Two boats are vying for first position in a mammoth row across the Pacific Ocean, at time of writing. The teams – Uniting Nations and Battleborn – both have a four-man international crew – the latter includes Oxfordshire’s own Darren ‘Billy’ Taylor, sponsored by Oxford gym The Athlete Centre.

Local firefighter Darren is currently in his element – water rather than fire this time – as part of Team Battleborn in the inaugural Great Pacific Race. A last-minute addition to team, Darren’s sailing background, having covered some 23,000 nautical miles makes him by far the most experienced member of the crew. He has been dubbed ‘Old Man of the Sea’ by his younger fellow rowers.

The boat – named Patience – has now been at sea for nearly two weeks. The journey to Hawaii is likely to take six to eight weeks in total and has already seen the crew witness some very rough seas with, according to their blog, 25-30 ft waves.

This inaugural race has several world records up for grabs – but they will be hard won. Already Battleborn has won the accolade of greatest distance covered in 24 hrs with 41 nautical miles.

They left Monterey Bay, California at 10am Pacific Standard Time (6pm BST) on Monday 9 June – two days after the race was scheduled to start; the delay due to bad weather. The crew is made up of Philip Cavanagh (27, Skipper), from Dublin; Barry Hayes (32) from Wrexham, Wales – although originally from England; Dan Kierath (24) from Perth, Australia and, of course, Darren Taylor (42) from Oxfordshire.

The delayed start gave the team some invaluable extra preparation time. ”It’s been all hands on deck here,” Darren explained. “We have been working through the night most nights to pack in all of the equipment and food. It’s pretty cosy in the cabin!

“We had some setbacks with customs not releasing the boat, giving us then less that a week to get her shipshape. We then had a panic last minute, waiting for our communications equipment to be delivered. In the end we had to instigate plan B on that one and make a hasty purchase of a satellite phone,” he continued.

Several of the other crews due to take part found themselves in a worse position and, after months of preparation, were disqualified due to various states of unreadiness. As Darren and crew set off, one team was still without their boat.

Each member of Team Battleborn has his own personal reasons for embarking on this adventure, raising vital funds and awareness for their respective charities. Darren is rowing to raise awareness of Young Onset Parkinson’s – and, with others, is working to launch a new charity called, Spotlight YOPD. Still in the process of being registered, money raised in the meantime will go to The Cure Parkinson’s Trust – an established charity that Spotlight YOPD plans to work alongside.

Darren explains his reasons for supporting the cause and rowing an ocean to do so. “An old school friend of mine, Alex Flynn, was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease in 2008 at the age of 36. The public don’t seem to have a real understanding of what Parkinson’s is and what a younger diagnosis means. I want to use the media surrounding the Great Pacific Race to change that,” he says.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological condition that mostly affects those over 50 and is generally perceived as a elderly disease. The symptoms stretch far beyond a tremor and stiffness and the current drugs, good for maybe ten years cause side effects sometimes worse than the disease. Younger people with the condition – the youngest reported being nine years old – sometimes feel ignored and even stigmatised.

“There is some incredible research going on – not least by The Cure Parkinson’s Trust,” Darren continues. “There could well be a cure in the next decade or so – but media support and public awareness will increase the chances. For those younger people with PD – many with young families – they’ll get their life and their future back. I think that’s a good reason to row any ocean,” concluded Darren.

Darren may have joined Battleborn at the eleventh hour, but he had been preparing for the race for months and has gathered quite a following locally. He was to have been half of a pair taking part as ‘Pacific Row 2014′ with Alex Flynn – partly gathering research on how exercise impacts/benefits those with neurological conditions. Due to a shortfall in funding, their row has now been postponed until next year.

Many are already finding Battleborn’s race more captivating than the World Cup and their blogs essential reading. The ‘Captain’s Blog’ can be found at Their progress can be viewed online via Yellowbrick (a global positioning system with free App). Updates are also posted to and on Twitter @PacificRow14.

EVENT NEWS: Battleborn sponsors The Athlete Centre in Oxford is inviting people to attend a barbecue and contribute to their own Pacific Row on static rowing machines on Saturday 28 June from 11am – 2pm. They hope to have a live audio link up with Darren in the Pacific during the proceedings. Money raised will go to Spotlight YOPD/The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. More info will be posted on and on the Battleborn site.

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