Record breaking British Atlantic rower Elliott Dale (59) is set to take on Europe’s toughest classic car endurance trial, which takes the hardest route from Land’s End to John O’Groats, in his own open top 1937 Derby Bentley in the depths of winter.
Record breaking British Atlantic rower Elliott Dale (59) is set to take on Europe’s toughest classic car endurance trial, which takes the hardest route from Land’s End to John O’Groats, in his own open top 1937 Derby Bentley in the depths of winter. (December 8-11)
Braving the elements is his stock in trade, as is the grim determination necessary to row the Atlantic twice, the second time in 2014 breaking the world record for modern ‘open class’ pairs boats. After sixty 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 over £110,000 for Children’s Hospice South West.
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. Not a bit of it.
“Le Jog is an amazing challenge in it’s own right, endurance is common to both as is the mental preparation required. 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 though, should be as prepared as the most seasoned of Le Jog competitors who will cover 1500 miles in four days and three nights with precious little sleep. “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’.”
Elliott Dale 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. 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 Grandfather and his Dad 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 in the west country, 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. “
Elliott Dale has a record of success on the sea and land. He has been a regular on the ERA ‘Flying Scotsman’ event for example 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. 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!” No doubt his vintage vehicle will be looking for young scalps on the Test sections from Land’s End to John O’ Groats 2018.
Elliott has competed in twenty events during twelve 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 proudest 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 prize giving.
After sixty days being bashed about across the Atlantic in their little rowing boat, Elliott and Chris Walters were delighted to make it to the Scilly Isles prize giving 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. “Dad said, ‘you’re sixty next year and I’m eighty that’s 140 years between us, we have to do something to celebrate together, let’s cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats.’ So here we go again!”