THE most visible result of former Royal Marine Graham Witham’s 65-day row across the Atlantic with three former comrades is clear evidence of the gruelling nature of the challenge.
But the 51/2 stones he shed is easily outweighed by another hefty figure – more than £100,000 was raised for the Prostate Cancer Charity by the once in a lifetime journey.
Graham, 44, from Piccotts End, set off from Gran Canaria in December and arrived in Barbados on February 17.
The vessel which carried the four men across the Atlantic, sponsored by Marks and Spencer, was known as HM&S Twiggy and was launched lastDecember by the model Twiggy.
It wasn’t a dream start – after setting out from the Canaries the team was hit by a storm the next day, and the enormity of the challenge ahead really hit home.
Despite leaving in December to enjoy cooler and predictable weather the four, including fellow former marines Aldo Diana, Ken Maynard and Jason Howard-Ady, regularly had to contend with extreme heat.
Graham’s extensive sunburn is evidence of the sun’s strength and the impact the heat had on the team.
He added: “At first we applied suncream but later we gave up and wore long-sleeve T-shirts as the cream would just come off.
“The worst thing about the heat was when we had to sleep in the sealed cabin area which had space for two men at a time.”
Graham was a marine for seven years after signing up at the age of 16, and achieved the rank of Lance Corporal before he left the forces.
On the journey across the Atlantic the four men encountered sharks and whales, but only a few other vessels.
“We’d seen sharks and whales quite often,” Graham added.
“The sharks would usually follow us for some distance before swimming off.
“At night you’d hear whales breaching quite close, they were quite curious.
“Another time I saw a fin moving alongside us so I got my camera to take a picture under the water.
“A wave then dipped and suddenly I could see that the fin was a lot larger than I thought.
“Despite this we did go swimming a number of times and we had to clean the barnacles off the bottom of the boat.”
Graham, who has two grown-up children, was meant to fly back from Barbados the day after the team arrived but ended up staying a further week.
His wife Nicola surprised him and was waiting on the shore for Graham along with a crowd of more than 30 people.
Moored yachts sounded their horns as the team arrived and diners at a nearby restaurant came out to witness the event.
A Barbadian TV crew also turned out to interview the team.
Graham, who works for the boss of Marks and Spencer, said; “When we arrived a camera was thrust in front of my face and I had to do my best to answer their questions.
“I still had my sea legs and apparently I was swaying from side to side and the cameraman had to move to keep me in shot which everyone found hilarious.
“It was great to have my wife there, as missing my family was the most painful part of the journey.
“I had infected fingers and pain in my back, but missing them was more painful and Christmas Day was the worst part of it.
“We also ran out of tea which was really bad, and in the end we were down to one meal a day.”
Despite the hardships, Graham said he and his fellow rowers were always determined to continue.
The new slimline figure is something younger members of the family have to get used to.
Graham said: “When I left was a bigger guy. My daughter is 21 now and all her life she’s known me to be quite big – now I’m a lot thinner.
“My son drove straight past me when he came to pick me up at the airport, he didn’t recognise me.”
The crew were backed in their attempt by his employer Marks and Spencer. To find out more and donate visit www.prostatemarksmen.com