I am doing well,” he said.

“What I really enjoy is when the old Bentley beats cars so much younger, for example when we beat a Ford RS2000 on a test!”

Elliott has competed in 20 events during 12 years of ownership of the car, but what he really loves is driving it in the snow, which could easily feature on Le Jog this year as it did in 2017.

“We put chains on the wheels then it can go anywhere and get there quickly too, I just love driving it in those conditions.

“On the European Winter Trail driving over a long closed section of snow bound road, we were trying our hardest but seemingly holding up former Dutch Grand Prix driver and Le Mans winner Gijs Van Lennep, behind in his Porsche 356.

“After 10 kilometres, arriving at the time control together, I apologised to him but he said, ‘No problem, I couldn’t get past you any way, I was just enjoying the angles that an old car could get to!’”

Amongst his many top results, Elliott is most proud of his eighth place overall on the Winter Trial 2013 when they also won the ‘Spirit of the Rally Award’. The Bentley ended up on a plinth opposite Sebastian Vettel’s championship winning Red Bull at the prizegiving.

After 60 days being bashed about across the Atlantic in their little rowing boat, Elliott and Chris were delighted to make it to the Scilly Isles prizegiving to celebrate breaking the record. But instead of collapsing after the ceremony, they went to the pub for another ‘marathon’ to savour their success with family and friends.

The passion and talent for all kinds of endurance clearly runs through the family. as his father called Elliott recently to challenge him to a different kind of Le Jog next year. To mark their 60th and 80th birthdays, the father and son plan to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

Woodmead Halls
About Francesca Evans 1956 Articles
Francesca grew up in Lyme Regis and has worked in community journalism in the area since 2011, having gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University.

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